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Nathaniel Rogers Sermon Notebook

Identifier: MSN/COL 9405

Scope and Contents

A journal of sermon notes compiled by the Puritan divine Nathaniel Rogers (1598-1655), before and after his emigration from England to Massachusetts in 1636. The volume contains notes for at least 19 sermons audited by Rogers, and more than 100 composed by him.

The Rogers notebook is a single volume, 15.5 cm. high and between 3 and 4 cm. thick. It is bound in period vellum over stiff paper boards, though most of the vellum has peeled away, exposing the boards. When acquired by Notre Dame the back-strip was lacking, the front board was nearly detached, and some leaves were loose. The volume has since been conserved and re-sewn. The original volume may have contained over 220 leaves; 198 leaves survive. These contain 392 pages of script in Rogers' hand. At some point in the book's history the pages were numbered. The numeration is generally serviceable, though occasionally numbers are repeated (28-29, 215-16, 219-22, 278-79, 407-08), and there are gaps indicating missing leaves (117-20, 203-08, 223-30, 375-94). It is quite clear that the volume was acquired and used as a notebook, and not assembled by the owner from independent gatherings.

An attribution to Rev. Nathaniel Rogers of Ipswich seems evident. The back free endpaper of the manuscript bears the scattered signatures or names of at least five family members: Nathaniel Rogers, John Rogers, Samuel Rogers, William Rogers, and William Smith. Smith (ca. 1780-1855) was the great-great-great grandson of Rev. Nathaniel Rogers. Given the inscriptions, it is plausible that the book descended to Smith through his maternal grandfather Samuel Rogers (1709-1772), his great-grandfather John Rogers (1666-1745, longtime minister at Ipswich), and his great-great grandfather, John Rogers (1629/30-1684)—Nathaniel's oldest son. The early "Nathaniel Rogers" inscription at bottom center may be the signature of the original owner, or it may be that of a descendent. In any case, the volume's textual content, including the relatively few date and place names appended to sermon notes, is consistent with what we know of the life of Nathaniel Rogers. The 17th century handwriting in the present volume is comparable to one of the hands in a volume of sermon notes of 1653-63, known to be Rogers' (American Antiquarian Society, Ipswich (Mass.) Records, Mss. Octavo Vols. I).

The volume contains roughly 135 discrete sections of notes, most of which reveal the structure and apparatus of the plain-style sermon. Nineteen of these bear attributions to other ministers; the remainder, all unattributed, are presumably notes for Rogers' own sermons. The attributions to fellow ministers are significant, not least because they occasionally indicate when and/or where the sermon was preached, and allow us to recognize, among other things, that the book's contents are broadly chronological. None of the notes for Rogers' own sermons bear dates. A list of the attribution inscriptions follows:

pp. 9-10, Psalms 31:23: "Mr Tanner" pp. 12-15, 1 Corinthians 3:16: "Mr Walker" [George Walker, ca. 1581-1651]. pp. 15-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:18: "Mr Walker" pp. 19-25, Hosea 2:13: "Mr Walker" pp. 25-29, John 1:16: "Mr Arthur of Sproughton" pp. 29-30, Mark 2:5: "Mr Anderson of Boston" pp. 30-33, Proverbs 4:23: "Mr Symmonds of London" [Joseph Symonds, d. 1652]. pp. 33-35, ?: "Mr Goodwin of London" [Thomas Goodwin, 1600-1679/80]. pp. 41-45, Galatians 3:14: "Mr Bersall [?] of Stysted" pp. 51-53, Isaiah 49:14: "Mr Symmonds of London at Dedh. Aug:16" pp. 54-56, Matthew 5:12: "My Fath." [John Rogers, ca. 1570-1636] pp. 59-62, Job 21:15: "Mr Burrowes at Colch: at a Bap." [Jeremiah Burroughs, ca. 1600-1646]. pp. 69-71, Hosea 6:4: "Mr Peck" [Robert Peck, 1580-1656]. pp. 80-83, Hosea 9:12: "Mr Angier. Oct. 2. Dedh." [John Angier, 1605-1677]. pp. 124-126, 2 Thessalonians 3:13: "Mr Walker (of ?)" pp. 129-131, Luke 2:51: "Mr Smith" pp. 216-219, Matthew 9:38: "Mr Mather on the day of Ordination" [Richard Mather, 1596-1669]. pp. 221-232, 1 Thessalonians 2:6: "Mr Norton at Ipswich Octo:1.1637" [John Norton, 1606-1663]. pp. 370-372, Ecclesiastes 3:10: "Mr Miller M.1.1642 1643" [John Miller, 1598-1664].

