Extended Biography of Thomas Vincent
REV. THOMAS VINCENT, A.M. This courageous servant of Christ was born at Hertford, in May, 1634. He was the eldest son of Mr. John Vincent, minister of the rich living of Sedgfield, in the bishopric of Durham. His brother Nathaniel was one of the Bartholomew confessors. Thomas was educated at Westminster School, and at Felsted, in Essex. In 1648 he was entered a student of Christchurch, Oxford, where, June 1, 1654, he took his degree, and was presented by the president of the college to the office of catechist. On leaving Oxford he became chaplain to the earl of Leicester; afterwards he was appointed to St. Mary Magdalen, Milk-street, London, in the place of the Rev. T. Case, who was dispossessed for refusing Cromwell's Engagement. Here he continued till 1662, when he was deprived for nonconformity. After this he conducted an academy at Islington, in conjunction with the Rev. T. Doolittle. When the plague broke out in 1665, he resolved to take lodgings in the city, and visit the sick and preach to the distressed people. He told his brethren that he had carefully examined the state of his own soul, and could look death in the face with comfort; and that it was absolutely necessary that such vast numbers of dying people should have some spiritual assistance; that he could have no prospect of ministerial usefulness equal to that which now presented itself; and that he had entirely committed himself to the disposal of Providence. The ministers having heard his reasons, unanimously declared their satisfaction and joy, and united in prayer for his protection and success.
Mr. Vincent now went forth in the name of the Lord, and the hand of the Lord was upon him. Through the whole visitation he preached constantly in some parish-church every Sabbath. The subjects he discussed were pathetic and searching, and the awfulness of the judgment gave a peculiar edge both to preacher and hearers. He visited those who sent for him without fear, and, notwithstanding the danger to which he exposed himself, the Lord preserved him. Though the number of those who died in London of the plague that year was 68,596, and seven persons in the family where he lived were seized with it, he continued in perfect health the whole of the time. He gives the following very vivid but fearful description of its dreadful ravages in his tract entitled God's Terrible Voice in the City:—“The plague is so deadly it kills where it comes without mercy; it kills, I had almost said, certainly: very few do escape, especially upon its first entrance, and before its malignity be spent. Few are touched by it but they are killed by it; and it kills suddenly. As it gives no warning before it comes, suddenly the arrow is shot which woundeth unto the heart; so it gives little time of preparation before it brings to the grave. Under other diseases men may linger out many weeks and months, under some divers years; but the plague usually killeth within a few days, sometimes within a few hours, after its first approach, though the body were never so strong and free from disease before. June: Now the citizens of London are put to a stop in the career of their trade; they begin to fear whom they converse withal and deal withal, lest they should have come out of infected places: now roses and other sweet flowers wither in the gardens, are disregarded in the markets, and people dare not offer them to their noses, lest with their sweet savor that which is infectious should be attracted. Rue and wormwood are taken into the hand, myrrh and zedoary into the mouth; and without some antidote few stir abroad in the morning. Now many houses are shut up where the plague comes, and the inhabitants shut in, lest, coming abroad, they should spread the infection. It was very dismal to behold the red crosses, and read in great letters, Lord, have mercy upon us, on the doors, and watchmen standing before them with halberts; and such a solitude about those places, and people passing by them so gingerly, and with such fearful looks, as if they had been lined with enemies in ambush that waited to destroy them. July: The plague increaseth and prevaileth exceedingly; the number of 470 which died in one week by the disease ariseth to 725 the next week, to 1089 the next, to 1843 the next, and to 2010 the next. Now the plague compasseth the walls of the city like a flood, and poureth in upon it. Most of the rich are now gone, and the middle sort will not stay behind; but the poor are forced through poverty to stay and abide the storm. The very sinking fears they have had of the plague has brought the plague and death upon many. Some, by the sight of a coffin in the street have fallen into a shivering, and immediately the disease hath assaulted them, and sergeant Death hath arrested them, and clapt to the doors of their houses upon them, from whence they have come forth no more till they have been brought forth to their graves. August: How dreadful is the increase! Now the cloud is very black, and the storm comes down upon us very sharp. Now Death rides triumphantly on his pale horse through our streets, and breaks into every house almost where any inhabitants are to be found. Now people fall as thick as the leaves in autumn when they are shaken by a mighty wind. Now there is a dismal solitude in London streets; every day looks with the face of a Sabbath-day, observed with greater solemnity than it used to be in the city. Now shops are shut in, people rare and very few that walk about, insomuch that the grass begins to spring up in some places, and a deep silence almost in every place, especially within the walls. No prancing horses, no rattling coaches, no calling in customers nor offering wares, no London cries sounding in the ears: if any voice be heard, it is the groans of dying persons breathing forth their last, and the funeral-knells of them that are ready to be carried to their graves. September: Of the 130 parishes in and about the city there were but four parishes which were not infected, and in those few people remaining that were not gone into the country. Now the grave doth open its mouth without measure—multitudes, multitudes in the valley of the shadow of death thronging daily into eternity. The churchyards are now stuffed so full with dead corpses, that they are in many places swelled two or three feet higher than they were before, and new ground is broken up to bury the dead.”
He also gives us the following information:—“The Nonconformist ministers, considering their great obligation to God and indispensable duty in this dreadful visitation to their fellow-citizens, were induced, though contrary to law, to repair to the deserted church pulpits, whither the people, without distinction of Church and Dissenters, joyfully resorted. The concourse on those occasions was so exceedingly great that the ministers were frequently obliged to clamber over the pews to get at the pulpits; and if ever preaching had a better effect than ordinary, it was at this time, for the people did as eagerly catch at the word as a drowning man at a rope, and with the same fervor as if their eternal happiness had thereon depended."
Mr. Vincent, shortly after his ejectment, gathered a large congregation in Hand-alley, Bishopsgate-street. After the great fire in 1666, most of the parish churches being burnt, his meeting-house was violently taken from him for the parochial minister. Maitland describes it as “a large place, with three galleries, thirty large pews, and many benches and forms.” It was restored to him when the church was rebuilt, and there he diligently labored until his death, which was gloriously triumphant. The night before his departure, he exclaimed, “Fare well the world—the pleasures, profits, and honors of the world! Farewell sin! I shall ever be with the Lord! Farewell my dear wife—farewell my dear children—farewell my servants—and farewell my spiritual children. Be careful in your choice of a pastor; choose one who, in his doctrine, life, and manners, may adorn the gospel. I shall be glad to meet you all in heaven. O noble Death, welcome! welcome! Death hath wounded my head; death hath wounded my breast (which was diseased); but he hath not wounded my conscience, blessed be God! Hasten! hasten! O hasten, Death! where is thy bow?—where thine arrows? Come—come—come; I am yet in the body—I am yet on earth; but it is heaven—heaven—heaven, I would fain be at. I seek death, but cannot find it. How long, O Lord, holy and true!” He said to his physician, “Why do you aim to keep me out of heaven?" and then he said, “Dear Jesus, come and take me away! I have no business here; my work is done, my glass is run, my strength is gone; why shall I stay behind? Oh, come, come; be as a roe upon the mountains of spices. How long shall I wait and cry? how long shall I be absent from thee? O come, and take me to thyself, and give me possession of that happiness which is from above, the vision of thyself, perfect likeness to thyself, full fruition of thyself, without any interruption or conclusion. O come, dear Jesus; how long before thou send thy chariots; O, come thou down to me, and take me up to thee.” He died, October 15, 1678, aged forty-four years. The Rev. Samuel Slater preached his funeral sermon, on Hebrews 8:7.
Thomas Vincent was a man of genuine piety, deep humility, ardent zeal, and unwearied diligence. He was a laborer in the vineyard of the Lord, not counting his life dear unto himself. He was an admirable textuary. He could repeat the whole of the New Testament and the book of Psalms from memory. He often observed, that he took this pains, not knowing but they who took from him his pulpit, might in time demand his Bible also. He who maintained the great principles of truth and righteousness in the midst of a crooked and adulterous generation, and kept at his post, when others were riven away by the storm, deserves to be had in everlasting remembrance. He wrote: 1. Spiritual Antidote for a Dying Soul;—2. God's Terrible Voice in the City, by Plague and Fire;—3. Of Christ's Certain and Sudden Appearance to Judgment;—4. Answer to the Sandy Foundation of William Penn;—5. Defence of the Trinity, Satisfaction by Christ, and Justification of Sinners;—6. Wells of Salvation;—7. Fire and Brimstone; in several sermons;—8. An Explanation of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism;—9. The true Christian's Love of the Unseen Christ;—10. A Sermon on Isaiah 57:1, 2. In his sermon on 1 Timothy 4:2, he does indeed show that “the popish doctrine, which forbiddeth to marry, is a devilish and wicked doctrine.” He digs into the wall, and exposes the abominations “which the ancients of the house of Israel (popes and priests) do in the dark—every man in the chambers of his imagery.” His sermons in the Morning Exercises are:—Wherein doth appear the blessedness of forgiveness, and how it may be attained?—That doctrine in the Church of Rome, which forbids to marry, is a devilish and wicked doctrine.
Source: Samuel Dunn. Memoirs of the Seventy-Five Eminent Divines Whose Discourses Form The Morning Exercised at Cripplegate, St. Giles in the Fields, and at Southwark. London: John Snow, 1844.