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William Perkins

The great Puritan preacher and theologian William Perkins was born in 1558 in Marston Jabbet in Warwickshire, and received his formal education at Christ’s College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1581, but remained at Christ’s as a fellow until 1595; he served as lecturer (preacher) in the church of Great St Andrews from 1584 until his death in 1602 at the age of forty-four.

A man of considerable ability, Perkins has been described as ‘the Puritan theologian of Tudor times’. Deeply committed to the awakening and transforming of professing Christians, he recognised the central importance of Christian godliness and the strategic, God-given significance of what transpired in the pulpits of England. With this vision he laboured to proclaim the gospel. Abundant testimony to the power with which he did this now fills the three great folio volumes of his Works.

Concern for the advance of the gospel was not always the leading feature of William Perkins’ life. He was far from Christ in his early days at Cambridge. But in the mercy of God, like the prodigal son, he ‘came to himself’. According to tradition this awakening began when he overheard a woman threatening her son, ‘Hold your tongue, or I will give you to drunken Perkins yonder.’ Doubtless various influences played their God-ordained roles, including perhaps his tutor, the remarkable evangelical preacher Laurence Chaderton. In any event, wonderfully drawn to Christ, Perkins now laid his whole life before his new Master in gratitude and tribute, and began to preach, first of all to condemned prisoners in the castle jail. Later he would exercise his considerable gifts from the pulpit of Great St Andrews, where he continued to minister until his death.

[Extract from Sinclair B. Ferguson’s Foreword to Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying, published by the Trust in the Puritan Paperbacks series.  The author image is from a painting of Perkins by Gustavus Ellinthorpe Sintzenich, by kind permission of Mansfield College, Oxford.]

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