Dr. William Twisse

(1578–1646)

“Parliament appointed the Prolocutor, or presiding officer, of the Westminster Assembly. The choice of Dr. William Twisse was unanimous in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This no doubt reflected two things: his international reputation as an orthodox Reformed scholar and his moderate spirit. His Calvinistic credentials were clear from his published opposition to Arminianism. Twisse’s reputation had indeed grown through his publications.

In 1646 he published An Examination of Mr. Cotton’s Treatise concerning Predestination, a response to the views of John Cotton, a close friend… he was recognized abroad as the most scholarly opponent of Arminian theology… Twisse was regarded as the most able disputant in England, his strength coming from his courtesy and thorough understanding of his opponent’s position. As a controversialist, however, he preferred to carry on disputations in writing: And, for this he gives the following reasons: — Because, these things may be done more quietly by writing; the managers of the controversy will then be kept free from foreign discourse; the arguments on each side may be more properly and deliberately weighed; answers returned with due consideration; and the holy things of God may be more decently handled… But Twisse’s intellectual reputation, his even-handed style, and his good humor helped the Assembly to start aright. Reid comments concerning his writings:

“He often affords considerable entertainment to his reader, by the vivacity of his genius, and the sharpness and elegance of his wit. He sometimes uses jocose or historical diversions, to animate the spirits of his readers, and to preserve them from weariness…” John Owen… referred to Twisse with great respect: ‘This great man… the learned Twisse… this renowned man; the very illustrious, and the accurate Twisse’…

The Royalist army had deprived him of his living from Newbury, and therefore Parliament had to make a special provision for him… He was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his funeral was attended by the whole Assembly… when he died he was a widower with four sons and three daughters… Following the Restoration, on September 9, 1661 his remains, along with others, were dug up and thrown into a common pit in St. Margaret’s churchyard. Having never sought preferment, Twisse would not have minded. Shortly before his death he had uttered these words as nearly his last: ‘Now, at length, I shall have leisure to follow my studies to all eternity'” (William Baker, Puritan Profiles, pp. 18-21).

“…at the age of eighteen, he was sent to New college, Oxford, where he was chosen fellow. Here he spent sixteen years, and by the most assiduous attention to his studies, acquired an extraordinary proficiency in logic, philosophy, and divinity. His profound erudition was manifested in his public lectures and learned disputations, but more especially by his correcting the works of the celebrated Bradwardine… He was an admired and popular preacher; and though some considered his sermons too scholastic, he was greatly followed both by the students and townsmen… On his arrival in England, he took his final leave of the court, and retired to a country village, and mean house, where he devoted himself to those profound studies, by which he laid the foundation of those rare and elaborate works, which will be admired by pious and learned men to the latest posterity…

He had no taste for worldly riches, nor ambition for ecclesiastical preferment, but modestly refused them when offered him. Few ecclesiastics have ever been more anxious to obtain church preferment than Dr. Twisse was to avoid it…

With a view to arrest the progress of puritanism and serious religion, which were making alarming encroachments on the church, King James introduced a Book of Sports, for the amusement of his loving subjects on the Sabbath-day, either before or after divine service… His son, Charles I., pursuing similar views, again proclaimed an enlarged copy of the said book, which he ordered to be read from the pulpits of every parish in the kingdom, under the pain of suspension and deprivation. Regardless of the penalty, Dr. Twisse refused to read it, and even ventured to declare himself decidedly against all such Sabbath profanation. Other faithful ministers did the same; for which they suffered the penalty. The doctor, however, came off better than many of his brethren, who were suspended from their ministry, driven out of the kingdom, or committed to prison… Dr. Twisse was poor, and lived in an obscure situation, his fame was great in all the reformed churches, and that therefore nothing severe could be done against him without becoming a public reproach to themselves. Dr. Twisse continued to exhibit his public testimony against the Book of Sports, till it was finally ordered to be burnt by the hands of the hangman, on the 5th of May 1643. He spared neither king nor parliament, but, with great ingenuity, turned this their own act against themselves…

From the books he had published, particularly his controversial works, he obtained an amazing celebrity. Here his talents and erudition were employed on his favorite subjects, without the least [government — RB] control, and with unrivaled success. Amongst his numerous antagonists were Dr. Thomas Goodwin, a man of great learning, and celebrated for his knowledge in antiquities… Mr. John Goodwin, the celebrated advocate for Arminianism, whom he is said to have refuted with great learning and judgment. His next contest was with Dr. Cotton… He also successfully combated the famous Arminius, and others, in defense of the doctrines of grace. His answers to Dr. Jackson and Arminius, and his Riches of God’s Love, when first published, were all suppressed by the arbitrary appointment of bishop Laud…

In 1643 he was nominated, by an order of parliament, prolocutor to the assembly of divines, who met at Westminster, by an ordinance of parliament, to settle religion and the government of the church… Dr. Twisse… often expressed a wish that the fire of contention might be extinguished, if it were even with his blood… through age his body had become heavy and rather burdensome… During his long illness, he was visited by people of all ranks, who were lovers either of religion or learning, to whom he gave remarkable evidence of his faith, patience, and Christian resignation under affliction. By the civil war he had been driven from his curacy and the people of his charge at Newbury, and deprived of all his property by the royal army; insomuch that when a deputation from the assembly visited him, they reported that he labored under great affliction and extreme poverty…

Mr. Clark says, “He was greatly admired for his learning, subtle wit, and correct judgment, integrity, modesty, and self-denial.” Fuller calls him a divine of great abilities, piety, learning, and moderation; and Wood says his plan of preaching was good, his disputations were accounted better; but his pious life was esteemed the best of all.

All writers against Arminianism have made honorable mention of his works, and acknowledged him to have been the mightiest man that age produced on these controversies; and the most learned of his adversaries have acknowledged, that there was nothing extant, on the Arminian controversy, more full and accurate than what is to be found in his works.”

Thomas Smith, Select Memoirs of the Lives, Labors, and Sufferings, of Those Pious and Learned English and Scottish Divines, Who Greatly Distinguished Themselves in Promoting the Reformation from Popery; In Translating the Bible; and in Promulgating Its Salutary Doctrines by Their Numerous Evangelical Writings; and Who Ultimately Crowned the Venerable Edifice with the Celebrated Westminster Confession of Faith, etc. etc. etc. (1828), pp. 437-442

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4 Responses to “Dr. William Twisse”

  1. You might like this site, if you have not already seen it? It is off my blogroll.

    http://www.apuritansmind.com/

  2. Robert Joseph T. Says:

    Here is a Link to some of the Good Doctor’s Works :
    http://www.digitalpuritan.net/index.html
    can be found in the left hand side Author’s Index column
    under William Twisse, of course.

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