Clare College

Formerly Clare Hall. This was where Adams studied for his MA.

Trinity College

Trinity College, Cambridge, where Adams studied as an undergraduate

Aspects of Piety 04

In 1614, Adams accepted an appointment as Vicar of Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, residing there until 1618. (See here). Like his previous calling it was facilitated by Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere. Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire are adjacnet and Adams’ early years of ministry were all spent in the same vicinity. (See map). While at Wingrave, he seems to have taken up a lectureship at St Gregory’s in London, a church dating from the 7th Century near to the old St Paul’s Cathedral. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. (The site is now occupied by the clock tower of St Paul’s according to Angus, Works 3, p xi).
Lectureships, especially popular in London, were a Puritan attempt to promote preaching. ‘These lecturers (almost entirely called and supported the laity) created a situation in which much of the preaching in the city took place outside of normal ecclesiastical lines of authority’ (Mark Dever, Richard Sibbes Puritanism and Calvinism in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England, p 81). A full study can be found in Seaver.
The ODNB also mentions a chaplaincy at this time to Sir Henry Montague, later Earl of Manchester, the Lord Chief Justice or Privy-seal. Adams dedicated his works of 1629 to Montague and to William, Earl of Pembroke, Lord Chamberlain and privy counsellor, founder of Pembroke College, Oxford. Immediate successors of both served in the Westminster Assembly. His 1633 work on 2 Peter was dedicated to the eminent civil lawyer and judge Sir Henry Marten.
During the Wingrave years, Adams published several collections of sermons and was in demand as a popular city preacher. He retained his lectureship at St Gregory’s until at least 1623, but as, following the Synod of Dort, King James became increasingly pro-Arminian and discouraged lectureships (even before Laud began outlawing them), this probably came to an end.
By 1619 Adams was rector of nearby St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf. (The church was replaced after the Great Fire by a red brick Wren church, now home to London Welsh episcopalians. See here.) He resided there it seems until his death, dependent on fluctuating funds available to St Paul’s. In December 1623 his wife died. There is no evidence that he remarried.
Still much in demand, he preached his final sermons at Paul’s Cross in 1623 and 1624. The Temple commemorated King James’s preservation from the gunpowder plot. Three Sermons, 1625, suggests continued prominence as it includes sermons for the Lord Mayor’s election, the triennial visitation of the Bishop of London and mourners at Whitehall two days after King James’s death.


