J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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ordinance. In one instance, when Whitefield was present, the
numbers who came to the Lord's Table were so great that no
less than thirty-five bottles of wine were used !

The effect produced by this new and fervent style of minis-
tration, as might well be expected, was very great indeed. An
interest about religion was aroused throughout the whole dis-
trict round Haworth, and multitudes began to think who had
never thought before. Grimshaw himself says, in a letter to
Dr. Gillies, author of the "Historical Collections:" "Souls
were affected by the word, brought to see their lost estate by
nature, and to experience peace through faith in the blood of
Jesus. My church began to be crowded, insomuch that many
were obliged to stand out of doors. Here, as in many places,
it was amazing to see and hear what weeping, roaring, and
agony, many people were seized with, at the apprehension of
their sinful state and wrath of God. After a season I joined
people, such as were truly seeking, or had found the Lord, in
society, for meetings and exercises. These meetings are held
once a week, about two hours, and are called classes, consist-
ing of about ten or twelve members each. We have much of
the Lord's presence among them, and greatly in consequence
must such meetings conduce to Christian edification."

The style of preaching wliich Grimshaw adopted was pecu-
liarly well suited to the rough and uneducated population with
which he had to do. He was eminently a plain preacher. His
first aim undoubtedly was to preach the whole truth as it is in


Jesus ; his second was to preach so as to be understood. To
accompHsh this end he was wilHng to make many sacrifices, to
crucify his natural taste as an educated clergyman who had been
at Cambridge, and to be thought a fool by intellectual men.
But he cared nothing so long as he could succeed in reaching
the hearts and consciences of his hearers. John Newton, who
knew him well, has left some remarks on this characteristic of
Grimshaw's preaching which are well worth reading. He says :
" The desire of usefulness to persons of the weakest capacity,
or most destitute of the advantages of education, influenced his
phraseology in preaching. Though his abilities as a speaker,
and his fund of general knowledge, rendered him very compe-
tent to stand before great men, yet, as his stated hearers were
chiefly of the poorer and more unlettered classes, he con-
descended to accommodate himself, in the most familiar man-
ner, to their ideas, and to their modes of expression. Like the
apostles, he disdained that elegance and excellence of speech
which is admired by those who seek entertainment perhaps not
less than instruction from the pulpit. He rather chose to deliver
his sentiments in what he used to term ' market language. ' And
though the warmth of his heart and the rapidity of his imagina-
tion might sometimes lead him to clothe his thoughts in words
which even a candid critic could not justify, yet the general
effect of his plain manner was striking and impressive, suited to
make the dullest understand, and to fix for a time the attention
of the most careless. Frequently a sentence which a delicate
hearer might judge quaint or vulgar, conveyed an important
truth to the ear, and fixed it on the memory for years after the
rest of the sermon and the general subject were forgotten.
Judicious hearers could easily excuse some escapes of this
kind, and allow that, though he had a singular felicity in bring-
ing down the great truths of the gospel to a level with the
meanest capacity, he did not degrade them. The solemnity of
his manner, the energy with which he spoke, the spirit of love


which beamed in his eyes and breathed through his addresses,
were convincing proofs that he did not trifle with his people. I
may give my judgment on this point, something in his own way,
by quoting a plain and homely proverb which says, ' That is
the best cat which catches the most mice. ' His improprieties,
if he was justly chargeable with any, are very easily avoided ;
but few ministers have had equal success. But if his language
was more especially suited to the taste of his unpolished rustic
hearers, his subject-matter was calculated to affect the hearts of
all, whether high or low, rich or poor, learned or ignorant ; and
they who refused to believe were often compelled to tremble. "

The manner in which he conducted public worship at
Haworth seems to have been as remarkable as his preaching.
There was a life, and fire, and reality, and earnestness about it,
which made it seem a totally different thing from what it was in
other churches. The Prayer-Book seemed like a new book ;
and the reading-desk was almost as arresting to the congrega-
tion as the pulpit. Middleton, in his life of him, says : " In per-
formance of divine service, and especially at the communion, he
was at times like a man with his feet on earth and his soul in
heaven. In prayer, before sermon, he would indeed ' take hold
(as he used to say) of the very horns of the altar,' which, he
added, 'he could not, he would not, let go till God had given
the blessing.' And his fervency often was such, and attended
with such heartfelt and melting expressions, that scarcely a dry
eye was to be seen in his numerous congregation."

