Fabulous discovery about Thomas Wilcox (1622-1687), author of a minor spiritual classic

“Praying will make thee leave sinning or sinning will make leave praying.” [1] This well-known saying may well have originated with Thomas Wilcox (1622-1687), the author of the minor spiritual classic A Choice Drop of Honey from the Rock Christ, which was published before the Great Fire of London in 1666. When I first wrote my Kiffin, Knollys, and Keach in the early 1990s, I included this spiritual classic as an appendix. It was excluded by the publisher, which was providential, for although I knew Wilcox wrote a number of tracts, I thought the above book was the only one extant. Today, my assistant Steve Weaver kindly got for me a PDF of a 1699 edition of Wilcox’s classic work (published then under the title of A Guide to Eternal Glory). It was attached to nine other tracts (the whole being published by Nathanael Crouch, who was a printer near Cheapside, London) and in the preface “To the Christian Reader” that preceded all of the tracts, Wilcox noted that he had “subjoined some other brief tracts” (p.6), which definitely seems to indicate he is the author, especially since no other names appear with the various tracts. [2] This is a fabulous discovery because it gives us some other material by the author of a remarkable tract that by the 1840s had gone through at least sixty printings and had been translated into numerous languages, including Welsh, Irish Gaelic, French, German, and Finnish. In light of such a printing record, it is no exaggeration to describe it as a minor classic from the late Puritan era. [3] It is currently available from Chapel Library. The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies hopes to include a fresh edition and textual commentary on it by Dr Stephen Yuille in its Occasional Monographs series, which is to be launched in the near future.

Of the numerous Calvinistic Baptist authors of the seventeenth century, there were really only three who were being read extensively a century or two later. John Bunyan was, of course, one. Another was Benjamin Keach. And the third was Thomas Wilcox, about whom we really know very little. [4] We know that he was born in 1622 at Lyndon, then in Rutland. His early career, though, is shrouded in obscurity. By the 1660s he was living in London on Cannon Street, where a congregation of believers that he pastored met regularly in his home to worship the Lord. During the following decade Wilcox preached to this congregation at the Three Cranes, a wooden building on Tooley Street in Southwark.

Though a convinced Baptist, Wilcox was catholic enough in his sentiments to be invited frequently to preach among the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. He also courageously endured imprisonment a number of times rather than sacrifice his convictions as a Dissenter. He hoped, we are told, that his death might be a sudden one, a hope that was apparently realized when he died in May, 1687. The epitaph on his tomb in Bunhill Fields, the Nonconformist burial ground in London, was a remark that he often made in this regard, “Sudden death sudden glory.” After his death the members of his congregation appear to have joined other Calvinistic Baptist causes in the city.

Do look for Stephen Yuille’s edition of A Choice Drop of Honey from the Rock Christ in our monograph series. The work is based on a phrase from Psalm 81:16 [“He should have fed them also with the finest of wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee” (KJV)], and it well captures the Christ-centred piety of the early Calvinistic Baptists and the way in which their piety was nourished by those central themes of the Reformation, solus Christus and sola fide.

[1] The Serephick [sic] Soul’s Triumph in the Love of God in Thomas Wilcox, A Guide to Eternal Glory. Or, Brief Directions to all Christians how to attain Everlasting Salvation. To which are added, Several other excellent Divine Tracts (London: Nath. Crouch, 1699), 124.

[2] In a 1676 edition of this classic, there is an appended work, Spiritual Hymns Used by Some Christians at the Receiving the Sacrament of the Lords Supper, with some others (London: Nath. Crouch, 1676). The use of the term “sacrament” by this Calvinistic Baptist is noteworthy, it being a term commonly used by Baptist at this time.

[3] In this regard, see Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, “The Spirit of the Old Writers: The Great Awakening and the Persistence of Puritan Piety” in Francis J. Bremer, ed., Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives on a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Faith (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993), 281.

[4] Our principal source of information about Wilcox is Thomas Crosby, The History of the English Baptists (London: 1740), III, 101. See also Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists (London: 1814), II, 465; W. T. Whitley, The Baptists of London 1612-1928 (London: The Kingsgate Press, 1928), 120.