Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Ministerial Training: Sketch of Theological Eductaion n the 16th and 17th centuries

Written by Rev. Iain Murray
Editor's Note: The following is a slightly condensed and edited version of an article by the Rev. Iain Murray. It first appeared in the April 1959 issue of The Banner of Truth magazine (England). Since we in the Free Reformed Churches are very concerned about the issue of theological education, this article should be of interest to us as it reflects what our Reformed and Puritan forefathers understood by the proper training for the ministry.
How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?" And how shall they be sent except they be trained? These are questions which bear an indissoluble connection to one another. If, in the appointment of God, the gospel cannot spread without preachers, so neither can preachers be sent without being trained. Even the apostles, who had an immediate call from the Lord Jesus Christ, were not sent until they were prepared, much less may we expect to find a departure from this procedure in anyone else.

The training thus required is of a two-fold character. First, intellectual. The preacher is to teach, instruct, declare the whole counsel of God; he must therefore himself accurately know the Scriptures--in all their length and breadth. Secondly, spiritual or devotional. The heart must be prepared as well as the head; intellectual training alone will never make a true minister. Sound learning and godliness, education and sanctification, these are things which must go together. Biblical truth is revealed in order that it might be believed, experienced and practiced.

Now before anyone can train in these two fields there are prior requirements necessary that God alone can give. There must be the possession of some natural abilities and powers of speech; there must also be a spiritual capacity, a love for the Saviour and such a hunger for the truth as will enable a man to undergo the discipline of study.1 Given these pre-requisites, the purpose of training is to provide the stimulus necessary for their development and use, and, other things being equal, the character of that training will determine the student's usefulness in the ministry. Ever since the days when Paul taught for two years in the school of Tyrannus2 the need for the consecutive and systematic instruction of students has been recognized, and it is true to say that the health of the church has always been in proportion to the worth of the training received by her ministers.

It is this fact which gives such importance to the subject of theological colleges... Every man preparing for the ministry needs time, direction and spiritual knowledge; a true theological college is designed to provide just these things. By burning midnight oil and by sheer determination some men have acquired individually all that they needed for a powerful ministry, but they are rare exceptions and would generally be the first to recommend to others the need of training under the eye of godly and zealous teachers. One of the greatest needs of our times is the need to recover a true conception of what a theological college should be and if there are no present day examples to guide us in this matter we can find ample sources of instruction when we turn back to the past.

It is no wonder the life of Europe was what it was in the early 16th century when we consider what kind of institutions controlled the training of men for the ministry. Until the time when Luther's lectures began to shake the classrooms at Wittenburg, the true purpose of theological training had been wholly buried out of sight. "In the universities," wrote William Tyndale, "they have ordained that no man shall look at the Scripture until he be immersed in heathen learning eight or nine years, and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the ScriptureÉ And then, when they be admitted to study divinity, because the Scripture is locked up with such false expositions, and with false principles of natural philosophy, that they cannot enter in, they go about the outside, and dispute all their lives about words and vain opinions É Let the great Rabbis study those huge volumes; but [let us] provide for the ignorant multitude for whom also Christ died."

The Reformers were quick to realize that the church could never be reformed until steps were taken to alter the character of the existing colleges and, where necessary, to provide new ones. "It seemed a point of the first importance to reform those nurseries," comments the 16th century writer Melchior Adam, "that from them, as from a pure fountain, the streams of sound doctrine might water every corner of the nation." Cranmer thus brought over some of the best Continental divines to teach at Oxford and Cambridge, and Knox devoted much of his attention to the students at St. Andrew's. How different was the manner of instruction from the cold and dry lectures of medieval times! James Melville, who as a student heard Knox at St. Andrew's in 1571, gives this description in his diary: "I heard him teach there the prophecies of Daniel, that summer and the winter following. I had my pen and my little book, and took away such things as I could comprehend. In the opening up of his text, he was moderate the space of an half hour; but when he entered to application, he made me so to thrill and tremble, that I could not hold a pen to write ...

Among the new colleges established in the sixteenth century none was more remarkable and influential than the Academy established at Geneva in 1559. This Academy, says HaŸsser, "gave a new direction to Protestantism" and provided an example of thorough theological training that was to be widely followed. It was established in order to meet the incessant demands for preachers of the gospel that were sent to Calvin. In 1559 no less than 162 students were enrolled. Three out of every four of these came from France. In 1564 the number had risen to 300 and the number increases daily," Beza wrote.