Aspects of Piety 03

It is difficult at this remove to appreciate how popular preaching and printed sermons were in the 17th Century. The reading public was far greater than historians once thought and there was a flood of literature of all sorts to sate its appetite. This flood inevitably spilled over and affected more illiterate sections of the population too. Alexandra Walsham (Providence in early modern England p 33) has written of
an explosion of cheaply priced printed texts designed to entertain, edify, and satisfy the thirst of a rapidly expanding reading public for information. … Hawked and chanted at the doors of theatres, alehouses, and other habitual meeting spots, and displayed for sale in shops in the vicinity of St Paul’s churchyard, they also penetrated the provinces and countryside to a degree which is only gradually coming to light.
The nation’s preachers seem initially simply to have bewailed this flood of largely unhelpful literature. Then, reluctantly at first, they began to swell it with the most wholesome material they could produce in various formats, from cheap unbound booklets to high quality folio editions. An incentive to putting sermons into print was the fact that unscrupulous printers might otherwise produce pirated and potentially inaccurate editions, so great was the demand for such material. While sermons undoubtedly held little attraction for some, there was a sizable number for whom ‘they were like an addictive and intoxicating drug’. (Walsham p 61)
Perhaps especially in London preaching was as much a communal gathering as a solemn spiritual event, to which restive and wayward youth eagerly swarmed.
In general, both hearers of preaching and readers of sermons were many and varied. (Walsham, p 62). Adams complains of ‘perfunctory hearing’, (Works 2, p 271) and asks ‘How many sermons are lost whiles you bring not with you the vials of attention.’ ‘You come frequently to the wells of life,’ he complains ‘but you bring no pitchers with you.’ The people either lack mouths to receive the balm of grace or bottoms to retain it. (Works 3, p 366) He also says '… never did the Egyptians call so fast upon the Israelites for making of bricks, as the people call on us for the making of sermons; (Cf Works 2, p 169). Typically, he cannot resist adding ‘and our allowance of materials is much alike’! He asks of London ‘What city in the world is so rich in her spiritual provision as this? Some whole countries within the Christian pale have not so many learned and painful pastors as be within these walls and liberties.’ (Works 2, p 271) Paul Seaver has commented ‘In its preaching, as in so many other respects, London was without rival. Nowhere else were there so many lectureships packed into so small an area ….’ (The Puritan lectureships the politics of religious dissent 1560-1662 p 121)
Adams was one of many who sought to capitalise on this interest through printed sermons. Various means were used to reduce sermons to print. We do not know what happened in Adams’ case but judging from the presentation of the material and its general lack of literary (as opposed to homiletical) polish, it would seem that amanuenses were employed to record Adams’ sermons verbatim. (Cf ‘I know you have long looked for an end; I never delighted in prolixity.’
‘I know you have long looked for an end; I never delighted in prolixity.’ Works 1, , p 421; ‘… it hath led me further than either my purpose or your patience would willingly have allowed me.’ Works 2, p 38; ‘You see the measure [the hour glass]. Only give me leave to set you down two short rules …’ Works 2, p 45; ‘I am loath to give you a bitter farewell, or to conclude with a menace. I see I cannot, by the time’s leave, drink to you any deeper in this cup of charity .…’ Works 2, p 412.)
His sermons vary in length. Possibly material was added. Sensitive to accusations of simply affecting to be a man in print, in 1630 he rehearses a popular argument for printing sermons in his dedication ‘to the candid and ingenious reader’.
Speech is only for presence, writings have their use in absence … our books may come to be seen where ourselves shall never be heard. These may preach when the author cannot, and (which is more) when he is not.
(Works 3, p ix). It had been profitable when he spoke it and now he hopes it will be profitable in written form (Cf Works 3, p xvii).


Aspects of Piety 02

As for the man himself, scant detail regarding his life outside the pulpit exists. Moira Baker says ‘ … the eclipse of his reputation belies the achievement of his earlier career and his enduring stature as a gifted preacher.’ ‘The man we cannot see,’ wrote Joseph Angus in 1866 ‘nor have we found a witness that has seen him’. Or as W H Stowell put it 20 years before, ‘His only monument is in his works. (See here.)
Our ignorance is so great that we know neither where or when he was born, nor when he died. The ODNB guesses 1583-1652.
It was uncertain at one time whether he was a university man but evidence has apparently surfaced to say that he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1598 from where he graduated BA in 1601 (see here) and gained an MA in from Clare College (then Clare Hall) in 1606 (see here). This fits with his remark about universities being ‘nurseries of Christian learning’ (Works 2, p 112. Also note ‘For only about 5 per cent (38) of the [London] lecturers is there good reason to suppose that they did not attend university at all.’ Paul Seaver, The Puritan lectureships the politics of religious dissent 1560-1662, Stanford, California, Stanford UP, 1970, p 181).
We also know that at some point he married and had a son and two daughters, the latter predeceasing him in 1642 and 1647. Probably he was born in the early 1580s, in the reign of Elizabeth I. (It is clear from his occasional references to her that Adams respected good Queen Bess and King James too). As for his death, we know that in 1652 he was in ‘necessitous and decrepit old age’. (Cf Works 3, pp lvi and 264). It would seem that he ‘relied upon the charity of his former parishioners during the final months of his life’ which presumably came while in his seventies, before the Restoration of 1660.
A further known date is his ordination in the Diocese of Lincoln in 1604, the year after James came to the throne. The following year Adams was licensed to the curacy of Northill, Bedfordshire, but was soon dismissed when Northill College Manor was sold. (See here). By 1611 it seems he was vicar in the village of Willington, near Bedford, where he remained until 1614, pursuing a ministry of preaching and putting sermons into print. (See here). While at Willington, he preached at least once before the Bedford clergy at an Archdeacon’s visitation and twice from Paul’s Cross. These sermons were published, as was the common practice at the time. So even as a young man his sermons were being published



Paul's Wharf

St Benet, Paul's Wharf, (St Benet Woodwharf) was the main place where Adams served when in London. The building seen here is post-1666 and the great fire and built by Wren (1677-83). It is situated where Upper Thames St/White Lion Hill/Queen Victoria St EC4 meet. First mentioned in the 12th century. The church has been used by a Welsh congregation since 1879. Parish united with St Nicholas Cole Abbey 1879.


