Lambe, Thomas (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32
Lambe, Thomas

by Alexander Gordon
The ODNB states that this article confuses two people named Thomas Lamb(e).

LAMBE or LAMB, THOMAS (d. 1686), philanthropist, and sometime nonconformist, was born in Colchester. He could not have been, as Brook thinks possible, the Thomas Lamb who became vicar of South Benfleet, Essex, on 23 July 1641. On 6 Feb. 1640, when he was already married and had eight children, he was brought up, at Laud's instance, to the Star-chamber from Colchester, with Francis Lee, on a charge of preaching to a separatist congregation there, and on suspicion of having administered the sacraments. He was committed to the Fleet, and suffered several imprisonments. At Whitsuntide 1640 he and another gave information to John Langley, mayor of Colchester, of a suspected plot to fire the town by 'two Irishmen.' He gained his liberty, through his wife's intercession, on 25 June 1640, on giving a bond not to preach, baptise, or frequent any conventicle. He was brought up on his bond by order of 15 Oct. 1640, but seems to have been finally released by the Long parliament soon after. From a letter written on 12 Aug. 1658 by his wife, Barbara Lambe, to Richard Baxter, it appears that in 1640 or 1641 he joined the congregation of John Goodwin [q. v.] at St. Stephen's, Coleman Street, London, was afterwards ordained an elder of Goodwin's cougregational church, and became an active preacher. He was then a soap-boiler, carrying on business in Bell Alley, Coleman Street, and preached there, as well as in parish church on occasion. He also travelled into Essex 'to make disciples.' Henry Denne [q. v.] joined his meeting at Bell Alley in 1643. On 5 Nov. 1644 he preached universal redemption (in Goodwin's sense) at St. Benedict's, Gracechurch. By this time he had rejected infant baptism without as yet becoming an adult baptist. He encouraged female preachers, notably one Mrs. Attaway, 'the mistress of all the she-preachers in Coleman Street.' In 1645 he was brought before the lord mayor for unlicensed preaching, and imprisoned for a short time by order of a committee of parliament. Edwards, who calls him 'one Lam,' gives an odd account of a public disputation at the Spital in January 1646, between Robert Overton [q. v.] and Lambe and others, on the immortality of the soul. The discussion had been prohibited by the lord mayor, whom Lambe was at first inclined to obey. In February 1650 he was an importer of corn by way of Exeter to London; in July he was engaged in the French trade. He wrote one of the 'hyms or spiritual songs' sung by Goodwin's congregation on 24 Oct. 1661, after the battle of Worcester, and published by Goodwin.

It was not till about 1653 that the arguments of William Allen, derived from Samuel Fisher (1606-1665) [q. v.], brought him to belief in the necessity of adult baptism. For a short time he remained in communion with Goodwin, hut soon seceded with Allen and some twenty others, who met as a particular baptist church in Bell Alley. In 1658 Lambe and Allen had increased their following by about one hundred. Lambe was now living in the parish of St. Bartholomew the Great; his church, or part of it, met in Lothbury. He was probably the Thomas Lambe or Lamb who was appointed by the navy commissioners in May 1658 as minister of the Nantwich, on a certificate signed by Peter Sterry [q. v.] and two others. Meanwhile Fisher's secession to quakerism had caused a reaction in his mind ; before the end of 1657 he began to think of retracing his steps; a correspondence with Baxter in 1668 and 1659, begun by his wife and continued by himself and Allen, convinced him of his error in leaving Goodwin. Lambe and Allen dissolved their baptist church, and had a meeting with 'the most moderate pastors of the rebaptised churches,' to consult about a wider basis of chureh membership. Baxter supplied terms of agreement, but the negotiations were interrupted by the Restoration. Lambe signed the baptist protestation against Venner's insurrection in January 1661.

Lambe and Allen both returned as lay members to the established church, Lambe subsequently dated his return from 1658, but Baxter says they became more vehement against separation than any of the conforming clergy. Lambe made a 'publich profession of repentance,' and succeeded in bringing many of his followers with him to the established church. According to Crosby he died about 1673. Crosby, however (who seems unacquainted with the facts presented in the appendix to 'Reliquiæ Baxterianæ' and in Lucas's sermon), erroneously tries to make out that Lambe of Bell Alley and Lambe who conformed were different persons. 'Mr. Lamb, Bell Alley, Coleman Street,' appears in the 'Catalogue of the Names of the Merchants' of 1677; in 1679 Baxter published his 'Nonconformist's Plea for Peace,' in reply to Lambe's attack on nonconformist preachers.

In later life he was remarkable for the fervour of his personal religion, as well as for his philanthropic work. He was an organiser of charity, contributing largely from own means, and distributing the bounty of others. 'Several hundreds of prisoners' were by his means set free, and the internal arrangements of prisons improved in consequence of his exertions. He was interested also in the religious education of children. So extensive were his charitable operations that 'he was continually throng'd by flocks of his clients (as he called them).' He declined to resort to the country for his health, saying, 'What shall my poor then do?' When too infirm to give personal supervision to his charitable schemes, he employed an agent for the purpose. He died at an advanced age in 1686. His funeral sermon was preached on 33 July by Richard Lucas, D.D. [q. v.], then vicar of St. Stephen's, Coleman street, who speaks of him as his 'dear friend.' One of his sons, Isaac Lamb, was a particular baptist minister who signed the confession of faith issued by that body in 1688. Another son, John Lambe, was appointed vicar of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, in May 1673, and was living in 1706.

Lambe published: 1. 'The Fountain of Free Grace Opened,' &c., 8vo (Crosby). 2. 'A Treatise of Particular predestination,' &c., 1642, 8vo. 3. 'The Unlawfulness of Infant Baptisme,’ &c., 1644 (Angus). 4. ‘The Anabaptists Groundwork … found false. … Whereunto one T. L. hath given his Answers,’ &c., 1644, 4to. 5. ‘The Summe of a Conference … betweene J. Stalham and … T. Lamb,’ &c., 1644, 4to. 6. ‘Truth prevailing against … J. Goodwin,’ &c., 1655, 4to. 7. ‘Absolute Freedom from Sin,’ &c., 1656, 4to (against Goodwin's theology; dedicated to the Lord Protector). Lucas refers to his ‘two excellent treatises … for the disabusing those of the separation;’ one of these was: 8. ‘A Fresh Suit against Independency,’ &c. (mentioned in preface to Allen's ‘Works’); also ‘a catechism of his own composing’ which he used in his charitable work.

[Cal. of State Papers, Dom. 1640, 1641, 1650, 1651, 1652, 1653, 1655, 1658; Edwards's Gangræna, 1646, i. 124 sq. (2nd edit.), ii. 17 sq.; Lucas's Funeral Sermon, 1686; Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, 1696, i. 180 sq., iii. 180, App. 51 sq.; Works of William Allen, 1707; Crosby's Hist. of English Baptists, 1738–40, iii. 55 sq.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808, ii. 430 sq., 445 sq.; Brook's Lives of the Puritans, 1813, iii. 461 sq.; Wood's Condensed Hist. of General Baptists [1847], pp. 109, 121 (erroneously treats Lambe as a general baptist); Records of Fenstanton (Hanserd Knollys Soc.), 1854, pp. vii. 153; Confessions of Faith (Hanserd Knollys Soc.), 1854, p. 171; Barclay's Inner Life of Rel. Societies of the Commonwealth, 1876, p. 157; London Directory of 1677, 1878; Urwick's Nonconformity in Herts, 1884, p. 474; Angus's Early Baptist Authors, January 1886.]

A. G.