Thomas Foxcroft, 1697–1769

Puritan Thomas Foxcroft (1697–1769) was a Harvard graduate and pastored for 50+ years at the First Congregational Church in Boston, Massachusetts. Foxcroft supported the Great Awakening, and became a close friend, ally, and literary agent for Jonathan Edwards. But Foxcroft wrote books himself and one of these gems is being prepared for re-issue in August.

Foxcroft’s ordination sermon delivered in Boston on Wednesday, November 20, 1717 was originally collected and edited under the title A Practical Discourse Related to the Gospel Ministry. A new edition edited by Dr. Don Kistler will be published as The Gospel Ministry by Reformation Heritage Books next month [I’ll let you know here when it’s available].

In this book, Foxcroft exhorts ministers to focus the center of their sermons on Christ. His doctrinal summaries include: “Christ is the grand Subject which the ministers of the gospel should mainly insist upon in their preaching” and “In all their ministerial labors, pastors should make the conversion and edification of men in Christ their governing view and sovereign aim.”

Such Christ/cross-centeredness is not surprising to find in 18th century Boston region often visited by revival. As we have seen, Edwards himself was very carefully cross-centered in his preaching and application. But here Foxcroft is cross-centered in his public exhortation to all preachers. This exhortation to preach Christ and Him crucified shows us that ‘American’ Puritans were careful to preach Christ because they understood the cross was at the heart of the preachers formal public ministry responsibility.

And as we would expect, a robust understanding of the cross will work itself out in the application of the Christian life and pursuit of holiness. Foxcroft writes, “All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue.” Foxcroft’s statement not only shows concern over legalism and the necessity of the full atonement of Christ in light of personal holiness, but also provides an illuminating glimpse into 18th century ‘American’ Puritan homiletics.

I could go on, but this is a gem all readers of Puritans should read and a book all preachers will benefit from. And it will prove to be a book that will ax at the root of the awful misrepresentation that all Puritan preachers (English, Scottish, American or otherwise) were negligent to preach Christ and Him crucified.

I’ll close with an extended cross-centered excerpt from the RHB edition:

————-

“They who are friends of the Bridegroom, who have so learned Christ as He is taught in the school of the prophets and apostles, and with whom the truth of the gospel continues, are not ashamed to preach the cross, and count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified. “What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord (Jer.23:28). What is the vain philosophy of the Greeks and the exact righteousness of the Pharisees but dung and dross to the riches of the glory of this mystery?

Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, and nothing but this will suit the nature and inclination of the spiritual appetite; nothing but this will beget and maintain the vital flame of spiritual life. Everything else will prove either a stone or a serpent, unnatural and insubstantial or poison and pernicious.

Ministers then must study to feed their flocks with a continual feast on the glorious fullness there is in Christ; they must gather fruits from the branch of righteousness, from the tree of life for those who hunger, not feeding them with the meat which perishes, but with that which endures to everlasting life. They must open this fountain of living waters, the great mystery of godliness, into which all the doctrines of the gospel that are branched forth into so great a variety do, as so many rivulets or streams making glad the city of God flow and concenter.

They must endeavor to set forth Christ in the dignity of His Person, as the brightness of His Father’s glory, God manifest in the flesh; in the reality, necessity, nature, and exercise of His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King, in both His state of humiliation and exaltation; in the glorious benefits of His redemption, the justification of them who believe, the adoption of sons, sanctification, and an inheritance that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for the saints; in the wonderful methods and means in and by which we are called into the fellowship of the Son our Lord, and made partakers of the redemption by Christ; in the nature, and significance, the excellency and worth, of all the ordinances and institutions of Christ, with the obligations on all to attend upon them.

Whatever subject ministers are upon, it must somehow point to Christ.

All sin must be witnessed against and preached down as opposed to the holy nature, the wise and gracious designs, and the just government of Christ.

So all duty must be persuaded to and preached up with due regard unto Christ; to His authority commanding and to His Spirit of grace assisting, as well as to the merit of His blood commending—and this to dash the vain presumption that decoys so many into ruin, who will securely hang the weight of their hopes upon the horns of the altar without paying expected homage to the scepter of Christ.

All the arrows of sharp rebuke are to be steeped in the blood of Christ; and this to prevent those desponding fears and frights of guilt which sometimes awfully work to a fatal issue.

Dark and ignorant sinners are to be directed to Christ as the Sun of righteousness; convinced sinners are to be led to Christ as the Great Atonement and the only City of Refuge.

Christ is to be lifted up on high for the wounded in spirit to look to, as the bitten Israelites looked to the brazen serpent of old. The sick, the lame, and the diseased are to be carried to Christ as the great Physician, the Lord our Healer; the disconsolate and timorous are to be guided to Christ as the Consolation of Israel, and in us the hope of glory.

Every comfort administered is to be sweetened with pure water from this Well of salvation, which only can quench the fiery darts of the evil one. The promises of the gospel are to be applied as being in Christ “yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).

So the threatenings of the law are to light and flash in the eyes of sinners as the terrors of the Lord and sparks of the holy resentment of an incensed Savior, which hover now over the children of disobedience and will one day unite and fall heavy upon them.

The love of Christ for us is to be held forth as the great constraining motive to religion, and the life of Christ as the bright, engaging pattern of it.

Progress and increase in holiness are to be represented under the notion of abiding in Christ and growing up unto Him who is the Head, even Christ. Perfection in grace is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and eternal life is a being forever with the Lord where He is, beholding His glory and dwelling in our Master’s joy.

Thus, in imitation of the apostolic way of preaching, there must be a beautiful texture of references to Christ, a golden thread twisted into every discourse to leaven and perfume it so as to make it express a savor of the knowledge of Christ. Thus every mite cast into the treasury of the temple must bear this inscription upon it, which was once the humble language of a pious martyr in the flames, “None but Christ, none but Christ,” so that everyone, beholding in the Word preached as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.

-Thomas Foxcroft, The Gospel Ministry (RHB: 1717, 2008 ) pp. 7-11.

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