St Peter and St Paul, Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, where Adams served from the very end of 1614 until some time in 1619


St Laurence , Willington, Bedfordshire, where Adams served 1612-1614

and the nearby

stables and

dovecote there,

built in 1541.


St Mary's, Northill, Bedfordshire, where Adams served as curate, 1605-1611

Aspects of Piety 01

During recent studies in the Puritans I produced an essay on Adams and his piety. It appeared in the journal Foundations in modified form. This is how it began:

But when the gospel came to us in Queen Elizabeth’s days, of so blessed memory, we also had much peace. We had with Gloria in ex celsis Deo, sung also Pax in terris. The iron gates of war were shut up, and the long tossed ark of our church had an olive-branch of flourishing peace bestowed upon it. The fury of an adversary was not known, but ‘righteousness and peace kissed each other.’ Yet was not this peace without great fires:
1. There was a great fire of Anabaptism: a gross, perverse, and sottish sect, that had washed off their font-water as unclean, and thought it not enough to run out of Babylon, unless they ran also out of themselves, out of their wits. …
2. There was a great fire of Brownism: an ignis fatuus, fastening on abundance of crude and squalid matter, that could not easily be extinguished. It was blown up with the bellows of pride; and because it might not have its own swing, it fell to direct railing. They say the church of England may be their mother, but is none of God’s wife. Why do they not call her plain ‘whore?’ for such is a mother that hath children, and no husband. But these the whiles are brave sons, who care not to prove themselves bastards, that their mother may be noted for a harlot. But the shame be their own, integrity hers; who hath not defiled her bed, though they have shamed her womb. …
3. There was a raging fire of the Papists; who to maintain their spiritual fire of superstition, made use of material fire to set a whole land in combustion. How unspeakable were their treasons against that gracious princess! which yet if we gather up into one volume, we shall find their last equalling all: which should have been a fire, a fire indeed, such a one as hell itself could only belch out. But bless we our God, that with sweet showers of mercy rained it out.
These fires have been kindled in a land of peace, though many tears have been showered upon them, and earnest prayers sent up to heaven for their quenching. Yea, and will be still, so long as that crown-shorn generation can transport their burning quills into England; and their great Antichrist, the successor not of Peter, but of Romulus, sits on that fiery chair. …

{See Works of Thomas Adams 2, p 152}
These words were preached in 1623 at ‘the open air pulpit in the church yard of St Paul’s Cathedral’ known as Paul’s Cross. (For a note on Paul's cross see here). They were preached by one Thomas Adams, a man ranked above ‘silver-tongued’ Henry Smith by John Brown (See preface to his 1909 collection of sermons here. Smith, 1560-1591, was a popular Puritan lecturer at St Clement Danes, London; short lived, his works remain in print) and who has been described as ‘one of the most gifted preachers’ of his day (W K Jordan, The development of religious toleration in England 1603-1640, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard UP, 1936, p 155) and the ‘greatest of all early Puritan divines’ (W Fraser Mitchell, English Pulpit Oratory from Andrewes to Tillotson: A Study of its Literary Aspects, New York, Russell and Russell, 1932 [reprint 1962]; quoted by Baker).
With well over a million words in print, (besides the sermons in the collected Works there is a massive Commentary on the Second Epistle General of Peter) he is a bright star in a veritable galaxy of 17th Century divines whose reputation today rests chiefly in their literary output. In his own day, Adams was often quoted in commonplace books. (Works 3, p x. Referring to the Library of William Bentley, preserved in Alleghenny College, Edwin Wolf says interestingly ‘He did own, as did most colonial Americans who had a shelf of folios, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, the works of Thomas Adams, … the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes’. See here.) Today he is largely forgotten but his works are still available and are still quoted. In the book by I D E Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977) of 145 Puritans quoted, Adams is cited more than most. Only the later eminently quotable William Gurnall (1617-1679) and Thomas Watson (c1620-1686) appear to have provided more material.

