Submitted by Prof. Renihan
In 2008, it was my privilege to speak at the Conference on 17th century Baptist History sponsored by Southern Seminary’s Andrew Fuller Center. I deeply appreciated the invitation to participate, extended by Dr. Michael Haykin, the Center’s director. I was asked to speak on Thomas Collier, and titled my lecture The Strange Case of Thomas Collier.
Collier, a leader among the Particular Baptists, went off the theological deep-end (so to speak). His doctrinal deviations are amazing, producing an incoherent melange of heterodox and heretical positions. I cannot post the entire lecture at this time, but here is the conclusion:
Thomas Collier’s importance in the establishment of churches in the West Country of England must not be minimized. For upwards of 40 years he gave himself to the strengthening of churches, and to the extension of the Gospel. He was a man of real importance and prominence, with tremendous influence in many places. When he publicly deviated from the positions he had formerly held, it is not surprising that the London Particular Baptist leaders took this defection seriously, and took steps to restore him to sound doctrine, or failing that, to repudiate his doctrine.
Collier did not hide the fact that he had changed his views, nor did he limit his new positions to those mentioned above. In his Postscript to his Confession of Faith, he singled out seven doctrinal areas that he found offensive in the 2nd London Confession of Faith. They were, l. Absolute reprobation of the world (which he admits is not taught explicitly, but “more covertly and hiddenly”); 2. Particular Redemption; 3. Effectual Calling (in the Puritan Sense); 4. Justification by faith without works (!); 5. Impossibility of falling from grace; 6. The immutability of the decrees of God; and 7. Divine providence extending to all things, including the fall and sinful actions of men. All of these issues could be investigated in detail. Suffice to say that Collier’s early commitment to the Calvinistic theological system was virtually rejected in toto. He was at various times, but especially in the final four decades of his ministry, all over the theological map, holding Pelagian, Socinian, and other highly unorthodox positions. So far as we know, he spent the final 20 years of his life on a theological desert island, driven there in his rudderless coracle by every buffeting wind and flowing tide of doctrine.
One wonders whether Collier’s role as an evangelist played any part in his changing theological views. He does not make any such statements in the works consulted, nor does he ever accuse others of a lack of evangelistic zeal. We simply do not know what influences may have molded his thinking. He does not cite any sources, but to do so would perhaps prejudice his case. He seeks rather to present his views based on Scripture and reason as he understood them, or, in response to works with which he disagreed (i.e. the 2nd LCF, Nehemiah Coxe, and John Owen). In this way, he alone is responsible for his published positions. They do not reflect any known system of theology in its entirety; they are more akin to a strange international smorgasbord than a carefully planned feast. When Thomas Hall named him Arrian, Arminian, Socinian, Samosatenian, Antinomian, Anabaptist, Familist, Donatist, Separatist, Anti-Scripturist, he was correct! Collier was a Particular Baptist leader whose particularity was unique! Whatever the case, his departure from Puritan orthodoxy was decisive, public, and idiosyncratic. It was a strange case indeed.
Thomas Hall, The Collier in his Colours: or, The Picture of a Collier (London: n.p., 1652). The work is actually appended to Hall’s The Font Guarded (London: 1652), though the pagination is consecutive. Spelling is accurate to the original title page. Also relevant is Collier’s own Heads and Substance of a Discourse.