Most of the attributions appear in the first third of the 400-page volume, with a disproportionate number at the very beginning (14 in 80 pages). None of these early attribution notations includes a date (the first date in the volume is associated with an unattributed sermon on Romans 11:1, 29 September 1635, on p. 77). All the more prominent ministers mentioned as deliverers of these sermons—George Walker, Joseph Symonds, Thomas Goodwin, John Rogers, Jeremiah Burroughs, Robert Peck, John Angier—were nonconformists preaching in England in the 1630s. It seems likely that the journal was begun by Rogers when he was rector at Assington (1631-1636), in the years before his emigration. It also appears that it was begun as a journal of auditor notes (most likely worked up after the sermon, in the relative comfort of the study, with textual resources at hand). The first sure indication of Rogers' presence in America appears on p. 216, with notes for a sermon on Matthew 9:38 preached by Richard Mather "on the day of Ordination"—perhaps Rogers' ordination or installation at Ipswich, 20 February 1637/8. This is closely followed by notes for a sermon delivered by John Norton at Ipswich, 1 October 1637. The only remaining section of notes bearing an attribution appears close to the end of the volume, on pp. 370-372: this is a sermon on Ecclesiates 3:10 by John Miller, formerly settled at Rowley, Massachusetts, delivered on 1 March 1642/3. If the attributions are the chronological markers they appear to be, it is reasonable to date the book's contents from ca. 1634 to ca. 1645. (For auditor notes generally, see Meredith Marie Neuman, Jeremiah's Scribes: Creating Sermon Literature in Puritan New England, Philadelphia, 2013).

There are no immediately obvious distinctions between the sermon notes bearing attributions and those lacking them—which are mostly, one would assume, outlines for Rogers' own compositions. Notes for individual sermons typically occupy from two to five pages. Rogers maximizes the space at his disposal by employing a very fine hand, so closely written as to achieve 50, 60, and even 70 lines per page (in a volume whose pages are less than 15 cm. high). This, coupled with Rogers' extensive use of abbreviation, results in pages that commonly contain upwards of 600 words. The text is generally clean, with relatively few cross-outs, emendations, or additions.

The notes almost invariably adhere to the familiar branching structure of the plain-style sermon, which Perry Miller summarizes thus: "The Puritan sermon quotes the [scriptural] text and 'opens' it as briefly as possible, expounding circumstances and context, explaining its grammatical meanings, reducing its tropes and schemata to prose, and setting forth its logical implications; the sermon then proclaims in a flat, indicative sentence the 'doctrine' contained in the text or logically deduced from it, and proceeds to the first reason or proof. Reason follows reason, with no other transition than a period and a number; after the last proof is stated there follow the uses or applications, also in numbered sequence, and the sermon ends when there is nothing more to be said." (The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century. Cambridge MA, 1939, pp. 332-3). In Rogers' notebook, structural markers indicating doctrine, reasons, and uses (typically abbreviated "Doctr.", "Reas.", "Us.1", etc.) appear adjacent to the relevant notes, in the broad left-hand margins that appear on every page. Also in the margins are the abundant scriptural citations that support the exegesis and personal applications in the notes.

Most of Rogers' sermons appear to be of the common Sunday variety, treating the salvation of the soul and the life of sanctified obedience. Given the demands of preaching several one- to two-hour discourses weekly, ministers found it expedient to deliver sermons in series (sermons continua), treating a chapter or more of scripture sequentially, a verse at a time. This practice is evident in Rogers' notebook, reinforcing the assumption that the material is chronologically arranged. Scattered among the audited sermons in the first part of the book are twelve unattributed sermons treating verses ranging from Romans 10:4 to Romans 11:7 (pp. 1-123). And no less than 43 of the sermons in the latter part of the volume, composed in America, are devoted to 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to 5:26 (this sequence actually begins with the Norton sermon of 1 October 1637, on 1 Thessalonians 2:6). It may also be observed that around the time he settled at Ipswich, Rogers summarized for himself (and his congregation?) the respective duties of pastors and teachers, in notes whose scriptural premise is Ephesians 4:11.

The assumptions and generalizations herein made should not obscure the fact that this was, after all, a working notebook kept over a period of years, subject to idiosyncrasies that a closer examination will no doubt reveal. Whether Rogers carried the notebook with him into the pulpit, or used its outlines to write out the full texts of his sermons, are matters that require further consideration.