The life which Grimshaw lived appears, by the testimony of
all his contemporaries, to have been as remarkable as his
preaching. In the highest sense he seems to have adorned the
doctrine of the gospel, and to have made it beautiful in the eyes
of all around him. He was not like some of whom the bitter
remark has been made, that when they are in the pulpit it is a ,
pity they ever get out of it, and when out of it, a pity that they
should ever get in. The same Christ that he preached in the


pulpit was the Christ that he endeavoured to follow in his daily

He was a man of rare diligence and self-denial. None ever
worked harder than he did in his calling, and few worked so
hard. He seldom preached less than twenty, and often nearly
thirty times in a week. In doing this he would constantly
travel scores of miles, content with the humblest fare and the
roughest accommodation.

He was a man of rare charity and brotherly love. He loved
all who loved Christ, by whatever name they might be called,
and he was kind to every one in temporal as well as spiritual
things. " In fact," says Middleton, " his charity knew no
bound but his circumstances. As his grace and faithfulness
rendered him useful to all, so his benevolent liberality particu-
larly endeared him to the poor. He frequently used to say, ' If
I shall die to-day I have not a penny to leave behind me.*
And yet he did not quit the world in debt, for he had prudence
as well as grace."

He was pre-eminently a peacemaker. " The animosities and
differences of men," says Middleton, "afforded his affectionate
spirit nothing but pain. No labour was too great or too long if
their reconciliation might be his reward. When he has met with
cases of uncommon perseverance or obduracy, he has been
known to fall on his knees before them, beseeching them, for
Christ's sake, to love one another, and offering to let them
tread on his neck if they would only be at peace among them-

He was, above all, a man of rare humility. Few gifted men,
perhaps, ever thought so meanly of themselves, or were so truly
ready in honour to prefer others. " What have we to boast of?"
he said. " What have we that we have not received % Freely
by grace we are saved. When I die I shall then have my
greatest grief and my greatest joy, — my greatest grief that 1
have done so little for Jesus, and my greatest joy that Jesus has


done so much for me. My last words shall be, Ha-e goes an
unprofitable seri'ant ! "

That such a man as Grimshaw should soon obtain immense
influence in Haworth is nothing more than we might expect.
Preaching as he did and living as he did, we can well under-
stand that he produced a mighty impression on his wild parish-
ioners. Sin was checked, Sabbath-breaking became unfashion-
able, immorality was greatly restrained. Like John the Baptist
in the wilderness, he shook the little corner of Yorkshire where
he was placed, and stirred men's minds to the very bottom.
Hundreds learned to fear hell who did not really love heaven.
Scores were restrained from sin though they were not converted
to God.

But this was not all. There can be no doubt that Grimshaw
was the means of true conversion to many souls. Year after
year the Holy Ghost applied his sermons to the hearts and con-
sciences of not a few of his hearers, and added to the true
Church of Christ such as should be saved. In one single year,
after burying eighteen persons, he said that " he had great
reason to believe that sixteen of them were entered into the
kingdom of God. "

"Not long before his death," says one of his biographers,
" he stood with the Rev. John Newton upon a hill near
Haworth surveying the romantic prospect. He then said that '
at the time he first came into that part of the country he might
have gone half a day's journey on horseback toward the east,
west, north, and south, without meeting one truly serious person,
or even hearing of one. But now, through the blessing of God
upon his labours, he could tell of several hundreds of persons
who attended his ministry, and were devout communicants with
him at the Lord's Table ; and of nearly all the last-named he
could say that he was as well acquainted with their several
temptations, trials, and mercies, both personal and domestic, as
if he had lived in their families."