More sermons

Another collection of 12 sermons can be found here on Google Books. This edition is from 1847. The sermons are as follows

1. The Three Divine Sisters: Faith, hope, and Charity
2. The Leaven; or, A Direction to Heaven.
3. A Crucifix; or, A Sermon upon the Passion,
4. Semper Idem; or The Immutability of Jesus Christ
5. Heaven's Gate; or, The Passage to Paradise
6. Majesty in Misery; or the Power of Christ even dying
7. The Fool and his Sport
8. The Christian's Walk; or the King;s Highway of Charity
9. Love's Copy; or, The Best Precedent of Charity
10. God's Bounty; or The Blessings of Both his Hands
11. Politic hunting

12. The Taming of the Tongue

Semper Idem

Adams' sermon Semper Idem; or, the Immutable Mercy of Jesus Christ can be found here


You can download 12 sermons by Adams under the title The sermons of Thomas Adams, the Shakespeare of Puritan theologians; a selection edited by John Brown (1909) here.
The 12 sermons are

I. The City of Peace
II. The Fatal Banquet
III. The Breaking-up of the Feast
IV. God's Bounty
V. Politic Hunting
VI. Heaven made Sure
VII. The Sinner's Passing-Bell
VIII. God's House
IX. The Sinner's Mourning-Habit
X. The Cosmopolite
XI. The Two Sons
XII. The Soul's Sickness

Three Divine Sisters

A sermon of Adams
The Three Divine Sisters: Faith, Hope and Charity
can be found here on Google Books.
Enter search 'Thomas Adams'.
The sermon is on p 179. The book, by H C Fish, is called

History and Repository of Pulpit Eloquence

Literary Biography

A literary essay on Thomas Adams can be found here
It is the appropriate entry from the
Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Prose Writers of the Early Seventeenth Century
It is by Dr Moira Baker

ODNB Entry

This is the entry for our Thomas Adams in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The author is J Sears McGee.
Adams, Thomas (1583–1652), Church of England clergyman, matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in the Lent term of 1598 and graduated BA in 1602 and proceeded MA in 1606 from Clare College; he was ordained deacon and priest in Lincoln diocese on 23 September 1604. He served as curate of Northill, Bedfordshire, from 1605 to 1611, when he was sacked by its new patron. However, his Northill parishioners signed a petition stating that Adams had ‘behaved himselfe soberly in his conversation, painfully in his calling, lovingly amongst his neighbours, conformable to the orders of the Church, and in all respects befittingly to his vocation’ (Maltby, 78), and this testimony may have aided his appointment in 1612 as vicar of Willington, Bedfordshire, by its patron, Thomas Egerton, Baron Ellesmere.
Ellesmere advanced him on 21 December 1614 to the vicarage of Wingrave, Buckinghamshire, but by 1619 Adams was in London, where he remained for the rest of his life. The dean and chapter of St Paul's in 1619 collated him to two rectories, St Benet Paul's Wharf (on 15 June) and the small church of St Benet Sherehog (on 6 July). From 1618 to 1623 he also preached at St Gregory by Paul's. He served as chaplain to Henry Montagu, first earl of Manchester and chief justice of king's bench, and the dedicatees of his numerous published sermons included such influential men as Ellesmere, Montagu, Donne and William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke. Pembroke and Manchester also received the dedication of Adams's Works (1629), and his extensive Commentary (1633) on the second epistle of Peter was dedicated to the eminent civil lawyer and judge Sir Henry Marten.
Adams ‘was esteemed an Excellent Preacher’ by his contemporaries (Walker, 2.164), and a modern assessment holds that he is ‘one of the more considerable buried literary talents of the seventeenth century’ (Chandos, 156). Sermon titles such as Mystical Bedlam (1615), The White Devil (1614), The Devil's Banquet (1614), and The Gallant's Burden (1612) exemplify his lively style. Although Adams was described by Robert Southey as ‘the prose Shakespeare of puritan theologians … scarcely inferior to Fuller in wit or to Taylor in fancy’ (DNB), he was a Calvinist episcopalian rather than a puritan. Like puritans he craved careful observation of the sabbath and was deeply hostile to Rome, the Jesuits, and the papacy, as well as to idleness, over-indulgence in worldly pleasures, and conspicuous consumption in all its forms. His sermons abound in statements that puritans would have admired. For example, at Paul's Cross in 1623 he thundered against London's:

innumerable swarmes of … men and women, whose whole imployment is, to goe from their beds to the Tap-house, then to the Play-house, where they make a match for the Brothel-house, and from thence to bed againe … What an armie of these might bee mustred out of our Suburbs? (The Barren Tree, 1623, 48–9

