J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

The Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago online

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 1 of 36)
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Ryle, J. C. 1816-1900.
The Christian leaders of th(
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RE V. 7. C. R YLE, B. A .,

Christ Church, Oxford;

Enquire, I pray thee, of the former a^e, and prepare thyself to the search of
tlieir father-.."— Ji)i; viii. 8.



13 X ^ I ^ -C J^*

[HE volume now in the reader's hands requires a few
prefatory sentences of explanation. I should be
sorry if there was any mistake as to its nature and

It consists of a series of biographical papers, contributed to
a well-known and most valuable monthly periodical during the
years 1866 and 1867.* My object in drawing up these papers
was to bring before the public in a comprehensive form the
lives, characters, and work of the leading ministers by whose
agency God was pleased to revive Christianity in England a
hundred years ago. I had long felt that these great men were
not sufficiently known, and their merit in consequence not suffi-
ciently recognized. I thought that the Church and the world
ought to know something more than they seem to know about
such men as Whitefield, Wesley, Romaine, Rowlands, Grim-
shaw, Berridge, Venn, Toplady, Hervey, Walker, and Fletcher.
For twenty years I waited anxiously for some worthy account
of these mighty spiritual heroes. At last I became weary of
waiting, and resolved to take the pen in my own hand, and do
what I could in the pages of a periodical. These papers, in
compliance with the wishes of friends, are now brought together
in a portable form.

How far my attempt has been successful, I must now leave

* The Family Treasury,


the public to judge. To literary merits the volume can lay no
claim. Its chapters were written from month to month in the
midst of many ministerial engagements, under a pressure which
none can understand but those who write for periodicals. To
expect such a volume to be a model of finished composition
would be absurd. I only lay claim to a tolerable degree of
accuracy about historical facts. I have been careful to make
no statement for which I could not find some authority.

The reader will soon discover that I am an enthusiastic
admirer of the men whose pictures I have sketched in this
volume. I confess it honestly. I am a thorough enthusiast
about them. I believe firmly that, excepting Luther and his
Continental contemporaries and our own martyred Reformers,
the world has seen no such men since the days of the apostles.
I believe there have been none who have preached so much
clear scriptural truth, none who have lived such lives, none
who have shown such courage in Christ's service, none who
have suffered so much for the truth, none who have done so
much good. If any one can name better men, he knows more
than I do.

I now send forth this volume with an earnest prayer that God
may pardon all its defects, use it for his own glory, and raise
up in his Church men like those who are here described. Surely,
when we look at the state of England, we may well say, " Where
is the Lord God of Whitefield and of Rowlands, of Grimshaw
and of Venn % O Lord, revive thy work !"


Straderoke Vicarage, Atig7isi lo, 1868.

P.S. — I think it right to say that the chief substance of the
biography of " Whitefield," in this volume, was originally de-
livered as a lecture in London in 1852. It now appears
remoulded and enlarged. The other ten biographies were pre-
pared expressly for the Family Treasury.



^\)t iileltgiouB anli fHoral ©onDition of ©ngUnD


Importance of the History of the Eighteenth Century — PoHtical and Financial Position
of England — Low State of Religion both in Churches and Chapels — Testimonies
on the subject — Defects of Bishops and Clergy — Poverty of the Printed Theology
— Wretched Condition of the Country as to Education, Morals, and Popular Litera-
ture — The " Good Old Times" a mere Mvth ii


Cfjr gjgtnrp bv toljic!) €5rtsttanto iuas ^fbifaeb in C^nglanti


Improvement of England since middle of Eighteenth Century an undeniable Fact-
Agents in eflfecting the Change a few isolated and humble Clergymen— Preaching
the chief Instrument they employed — The Manner of their Preaching: — The Sub-
stance of their Preaching


ffifovge £<a!)itffiflfi anO Iji's iWiiu'atvp.


