Christ Alone Exalted
in the life and works of Tobias Crisp, DD
by Dr John Purkis
Tobias Crisp was born in Bread Street, London, in the year 1600. He was the third son of Mr. Ellis Crisp, a wealthy merchant and alderman of the city, and indeed was the Sheriff of London when he died on the thirteenth of November, 1625. Tobias' elder brother, Nicholas, was himself an industrious merchant, and soon grew rich in his own right, and was knighted by King Charles I. Tobias was educated at Eton, and from thence removed to Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. He then went to Oxford, where he received his D.D, in what year is not known, but he was incorporated a member of Balliol College in February, 1626. The following year, he became rector of Brinkworth in Wiltshire.
When Tobias married is not certain, but was probably about the time, or just prior, to him becoming rector of Brinkworth in 1627. His wife was Mary Wilson, daughter of Rowland Wilson of London, another merchant, a good and godly man, and a Parliamentarian during the Civil War. Their marriage was richly blessed of Almighty God, and Mary bore Tobias thirteen children, of which two predeceased him. Their names were Rowland, Ellis, Mary, Samuel, Esther, Edward, Rowland, Nicholas, Elizabeth, Anne, Jane, and John.
Tobias had a large income of his own, and he was known to be a liberal and hospitable host to strangers. Indeed, he was reported to have had a hundred people in his house at one time, he making provision for both them and their horses. But it was the provision Crisp made for the souls of his hearers that caused people to come from far and wide to hear him. John Gill says of him: "His way of preaching tended to edification, being spiritual and evangelical, and suited to the case of souls made truly sensible of sin: and adapted to their condition and to the peace and comfort of them, as well as plain and familiar, and easy to be understood by those of the meanest capacity .... he often illustrates the deepest mysteries of grace by things common among men, and known to all."
When Crisp first began to preach, he subscribed to the Arminian scheme, and preached much on the legal duty of men to seek salvation by their works. His life was, at this time, said to be "altogether unblamable in his conversation, without the least tincture of any just imputation of viciousness among men, and few so constant in preaching, in praying, in performing public, family, and private exercises, in strict observation of the duties of the Lord's day." Crisp refused all preferments, worldly pomp and advancement, even though he had an open door to the same by reason of his parentage and friends, and wholly dedicated himself to the preaching and practice of the Word. Some time after this, it pleased God to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to him more clearly, the glorious doctrines of Grace breaking in upon his heart and soul. This mighty operation of the Spirit upon him, so far from causing him to become an Antinomian and live a licentious life, rather had the effect of causing him to redouble his zeal in glorifying the Lord, it working now from a more effectual principle than the spirit of bondage and fear, even the spirit of power and love, and of a sound mind. Crisp rejoiced to be spent in his Lord's service, often studying whole nights, and by constant and laborious preaching and praying. Crisp made little of his human learning, determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, indeed he esteemed himself to be but nothing. This is very apparent in his sermons, Crisp has an ability to lay sinful man in the dust and exalt the saving Jesus to the heavens which has scarce, if ever, found the like among men. Such preaching and doctrine has sadly and falsely had the charge of Antinomianism laid against it. The fact that Crisp was no Antinomian can be easily refuted from his sermons, especially Free Grace the Teacher of Good Works and The Use of the Law, which abundantly prove the contrary. For example, in the sermon Men's own Righteousness their Grand Idol, Crisp writes, "I speak not against the doing of any righteousness according to the will of God revealed. Let that mouth be for ever stopped, that shall open to blame the law that is holy, just and good; or shall be the means to discourage people from walking in the commandments of God blameless. All that I speak is this, That it will prove a rock of offence in the end, if it be not turned from; namely, That we should expect that our own righteousness should bring down a gracious answer from God to our spirits." Gill's note upon this is "Is this Antinomianism? or can such a preacher be called an Antinomian?" Crisp believed, as Isaiah the Prophet did, that man had absolutely no righteousness of his own, nor could he, and that his best works were stained with guilt and sin. In his sermon Men's own Righteousness their Grand Idol, he writes "It must be Christ that prevails with the Father for us; all our righteousness will prevail