When James I sought a Spanish marriage for Prince Charles, Adams denounced ‘the Romish Idols’ and Solomon's disastrous love of ‘idolatrous women’; he concluded that ‘when Religion and Superstition meet in one bed, they commonly produce a mungrell generation’ (The Temple, 1624, 34–5). Unlike puritans, however, he endorsed kneeling to receive communion and castigated the ‘fond scrupulositie’ of those who demanded such a rigid ‘conformitie to the primitive times, as if the Spouse of Christ might not weare a lace or a border, for which she could not plead prescription’. For Adams the outcome of the abolition of episcopacy that some puritans sought would have been a nightmarish ‘Anabaptisticall ataxie or confusion’ (Works, 931, 933).
From the 1610s through the mid-1620s Adams was highly visible in print, but for reasons which are unclear he spent the latter part of his career in obscurity, publishing nothing after 1633. Although two of Adams's powerful patrons, Pembroke and Ellesmere, were gone from the scene before 1630 Manchester remained a potent figure in the 1630s, but the connection yielded no obvious further advantage. Adams held the rectory of St Benet Paul's Wharf until sequestered during the civil wars, but thereafter continued to live in the rectory house. In a posthumously published work, God's Anger and Man's Comfort (1653), he referred to his ‘neccessitous and decrepit old age’. In his will, dated 12 April 1651, he stated his desire to be buried in the churchyard with few friends attending and ‘without any Funerall Service’ (Walker rev., 42). The small bequests to several grandchildren (the highest 10 shillings) are the only evidence that he had married; the fact that the grandchildren had two other surnames indicate that he had at least two daughters. He died in 1652, and was buried on 26 November.


Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography reveal that Thomas Adams was the name of the 12 following men:

Thomas Adams (playwright) (1580-1653) English playwright
Sir Thomas Adams, 1st Baronet (1586-1668) Lord Mayor of London
Thomas Adams (publisher) (c1566-1620) English bookseller, etc
Thomas Adams (writer) (1631/2-1670) ejected minister, religious writer
Thomas Adams (1730?–1764) army officer
Thomas Adam[s] (1701–1784) Church of England clergyman
Thomas Adams (politician) (1730-1788) Virginia delegate, Continental Congress
Thomas Adams (musician) (1785-1858) English organist, composer
Thomas Adams (1807–1873) lace merchant, manufacturer
Thomas Adams (architect) (1871-1940) pioneer of urban planning
Thomas Sewall Adams (1873-1933) American economist, educator
Thomas Adams (professor) (1966-) Professor Rose-Hulman Insititue of Technology
Our subject is none of these but rather concerns
Thomas Adams (c1583–1652) Church of England clergyman

Britannica 1911

ADAMS, THOMAS (d. c. 1655), English divine, was, in 1612, "a preacher of the gospel at Willington," in Bedfordshire, where he is found until 1614, and whence issued his Heaven and Earth Reconciled, The Devil's Banquet and other works. In 1614-1615 he was at Wingrave, in Buckinghamshire, probably as vicar, and published a number of works in quick succession; in 1618 he held the preachership at St Gregory's, under St Paul's Cathedral, and was "observant chaplain" to Sir Henry Montague, the lord chief justice of England. These bare facts we gather from epistles-dedicatory and epistles to the reader, and title-pages. These epistles show him to have been on the most friendly terms with some of the foremost men in state and church, though his ardent protestantism offended Laud and hindered his preferment. His "occasionally" printed sermons, when collected in 1629, placed him beyond all comparison in the van of the preachers of England, and had something to do with shaping John Bunyan. He equals Jeremy Taylor in brilliance of fancies and Thomas Fuller in wit. Robert Southey calls him "the prose Shakespeare of Puritan theologians." His numerous works display great learning, classical and patristic, and are unique in their abundance of stories, anecdotes, aphorisms and puns.
His works were edited in J P Nichol's Puritan Divines by J Angus and T Smith (3 vols 8vo, 1862)