A COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS: Exegetical and Expository
William Gouge (1575-1653)
William Gouge was born in Bow, near Stratford, in Middlesex County. He received a classical education at St. Paul's School in London and at Felstead in Essex. He was converted under the ministry of his uncle, Ezekiel Culverwell, a well-known Puritan. He then went to Eton College, where he gave himself to study, prayer, and searching God's Word. In his years at King's College, Cambridge, Gouge became known as an excellent logician and defender of Ramism. He was called an "arch-Puritan" by some students because of his strict godliness. He apparently never missed one of the chapel prayer services conducted every morning at 5:30. He read fifteen Bible chapters daily--five in the morning before chapel, five after dinner, and five before going to bed.
Gouge graduated from King's College with a bachelor's degree in 1598 and a master's degree in 1602. He became a fellow and a leading Hebrew scholar, and was appointed as a lecturer in logic and philosophy. In 1603, his father persuaded him to travel from Cambridge to London to meet Elizabeth Caulton, the God-fearing daughter of Henry Caulton, a former London merchant. The couple were soon married, and had thirteen children, eight of whom reached maturity. Gouge's biographer details the care Gouge took in conducting family worship.
In 1608, Gouge became a lecturer at the parish church of St. Anne Blackfriars, London, where he served for forty-five years until his death. He was appointed rector upon the death of Stephen Egerton in 1621. He preached regularly twice on the Lord's Day and once every Wednesday. After his sermons on Sunday morning, he invited poor people from the neighborhood to his house for dinner, after which they would discuss his sermon. His lectures on Wednesdays drew such large crowds that, according to his biographer, "When the godly Christians of those days came into London, they considered their business unfinished, unless they attended one of the Blackfriars lectures." Hundreds of people were converted and nurtured in the faith through his ministry. Brett Usher concludes, "Gouge's pulpit became the most celebrated in London" (Oxford DNB, 23:37).
Gouge was a hard worker, cheerful philanthropist, meek friend, great peacemaker, and an earnest wrestler with God. He wrote eleven treatises, some of which were extensive. He supported poor students at the university and contributed generously to the poor. He had such a meek disposition that his biographer wrote, "No one, his wife, nor children, nor servant with whom he lived and worked all those years ever observed an angry countenance, nor heard an angry word proceed from him toward any of them."
Gouge was "a sweet comforter of dejected souls, and distressed consciences," according to his biographer. He became a spiritual mentor to many ministers in London, helping many keep peace in their congregations. His confessions of sin were accompanied with "much brokenness of heart, self-abhorrency, and justifying of God." In prayer, he was "pertinent, judicious, spiritual, seasonable, accompanied with faith and fervor, like a true Son of Jacob wrestling with tears and supplications."
A contemporary wrote of Gouge: "He studied much to magnify Christ, and to debase himself." Gouge said of himself, "When I look upon myself, I see nothing but emptiness and weakness; but when I look upon Christ, I see nothing but fullness and sufficiency."
Throughout his pastoral years, Gouge continued his studies. He earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Cambridge in 1611, and eventually, a doctorate in divinity in 1628. His wife Elizabeth did not live to witness this occasion, however, as she died in 1625 while giving birth to their thirteenth child. Gouge never remarried.
For the most part, Gouge worked without interference from the government. However, he was harassed by authorities because of his Puritan sympathies in opposing new ceremonies ordered by Bishop Laud and for opposing Arminianism. Once he spent two months in prison for republishing Finch's The Calling of the Jews.
Gouge was a prolific writer. We are so grateful to Solid Ground Christian Books for reprinting his magnum opus, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. This massive book, originally published in three volumes, contains the notes of more than a thousand sermons given over a thirty year period at Blackfriars. The first volume was published in 1655; Gouge was still working on the last half of the last chapter of Hebrews when he died. His son, Thomas, completed it, using his father's notes. It is a golden exposition of the fullness of Christ, second only to Owen on Hebrews.
Gouge's work abounds in helpful application. For example, in commenting on Hebrews 11:17, which describes Abraham offering up Isaac, Gouge, who buried several of his own children (including a murdered daughter), has a section on "yielding the dearest to God." He writes, "The grounds of our yielding to our dearest to God are such as these: 1. The supreme sovereignty of God, whereby he hath power to command us and all ours; and what he may command we must yield. 2. The right that God hath to all we have. 3. The might and power that God hath to take away all. Willingly to yield what he will have, is to make a virtue of necessity. 4. The due, which, in way of gratitude, we owe unto God. They that hold anything too dear for God are not worthy of God. 5. The bounty of God, who can and will beyond comparison recompense whatsoever is given to him. None shall lose by giving to God" (p. 806).