Whitefield's Birth-place and Parentage— Educated at Ciloucester Grammar School-
Enters Pembroke College, Oxford— Season of Spiritual Conflict— Books which
were made useful to him— Ordained by Bishop Benson— First Sermon— Preaches
in London— Curate of Dummer, Hants— Goes to America— Returns in a year-
Preaches in the open air — Is excluded from most London Pulpits — Extent of his
Labours for thirty-one years — Dies at Newbury Port, America, in 1770— Interest-
ing circumstances of his Death 3*^



Estimate of Good that Whitefield did — Testimonies to his direct Usefulness — Indirect
Good that he did — PecuUar character of his Preaching — Witnesses to his real power
as a Preacher — Analysis of his seventy-five published Sermons — Simplicity, Direct-
ness, Power of Description, Earnestness, Pathos, Action, Voice, and Fluency, his
leading Excellences — Inner Life, Humility, Love to Christ, Laboriousness, Self-
denial, Disinterestedness, Cheerfulness, Catholicity — Specimen of his Preaching.. 44


Joijn SSarsIep aniJ \i^ |*ltnistrp.


Juhn Wesley — Reason why better known than many of his Contemporaries — Birth-
place — Sketch of his Father and Mother — Educated at Charter-House and Oxford
— Early Religious History — Ordained, 1725 — Lives at Oxford eight Years — Joins
the Methodist Club — Sails for Georgia, 1736 — Returns to England, 1738 — Com-
mences Field-preaching — Continues Working for fifty-three Years — Dies in 1791 —
Singleness of Eye, Diligence, and Versatility of Mind — Arminianism 64


Wesley's Preaching — Preface to Published Volume of Sermons — Extracts from Ser-
mons Preached before the University of Oxford — Rules for the Guidance of his
Helpers — Advice to his Preachers — Letter to the Bishop of Lincoln — General
Estimate of Wesley's Merits 88


S^ailltam ©vimsijaUj of |l?ah30vti), anti i)is plintstrj.


Born at Brindle, 1708 — Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge — Ordained, 1731 —
Curate of Rochdale and Todmorden — Death of his Wife — Minister of Haworth,
1742 — Description of Hawonth— Style of his Ministry — His Manner of Life, Dili-
gence, Charity, Love of Peace, Humility — His Ministerial Success 106


Extra-Parochial Labour in Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire — The Nature of this
Labour Explained and Defended — Persecution at Colne— The Archbishop of York's
Visit to Haworth— His Love to the Articles and Homilies— His Last Illness, Dying
Sayings, Death, and Funeral 120

Luerary Remains— Covenant and Summary of Belief— Letter to Christians in London
— Anecdntes and Traditions — Influence in his Parish — Haworth Races Stopped—
_ Mode of Discovering False Professors— Peculiarities in his Conduct of Divine
Service — Testimony of Romaine, Veim, and Newton 133



S2Eilliam lilomaiuf anU !)is IHfntstrp.


Born at Hartlepool in 1714 — Educated at Houghton-le-Spring and Christ Church,
Oxford — Character for Learning at Oxford — Ordained, 1736 — Curate of Lew-
trenchard and Banstead — Lectures at St. Botolph's 1748, and St. Dunstan's
1749 — Troubles at St. Dunstan's — Morning Preacher at St. George's, Hanover
Square, 1750 — Loses his Preachership, 1755 — Gresham Professor of Astronomy —
Morning Preacher at St. Olave, Southwark, and St. Bartholomew the Great —
Preaches before the University of Oxford — Gives great Offence 149


Rector of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, 1764 — Difficulties in the way of his Appointment —
Letter to Lady Huntingdon — Usefulness at Blackfriars — Peculiarities of Address
and Temperament — Last Illness and Dying Saying — Death, 1795 — Public Funeral
— Literary Remains 163

Dantrl lAOiuIants anti i)is i^intstrj.


Born in Wales, 1713 — Educated at Hereford, and never at a University — Ordained,
1733 — Curate of Llangeitho — An Altered Man in 1738— Extraordinary Effect of his
Preaching — Extra-parochial and Out-door Preaching — License Withdrawn by the
Bishop in 1763 — Continues to Preach in a Chapel at Llangeitho — Died 1790 —
Account of his Portrait iSo

Analysis of his Preaching — Much of Christ — Richness of Thought — Felicity of Lan-
guage — Large Measure of Practical and Experimental Teaching — Manner, De-
livery, and Voice — Christmas Evans' Description of his Preaching — Testimony of
Mr. Jones of Creaton — Specimens of Rowlands' Sermons — Inner Life and Private
Character — Humility, Prayerfulness, Diligence, Self-Denial, Courage, Fervour —
Rowland Hill's Anecdote 195


gloijn BrrrtDge anD fjts ftt{n(3trg.


Born at Kingston, Notts, 1716— Educated at Nottingham — Fails to learn the Business
of a Grazier — Goes to Clare Hall, Cambridge, 1734 — Elected Fellow of Clare,
1742 — Curate of Stapleford, 1749 — Vicar of Everton, 1755 — Begins to Preach the
Full Gospel, 1757 — Open-air Preaching — Itinerant and Extra-parochial Ministra-
tions — Singular Physical Effect on some Hearers — Opposition and Persecution —
Dies, 1753 — His Epitaph 2'6



His Quaintness and Eccentricity — No Quaiiitncss in his Outlines of Sermons — His
Style of Preaching Defended — Specimen of his Quaint Thoughts — His Humility,
Love of Christ, Kindness, Self-Denial, Shrewdness, Courage — His Sympathizing
Letters 235


Ibfnrr Vtmx .luD fjta l^tm'stru.


Born at Barnes, Surrey, 1724 — His Ancestors — Curious Anecdotes of his Boyhood
and Youth — Enters St. John's, Cambridge, 1742 — Fellow of Queen's, 1749 — Curate
of West Horsley, 1750 — Curate of Clapham, 1754 — Change in his Religious Views
— Becomes acquainted with Whitefield and Lady Huntingdon — Married, 1757 —
Vicar of Huddersfield, 1759 25

Mode of Working at Huddersfield — Effect of his Ministry — Fruits found in 1824 — Extra-
parochial Labours — Friendly Relation with Whitefield — Health Fails — Wife Dies
— Leaves Huddersfield for Yelling, 1771 — -Description of Yelling — Second Marriage
— Description of Life at Yelling — Dies, 1797 268


His Preaching Analyzed — His Literary Remains Examined — Extraordinary Power as a
Letter-writer— Soundness of Judgment about Doctrine — Wisdom and Good Sense
about Duties — Prudent Management of his Children — Unworldliness and Cheer-
fulness — Catholicity and Kindliness of Spirit — Testimony of Cowper, Simeon, and
Sir James Stephen 285


SHalferr of STruro, anU i)i9 IWimstn).

Born at Exeter, 1714 — Educated at Exeter College, Oxford — Ordained, 1737 — Curate of
Truro, 1746 — At First very ignorant of the Gospel — Mr. Conon's Influence — Effect
of his Preaching — Opposition — Self-denial and Holy Life — Remarkable Effect on
Soldiers — Private Unity Meetings — Died, 1761— Literary Remains — Preaching, .. .;o6


5amf3 %\a\it^ of SSlrsion jFabill, anU Ijis fministrg.

Burn near Northampton, 1713 — Educated at Lincoln College, Oxford — Intimacy with
John Wesley— Ordained, 1736 — Curate of Dummer, 1738 ; of Bidefbrd, 1740; and
of Weston Favell, 1743 — Early Religious History— Correspondence with White-
field — Studious Habit at Weston Favell — Literary Remains Analyzed — Corre-
spondence — Humour — Private Life — Charity — Self-denial — Died, 1758 — Testi-
mony of Romaine, Venn, Cowper, Cecil, Bickerstcth, and Daniel Wilson 32S


JTopIaUo ant) ijts fttint'strn.

Born at Farnham, 1740 — Ordained, 1762 — Vicar of Broad Hembiiry, Devonshire, 1768
— Removes to London, 1775 — Dies, 1778 — Conversion, 1756 — His Preaching — His
Writings as a Controversialist — His Hymns 358


jTIftdjrr of 0tatifIfi), anti ijis plmtstrp.


Born in Switzerland, 1729 — ^Educated at Geneva and Leutzburg — Wishes to be a Sol-
dier — Becomes a Tutor in England, 1750 — Private Tutor in INIr. Hill's Family,
1752 — Becomes Acquainted with Methodists — Inward Conflict — Ordained, 1757 —
Vicar of Madeley, 1760 — Correspondence with Charles Wesley and Lady Hunt-
ingdon 385


Ministerial Labours at Madeley — Superintendent of Trevecca College, 1768 — Resigns
Trevecca, 1771 — Laid aside by ill health, 1776 — Goes to Clifton, Newington, and
Switzerland — Returns to Madeley, 1781 — Marries— Dies, 1785 — His Preaching —
Writing — Private Character — Testimony of Wesley and Venn 405

Conclusion 426


C^^ ^leligtoxts anir gtaral Cnnbitioit of 6ng(antr


Importance of the History of the Eighteenth Century — Pohtical and Financial Position of
England — Low State of Religion both in Churches and Chapels — Testimonies on the
subject — Defects of Bishops and Clergy — Poverty of the Printed Theology — Wretched
Condition of the Country as to Education, Morals, and popular Literature — The
" Good Old Times" a mere Myth.

