Thomas Wilson (1563-1622) on Faith as Assurance

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Tim: Now tell us of the measure of Abraham’s faith, what it was?

Sil: It was not a little and weak faith, but a strong and great faith, such a faith as fully assured him. This word [full assurance] is fetched from ships, which against wind, and waves, are yet with full strong sail carry unto the haven: so Abraham by the strength of his faith, overcame all the waves of doubts beating against his mind.

Tim. What may be observed from hence?

Sil. That in every truth faith, there is an assurance and persuasion of that which it believes, but not a full assurance, for this is proper to a strong faith. Secondly, that weak Christians should not be discouraged, because they be not fully assured, so as they strive towards it: for the measure of true faith is differing, and God looks not to the quantity but to the truth of faith.

Thomas Wilson, A Commentary on the Most Divine Epistle of St. Paul To the Romans, 3rd ed., (London: Printed by E. Cotes in Aldersgate-Steet, 1653), 124. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; square bracketed inserts original; and underlining mine.]

[WILSON, THOMAS (1563-1622), divine, born in the county of Durham in 15113, matriculated from Queen’s College, Oxford, on 17 Nov. 1581, aged 18, graduated B.A. on 7 Feb. 1583-4, and was licensed M.A. on 7 July 1586 (clark, Indexes, ii. 102, iii. 119). He was elected chaplain of the college, apparently before he was ordained, on 24 April 1585. In July 1586 he was appointed rector of St. George the Martyr at Canterbury through the influence of Henry Robinson (1553P-1016) [q. v.], provost of Queen’s College and afterwards bishop of Carlisle, to whom Wilson also owed his college education (cf. the epistle dedicatory to the Christian Dictionarie). He remained at Canterbury for the rest of his life, preaching three or four sermons every week, and winning the affections of the puritan section of his people, although more than once complained of by others to Archbishop Abbot for nonconformity. He was acting as chaplain to Thomas, second lord Wotton, in 1611.

Wilson died at Canterbury in January’ 1621-2, and was buried in his own churchyard, outside the chancel, on the 25th. A funeral sermon was preached (London, 1622,! 4to) by William Swift of St. Andrew’s, Canterbury, great-grandfather of Dean Swift. His portrait, engraved by Cross, prefixed to the ‘ Commentarie,’ shows him to be a lean, sharp-visaged man; he was married and left a large family.

Wilson’s chief work was his “Christian Dictionarie” (London, 1612, 4to),one of the earliest attempts made at a concordance of the Bible in English. Its usefulness was soon recognised, and it ran through many editions. The fourth was much enlarged by John Bagwell (n.d., London); the fifth appeared in 1647; the sixth (1655, fol.) was still further augmented by Andrew Symson. Over his “Commentarie” on Romans, a work written in the form of a dialogue between Timotheus and Silas, Wilson spent seven years. It was reprinted in 1627 (fol.), and reached a third edition in 1653 (4to). In 1611 he published in octavo a volume containing (a) “Jacob’s Ladder; or, a short Treatise laying forth the severall Degrees of Gods Eternall Purpose,” (A) “A Dialogue about Jvstification by Faith,” (c) “A Receit against Heresie,” and two sermons. Besides some further sermons and other works apparently lost, he wrote “Saints by Calling; or, Called to be Saints,” London, 1620, 4to.

[Brook’s Lives of the Puritans, ii. 282; Granger’s Biogr. Hist. i. 369; Hasted’s Kent. iii. 471; Chalmers’s Biogr. Diet.; Registers of St. George the Martyr, Canterbury, ed. Cowper, 1891. pp. iii. vii, 19, 20, 21. 23, 182; information from the Provost of Queen’s College, Oxford.] C. F. S. Dictionary of National Biography, 62:136.]

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