Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Greenhill, William
GREENHILL, WILLIAM (1591–1671), nonconformist divine, was born of humble parents in 1591, probably in Oxfordshire. At the age of thirteen he matriculated at Oxford on 8 June 1604 (Oxford Univ. Reg., Oxford Hist. Soc., II. ii. 273); was elected a demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, on 8 Jan. 1604-5; graduated B.A. on 25 Jan. 1608-9, and M.A. on 9 July 1612, in which year he resigned his demyship. A Thomas Greenhill, supposed to be William's brother, matriculated from Magdalen College on 10 Nov. 1621, aged eighteen, and was a chorister from 1613 to 1624, graduating B.A. on 6 Feb. 1623-4. He died on 17 Sept. 1634. A punning epitaph on him, said to be by William, is in Beddington Church, near Croydon. There is much uncertainty as to William's relationship with Nicholas Greenhill (1582-1650), who was demy of Magdalen 1598-1606, master of Rugby School 1602-5, prebendary of Lincoln from 1613, and rector of Whitnash, Warwickshire, from 1609 till his death (J. R. Bloxam, Reg. iv. 243; M. H. Bloxam, Rugby, 1889, pp. 24, 30, 31; Oxford Univ. Reg., Oxford Hist. Soc., II. ii. 230, iii. 238; Blackwood's Mag. May 1862, p. 540).
From 1615 to 1633 William Greenhill held the Magdalen College living of New Shoreham, Sussex. Wood writes of him with his usual prejudice, and represents him as becoming 'a notorious independent,' 'for interest and not for conscience;' but John Howe and others give him a high spiritual character, and that estimate of him is borne out by his writings. He appears to have officiated in some ministerial capacity in the diocese of Norwich (then ruled by Matthew Wren, one of the severest of the bishops), for he got into trouble for refusing to read 'The Book of Sports.' He afterwards removed to London, and was chosen afternoon preacher to the congregation at Stepney, while Jeremiah Burroughes [q. v.] ministered in the morning, so that they were called respectively the 'Morning Star' and the 'Evening Star of Stepney.' He was a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, convened in 1643, and was one of that small band of independents who gave so much trouble to their presbyterian brethren. In the same year (26 April) he preached before the House of Commons on occasion of a public fast, and his sermon was published by command of the house, with the title 'The Axe at the Root.' In 1644 he was present at the formation of the congregational church in Stepney, and was appointed first pastor. In 1645 he published the first volume of his 'Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel,' which had been delivered as lectures to an audience among whom were many eminent persons. The first volume is remarkable for its dedication to the Princess Elizabeth, second daughter to Charles I, then nine years old. He calls her 'the excellent princess and most hopeful lady,' and gives a pleasing idea of her character in terms which seem to imply some special source of information. It has been conjectured (and with great probability) that this may have been through his friend Henry Burton [q. v.], who had for several years been intimately acquainted with the royal family. Four years later (1649), after the death of Charles, he was appointed by the parliament chaplain to three of the king's children: James, duke of York (afterwards James II); Henry, duke of Gloucester; and the Lady Henrietta Maria. In 1654 he was appointed by the Protector one of the 'commissioners for approbation of public preachers,' known as 'triers.' It was also probably by Cromwell that he was appointed vicar of St. Dunstan's-in-the-East, the old parish church of Stepney, while he continued pastor of the independent church. This post he held for about seven years, till he was ejected immediately after the Restoration in 1660, but the pastorate of the independent church he retained till his death on 27 Sept. 1671. He was succeeded by Matthew Mead. His chief work is his 'Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel,' which is a commentary full of varied learning (especially scriptural), expounding the literal sense of the chapters, with a practical and spiritual application. It was published in five thick small 4to volumes between 1645 and 1662. The last volume is said to be scarce, and it is supposed that many copies were destroyed in the fire of London, 1666. The whole was reprinted (with some omissions and alterations), with an advertisement dated 26 Jan. 1837, and a title-page bearing (in some copies) the words 'second edition,' in 1839. Greenhill also published (besides editing books by several of his friends) two volumes of sermons, one called 'Sermons of Christ, His Discovery of Himself,' &c., small 8vo, 1656; the other called 'The Sound-hearted Christian,' &c., by W.G., small 8vo, 1670 (in some copies 1671).
[Memoir in Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle, July 1862, by Rev. John Kennedy, pastor of the independent church at Stepney. See also Tower Hamlets Independent, 9 May 1868; Wood's Athenæ Oxon. ed. Bliss, iii. 1145; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial, ii. 468; Orme's Biblioth. Biblica, p. 217; Lysons's Environs of London, i. 60, 61, iii. 435, 443, 444; Manning and Bray's Hist. of Surrey, ii. 529; J. R. Bloxam's Reg. Magdalen College, Oxford, i. 32, ii. 132, v. 6; Brit. Mus. Cat.]