Walking with William Perkins

My latest travelling companion was William Perkins (1558-1602). He was an Anglican minister and preacher based in Cambridge during Elizabeth I’s reign. While loyal to the state church and not happy with the likes of us breaking from it, he was himself prosecuted for preaching against kneeling to receive communion, a practice he deemed too Roman. One of the earliest ‘puritans’, he wished to purify the Anglican church of its papist residue. He might be long gone, but the issues against which he contended remain. Only a few months ago, an article in Evangelicals Now called on evangelical Anglicans to give up on their denomination and break away. Many, like Perkins, will choose to remain and fight.

For my weekly route march to our mid-week service, I downloaded a handful of his titles:

Death's Knell a Preparation for the Coming Day of Doom

How To Die Well

Distress of Mind Arising From A Believer's Sins

Cases of Conscience

Some might sniffily dismiss them as stereotypically puritan, but I found them lively and incisive. The language might have changed and he occasionally quoted spurious Tudor medical expertise, but the spiritual issues he addressed were as relevant as ever.

One thing I noticed when I arrived at the chapel, five miles later, was that I was not huffing and puffing as I used to, my face no longer the colour of a beet ripe for pickle. I think I might just be getting fitter. And if my calves and thighs have been well exercised, how much more my spirit for having so engaging a companion, whispering God’s truth to my spirit. Joel Beeke quotes a contemporary recalling Perkins' “church consisting of the university and town, the scholar could have no learneder, the townsmen [no] plainer, sermons.”

On my return hike, I briefly assisted a farmer returning a couple of sheep that were wandering about the lanes (not the same sheep as last week’s, surely?). Perkins, as soon as he was ordained, went to Cambridge gaol to preach the gospel to the inmates. He called to a young prisoner about to be executed, who was afraid of going to hell. Both knelt down together, holding hands, while Perkins led him to Christ, tears running down the condemned man’s cheeks. Both respected minster and converted felon have been together with Christ these past centuries. Truly, he was the means by which Christ rescued one of His ragged, lost sheep, otherwise due at the knacker’s yard and from thence, the shambles.

The BBC had forecast rain from 8pm, but the Lord mercifully stayed the clouds until 10.10 when I crossed my threshold.

Image: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons