Fire and Ice: Puritan and Reformed Writings
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A Note about the "Writings" of Thomas Shepard

by Bill Carson

The Reader may find that the selections by Thomas Shepard somewhat hard to read, and Alexander Whyte himself refers to his "execrable English." An explanation of how Shepard's works came to be published will explain why this is the case.

Shepard had established quite a reputation for himself as a preacher before he was forced to flee to New England in 1635. Poor health and the loss of family members did not slow his prodigious workload of preaching, combating error, and helping other pastors. The concerns of his daily work did not allow him to take any thought of preparing his sermons for a wider audience.

The Reader will imagine Shepard's surprise when a friend borrowed his sermon notes for "The Sincere Convert" and subsequently published them in London without his knowledge! (And later came out with an edition "much corrected and amended by the author" who had never even seen it!)

Later, as a founder of Harvard College, some of his friends demanded that he turn his sermon series on the Sabbath into a book for the students. It is said that he "threw together" his notes to make up his "Theses on the Sabbath." The only work that he actually prepared for publication was a short paper on baptism.

After his death at the age of 44, Shepard's sermon notes were compared with notes taken by members of his congregation, and prepared for publication. While this is hardly an ideal method, the contents of the books resulting still repay careful study. As one of the editors explains, "Though the reader will often meet with curtness of expression, and though some lively passages that were uttered in preaching may be wanting, yet you have this benefit, to have much in little room."

Therefore it may be said that these extracts from Shepard do not exactly reflect what he said, when he preached these sermons years ago. Neither are they exactly what he wrote, nor are they anything he intended to be read by posterity. But they do contain a message that we need to hear today.

Index to Thomas Shepard

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