Herbert Palmer (1601-1647)
Herbert Palmer (1601-1647)
Herbert Palmer was perhaps unusual for an evangelical leader in that he came from a family of great wealth and nobility. He was nurtured in the faith by his parents and came to have a great love for scriptures in early childhood. He also learned French which would later be useful for him in his ministry. When he announced that he would become a minister, some of his friends sought to discourage him by telling him that ministers of Christ were hated, despised, and scourged. Young Palmer responded that that was no concern for him, for the love of God was more of his concern than the opinion of man. This was one minister who counted the costs before entering the ministry.
Accepted at Cambridge in 1615, he graduated with his Masters in 1622, and the following year became a fellow of Queen's College at Cambridge. He was ordained to the Gospel Ministry in 1624 at the age of 23. Later he would serve in the ministry at the Alphage Church in Canterbury beginning in 1626. On several occasions his small stature and youthful look led his audience to be surprised by the depths of his preaching and teaching ministry. Yet he was highly beneficial to many and his speech was like a disciple of Christ seasoned with grace, sweetness, and courtesy. Moreover, he also had a wide-spread ministry through his letters, by which he encouraged many Christians. On occasion he preached to the French congregation in Canterbury, drawing upon his earlier acquired fluency in French.
In 1632 he accepted a call to a church in Ashwell in Hartfordshire. His desire while in the ministry was to free his people from ignorance, and by his constant and zealous exposition, to have them intimately acquainted with their Bibles. While at Ashwell he published a catechism entitled, "An endeavor of making the Principles of the Christian Religion plain and easy" which was a proto-type of the Westminster Shorter Catechism; thus leading Palmer to be called the Father of the Shorter Catechism.
Of Palmer it may be said, "True religion will be family religion." Palmer's family was exemplary and his house was characterized by an eminent sense of religion, so much so that his house was seen as a school of religion. He was regularly in family worship twice a day, not excusing family members from worship. He also catechized his own family twice a week. After every meal his servants had some portion of Scripture and part of some major religious treatise read to them.
In 1632 he became one of the preachers to the University of Cambridge serving as a chaplain with Dr. Tuckney. In 1640 he became a pastor of New Church, Westminster. In 1644 Palmer was elected as a master of Queen's College under the sponsorship of the Earl of Manchester. In this role of administrative leadership for the college he was very careful to maintain that no person should be admitted to scholarship or fellowship whose clear profession of faith was not evident.
Herbert Palmer wrote a number of books, such as Of Making Religion One's Business. Palmer inherited a large estate, yet he chose a humble life to serve his Master, maintaining and sponsoring several poor scholars of his own while they were studying to show themselves approved. While faithfully participating in the Westminster Assembly, he frequently preached to Parliament, stating that honor in this way: "'that he did not in that place preach before them, as before a judge, but to them authoritatively, as by commission from God. And how much soever they might be superior to him in other respects, yet he was in that place superior to them, as acting in God's name; and therefore would not be afraid to speak, whatever was the will of God and he should tell them, notwithstanding any displeasure or danger which might by this means befall him for so doing.'" Palmer no doubt knew our Lord's words: "When you are brought before... rulers and authorities... the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say" (Lk. 12:12).