Even as a young man Joseph Alleine showed much promise in godliness and pastoral wisdom, but it wasn’t until he was 11, in 1645, when his whole life moved dramatically toward Christ and His service. When his older brother Edward (a pastor) died, Joseph begged to take his place in the ministry of the Church. So at age 16 he was sent off to study at Oxford, and guess who he sat under? None other than the world-renowned Puritan theologians John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.
Often depriving himself of sleep and food Joseph gained a reputation for study, graduating from Oxford in 1653 with a Bachelor of Arts. He was appointed the chaplain and tutor of Corpus Christi where he spent much time preaching: to prisoners, to the poor, and to the sick. In 1655 he accepted the call to work as the assistant of George Newton (vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church) in Taunton, Somerset. Taunton was a Puritan stronghold so Alleine felt quite at home. He would marry during this fruitful and uniquely blessed season of life and ministry.
His wife Theodosia once remarked about Joseph’s early hours of prayer saying, “I would be troubled if I heard smiths or other craftsman at work at their trades before my husband was at communion with God.” Likewise Joseph told her once, “How this noise shames me! Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?”
Richard Baxter said of Alleine, “His great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures – was so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Another contemporary wrote, “Alleine was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.” During his ministry in Taunton Joseph preached, pastored, and taught, as he was becoming mastered by the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But as was the case with many Puritans Joseph was ejected for nonconformity in 1662 and because he knew his time would be short-lived as a public preacher, he increased his labors preaching twice daily for 9 more months when he was arrested and threw into prison in Ilchester.
As was also the case with many Puritans, Joseph’s prison cell became a catalyst for his writing. Numerous pastoral letters and theological articles came forth from his cell. Released in 1664 he resumed his public ministry though he remarked that from this point forward his ministry was “full of troubles and persecutions.” He returned home to Taunton in 1668 when he became ill. Only nine months later at the young age of 34, weary from hard work and suffering, Joseph Alleine died saying these words, “Christ is mine, and I am His – His by covenant!”
John Wesley would later call Alleine the “English Samuel Rutherford.” His most well known works, which are still available today, are: The Act of Conformity, An Alarm to the Unconverted, The Life and Letters of Joseph Alleine, and The Precious Promises of the Gospel. Alleine was the forerunner to the great men we know and read much of today like Richard Baxter, Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and Iain Murray.
Alleine had a huge love for God, and a large heart for those who sat under his ministry. We should be comforted from his example and challenged. He worked hard, loved God, and devoted his life to God’s Church. Read Alleine yourself:
You are a people much upon my heart, whose welfare is the matter of my continual prayers, care, and study. And oh that I knew how to do you good! How it pities me to think how so many of you should remain in your sins, after so many and so long endeavors to convert you and bring you in! Once more, oh beloved, once more to hear the call of the Most High God unto you. The prison preaches to you the same doctrine that the pulpit did. Hear O people hear; the Lord of life and glory offers you all mercy, and peace, and blessedness. Oh, why should you die? Whosoever will, let him take the waters of life freely. My soul yearns for you. Ah, that I did but know what arguments to use with you; who shall choose my words for me that I may prevail with sinners not to reject their own mercy? How shall I get within them? How shall I reach them? Oh, that I did but know the words that would pierce them! That I could but get between their sins and them.
Iain Murray summed up Alleine’s life well saying, “Never did the evangel (the gospel) of Jesus Christ burn more fervently in any English heart.”
May the same be true of you and I.