There were no material comforts at Geneva... Even when the new buildings were completed in 1563 we read that "the students sat on long bare planks without backs, and used long bare planks in front of them as desks. There was no heating apparatus of any sort. There was no glass in the windows. Professors and students suffered a good deal from both draughts and from cold, but a slight alleviation of their misery was secured in November, 1564, when the Council ordered the gaping window spaces to be filled with oiled paper. A storm blew the paper to pieces, and after that, with some grumbles on the score of expense, the Council ordered the windows to be glazed."3

The curriculum was no less exacting. Work began at six in the morning in summer and seven in winter. The first hour was devoted to devotional exercises. Then on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday lectures followed till 10 a.m., when a break for dinner was allowed. Every week-day afternoon there were lectures from one o'clock till five, with the exception of Saturdays when the students' only engagement was an afternoon meeting for theological discussion. Wednesday mornings were spent in public worship. Students were allowed to attend such classes as they pleased and some twenty-seven lectures were delivered each week. The spirit of the curriculum is embodied in the prayer with which Calvin began all his lectures, "May the Lord grant, that we may engage in contemplating the mysteries of His heavenly wisdom with really increasing devotion, to His glory and to our edification." No degrees were given.

That students should flock for instruction to a place so devoid of human attractions is indicative of the terrible earnestness which then existed in the hearts of many for the advancement of Christ's Kingdom. Conscious of the deadly struggle which was being fought out with error all over Europe, young men considered no hardship too great provided they might be instructed in the oracles of God and trained to carry the word of reconciliation to dying men. Geneva thus became the great missionary centre of the 16th century.

In England, after the accession of Elizabeth, the Puritans strove to conform the two Universities to the Genevan standard. Men like Sampson, Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, and Cartwright, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, exercised a wide influence on students before they were silenced for their failure to conform to Elizabeth's compromising ecclesiastical policy. To secure a college in which men might be prepared for the ministry according to Puritan views, Sir Walter Mildmay founded Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1584. On his next visit to the court he received the royal rebuke, "Sir Walter, I hear you have erected a Puritan foundation." "No, Madam," he replied, "far be it from me to countenance anything contrary to your established laws; but I have set an acorn which, when it becomes an oak, God alone knows what will be the fruit thereof." None did more to establish the Puritan movement than the men who came forth from this college; it became, as Spurgeon says, "the School of Saints, the nursing mother of gigantic evangelical divines."4

Laurence Chaderton, the first Master, jealously guarded the spiritual character of the college for 38 years and John Preston, his successor, faithfully preserved his trust till his death in 1628.5 When James I sought to tempt Preston away from his post at Cambridge with the offer of a bishopric, he found his offer resolutely refused. What was a bishopric compared to training men for the ministry!6 The diligence of the Puritans at Cambridge during this period was a principal cause of the spiritual life which spread to all parts of England in the 17th century. Many of the best-known Puritan preachers were converted and trained at Cambridge--Richard Sibbes, John Cotton, John Preston, Thomas Goodwin and Thomas Shepard, are but a few of those who come into this class.

The average entrance age of students at Cambridge was sixteen. Rooms were generally shared between three or four. From the time of the early morning service at 5 a.m. religious and sober conduct was expected. Such pastimes as boating and swimming were unknown... The curriculum was inspired to drill men into habits of mental discipline.7 Edmund Calamy as a student used to spend 16 hours a day at his books! He later became one of the most popular preachers in London. William Gouge commenced at Cambridge his practice of studying 15 chapters of Scripture each day. Oliver Heywood tells us how he went up to Cambridge with the exhortation of his father ringing in his ears, "Often remember how short and precious your time is," and how he learned to prefer "Perkins, Bolton, Preston and Sibbes, far above Aristotle and Plato." After taking their degree, students of Puritan views aspiring to the ministry would often seek residence in the house of some pious minister under whose experience and wisdom they would gain a maturity far beyond their years

