Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?
Latest Episode:1516
Do Protestants Have the "Fullness of the Faith"?

Stephen Charnock: A Man Who Loved Celebrating God's Goodness

Not many Christians today are forced to live in exile for their religious convictions—Stephen Charnock was not so fortunate. Charnock (1628-1680) is certainly not the most well-known theologian—we don’t have all the biographical details of his life like we do for others in church history. However, the importance of Charnock's legacy and writings for the Christians today is important. Through the pages of Charnock’s prolific writing, a reader learns not just the doctrines, theology, and beliefs of the theologian but also receives a glimpse into the events of a man's life whose theology was not abstract from his personal walk, but was rather a fundamental cornerstone and comfort amidst life's trials and journeys.

Scholar, Pastor, Exile

Charnock was born in London in 1628, just eight years after the Mayflower departed from England. Much about his childhood is unknown, but we do have a sketch of his educational pursuits:

  • At age 14, Charnock became a student at Cambridge, Emmanuel College.
  • While studying at Cambridge, Charnock became a Christian through the influence and ministry of William Sancroft, an instructor who later became Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Charnock graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in 1646, and then became involved in various forms of ministry.
  • Charnock earned his Master of Arts from Oxford in 1652, and rose to the level of proctor in 1654.

While gifted intellectually, Charnock was also recognized for his ministerial gifts. In 1655, he was called by Henry Cromwell—son of Oliver Cromwell and governor of Ireland to be a chaplain. During this particular period, Charnock’s capabilities as preacher flourished, as attested to by his listeners. In addition to his chaplain duties, Charnock stayed busy serving as a lecturer in Dublin at Christ Church and pastor of St. Werburgh’s. But dark clouds were on the horizon for Charnock in England.

After the relatively brief leadership of Oliver and Richard Cromwell over England, in 1660, Charles II became king, and subsequently restored the monarchy and the Church of England. As a consequence, Charnock, a Presbyterian minister, was discharged from his office and was not allowed to publicly practice ministry. It is thought that Charnock traveled to Europe and continued to preach privately, study, and perhaps even practice medicine as a way to provide for himself during the banishment.

Contributions to Theology

Though many specifics of Charnock’s time in exile have not been preserved for history, we do know that this period gave him profound reflections on God’s sovereign care, largely found in his book Divine Providence. There Charnock writes, “Providence is mysterious because God’s ways are above our human methods. Dark providences are often a smoldering groundwork laid for some excellent design that God is about to reveal.”

After 15 years of almost complete silence, Charnock appeared again. This time not as a professor or chaplain, but as a pastor at a church at Crosby Hall in London. There, Charnock shared pastoral responsibilities with Thomas Watson (ca. 1620-1686), a significant English nonconformist minister of his period, who wrote a number of memorable works still around for Christians today ranging from the topics of Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer, and repentance. It was during this time that Charnock preached and wrote a majority of his significant works. Of particular importance, Charnock wrote and preached what is perhaps his magnum opus, The Existence and Attributes of God, a collection of sermons that biblically and theologically highlight God’s attributes and the application of those doctrines for the Christian life. In the Lord’s providence, Charnock did not get to finish the work due to his death on July 27, 1680.

Legacy and Importance

Although at the time of his passing, hardly any of Charnock’s writings had been published, many of his writings were preserved and published posthumously by two friends from Oxford. While Charnock did not get to finish his sermons and writings on God’s existence and attributes, what he was able to finish is a blessing and treasure to the church today. In addition to being orthodox in his theology, Charnock wonderfully celebrated the beauty and goodness of God through his revealed attributes. A frequent occurrence on the pages of Charnock’s writing is a constant reinforcement and celebration of God’s goodness, which he calls “the brightness and loveliness of our majestical Creator.” Through the theology of Stephen Charnock, Christians are urged to consider the joy and privilege of meditating on God’s existence and to celebrate his glorious character.

Through his life, Charnock encourages us to see that our theology should not be an intellectual pursuit, detached from our personal devotion, but should lead us practically to worship our great God. Furthermore, his work demonstrates that a proper understanding of God’s promises are a great comfort to his people amid difficulties.

Even a brief sketch of Charnock’s life reveals strenuous trials. Nevertheless, up to the end of his life, Charnock preached, believed, and comforted himself with the reality of God’s goodness. Christians today can use Charnock’s theology to reflect on, mediate, and rejoice in the beauty and wonder of our God. Along with Charnock, Christians can, too, declare, “Nothing does so much delight a gracious soul as an opportunity of celebrating the perfections and goodness of the Creator.”


Footnotes

  • Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformed Heritage Books), 142.

  • Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans, 142.

  • James McCosh, “His Life” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2010), xvi-xvii.

  • Richard Adams and Edward Veal, Preface to Divine Providence: A Classic Work For Modern Readers, edited by Carolyn B. Whiting (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2022),xxvi.

  • Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans, 143.

  • Stephen Charnock, Divine Providence: A Classic Work For Modern Readers, ed. Carolyn B. Whiting (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2022), 34.

  • Beeke and Pederson, Meet the Puritans, 143.

  • Stephen Charnock, “On The Goodness of God” in The Existence and Attributes of God: Updated and Unabridged, ed. Mark Jones (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), 2.1196.

  • Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 1.611.

Photo of Arie Van Weelden
Arie Van Weelden

Arie Van Weelden is a book nerd, sports fan, and movie lover from Wisconsin. He’s in his third year at Westminster Seminary pursuing his M.Div. and serves as a pastoral intern for a local church. He and his wife love bird-watching and trips to the beach. When he’s not reading theology, he’s actively engaging in his role as the World’s Greatest Uncle.