  • Creation: Circa 1635-1645


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Biographical / Historical

Nathaniel Rogers (1598-1655) was born at Haverhill, Suffolk in 1598, the second son of the famous Puritan divine John Rogers (ca. 1572-1636) and his wife Bridget Ray. From 1605 "Roaring John" Rogers was lecturer (preacher) at Dedham, Essex, and Nathaniel Rogers received his initial education at the grammar school there. On 9 May 1614 he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, receiving his B.A. in 1617 and his M.A. in 1621. After two years as a domestic chaplain Rogers became curate (ca. 1627-31) to Dr. John Barkham of Bocking, Essex. During his time at Bocking Rogers' views seem to have become more nonconformist, perhaps due to his friendships with Thomas Hooker and other Essex Puritans. In 1631 Rogers was dismissed from his living at Bocking for performing the burial office without a surplice. He then became rector at Assington, Suffolk (1631-36), where his patron was Brampton Gurdon, a friend of John Winthrop. After William Laud was made Archbishop of Canterbury Rogers' suspension from his ministry for nonconformity became increasingly likely, and on 1 June 1636 he sailed for New England, arriving on 17 November after a difficult passage of 24 weeks. Accompanying him to America were his wife Margaret (d. 1655/6), the daughter of Robert Crane of Coggeshall, Essex, whom he had married in 1626, and two children, Mary and John. Four sons were born in America: Nathaniel, Samuel, Timothy, and Ezekiel.

In the late summer of 1637 Rogers attended the ministerial synod at Cambridge called to resolve disputes arising from the Antinomian Controversy. He was first offered a ministerial settlement at Dorchester, with Richard Mather, but was forced to decline because the church could not accommodate the followers who had accompanied him from England. He subsequently accepted a settlement at Ipswich, Essex County, Massachusetts, where he was ordained on 20 February 1637/8. He shared the ministry at Ipswich with John Norton (1606-63), who served as teacher while Rogers served as pastor. (At this time fully organized New England churches typically supported two ministers of theoretically equal status. The pastor focused mainly on questions of salvation, the teacher on more systematic theology. Both gave sermons, but teaching ministers were more likely to preach occasional sermons, and were also more likely to publish; this latter distinction certainly holds with Norton and Rogers). Rogers remained at Ipswich until his death, ministering with Norton until the latter departed for Boston's First Church following the death of John Cotton in 1652. Many among the Ipswich congregation blamed Rogers, however unjustifiably, for failing to dissuade Norton from moving to Boston—a sentiment which troubled Rogers greatly, according to Cotton Mather. Rogers occasionally gave advice on the colony's civil affairs, and was invited by the General Court to preach the election sermon in 1647. Rogers died at Ipswich of unclear causes, 3 July 1655.

Much of what is known of Rogers' life and ministry derives from a biography written by Cotton Mather for his providential history of 17th century New England, the Magnalia Christi Americana, first published in London in 1702 (Book III, pp. 104-109). One of Mather's purposes in writing the book was to inspire his contemporaries by invoking a purer, more godly generation of Americans, led by divines like Rogers. Yet if the 35 full-length first-generation minister portraits in Book III are purposefully hagiographic, they nonetheless reflect the depth of the source material—printed, manuscript, and oral—to which Mather (writing in the 1690s) had access. It is thus worthwhile to quote from Mather's biography at some length, especially on matters that have a bearing on Rogers' sermonizing.

Introduction (§1): ". . .Truly, at the Beginning of New-England also, among the First Believers, that formed a Church for our God in the Country, there was a Famous Nathanael, who retired into these American Woods, that he might serve the King of Israel: this was our Nathanael Rogers. One of the first English Arch-bishops assumed the Name of Deus dedit, and the Historian says, he answered the Name that he assumed. Our Nathanael was not in the Rank of Arch-bishops, but as was his Name, a GIFT OF GOD, so was he!"

On Rogers' ministry at Assington, Suffolk (§8): "Here his Ministry was both highly respected, and greatly prospered, among Persons of all Qualities, not only in the Town it self, but in the Neighbourhood. He was a lively, curious, florid Preacher; and by his Holy Living, he so farther preached, as to give much Life unto all his other preaching. He had usually, every Lord's Day, a greater Number of Hearers than could croud into the Church; and of these many Ignorant Ones were instructed, many Ungodly Ones were Converted, and many Sorrowful Ones were comforted. Tho' he had not his Father's notable Voice, yet he had several Ministerial Qualifications, as was judged, beyond his Father; and he wasone prepared unto every good Work; tho' he was also exercised with Bodily Infirmities, which his Labours brought upon him. . . ."

Settlement and ministry at Ipswich, Massachusetts (§12-13): "His first Invitation was to Dorchester; but the Number of Good Men who came hither, desirous of a Settlement under his Ministry, could not there be accomodated; which caused him to accept rather of an Invitation to Ipswich, where he was ordained Pastor of the Church, on Feb. 20. 1638. At his Ordination preaching on 2 Cor. 2. 16 Who is sufficent for these things: A Sermon so Copious, Judicious, Accurate, and Elegant, that it struck the Hearers with admiration. Here was a Renowned Church consisting mostly of such illuminated Christians, that their Pastors in the Exercise of their Ministry, might (as Jerom said of that brave Woman Marcella) Sentire se non tam Discipulos habere quam Judices [feel they were less students than judges]. His Colleague here, was the Celebrious Norton; and glorious was the Church of Ipswich now, in two such extraordinary Persons, with their different Gifts; but united Hearts carrying on the Concerns of the Lord's Kingdom in it. . . ."