In the 1630's Archbishop Laud did all in his power to stamp out Puritan influence in the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. Puritans were turned out of University posts and not a few were forced to seek refuge in New England. This persecution resulted in the furtherance of the Gospel. Among the emigrants was John Harvard, a graduate of Emmanuel College, and carrying with him to the New World the imperishable memory of the value of his college days, he made provision by his will in 1638 for the endowment of such a college in New England. Thus Harvard College was established at Newtown, Massachusetts. The site was probably chosen in order that the students might sit under the ministry of Thomas Shepard. Shepard, another Emmanuel man, had been converted under Chaderton and Preston, and he was now in turn to become a spiritual father to scores of others. One Harvard student, referring to his years under Shepard, declared, "Unless it had been four years living in heaven, I know not how I could have more cause to bless God with wonder than for those four years." For many long years Harvard was to remain the great training ground for ministers in New England. Without that acorn planted in Cambridge in 1584, how different the subsequent history of both England and America would have been! Under the shadow of that oak a generation of men was raised up on both sides of the Atlantic, the like of which has rarely been seen again.

After Laud's oppression and the Stuart tyranny had been broken by the Civil Wars, one of the first concerns of the Commonwealth Government was to see that the best men were once more placed in authority at the Universities. To that end John Owen was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and men like Thomas Goodwin were made heads of colleges. The sun shines brightest before setting and Oxford and Cambridge for ten or so years before the restoration of Charles II in 1660 basked in the brightest rays of the Sun of righteousness. Philip Henry, who took his B.A. at Oxford in 1650-51, "would often mention it with thankfulness to God, what great helps and advantages he had then in the University, not only for learning, but for religion and piety." Matthew Henry, relating this account of his father's college days, goes on to say how "serious godliness" was then esteemed and how Owen and Goodwin would take it in turns to preach the University sermon every Lord's Day afternoon.

An interesting story survives of an interview between Goodwin and a young student who was seeking admission to Magdalene College. The story as given by Joseph Addison in the 'Spectator' (a popular 18th century London newspaper known for its satiric critiques of politicians and religious leaders, especially those deemed to be too serious) was intended to ridicule Goodwin, but, shorn of its exaggeration, it serves to represent the kind of spirit which animated the President of Magdalene. The youth on going to the College for an interview was supposedly received at the door by a servant who was one of that gloomy generation that were then in fashion. He conducted him with great silence and seriousness to a long gallery, which was darkened at noon-day, and had only a single candle burning in itÉ At length the Head of the College came out to him from an inner room, with half-a-dozen nightcaps upon his head, and religious horror in his countenance. The young man trembled; but his fears increased when, instead of being asked what progress he had made in learning, he was examined how he abounded in grace. His Latin and Greek stood him in little stead; he was to give an account only of the state of his soul, whether he was of the number of the elect, what was the occasion of his conversionÉ The whole examination was summed up with one short question, namely, Whether he was prepared for death?"8 To Addison such questions were amusingly ridiculous but to Goodwin nothing was of more serious importance. What value are mere literary attainments when the grace of God is absent? Happy would be the church be had she always such men preparing others for the ministry!

Students in Scotland were no less favoured in the provision they enjoyed for theological training in the later years of the 16th century and during the first sixty years of the 17th. The Scottish Reformers saw, perhaps more clearly than any, that there could be no powerful preaching unless there was a well taught ministry. When Knox died in 1572 his mantle rested on Andrew Melville. Melville, fresh from five years at the Academy in Geneva, returned to Scotland in 1574 and began his great work of bringing the Colleges at Glasgow and St. Andrews up to the level of the Continental schools. He gave a great impetus to establishing the right kind of theological training and his classes were the means of preparing such eminent preachers as Robert Bruce for the ministry. Edinburgh University was founded in 1583 and entrusted to the care of Robert Rollock. For twenty years Rollock laboured with abundant success, omitting "nothing which could impress the youthful mind with the knowledge and the fear of God." From his training came many of the best ministers of the day, including Robert Boyd of Trochrigg who became Principal of Glasgow University in 1614 and John Welsh whose apostolic preaching was attended by a great revival in Ayr. These were men mighty in the Scriptures and in prayer. Such was Welsh's love for secret prayer that he gave a third part of his time to it, and sometimes his wife would even discover him up in the night watches crying, "Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland?"