[HE subject I propose to handle in this volume is partly
historical and partly biographical. If any reader
expects from the title a fictitious tale, or something
partly drawn from my imagination, I fear he will be disappointed.
Such writing is not in my province, and I have no leisure for it
if it was. Facts, naked facts, and the stern realities of life,
absorb all the time that I can spare for the press.

I trust, however, that with most readers the subject I have
chosen is one that needs no apology. The man who feels no
interest in the histoiy and biography of Itis own country is
surely a poor patriot and a worse philosopher.

" Patriot " he cannot be called. True patriotism will make
an Enghshman care for everything that concerns England. A
true patriot will like to know something about every one wlio


lias left his mark on English character, from the Venerable
Bede down to Hugh Stowell, from Alfred the Great down to
Pounds, the originator of Ragged Schools.

" Philosopher " he certainly is not. What is philosophy but
history teaching by examples % To know the steps by which
England has reached her present position is essential to a right
understanding both of our national privileges and our national
dangers. To know the men whom God raised up to do his
work in days gone by, will guide us in looking about for
standard-bearers in our own days and days to come.

I venture to think that there is no period of English history
which is so thoroughly instructive to a Christian as the middle
of last century. It is the period of which we are feeling the
influence at this very day. It is the period with which our
grandfathers and great-grandfathers were immediately con-
nected. It is a period, not least, from which we may draw
most useful lessons for our own times.

Let me begin by trying to describe the actual condition of
England a hundred years ago. A few simple facts will suffice
to make this plain.

The reader will remember that I am not going to speak of
our /^////^rt;/ condition. I miight easily tell him that, in the days
of Sir Robert Walpole, the Duke of Newcastle, and the elder
Pitt, the position of England was very different from what it is
now. Great statesmen and orators there were among us, no
doubt. But our standing among the nations of the earth was
comparatively poor, weak, and low. Our voice among the
nations of the earth carried far less weight than it has since
obtained. The foundation of our Indian Empire had hardly
been laid. Our Australian possessions were a part of the world
only just discovered, but not colonized. At home there was a
strong party in the country wliich still longed for the restoration
of the Stuarts. In 1745 the Pretender and a Highland army
marched from Scotland to invade England, and got as far as


Derby. Corruption, jobbing, and mismanagement in high
places were the rule, and purity the exception. Civil and
rehgious disabilities still abounded. The test and corporation
Acts were still unrepealed. To be a Dissenter was to be
regarded as only one degree better than being seditious and a
rebel. Rotten boroughs flourished. Bribery among all classes
was open, unblushing, and profuse. Such was England politi-
cally a hundred years ago.

The reader will remember, furthermore, that I am not going
to speak of our condition in a Jinancial and econojnical point of
view. Our vast cotton, silk, and linen manufactures had hardly
begim to exist. Our enormous mineral treasures of coal and
iron were scarcely touched. We had no steam-boats, no loco-
motive engines, no railways, no gas, no electric telegraph, no
penny post, no scientific farming, no macadamized roads, no
free-trade, no sanitary arrangements, and no police deserving
the name. Let any Englishman imagine, if he can, his country
without any of the things that I have just mentioned, and he
will have some faint idea of the economical and financial con-
dition of England a hundred years ago.

But I leave these things to the political economists and his-
torians of this world. Interesting as they are, no doubt, they
form no part of the subject that I want to dwell upon. I wish
to treat that subject as a minister of Christ's gospel. It is the
religions and moral condition of England a hundred years ago
to which I shall confine my attention. Here is the point to
which I wish to direct the reader's eye.

The state of this country in a rehgious and moral point of
view in the middle of last century was so painfully unsatisfac-
tory that it is difficult to convey any adequate idea of it. Eng-
lish people of the present day who have never been led to
inquire into the subject, can have no conception of the dark-
ness that prevailed. From the year 1700 till about the era of
the French Revolution, England seemed barren of all that is


really good. How such a state of things can have arisen in a
land of free Bibles and professing Protestantism is almost past
comprehension. Christianity seemed to lie as one dead, inso-
much that you might have said " she is dead." Morality, how-
ever much exalted in pulpits, was thoroughly trampled under
foot in the streets. There was darkness in high places and
darkness in low places — darkness in the court, the camp, the
Parliament, and the bar — darkness in country, and darkness in
town — darkness among rich and darkness among poor — a
gross, thick, religious and moral darkness — a darkness that
might be felt.

