Puritanical Tuesday: Henry Ainsworth

Born in 1569 of yeoman stock in Swanton Morley, Norfolk – Henry Ainsworth would become a controversial figure in Puritanism.  Finishing his formal education at Caius College, Cambridge in 1591 Ainsworth quickly identified himself with the Puritan party but then quickly moved into a Puritan sect called the Separatists.  The Separatists were congregationalists who separated (hence the name) from the rest of the Church because they didn’t want to wait for reform to happen within the church.  Because of such extreme methods the Separatists as a whole were known for instability and extremism.

Puritan persecution moved the Separatists into the Netherlands, and Ainsworth found himself living in poverty as a bookseller’s porter in Amsterdam in 1593.  But his gifts would soon make room for him in the Church.  Ainsworth knew Hebrew, almost better than anyone.  Soon after coming to Amsterdam Ainsworth found himself leading the exiled Separatists and did become the main teacher in their church.  Ainsworth eventually became the lead writer of the Separatist confession of 1596, which is a big deal because this is the first congregationalist confession ever written.

Known preacher Francis Johnson joined Ainsworth and became the pastor of their congregationalist church, but after a heated debate with Ainsworth about the nature of congregational involvement in the decision of the elders Johnson and Ainsworth parted ways in 1610.  It was then that most of Ainsworth’s followers decided to go their own way and began calling themselves the “Ainsworthians.”  For the next 12 years after this moment Henry Ainsworth found himself preaching and teaching while getting involved in all sorts of controversies big and small.  During these controversies Ainsworth wrote his most famous work “Annotations” which is a must have for any pastor’s library due to its insights into the Scripture.

Even though Ainsworth had a true graciousness and godliness about him, he was much despised for his congregationalists ways.  This has led to two general opinions about him today.  The pro-congregationalist writers today refer to him as “Dr. Ainsworth,” while most everybody else (Encyclopedia Britannica included) refers to Ainsworth as “H. Ainsworth – arch-heretic and ringleader of the Separatist movement in Amsterdam.”

But even so, his accomplishments as a scholar could not be denied.  A Puritan despised by other Puritans summarizes the life of Ainsworth well.  His life reminds us of the suffering Christians can experience even within the Church.  But, I tend to think Ainsworth brought some undue stress on himself with his conviction to stick to his congregationalist roots and go against the rest of Puritanism at large.

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