Meet a Puritan: Joseph Alleine
February 8, 2016
Joseph Alleine (1634-1668)
Born at Devizes, Wiltshire, Joseph Alleine loved and served the Lord from childhood. A contemporary identified 1645 as the year of Alleine’s “setting forth in the Christian race.” From eleven years of age onward, “the whole course of his youth was an even-spun thread of godly conversation.” When his elder brother Edward, a clergyman, died, Joseph begged that he might be educated to take Edward’s place in the ministry of the church.
He began his studies at Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1649 and sat at the feet of such great divines as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. Two years later, he became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, whose faculty was more thoroughly Puritan. Alleine studied long hours, often depriving himself of sleep and food. He graduated with a BA from Oxford in 1653 and became a tutor and chaplain of Corpus Christi. He also devoted much time to preaching to prisoners in the county jail, visiting the sick, and ministering to the poor.
In 1655, Alleine accepted the invitation of to become the assistant of George Newton, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church, Taunton, Somerset. Alleine rose early, devoting the time between four and eight o’clock in the morning to the exercises of private worship. His wife recalled that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?’” His ministry in Taunton was very fruitful. Richard Baxter recalled Alleine’s “great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures—so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Alleine was also an excellent teacher, devoting much time to instructing his people, using the Shorter Catechism. He was a passionate evangelist. One contemporary wrote, “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.”
Ejected for nonconformity in 1662, Alleine took the opportunity to increase his public labors, believing that his remaining time was short. He preached on average one or two sermons every day for nine months until he was arrested and cast into prison. The night before, Alleine had preached and prayed with his people for three hours and had declared, “Glory be to God that hath accounted me worthy to suffer for His gospel!” Alleine’s prison cell became his pulpit. Released on May 20, 1664, after about a year in prison, he resumed his forbidden ministry until arrested again on July 10, 1665. Once more released from prison, his remaining time was “full of troubles and persecutions nobly borne.” He returned to Taunton in February, 1668, where he became very ill. Nine months later, at age thirty-four, weary from hard work and suffering, Alleine died in full assurance of faith, praising God and saying, “Christ is mine, and I am His—His by covenant.”
An Alarm to the Unconverted: A Serious Treatise on Conversion is an evangelical classic first printed in 1671. After 20,000 copies were sold it was reprinted in 1675 as A Sure Guide to Heaven and has been reprinted some five hundred times. This is a powerful manual on conversion and the call of the gospel. Alleine’s model of evangelism is well suited to correct today’s distortions of the gospel:
All of Christ is accepted by the sincere convert. He loves not only the wages but the work of Christ, not only the benefits but the burden of Christ. He is willing not only to tread out the corn, but to draw under the yoke. He takes up the commands of Christ, yea, the cross of Christ. The unsound convert takes Christ by halves. He is all for the salvation of Christ, but he is not for sanctification. He is for the privileges, but does not appropriate the person of Christ. He divides the offices and benefits of Christ.
In 1672, four years after his death, his Christian Letters was printed. These letters reveal the secret springs of his heart, exhibiting the fervor of an evangelist, the heart of a pastor, and the patience of a sufferer for Jesus Christ:
...you are a people much upon my heart, whose welfare is the matter of my continual prayers, care, and study. And oh! that I knew how to do you good...Ah: how it pities me to think how so many of you should remain in your sins, after so many and so long endeavors to convert. Once more, Oh! my beloved, once more hear the call of the Most High God unto you. The prison preaches to you the same doctrine that the pulpit did. Hear, O people, hear; the Lord of life and glory offers you all mercy, and peace, and blessedness. Oh, why should you die? Whosoever will, let him take of the waters of life freely. My soul yearns for you (p. 11).
The Precious Promises of the Gospel is a booklet extracted from Richard Alleine's, Heaven Opened, as one of the two chapters written by Joseph Alleine. Impersonating God in addressing his people, Alleine provides us with a moving declaration of the loving, merciful heart of the Triune God, revealed in the promises of Scripture, which are woven into nearly every sentence.
Excerpted from Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 20–26.
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