Buy and read Gouge on Hebrews. Use it as your daily Bible study. Its rich and varied practical and experiential applications sprinkled across every page will greatly enhance your spiritual life.
Gouge also wrote a classic on family living titled, Of Domesticall Duties (1622), last printed by Walter Johnson in facsimile in 1976. This 700-page penetrating analysis of the godly household for which Gouge became best known in his own day, is divided into eight sections dealing with the duties of family life. In the first part, Gouge explains the foundation of family duties, based on Ephesians 5:21-6:9. The second part deals with the husband-wife relationship. The third focuses on the duties of wives, and the fourth with the duties of husbands. The fifth examines the duties of children, and the sixth, the duties of parents. The final parts examine the relationships and duties of servants and their masters.
While some of Gouge's material is outdated, his emphasis and advice are timeless on the whole. Usher claims that Gouge is finally being "recognized as one of the subtlest of early modern writers to articulate the concept of 'companionable' marriage--his own was regarded as exemplary--and of considerate, rather than merely prescriptive, parenthood. His psychological insights into the nature of childhood and adolescence can be breathtaking in their modernity. He even touches on the question of child-abuse, a subject effectively taboo until the 1970s" (Oxford DNB, 23:38).
Gouge is a skilled expositor who draws practical applications from the Epistles in instructing families how to walk in a manner worthy of their Lord. As a father of seven sons and six daughters, Gouge knew whereof he spoke.
The Sabbath's Sanctification, recently reprinted by Presbyterian Armoury, is an 80-page treatise that Gouge originally wrote for his family's use. After briefly touching on the grounds for the morality of the Sabbath, he provides judicious directions for sanctifying it, carefully outlining the distinction between works of piety, mercy, and necessity. This is followed by some proofs that the Lord's Day is the Christian's Sabbath, with pertinent remarks on when the Sabbath begins. The subsequent section on aberrations of the Sabbath exposes the ungodly opinions and practices of those who desire to sanctify the Sabbath in name only. Gouge concludes his work with a number of motives which encourage Christians to keep this day holy to the Lord.
In addition to his two massive works and this small treatise on the Sabbath that have been reprinted, Gouge published a diversity of titles ranging from The Whole Armour of God (1616)--a major work on the Christian armor of Ephesians 6:10-20, overshadowed only by William Gurnall's even more massive masterpiece, to A Short Catechism, which was printed six times by 1636. Other titles by Gouge include an exposition of John's gospel (1630), God's Three Arrows (1631), and The Saint's Sacrifice (1632).
In 1643, Gouge was nominated to the Westminster Assembly. He took turns with Cornelius Burgess leading the sessions when the moderator or prolocutor, William Twisse, was not present. In 1644, Gouge was appointed to the committee that examined ministers; in 1645, he was assigned to the committee that drafted the Confession of Faith; and in 1647, he was elected as assessor after the death of Herbert Palmer. In 1648, he was on the committee that supported the Presbyterian system de jure divino, or divine right, which held that Presbyterian church government is commanded by God ("by divine law") in Scripture. Later that year, Gouge was asked to contribute notes on 1 Kings through Esther for what would become the second edition of the Westminster Assembly's Annotations on the Bible.
Gouge suffered from asthma and kidney stones in his later years. His faith held firm, however, through acute suffering until death. He would say, "[I am] a great sinner, but I comfort myself in a great Savior." Often he repeated Job's words: "Shall we receive good from the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" When a friend tried to comfort him by pointing to the grace he had received or the works he had done, his response was, "I dare not think of any such things for comfort. Jesus Christ, and what He hath done and endured, is the only ground of my sure comfort." As he approached death, he said, "Death, next to Jesus Christ, you are my best friend. When I die, I am sure to be with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my rejoicing."
Gouge died December 12, 1653, aged seventy-eight. His funeral sermon was preached by William Jenkyn, his friend, pastoral assistant, and successor. According to William Haller, Gouge ranked with Sibbes and Preston among the influential Puritan ministers of London of the previous generation.
--Dr. Joel R. Beeke