Some of you may be interested in knowing more about this interesting, but virtually unknown pastor. Hercules Collins is very interesting to me since he was what I desire to be: a pastor-theologian who was strongly committed to the task of preaching God’s Word faithfully to His people. His theology was worked out in the crucible of pastoral ministry during a twenty-six year pastorate (1676-1702) at London’s oldest Baptist church. This church was first pastored by John Spilsbury. Hercules was the third pastor of this historic congregation (which is still in existence) and would later be followed by such notables as Abraham Booth and Ernest Kevan. Half of Collins’ pastorate was during the period of persecution of dissenters prior to the Act of Toleration (1689). Collins himself was even jailed for his nonconformity in 1684.
Hercules Collins was also a relatively prolific author for the day in which he lived, authoring at least twelve distinct works. His published material begins with An Orthodox Catechism (1680) which is an edited version of the 16th century Heidelberg Catechism. As a Baptist, Collins obviously revised the section on baptism, as well as making a number of stylistic changes which I think can best be understood as being tailored to the congregation to which he ministered. Interestingly, Collins also added the text of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds to his catechism. Perhaps this was done to emphasize the continuity of the fledgling Particular Baptist movement with the orthodoxy of the past. The appendix of this document is also interesting from a historical perspective. In it Collins argues for the biblical duty of congregational singing. This was an important development in the late 17th century.
Over the next twenty-two years Collins produced eleven more works, mainly focused on issues of separation with the Church of England and believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism. This is to be expected if we understand the historical context of his ministry and his desire to provide teaching materials to his own congregation and beyond. A couple of other interesting works emerge from his time in the Newgate Prison during 1684. One of these was titled Counsel for the Living Occasioned from the Dead and was written upon the death of two of his fellow prisoners and contains pastoral instruction to those who were likewise experiencing persecution. The other prison work was titled A Voice from Prison which was alternatively titled: Meditations on Revelation 3:11 Tending to the Establishment of God’s Little Flock, in An Hour of Temptation. From this title one can clearly see the pastoral heart of Hercules Collins who was still concerned about the welfare of his congregation while in prison himself!
A final work by Hercules Collins bears mentioning. It was his final work published in the year of his death, 1702. It was descriptively titled: The Temple Repair’d: or, An Essay to revive the long-neglected ordinances, of exercising the spiritual Gift of Prophecy for the Edification of the Churches; and of ordaining Ministers duly qualified. This work includes instruction on both preparing and preaching sermons for those who are called by God into the ministry. It provides an excellent glimpse into exactly what a 17th century British Particular Baptist view of ministry was. This work will likely be the main focus of my research and writing of my theses.
Hercules Collins died on October 4, 1702 at the early age of 56. His funeral sermon was preached by John Piggot who described Collins as follows:
He began to be religious early, and continued faithful to the last. He was not shocked by the fury of persecutors, though he suffered imprisonment for the name of Christ.
He was one that had a solid acquaintance with divine things, about which he always spoke with a becoming seriousness and a due relish; and I must say, I hardly ever knew a man that did more constantly promote religious discourse (a practice almost out of fashion:) he shewed an unwearied endeavour to recover the decayed power of religion, for he lived what he preached, and it pleased God to succeed his endeavours in the gospel after a wonderful manner. Are there not here many that must call him Father, whom he hath begotten through the gospel? May it not be said of this man and that woman, they were born here?
If he had not some men’s accuracy, yet it was made up by a constant flame; for no man could preach with a more affectionate regard to the salvation of souls. And how well he discharged the other branches of his pastoral function, this church is a witness, whom he has watched over and visited above five and twenty years.
He had Luther’s three qualifications for a gospel-minister; he was much given to meditation and prayer, and hardly any man was more grievously tempted of the devil than your deceased pastor: though for many years satan in a great measure was bruised under his feet, and God had so cleared up his love to his soul, that he could say, I know in whom I have believed, I know to whom I have committed my soul, I know that my Redeemer liveth; and I know that when this earthly house of my tabernacle is dissolved, I have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. His constant walk was in the fear of the Lord, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost. He had a full assurance of the love of God for many years; yet this did not make him careless and negligent in duty, it did not lift him up above measure, but kept him at the foot of Christ.
What a testimony to leave behind! I believe that the life of Hercules Collins is one worth studying and making known to the present generation. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do this work and I look forward to reporting many of my findings on this blog for the benefit of my readers.
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