In the twenty or so years preceding 1638, Scottish College training languished under the high handed persecuting episcopal policy of James and Charles I. But in that year the Scottish nation could endure it no longer. The people rose in defense of their liberties and the General Assembly of the Church, once more taking control of the Universities, voted some of the best ministers in the land into positions of leadership at the Colleges. Consequently, David Dickson, a man whose preaching had been widely used in revivals, was appointed in 1641 to spend the remaining 21 years of his life in professorial work at Glasgow and Edinburgh. And Samuel Rutherford was called from his harvest at "fair Anworth by the Solway" to become Principal of the New College, St. Andrews. Rutherford, says Wodrow, was "one of the most moving and affectionate preachers in his time, or perhaps in any age of the church."

That men of such outstanding usefulness should thus be called to lecture students may seem strange to the modern mind. While souls were perishing was it right, it may be asked, that such evangelists should leave their pulpits for class-rooms? But such a question only denotes the sad change that has taken place with regard to our views of the importance of theological training. The church knew better in the 17th century and had no cause to regret calling men like Rutherford from their parishes. Speaking of the of the latter's presence at St. Andrews, McWard wrote: "God did so signally second His servant's indefatigable pains both in teaching in the schools and preaching in the congregation, that it became forthwith a Lebanon out of which were taken cedars for building the house of the Lord through the whole land." What sweet days the church enjoyed when her evangelists were theological professors and her theological professors evangelists!

Rutherford is a fine example of the manner in which true learning and heavenly mindedness should go hand in hand. Folios and lectures did nothing to quench his zeal. An English merchant who visited St. Andrews, came away with the unforgettable impression of "a little fair man" who "showed me the loveliness of Christ." We know well from Rutherford's immortal letters the kind of exhortations his pupils would receive: "My Lord and Master is chief of ten thousand of thousands. None is comparable to Him, in heaven or in earth. Dear brethren, do all for Him. Pray for Christ. Preach for Christ. Do all for Christ; beware of men-pleasing. The Chief Shepherd will shortly appear."

On the restoration of the miserable Charles II, his corrupt Scottish parliament quickly saw their need of silencing such teachers as Rutherford. He was ordered to Edinburgh on the charge of treason, but the summons, finding him on his death bed, received the memorable reply, "Tell them I have got a summons already before a superior Judge and judicatory, and it behooves me to answer my first summons, and ere your day come I will be where few kings and great folk come." On hearing the news, parliament put to the vote whether or not to let him die in the college. When it was carried to "put him out," valiant Lord Burleigh rose and declared, "Ye have voted that honest man out of the college, but ye cannot vote him out of heaven."

The year 1660 marked the end in Britain of a golden era in theological training. In that year the leaders of our nation repeated the sin of the Gadarenes-"They began to pray Him to depart out of their coasts" (Mark 5: 1 7)--and Christ left them that our country might relearn by bitter experience what it was to be without theological colleges where faithful men might teach others also.

ENDNOTES
1 "Two things are absolutely requisite to make a man a preacher; viz., --(1) Special gifts, such as perception of truth, simplicity, aptness to impart instruction, some degree of eloquence, and intense earnestness. (2) Special call. Every man who is rightly in the ministry must have been moved thereto by the Holy Ghost. He must feel an irresistible desire to spend his whole life in his Master's cause." --C.H. Spurgeon.
2 Acts 19:9. Though Paul did not use the schoolroom exclusively for students there would doubtless be present a considerable number of them.
3 Hugh Y. Reyburn, John Calvin, His Life, Letters, and Work. p. 284. I am indebted to Reyburn for other facts in this section.
4 The list of Puritans educated within the walls of Emmanuel is almost endless. During the COmmonwealth Period no less than eleven heads of other Colleges came from Emmanuel!
5 Chaderton, faring lest an Arminian master would be appointed by royal mandate when the office fell vacant through his approaching death, secretly resigned in favour of Preston in 1622. But strangely enough Chaderton lived till 1640 when he was about 94 years old!
6 Such was Preston's eagerness to help students that Thomas Fuller referred to him as "the greatest pupil-monger in England." Emmanuel, at one point in this period, had 205 undergraduates. In 1622 there were 3050 students at Cambridge.
7 "The great Puritanic authors must have been most industrious workers at the University, or they never would have become such pre-eminent masters in Israel. The conscientious student is the most likely man to become a successful preacvher." -- C.H. Spurgeon
8 Works of Thomas Goodwin, Nichol's edition, vol. II, p. xxxiii.

Read 1643 times

We have 234 guests and no members online

© Free Reformed Churches of North America