The extra-parochial labours which Grimshaw undertook, and
the persecutions which they entailed upon him, his early death,
and some account of his few literary remains, are subjects of so
much interest that I must defer them to another chapter.


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.

The religious condition of England a hundred years ago was
so deplorably bad, that a man like Grimshaw was not likely to
confine his labours to his own parish. Led by the force
of circumstances, he soon began to preach outside his pa-
rochial boundaries, and finally " did the work of an evan-
gelist" throughout the whole region within fifty miles of

The circumstances which led Grimshaw into this course of
action are soon explained. Hundreds of his regular hearers at
Haworth were not his parishioners, and came together from
distant places. Once taught of God to know the value of the
gospel, they went out of their own parishes to get the spiritual
food which they could not find at home. It was only natural
that these people should feel for their families and neighbours,
and desire that they might hear what had done good to them-
selves. They asked Grimshaw to come and preach at their
houses, and represented to him the ignorance and spiritual
destitution of all around their own homes. They entreated him
to come and tell their friends and relatives the same- things he
was every week telling his congregation at Haworth, They
told him that souls were perishing for lack of knowledge, un-
shepherded, uncared for, and untaught, and promised him a
hearty welcome if he would " come over" his parish boundaries


and "help" them. Appeals like these, we can well believe,
were not made in vain. In a short time these extra-parochial
labours became a regular and systematic business. The voice
of the incumbent of Haworth was soon heard in many other
places beside his parish-church, and for many years he was
known throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, and North
Derbyshire, as the apostle and preacher of the district.

It would be interesting to name all the places which Grim-
shaw was in the habit of visiting as an evangelist, but it is
impossible to do so. No accurate record remains of the extent
of his labours, and he left no journal behind him. It is known,
however, that in Yorkshire he used to preach at Leeds, Halifax,
Bradford, Manningham, Todmorden, Birstal, Keighley, Otley,
Bingley, Bramley, Heptonstall, Luddenden, and Osmotherley.
In Lancashire, he used to visit Manchester, Bolton, Rochdale,
Colne, Padiham, Holme, Bacop, and Rossendale. In Cheshire,
we find him at Stockport, Tarvin, and Rostherne ; and in Derby-
shire at Mellon These places are probably not a tenth part of
those he visited, but they are places specially mentioned by his

In all these places the people who valued such preaching as
Grimshaw's were banded together in societies, and generally
under the direction of one man. The incumbent of a large
parish like Haworth, of course, could only leave his own work
for a short time, and visit distant preaching-stations at long
intervals. Between his visits, the societies were necessarily left
very much to themselves and their local leaders. Conference
with these leaders, receiving reports from them of the spiritual
condition of the societies, and arranging with them for break-
ing up new ground as well as keeping old ground in cultivation,
made no small part of Grimshaw's extra-parochial work. To
these leaders of societies was left the provision of rooms, or
barns, or convenient fields for preaching, and the collection of
money to defray expenses. Thus, when the incumbent of


Hawortli, or some like-minded friend, paid his periodical visit,
he had nothing to do but to preach.

The managers or leaders of these societies, scattered about
Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire, were seldom above the
middle class, and frequently no more than intelligent small
farmers. There is no evidence that Grimshavv's ministry ever had
much effect upon the upper ranks, or indeed was ever brought
to bear upon them. But none but an ignorant man will ever
think the worse of it on that account. To get hold of the lower
middle and lower classes of society, and enlist them in the ser-
vice of Christ, is at this day one of the greatest problems the
Churches have to solve. If Grimshaw succeeded in doing this,
it is enough to prove that he was no common man. A church is
never in so healthy a state as it is when " the common people
hear gladly. "

