William Perkins (1558-1602)

The C. S. Lewis of the Puritan movement

A 17th-century source describes an incident in the prison ministry of William Perkins: A young felon proceeding to the scaffold looked half dead, "whereupon Master Perkins laboured to cheer up his spirits, and finding him still in an agony, and distress of mind, he said unto him, 'What, man? What is the matter with thee? Art thou afraid of death?'

"'Ah no (said the prisoner, shaking his head) but of a worser thing.'

"'Sayest thou so? (said Master Perkins) Come down again, man, and thou shalt see what God's grace will do to strengthen thee.'

"Whereupon the prisoner coming down, Master Perkins took him by the hand, and made him kneel down with himself … when that blessed man of God made such an effectual prayer in confession of sins … as made the prisoner burst out into abundance of tears; and Master Perkins finding that he had brought him low enough, even to hell gates, he proceeded to the second part of his prayer, and therein to show him the Lord Jesus … stretching forth his blessed hand of mercy … which he did so sweetly press with such heavenly art … as made [the prisoner] break into new showers of tears for joy of the inward consolation which he found … who (the prayer being ended) rose from his knees cheerfully, and went up the ladder again so comforted, and took his death with such patience, and alacrity, as if he actually saw himself delivered from the hell which he feared before, and heaven opened for the receiving of his soul."

This ministry to the condemned in the Cambridge castle jail may reflect Perkins's sudden conversion as an undergraduate at Christ's College. A possibly apocryphal tale says that the worldly student overheard a woman scolding her ...

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