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Thomas Browning
1633 - 1685

Thomas Browning was the vicar of Desborough from 1657 to 1662, at which time he was ejected for nonconformity.

Browning was born in Essex (probably at Coggeshall) in about 1633. His parents were godly people who hoped that he would enter the ministry. They sent him to Wadham College, at the University of Oxford, where he matriculated (formally joined the University) on 14th November 1650.

When he left the university he joined Colonel Sydenham's family in Hertfordshire, but "there was so much religion that he grew weary of it". He left the Colonel's family, later marrying and moving to London.

During the Commonwealth an Independent church met for worship in Westminster Abbey in London. The pastor of this church was the eminent preacher John Howe (later ejected by the Act of Uniformity).  Thomas Browning was present when Howe preached on Ephesians chapter 4 verse 8:

This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
(Eph 4:8 New International Version)

Browning said of the sermon that 'It made my heart to ache and my flesh to tremble.' He considered this awakening of his conscience to be the beginning of God's work in him.

Soon after this Browning and his wife returned to Coggeshall, where his parents still lived, and joined the Congregational church there. He was encouraged to begin preaching and, in 1657, was introduced to Desborough. After preaching in the church there the people gave him a unanimous call, which he accepted.

He remained at Desborough until 1662 when the Act of Uniformity was introduced. Along with nearly two thousand other ministers Browning felt unable to comply with the terms of the Act and he left the established church.

He preached his farewell sermon on the 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13 verse 14:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all
(2 Cor 13:14 New International Version)

A few years earlier (1654) an Independent church had been formed at Rothwell, about two miles from Desborough. The minister, John Beverley, was obviously impressed with Browning as, when some of Browning's friends tried to persuade him to return to Essex, Beverley wrote to them saying:

Far be it from you, my brethren, who have in Essex, through mercy, such plenty comparative of church labourers, to so much as mention what may tend to the depriving us here. 0 do not blast the buddings of so hopeful a ministry !

Beverley died in 1658 and most of the members of his church then sat under the ministry of Thomas Browning at Desborough. Following Browning's "ejection" in 1662 they invited him to lead the church at Rothwell.

The Act of Uniformity was not the last attempt to suppress non-conformist preaching and Browning was imprisoned in Northampton Gaol at least once for contravening the Conventicles Act by preaching the Gospel.

The following are extracts from a letter that he wrote from prison to the members of the church in Rothwell:

A suffering day is the trial of our love to Christ. When there is no opposition it is easy. Do not hypocrites do so? But this is the commendation of Christ's followers—they follow Him whithersoever He goeth. . . .

Come, my brethren, ye weep now, our tender Father has a handkerchief in his hand to wipe away our tears ere long. Do not offend with weeping — too many tears may defile. . . .

Oh! the joy unspeakable and glorious the dying martyrs of Jesus have had ! How full-freight have been their souls in their passage to their port! I tell you if you knew what Christ's prisoners, some of them, enjoyed in their gaols, you would not fear their condition, but long for it, and I am persuaded, could their enemies conceive of their comfort, in mere vexation of heart they would stay their persecutions. . . .

What, do we stick at dying for Him who stuck not at death for us ? Do we find any difficulty in that which will be our entrance into glory ? . . . .

Blessed be God, blessed be God, let every one that hath breath praise the Lord, 0 love the Lord, ye His saints.

My brethren, do not budge ; keep your ground. The Scripture is your law. God is your King. Your principles are sober, your practices are peaceable. Your obedience to superiors known, in these things in which your obedience is required. If men have nothing against you but in the matters of your God, rejoice and triumph in all your persecutions. Fear nothing of events till they come : only fear offending God with a neglect of your duty. There is no shadow like the shadow of God's wings. Keep, therefore, close to God. Ps. vii. i.

In May, 1672, Browning's house was licensed to be a Congregational meeting place and he himself was licensed to be a Congregational teacher in his own house, and in Susanna Ponder's, in Rothwell.

Browning died on 9th May 1685, aged fifty-two, and was buried in Rothwell churchyard. The church records show:

Mr. Thomas Browning, pastor of this church, was gathered to his Father's house in peace. in an evil, persecuting day, May 9th, 1685, having served his Lord in this house, with much pains and many tears, with much presence and success, about twenty-three years.

  • The Christian Witness and Church Members' Magazine 1863
  • Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in the County of Essex by Thomas William Davids, p586-7. Jackson, Walford and Hodder, 1863

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