Let the following extract from Hardy's " Life of Grimshaw"
supply an instance of the sort of people that Grimshaw got hold
of in his itinerant labours outside his own parish : — " At Booth
Bank, in the parish of Rostherne, Cheshire, Grimshaw's services
used to be held in the house of John and Alice Cross. Alice was
a woman of great spirit and intrepidity, and a heroine in Christ's
service. Her husband was a quiet sober man, but for some
time after her conversion he remained in his old ways. When
going out to worship, with her straw hat in one hand and the
door-latch in the other, she would say to him, 'John Cross, wilt
thou go to heaven with me % If thou wilt not, I am determined
not to go to hell with thee !' John yielded at last; a pulpit
was fixed in the largest room of their house at Rostherne, and
the messengers of God were made welcome to their fare and
farm. When beggars came to the door she told them of the
riches that are in Christ Jesus, and, kneeling by their side, com-
mended them to the grace of God, and then sent them away, grate-
ful for her charity, and impressefd by her earnestness in seeking
their souls' good. Nor were the more honourable of the land


beyond tlie reach of her reproofs. On one occasion she stopped
the Cheshire hunt, when passing her house, and addressed the
horsemen, especially Lord Stamford and Sir Harry ^Iain-
waring, who hstened to her warning and rode on. When the
expected preacher did not come, though the pulpit was not
occupied, the congregation did not go empty away. Ahce
Cross herself, in her simple and earnest way, dealt out the
])read of life. " Such w^ere the kind of households that Grim-
shaw used to make centres of operation in his extra-parochial
evangelism. Such were the kind of people who valued his
labours, welcomed his visits, and proved the value of his preach-
ing, in the district within fifty miles of Haworth.

No doubt these extra-parochial labours of Grimshaw will
appear wrong to many in the present day. Many are such
excessive lovers of parochial order that they feel scandalized at
the idea of an incumbent preaching in other men's parishes.
Such people would do well to remember the condition of
England in Grimshaw's times. There were scores and hundreds
of parishes all over the north of England in which there was no
resident clergyman ; and the services of the Church, even when
performed, were cold, brief, and utterly unprofitable. To tell
us that Grimshaw ought to have left the inhabitants of these
parishes to perish in ignorance rather than commit a breach of
parochial order, is simply ridiculous. Men might as well tell
us that we must not knock at a person's door and awaken him,
when his house is on fire, because we have not the honour of
his acquaintance ! The parochial system of the Church of
England was designed for the good of men's souls. It was
never intended to ruin souls by cutting them off fiom the sound
of the gospel.

The thing that is really wonderful, in the history of Grim-
shaw's extra-parochial labours, is the non-interference of eccle-
siastical authorities. How the incumbent of Haworth can
have gone on for fifteen or twenty years preachiiig all over


Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cheshire, without being stopped by
bishops and archdeacons, is very hard to understand ! Let us
charitably hope that many felt in their secret hearts that some
such evangelism as his was absolutely needed. The enor-
mous size of such parishes as Bradford and Halifax in York-
shire — asWhalley, Rochdale, and Prestwich, in Lancashire — as
Stockport, Astbury, and Prestbury, in Cheshire, made it utterly
impossible for the clergymen of the mother-churches to provide
means of grace for their parishioners. We may well believe,
that to arrest such labours as Grimshaw's in these unwieldy
parishes would have been so unwise, that even bishops and
archdeacons of the last century shrank from attempting it. Be
the cause what it may, it is a most curious fact that Grimshaw
was never entirely stopped in his extra-parochial ministry. The
hand of the Lord was with him, and he carried on his itinerant
work, as well as his regular services at Havvorth, up to his

But though Grimshaw was never actually stopped, we must
not suppose that he escaped persecution. The prince of this
world will never willingly part with any of his subjects. He
will stir up opposition against any one who tries to pull down
his kingdom. The incumbent of Haworth was often obliged to
face abuse and personal violence of a kind that we can hardly
imagine in the present day. " Mad Grimshaw" was the name
given to him by many throughout the district in which he
laboured. None opposed him more than some of the clergy.
With the true dog-in-the-manger spirit, they neither did good
themselves nor liked any one else to do it for them.

