I don’t believe there has been a more valuable extra-biblical resource and tool than the Puritan Hard Drive." - Dr. Matthew McMahon, A Puritan's Mind. ___________________
Stephen Charnock was an English minister during the seventeenth century. In the late 1650s he spent some time in Ireland as chaplain to the Governor, where his preaching attracted considerable attention.
After King Charles II came to power in 1660, Stephen Charnock returned to England but was not permitted to hold a public ministry. He could only minister privately. This changed in 1675 when government restrictions were relaxed, and Charnock became co-pastor with Thomas Watson of a Presbyterian church in London. Charnock died in 1680.
We have it on high authority, that "the memory of the just is blessed, and that the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance." It follows that exertions ought to be made to record and transmit the virtues and the doings of those who are the excellent ones of the earth. Contemporaries may, from personal knowledge, be enabled to cherish, with affectionate regard, the characters of those valued friends whom death has snatched from their embrace; and, by consecrating a portion of time to the recollection of their worth, they may contrive at once to maintain communion with the land of spirits, and to cause, for a time at least, the excellencies of the wise and the good to survive the grave. It is, however, desirable that, if possible, such also as live at a greater distance of time should have it in their power to profit by acquaintance with those who have gone before them, and, for their sakes, some more permanent memorials require to be constructed. Hence the origin of biographical compositions,—a species of writing to which no small importance. attaches, being equally edifying and delightful.
If general history may be described as philosophy teaching by fact, what is religious biography but piety instructing by example? A well-written piece of this kind is just an account of the progress of an immortal being through time to eternity, and therefore cannot fail to supply an object of interest to every reflective mind. Nor is it calculated to be more interesting than improving. In scrutinizing the life and character of a fellow-creature, we are irresistibly led, by the comparisons, contrasts, and analogies that are suggested, to review our own. "As iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." The knowledge of others is, in this way, rendered subservient to the knowledge of ourselves; and in proportion as we are led to institute a vigorous process of self-examination, so as to become acquainted with our own excellencies and defects, are we placed m more favourable circumstances for taking those steps by which we may advance in the scale of intelligence, holiness, and piety. The very sympathy that is awakened in our bosoms with the joys and griefs, the cares and struggles, the dangers and deliverances of others, has a direct tendency, in regard to ourselves, to transform the mind, to purify the heart, to strengthen the moral habits, and to elevate the tone and widen the sphere of religious experience.
It may be questioned whether there ever was a body of men whose characters, whether on their own account or that of posterity, were more worthy of being preserved and transmitted than those of the non-conforming divines of the seventeenth century. Men of undoubted talent, of extraordinary learning, of prodigious acquirements both in theology and general science, of uncompromising principle, of sleepless activity, and of sublime devotion, it were alike a scandal to ourselves and an injury to succeeding ages to suffer their memory to die. If ever lives deserved to escape the oblivion of the grave, they were theirs. Nor have their descendants been altogether insensible to this obligation. There are many memorials extant of their doings and sufferings, their sacrifices and worth,—some more and others less ample, but all of them teeming with pleasing reminiscences of the noblest achievements. and fragrant with the perfume of the most excellent Christian graces. We owe a deep debt of gratitude, in particular, to Calamy and Palmer, for their laborious researches in this field, and for the valuable materials they have collected. In some eases they have given us full-length portraits, every feature being brought prominently out, and the minutest shades accurately filled in with the most delicate touches. In other eases they have produced only humble miniatures, or rather rude sketches, in short, mere outlines; while of many they have been enabled to supply little more than the names; their history and characters having been irretrievably lost, from want of more timely care to secure them.
Unfortunately for us, the individual whose life and character we are now required to give, is one of those of whom there exist but scanty memorials. The whole of what is to be found, in some of the collections above referred to, occupies but a few pages. Nor, at such a distance of time from the period when the subject of the biography lived, is it possible to supply the deficiency. The duty of the biographer being of such a nature as to preclude altogether the exercise of the creative faculty, there is nothing left but to fall back on the labours of others, whatever these may have been. We can honestly say, that we have spared no pains in ransacking all known or supposable sources of information within our reach. The result we lay at our readers' feet, in the hope that they will give us full credit for having done all in our power to furnish them with a knowledge of one of the most useful and gifted of the Puritan Divines,—a man, whose general excellence, theological attainments, and fervent piety, entitle him to every mark of respect that can be strewn to the memory of the great and the good.
Stephen Charnock, B.D., was born in the year 1628, in the parish of St. Katharine Cree, London. His father, Mr. Richard Charnock, practiced as a solicitor in the Court of Chancery, and was descended from a family of some antiquity in Lancashire. Stephen, after a course of preparatory study, entered himself, at an early period of life, a student in Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was placed under the immediate tuition of the celebrated Dr. William Sancroft, who became afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. Although there is too much reason to fear that colleges seldom prove the spiritual birthplaces of the youth that attend them, it was otherwise in this case. The Sovereign Spirit, who worketh where and how he wills, had determined that this young man, while prosecuting his early studies, should undergo that essential change of heart which, besides yielding an amount of personal comfort, could not fail to exert a salutary influence on all his future inquiries, sanctify whatever learning he might hereafter acquire, and fit him for being eminently useful to thousands of his fellow-creatures. To this all-important event we may safely trace the eminence to which, both as a Preacher and as a Divine, he afterwards attained,—as he had thus a stimulus to exertion, a motive to vigorous and unremitting application, which could not otherwise have existed.
On his leaving the University he spent some time in a private family, either as a preceptor or for the purpose of qualifying himself the better for discharging the solemn and arduous duties of public life, on which he was about to enter. Soon after this, just as the Civil War broke out in England, he commenced his official labours as a minister of the gospel of peace, somewhere in Southwark. He does not appear to have held this situation long; but short as was his ministry there, it was not altogether without fruit. He who had made the student himself, while yet young, the subject of saving operations, was pleased also to give efficacy to the first efforts of the youthful pastor to win souls to Christ. Several individuals in this his first charge were led to own him as their spiritual father. Nor is this a solitary instance of the early ministry of an individual receiving that countenance from on high which has been withheld from the labours of his riper years. A circumstance this, full of encouragement to those who, in the days of youth, are entering with much fear and trembling on service in the Lord's vineyard. At the time when they may feel impelled to exclaim with most vehemence, Who is sufficient for these things? God may cheer them with practical confirmations of the truth, that their sufficiency is of God.