Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian

Hercules Collins’ Funeral Sermon

Hercules Collins died on October 4, 1702. He was interred five days later at Bunhill Fields, the burial ground of dissenters. His funeral sermon was preached by John Piggott, a Seventh-Day Baptist who was renown for his funeral sermons. He preached a number of sermons around this time at the funeral services of prominent London Baptist pastors. The sermon was based on Matthew 24:44, “Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an Hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh. 

The first part of the sermon focused on the biblical text. The latter part of the sermon summarized the life of Collins. This section of the sermon is excerpted below.

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In such a posture of soul was he, whose death occasions this discourse.  I doubt not but he was actually as well as habitually ready; you know I mean your late worthy pastor Mr. Hercules Collins, concerning whom I have need to say the less, because his doctrine you have heard, and his example you have seen for so many years; the former was agreeable to the sentiments of the reformed churches in all fundamental articles of faith, and the latter such as did adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.

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 Luthers 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.

How exemplary was his submission under personal and relative trials; his own indispositions were frequent and great, yet in patience he possessed his soul, and was always learning from the discipline of the rod: and how well he carried it under the affliction he had with a near relation, you cannot but know. I confess I have thought him in that respect one of the best examples that ever I knew; surely no person could be more tender and sympathizing. In a word, he was faithful in every relation, a man of truth and integrity, one entirely devoted to the service of the temple, and zealously bent to promote the interest of the Lord Redeemer. But alas! this useful minister is silenced, and a few days indisposition has given him a remove from the toils of the pulpit, to the triumphs of the throne.

I confess I had not the opportunity of conversing with him in his last illness; but I am informed by those that were with him, that he retained an excellent savour of divine things to the day of his death, and did discourse but the morning before he died after a very moving manner, being greatly affected with those words, They overcame by the blood of the Lamb (This was the last text that he preached on, it being on a funeral occasion.). ‘Tis true, he is fallen in battle, but he died more than a conqueror; and having fought the good fight, and finished his course, and kept the faith, he quitted the body, that he might receive an unfading crown of glory.  But we are left behind unripe for Heaven, and God is teaching us by terrible things in righteousness.  As we shall discover great stupidity, if we do not observe how God hath broken us with breach upon breach (Mr. Dennis and Mr. Thomas Harrison both died in the compass of six days in August last; and since the preaching of this sermon Mr. William Collins is deceased.): He hath removed both younger and elder ministers.  Therefore on this occasion suffer me to speak a few words to three sorts of people, and I have done.

  1. To Surviving Ministers. I confess I am the unworthiest of your number; and considering my age, and before whom I stand, my words ought to be few.  Yet the sense I have upon my own soul concerning the methods of God’s providence towards us, inclines me to address my self to you, my Fathers, that were in Christ before me, and preached him before I knew him.  Suffer a son to put you in mind of doing the utmost you can for Christ while here; for you must shortly go, and what then shall we do to stem the tide of profaneness, and answer the cavils of sceptics against our holy religion?    O pity, pity the rising generation of young ministers; Pray for them, advise them, and do all you can to help them in their work, before you leave them: Be an example to them, that when you are gathered to your fathers, we may stand up and plead for your God and Ours.  And you, my brethren, that are younger, let me intreat you to apply your selves to close study and constant prayer, that you may shew yourselves workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
  1. To you, my Brethren of this Church, that have lost an excellent pastor. In the midst of your tears look up to Heaven, and pray to the Lord of the Harvest that he would send forth labourers into this harvest (Mat. 9.38).  Remember the God you pray to can dispense the Spirit in what measures he pleases, and qualify whom he will for the ministration of the gospel.  But let not that make you defective on your part: You must not expect that preachers will drop down from Heaven, or spring out of Earth; but due care must be taken fore the incouragement of humble men that have real gifts, and let such be trained up in useful learning, that they may be able to defend the truths they preach.  Your pastor’s mouth is stopped, and cannot speak to you; but this I am sure was the sense of his mind.  To close this head, labour to keep the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: And tho your Elder is dead, remember your relation to the Church is not dissolved, but you are bound to keep your places, and to do your utmost to promote the happiness of this congregation.  The Church is in a state of widowhood; and I hope you will not forget to sympathize with your Pastor’s distressed widow, to defend her right, and support her to the last.

Be as speedy as you can in filling up the place in the church of him that is gone: and may you have a pastor after God’s own heart.

  1. To you that were the constant auditors of the deceased minister. ‘Tis to be feared that many of you have not improved so much as you ought to have done: You are witnesses with what zeal and fervour, with what constancy and seriousness he used to warn and persuade you.  Tho you have been deaf to his former preaching, yet listen to the voice of this providence, lest you continue in your slumber till you sleep the sleep of death.

You cannot but see, unless you will close your eyes, that this world and the fashion of it is passing away.  O what a change will a few months or years make in this numerous assembly!  Yea, what a sad change has little more than a fortnight made in this congregation!  He that was so lately preaching in this pulpit, is now wrapped in his shroud, and confined to his coffin; and the lips that so often dispersed knowledge amongst you, are sealed up till the resurrection.  Here’s the body of your late minister; but his soul is entered into the joy of his Lord.  O that those of you that would not be persuaded by him living, might be wrought upon by his death!  For tho he is dead, he yet speaketh; and what doth he say; bot to ministers and people, but Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man cometh?

John Piggott, Eleven Sermons, 235-40. To read the sermon in its entirety and/or download the book, click here.