Does any one ask what the churches were doing a hundred
years ago 1 The answer is soon given. The Church of Eng-
land existed in those days, with her admirable articles, her
time-honoured liturgy, her parochial system, her Sunday ser-
vices, and her ten thousand clergy. The Nonconformist body
existed, with its hardly won liberty and its free pulpit. But
one account unhappily may be given of both parties. They
existed, but they could hardly be said to have lived. They did
nothing ; they were sound asleep. The curse of the Uniformity
Act seemed to rest on the Church of England. The blight of
ease and freedom from persecution seemed to rest upon the
Dissenters. Natural theology, without a single distinctive doc-
trine of Christianity, cold morality, or barren orthodoxy, formed
the staple teaching both in church and chapel. Sermons every-
where were little better than miserable moral essays, utterly
devoid of anything likely to awaken, convert, or save souls.
Both parties seemed at last agreed on one point, and that was
to let the devil alone, and to do nothing for hearts and souls.
And as for the weighty truths for which Hooper and Latimer
had gone to the stake, and Baxter and scores of Puritans
had gone to jail, they seemed clean forgotten and laid on the

When such was the state of things in churches and chapels,


it can surprise no one to learn that the land was deluged with
infidelity and scepticism. The prince of this world made good
use of his opportunity. His agents were active and zealous in
promulgating every kind of strange and blasphemous opinion.
Collins and Tindal denounced Christianity as priestcraft.
Whiston pronounced the miracles of the Bible to be grand
impositions. Woolston declared them to be allegories. Arian-
ism and Socinianism were openly taught by Clark and Priestly,
and became fashionable among the intellectual part of the com-
munity. Of the utter incapacity of the pulpit to stem the pro-
gress of all this flood of evil, one single fact will give us some
idea. The celebrated lawyer, Blackstone, had the curiosity,
early in the reign of George III., to go from church to church
and hear every clergyman of note in London. He says that he
did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in
it than the writings of Cicero, and that it would have been im-
possible for him to discover, from what he heard, whether the
preacher were a follower of Confucius, of Mahomet, or of Christ !
Evidence about this painful subject is, unhappily, only too
abundant. My difficulty is not so much to discover witnesses,
as to select them. This was the period at which Archbishop
Seeker said, in one of his charges, " In this w'e cannot be
mistaken, that an open and professed disregard of religion
is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distin-
guishing character of the age. Such are the dissoluteness and
contempt of principle in the higher part of the world, and the
profligacy, intemperance, and fearlessness of committing crimes
in the lower part, as must, if the torrent of impiety stop not,
become absolutely fatal. Christianity is ridiculed and railed at
with ver}' little reserve ; and the teachers of it without any at
^ all." This was the period when Bishop Butler, in his preface to
the " Analogy," used the following remarkable words : *' It has
come to be taken for granted that Christianity is no longer a
subject of inquiry ; but that it is now at length discovered to be


fictitious. And accordingly it is treated as if, in the present age,
this were an agreed point among all persons of discernment,
and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject for
mirth and ridicule." Nor were such complaints as these con-
fined to Churchmen. Dr. Watts declares that in his day " there
was a general decay of vital religion in the hearts and lives of
men, and that it was a general matter of mournful observation
among all who lay the cause of God to heart." Dr. Guyse,
another most respectable Nonconformist, says, "The religion
of nature makes up the darling topic of our age ; and the reli-
gion of Jesus is valued only for the sake of that, and only so
far as it carries on the light of nature, and is a bare improve-
ment of that kind of hght. All that is distinctively Christian,
or that is peculiar to Christ, everything concerning him that has
not its apparent foundation in natural light, or that goes beyond
its principles, is waived, and banished and despised." Testi-
mony like this might easily be multiplied tenfold. But I spare
the reader. Enough probably has been adduced to prove that
when I speak of the moral and religious condition of England
at the beginning of the eighteenth century as painfully unsatis-
factory, I do not use the language of exaggeration.

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 1 of 36)