"While he lived in Ipswich, he went over the Five last Chapters of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in his Ministry; the Twelfth Chapter to the Hebrews; the Fourteenth Chapter of Hosea; the Doctrine of Self-denial, and walking with God; and the Fifty third Chapter ofIsaiah; to the great Satisfaction of all his Hearers, with many other Subjects more occasionally handled. It was counted pity that the Publick should not enjoy some of his Discourses, in all which he was, ου των εμουντων αλλα των ακριβουντων: But his Physician told him, That if he went upon transcribing any of his Composures, his Disposition to Accuracy would so deeply engage him in it, as to endanger his Life: Wherefore he left few Monuments of his Ministry, but in the Hearts of his People, which were many. But tho' they were so many, that he did justly reckon that well-instructed, and well-inclined People, his Crown, yet in the Paroxism of Temptation among them, upon Mr. Norton's Removal, the melancholy Heart of Mr. Rogers, thought for a while, they were too much a Crown of Thorns unto him."

On Rogers' character (§14): "It belongs to his Character, that he feared God above many, and walked with God, at a great rate of Holiness: Tho' such was his Reservedness, that none but his intimate Friends knew the Particularities of his Walk, yet such as were indeed intimate with him could observe, that he was much in Fasting and Prayer, and Meditation, and those Duties wherein the Power of Godliness is most maintained: And as the Graces of a Christian, so the Gifts of a Minister, in him, were beyond the ordinary attainments of good Men. Yea, I shall do a wrong unto his Name, if I do not freely say, That he was one of the greatest Men, that ever set foot on the American Strand. . . ."

On Rogers' writings (§16): "He was known to keep a Diary; but he kept it with so much reservation, that it is not known, that ever any one but himself did read one Word of it: And he determined that none ever should; so he ordered a couple of his Intimate Friends to cast it all into the Fire, without ever looking into the Contents of it. Surely, with the Loss of so Incomparable a Person, the Survivors must lament the Loss of those Experiences, which might in these Rich Papers, have kept him, after a sort, still Alive unto us! But as they would have prov'd him, An Incarnate Seraphim, so the other Seraphim, who carried him away with them, were no Strangers to the Methods, by which he had ripened and Winged himself, to become one of their Society. I cannot find any Composures of this Worthy Man's offered by the Press unto the World; except one, and that is only a Letter which he wrote from New England, unto a Member of the Honourable House of Commons, at Westminster, in the Year 1643. . . ."

The rhetoric employed by Mather to describe Rogers' ministry is broadly typical of that used by commentators to describe pastors, and in many respects atypical of that used to describe teachers. Much is made of Rogers' exemplary life, and his effectiveness in the pulpit; little is made of his theological knowledge (see Vergil V. Phelps, "The Pastor and Teacher in New England," The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (July 1911), 388-399). Mather emphasizes the fact that Rogers did not publish: ". . .he left few Monuments of his Ministry, but in the Hearts of his People. . . ." A diary, he says, was destroyed at Rogers' command by "Intimate Friends." Despite Rogers' success as a pastor Mather intimates that he was an introverted, even melancholy man; he also repeatedly mentions his weak physical constitution. None of the sermons mentioned by Mather appear in Rogers' notebook. For another biography of Rogers, based largely on Mather, see David T. Kimball, A Sketch of the Ecclesiastical History of Ipswich, Haverhill MA, 1823, 16-19.


1 volume

Language of Materials



A journal of sermon notes compiled by the Puritan divine Nathaniel Rogers (1598-1655), before and after his emigration from England to Massachusetts in 1636. The volume contains notes for at least 19 sermons audited by Rogers, and more than 100 composed by him.

Related Materials

The American Antiquarian Society holds a volume that includes sermon notes written by Nathaniel Rogers ca. 1653-55 (Ipswich (Mass.) Records, Mss. Octavo Vols. I). The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a volume of auditor notes on sermons delivered at the First Church in Ipswich in 1645-46 that includes notes on sermons by Rogers (Ms. SBd-76). This latter volume is discussed in Neuman, Jeremiah's Scribes, pp. 78-80, as the notebook of "Correcting Auditor."

Physical Description

1 Volume, 16 cm., 198 leaves, with 392 pages of content.

Nathaniel Rogers Sermon Notebook
Arranged and described 2015-16, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2016, by George Rugg.
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556