Thomas Goodwin, known as “the Elder”, was an English Puritan theologian and preacher, and an important leader of religious Independents. He served as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and was imposed by Parliament as President of Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1650. Christopher Hill places Goodwin in the “main stream of Puritan thought”.
He studied at Cambridge from August 1613. He was an undergraduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge, graduating with a B.A. in 1616.
In 1619 he removed to Catherine Hall, where in 1620 he was elected fellow. At this time he was influenced by John Rogers of Dedham. Goodwin rode 35 miles from Cambridge to Dedham to hear this Puritan preacher. In 1625 he was licensed a preacher of the university; and three years afterwards he became lecturer of Trinity Church, successor to John Preston, to the vicarage of which he was presented by the king in 1632.
Worried by his bishop, who was a zealous adherent of William Laud, he resigned all his preferments and left the university in 1634; he became a Congregationalist. He lived for some time in London, where in 1638 he married the daughter of an alderman. In 1639 he fled to Holland to escape persecution. For some time he was pastor of a small congregation of English merchants and refugees at Arnhem. He returned shortly after the inception of the Long Parliament. He ministered for some years to the Independent congregation meeting at Paved Alley Church, Lime Street, in the parish of St Dunstans-in-the-East, and rapidly rose to considerable eminence as a preacher.
In 1643 he was chosen a member of the Westminster Assembly, and at once identified himself with the Independent party, generally referred to in contemporary documents as the “dissenting brethren” and was one of the authors of An Apologeticall Narration. He frequently preached by appointment before the Commons, and in January 1650 his talents and learning were rewarded by the House with the presidency of Magdalen College, Oxford, a post which he held until the Restoration of 1660.
In December 1655 Goodwin attended the Whitehall Conference on the resettlement on the Jews, where he (with fellow Independent Philip Nye) argued for readmittance on the grounds that England was being punished by God for not readmitting the Jews, which was necessary for their conversion. He was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell from 1656. He rose into high favour with the Protector, and was one of his intimate advisers, attending him on his death-bed.
He was also a commissioner for the inventory of the Westminster Assembly, 1650, and for the approbation of preachers, 1653, and together with John Owen led a committee of six that drew up the Savoy Declaration, an amended form of Westminster Confession in 1658.
From 1660 until his death, he lived in London, in the parish of St Bartholomew-the-Great, and devoted himself exclusively to theological study and to the pastoral charge of the Fetter Lane Independent Church. By the early 1670s he was in poor health, and he eventually died on 23 February 1680. He was buried in Bunhill Fields burial ground.
- Born: 5 October 1600, Rollesby, Norfolk
- Died: 23 February 1680, London
- Family: Married and had one son
- Notable Works: The Heart of Christ in Heaven towards Sinners on Earth