The most violent of Grimshaw's opponents was the Rev. George
' White, perpetual curate of Colne and Marsden, in Lanca-
shire. This worthy commenced his attack by publishing a sermon
against the Methodists, preached at his two churches in August
1748. \\\ this sermon he charged Grimshaw and all his fellow-
labourers with being " authors of confusion : open destroyers of


the public peace ; flying in the face of the very Church they
craftily pretend to follow ; occasioning many bold insurrections,
which threaten our spiritual government ; schismatical rebels
against the best of Churches ; authors of a further breach in our
unhappy divisions ; contemners of the great command, ' Six
days shalt thou labour;' defiers of all laws, civil and ecclesias-
tical ; professed disrespecters of learning and education ; causing
a visible ruin of trade and manufactures ; and, in short, promo-
ters of a shameful progress of enthusiasm and confusion not to
be paralleled in any other Christian dominion."

Not content with preaching this stuff and nonsense. White
])roceeded to stir up a mob to stop the preaching of Grimshaw
and his companions by force and violence. He actually issued
a proclamation, in order to collect a mob, in the following
words : " Notice is hereby given, that if any men be mindful to
enlist into His Majesty's service, under the command of the
Rev. George White, commander-in-chief, and John Banister,
lieutenant-general of His Majesty's forces, for the defence of the
Church of England, and the support of the manufactures in and
about Colne, both which are now in danger, let them now repair
to the cross, when each man shall have a pint of ale for advance,
and other proper encouragements. "

The consequence of this outrageous proclamation was just
what might have been expected. " Lewd fellows of the baser
sort" are always ready to make a riot against religion, as they
were in the days of St. Paul. When Grimshaw and John
Wesley went to Colne to preach, on the 24th of August 1748,
they were attacked by an overwhelming mob of drunken people
armed with clubs, and dragged before White like thieves and
malefactors. After a vain endeavour to extort a promise from
them that they would desist from coming to preach at Colne,
they were allowed to leave the house. As soon as they got
outside, " the mob closed in upon them, and tossed them about
with great violence, throwing Grimshaw down, and covering


both of them with mire, there being no one to come to their
rescue. Tlie people who had assembled to hear the word of
God were treated with even greater cruelty. They had to run
for their lives, amidst showers of dirt and stones, and no regard
was paid to either sex or age. Some were trampled in the mire ;
others dragged by the hair : and many were unmercifully beaten
with clubs. One was forced to leap from a rock, ten or twelve
feet high, into the river, to prevent being thrown in headlong.
When he crawled out, wet and bruised, they swore they would
throw him in again, and were with difficulty prevented from
executing their threat. White, well-pleased, was watching his
mad followers all this time without a word to stay them."*

None of these things moved the lion-hearted incumbent of
Haworth. Not long afterwards he went to Colne again, and
was again shamefully treated^pelted with mud and dirt, and
dragged violently along the road. In the following year, 1749,
he published a long reply to White's sermon, extending to
eighty-six pages, in which he powerfully and triumphantly re-
futed White's charges. t

Persecution of this rough kind was not the only hard measure
that Grimshaw had to undergo in consequence of his extra-pa-
rochial evangelism. He was more than once called to account
for his conduct by the Archbishop of York, and seems to have
escaped suspension or deprivation in a most marvellous manner.

On one occasion " a charge was preferred against him for
having preached in a licensed meeting-house at Leeds. Had
proof been forthcoming to substantiate the charge, he would
have been dismissed from his cure for irregularity. Though no

* See Hardy's " Life of Grimshaw," p. 82.

\ White must have been a very extreme specimen of the careless, worthless clergyman
of the last century. He was educated at Douay College for the Romish priesthood, and
after his recantation was recommended for preferment to the vicar of Whalley, by Arch-
bishop Potter. He frequently abandoned his parish for weeks together ; and, on one occa-
sion, is said to have read the funeral-service more than twenty times in a single night over
the dead bodies that had been buried in his absence ! He died at Langroyd in 1751 ; and
it is pleasant to record, that he is said to have sent for Grimshaw on his death-bed, an 1
expressed his sorrow for the part he took in the riotous proceedings above described.


act of delinquency was proved, he was obliged to promise the
archbishop that he would not preach in any place that had been
licensed for the worship of dissenters ; while he repeated his

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 10 of 36)