Henry Dunster: Harvard’s Baptist President -- By: Larry R. Oats

Journal: Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Volume: MBTJ 03:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Henry Dunster: Harvard’s Baptist President
Author: Larry R. Oats


Henry Dunster: Harvard’s Baptist President

Larry R. Oats1

The freedoms enjoyed by Baptists today were obtained at a great price. The cost of conviction has often been costly, as it was in the New World. Henry Dunster was a man of influence whose convictions cost him dearly. The first real president of Harvard, Dunster was initially an Anglican, then a Separatist, and finally a Baptist.2 His influence in his day was tremendous. His influence today should be just as great.

Background In England

Henry Dunster was born in approximately 1612 at Bury, Lancashire, England. His father, Henry, was a religious man with Puritan sentiments, so the child Henry was raised in a godly environment. Henry was a spiritually perceptive child and “when he was about twelve years old, he became deeply concerned as to his personal

responsibility to God. ‘The Lord gave me,’ he relates, ‘an attentive eare and heart to understand preachinge. . . . The Lord showed me my sins, and reconciliation by Christ, and this word was more sweet to me than anything else in the world.’”3 He had a strong desire for a good education, but he viewed this as an attempt by the wicked one to keep him from serving Christ: “‘The greatest thing . . . which separated my soule from God was an inordinate desire of humane learning.’ But he wisely concluded to meet the temptation, and go to the university at Cambridge.”4

Cambridge challenged Dunster’s intellect. It also expanded his religious knowledge. While there he met some of the great scholars of his day, and it would be safe to assume that he had numerous opportunities to discuss their views of Christianity. No known portrait of Dunster exists, but he undoubtedly took for himself the dress and appearance of his contemporaries at Cambridge: Ralph Cudworth, author of The True Intellectual System of the Universe; Henry More, the Platonist; Joseph Mede, a leading commentator on the book of the Revelation; John Pearson, later an Anglican bishop; and John Milton, well known poet and writer.5 Men of this caliber, even in their student days, challenged the intellect, and Dunster excelled in his educational pursuits. William Cathcart says of Dunster, “He was distinguished for his scholarly attainments in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In his day he was one of the greatest masters of the Oriental languages.”6

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