William Perkins was a clergyman and Cambridge theologian who was one of the foremost leaders of the Puritan movement in the Church of England.
Perkins was born to Thomas and Anna Perkins at Marston Jabbett in the parish of Bulkington, Warwickshire, England in 1558, the year in which the Protestant Elizabeth I succeeded her Catholic sister Mary as Queen of England. Perkins lived his entire life under Elizabeth I, dying one year before the Virgin Queen’s own death in 1603. Perkins’ relationship with Elizabeth was ambiguous: on the one hand, she was Good Queen Bess, the monarch under whom England finally and firmly became a Protestant nation; on the other hand, Perkins and the other members of the Puritan movement were frustrated that the Elizabethan settlement had not gone far enough and pushed for further Reformation.
Although relatively unknown to modern Christian, Perkins has had an influence that is felt by Christians all around the world. and was widely regarded in the Elizabethan Church In addition, Perkins’ views on double predestination made him a major target of Jacobus Arminius, the Dutch Reformed clergyman who opposed the doctrine of predestination. He also was influential in the theological development of the American puritan philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards
In addition, some consider the hermeneutics of Perkins to be a model that ought to be emulated.
In his lifetime, Perkins attained enormous popularity, with sales of his works eventually surpassing even Calvin’s. When he died, his writings were selling more copies than those of many of the most famous of the Reformers combined.
From his position at Cambridge, Perkins was able to influence a whole generation of English churchmen. His pupils include:
William Ames, Puritan who eventually left England to become professor of theology at Franeker
John Robinson, the founder of congregationalism in Leiden and pastor of the group which went on to found the Plymouth Colony
Samuel Ward, master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Phineas Fletcher, a poet
James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh
James Montagu, master of Sidney Sussex and later bishop of Winchester
In 1602, Perkins suffered from “the stone”. After several weeks of suffering, he died at age 44.
James Montagu preached his funeral sermon, taking as his text Joshua 1.2, ‘Moses my servant is dead’. He was buried in St. Andrew’s, the church which he had pastored for eighteen years.