nothing at all with God, not move him a jot, except it be to pull down wrath; there is not one act of righteousness that a person doth, but when that is finished, there is more transgression belonging to him, than before he had performed it: and there is no composition, there is no buying out of evil by good doings; the doing of good doth not make a recompense for what sin doth: we pay but our debts in doing good; so that as there is a new righteousness performed, there is still a new reckoning added to the former; by acting of righteousness, you make up a greater number of sins than before; so that it is only Christ from whom we must have the expectation of success, in whatsoever thing we desire." Tobias also believed, correctly, that the imputation of sins upon Christ was real, as was the imputation of His righteousness to the sinner. His view, although wholly Scriptural, was condemned as an error, and he was much criticised for it. Though this teaching was not popular then, and is no more popular now, it is a most glorious truth of the Gospel, and one to which all those who see themselves lost in sin and saved by free and sovereign grace will readily concur. Crisp saw man as lost, absolutely helpless and unable before God, with righteousness as filthy rags, and carnal, sold under sin, and saw Christ as the all-sufficient Saviour of his people, their surety, their all, and all in all, the Blessed, Holy One of God who bore all their sins away, and who wrought out a robe of his righteousness with which he freely clothes his people. "Christ represents our persons to the Father; we represent the person of Christ to him; all the loveliness the person of Christ hath, that is put upon us; and we are lovely with the Father, even as the Son himself." That such saving truths should be labelled Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism is a sad reflection upon the majority of professors, both in his day and ours.
Dr. William Twisse, the prolocutor to the Westminster Assembly of Divines, expressed himself thus, that he "had read Dr. Crisp's sermons, and could give no reason why they were so opposed, but because so many were converted by his preaching, and so few by ours." Mr. Cole, the excellent author of a valuable treatise on Regeneration (whom Gill calls a "truly good man") declared, that if he had but one hundred pounds in the world, and Dr. Crisp's book could not be had without giving fifty pounds for it, he would give it rather than be without it; saying "I have found more satisfaction in it, than in all the books in the world, except the Bible".
At the outbreak of the Civil War, to avoid the insolence of the Cavalier soldiers, he left Brinkworth and retired to London, where several of his later-reprinted sermons were preached. He was much opposed by the divines in the city, and indeed was baited by fifty-two opponents in a grand dispute concerning the freeness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ to poor sinners. He vigorously defended the glorious doctrine of Christ against his opponents, but sadly caught small-pox from one of them, and died, aged forty-two, on the 27th of February, 1642. He was buried in the family vault at St. Mildred's Church in Bread Street, London. Of his final hours his son writes "that as he had lived in the free grace of God, through Christ, so he died, with confidence and great joy, even as much as his present condition was capable of, resigned his life and soul into the hands of his most dear Father."
Some years later, his son Samuel, who was a governor of Christchurch Hospital, London, republished his father's works with a preface. This came about through the request of one Mr. Marshall, who wrote to him about the year 1687, desiring to see a reprint of Crisp's works in one volume, and requesting Samuel's subscription to a set of them. Samuel expressed his surprise at being contacted by a stranger who would so desire to set about the work, but was joyful that, that which had refreshed so many souls forty-five years earlier might, through the good hand of God, be of great use in those days also. Samuel laments the Grotianism which had obtained such sway among the generality of professors, joining man's righteousness with Christ's for salvation. To this book, he added a further ten sermons which he transcribed out of his father's notes, in order to counter the charges that ignorant people had laid against him. Among these ten were those on Titus 2:11,12, How Grace in Christ Teacheth Godliness, not Licentiousness, and another on Gal. 3:19, on The Use of the Law.
Crisp's sermons have a savour to them that is found nowhere else. There are no writings outside of the Scriptures so able to abase man and exalt Christ. One is left with a view of oneself as truly being 'thou worm Jacob' and of the Saviour as God over all, blessed for ever. Crisp's sermons are still in print, and the reader is urged to procure them and read them for themselves. "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" Romans 11:5,6.