J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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determination to continue preaching abroad so long as there
were souls for whom no one seemed to care. On another occasion,
when accused of preaching out of his own parish, he was asked
by the archbishop, ' How many communicants had you when
you first came to Haworth V He answered, ' Twelve, my lord. '
' How many have you now V was the next question. The reply
was, ' In the winter, from three to four hundred ; and in the
summer, near twelve hundred.' On hearing this the arch-
bishop expressed his approbation, and said, ' We cannot find
fault with Mr. Grimshavv when he is instrumental in bringing so
many persons to the Lord's Table. ' '*

On another occasion, " when complaint was made to the
archbishop of his ramblings and intrusions into other men's
folds, the archbishop announced his intention to hold a confir-
mation-service in Mr. Grimshaw's church, and to have an inter-
view with him on the occasion. On the day appointed they
met in Haworth vestry, and while the clergy and laity were
assembling in great numbers, the following conversation took
place: 'I have heard,' said the archbishop, 'many extraordi-
nary reports respecting your conduct, Mr. Grimshavv. It has
been stated to me that you not only preach in private houses
in your parish, but also travel up and down, and preach where
you have a mind, without consulting your diocesan or the clergy
into whose parishes you obtrude your labours ; and that your
discourses are very loose ; that, in fact, you can and do preach
about anything. That I may be able to judge for myself, both
of your doctrine and manner of stating it, I give you notice that
I shall expect you to preach before me and the clergy present
in two hours hence, and from the text which I am about to
name. ' After repeating the text, the archbishop added : ' Sir

" Hardy's " Life of GrinL-shavv,"' p. 232.


you may now retire, and make what preparation you can while
I confirm the young people.' — 'My lord/ said Grimshaw,
looking out of the vestry-door into the church, ' see what multi-
tudes of people are here ! Why should tlie order of the service
be reversed, and the congregation kept out of the sermon for
two hours?* Send a clergyman to read prayers, and I will
begin immediately. ' After prayers Mr. Grimshaw^ ascended the
pulpit, and began an extempore prayer for the archbishop, the
people, and the young persons about to be confirmed, and
wrestled with God for his assistance and blessing, until the
congregation, the clergy, and the archbishop himself, were
moved to tears. After the service was over, the clergy gathered
round the archbishop to ascertain what proceedings he intended
to adopt in order to restrain the preacher from such rash and ex-
temporaneous expositions of God's Word. To their surprise the
archbishop, taking Mr. Grimshaw by the hand, said with a
tremulous voice, ' I would to God that all the clergy in my
diocese were like this good man !' Mr. Grimshaw afterwards
observed to a party of friends who came to take tea with him
that evening, 'I did expect to be turned out of my parish on
this occasion ; but if I had been I would have joined my friend
John Wesley, taken my saddle-bags and gone to one of his
poorest circuits.' "t

It is impossible to turn from this part of Grimshaw's history
without feelings of righteous indignation. There is something
revolting in the idea of a holy and zealous minister of the
Church of England being persecuted for overstepping the bounds
of ecclesiastical etiquette, while hundreds of clergymen were let
alone and undisturbed whose lives and doctrine w^ere beneath
contempt. All over England country livings were often filled
by hunting, shooting, gambling, drinking, card-playing, swear-

■* It is evident tliat the confirmation described in this story must have been held on a

t From Strachan's " Life of Rev. G. Lowe," a Methodist minister.


ing, ignorant clergymen, who cared neither for law nor gospel,
and utterly neglected their parishes. When they did preach,
they either preached to empty benches, or else "the hungry
sheep looked up and were not fed.," And yet these men lived
under their own vines and fig-trees enjoying great quietness,
untouched by bishops, eating the fat of the land, and calling
themselves the true supporters of the Church ! But the moment
a man rose up like Grimshaw, who gloried in the Articles,
Liturgy, and Homilies, and preached the Gospel, he was treated
like a felon and malefactor, and his name cast out as evil !
Truly God's patience with the Church of England a hundred
years ago was something marvellous. Marvellous that he did
not remove our candlestick altogether ! Marvellous that he
granted her such a revival, and raised up so many burning and
shining lights amongst her ministers !

To talk of Grimshaw being no Churchman and being an
enemy to the Church of England, is preposterous and absurd.
If attachment to the standards and formularies of his own
communion is a mark of Churchmanship, he was a Churchman
in the truest sense. No doubt he loved all who loved Jesus
Christ in sincerity. No doubt he made nothing of parochial
boundaries when souls were perishing, and other clergymen
neglected their duties. But to the day of his death he was a
steady adherent of the Church in which he had been ordained,
used her services devoutly and regularl)^, and did more for her
real interests than any clergyman in the north of England. One
of his biographers specially mentions "that he greatly admired
the Homilies, and regarded their disuse, and neglect of the
Thirty-nine Articles, as the chief occasion of all the mischief to
the Church, believing it probable that if they had been con-
stantly read Methodism would never have appeared." He
said once, that an old clergyman of his acquaintance, being
asked by his curate if he might read the Homihes in the pulpit.
aiTswered " No ! for if you should do so, the whole congregation


would turn Methodists." On another occasion he wrote to
Charles Wesley the following remarkable words : " I see no-
thing so materially amiss in the liturgy, or the Church consti-
tution, as to disturb my conscience or justify my separation.
No : where shall I go to mend myself? I believe the Church
of England to be the soundest, purest, and most apostolical
national Christian Church in the world. Therefore I can in
good conscience (as I am determined, God willing, to do) live
and die in her." Yet this is the man who, some dare to tell us,
was no Churchman !

Grirashaw's holy and useful career was brought to an end on
the 7th of April 1763. He died in his own house at Haworth
of a putrid fever, in the fifty-fifth year of his age and the twenty-
first of his ministry at Haworth. The fever of which he died
had been raging in his parish from the beginning of the year,
and had proved fatal to many of the inhabitants. " On its first
breaking out," says Hardy, "he had a presentiment that it
would prove fatal to some member of his family, and had
exhorted all to be ready." When visiting a parishioner he
caught the prevailing epidemic, and at once predicted that he
would not recover.

To the physician who attended him " he expressed in strong
terms the humiliating feelings he had on a retrospect of his
whole life, and how disproportionate, defective, and defiled his
best services had been, compared with the obligation mider
wliich he felt himself, and the importance of the cause in which
he had been engaged ; and that he hoped, if the Lord should
prolong his days and raise him up, to be much more active and

To his friend and brother in the gospel, the Rev. Mr. Ing-
ham, he said : " My last enemy is come ! The signs of death
are upon me. But I am not afraid. No! no! Blessed be
God, my hope is sure, and I am in his hands." Afterwards,
when Mr. Ingham prayed for the lengthening of his life, that he


might yet be useful to Christ's cause, he said, "Alas! what
have my wretched services been ? I have now need to cry, at
the end of my unprofitable course, God be merciful to me a
sinner !" At another time, laying his hand on his heart, he
said, " I am quite exhausted ; but I shall soon be at home — for
ever with the Lord — a poor miserable sinner redeemed by his

His valued fellow-labourer, the Rev, Henry Venn, then vicar
of Huddersfield, came over to see him from Huddersfieid, and
asked him how he felt. To him he replied, " Never had I sucJi
a visit from God since I first knew him. I am as happy
as I can be on earth, and as sure of glory as if I were in it."
After this, finding that his disease was peculiarly infectious
and dangerous, he requested his friends to visit him as little
as possible. But his peace and hope are reported to have
continued unshaken to the end. As he lived so he died,
rejoicing in Christ Jesus, and putting no confidence in the

He was buried, by his own desire, by the side of his first wife
in the chancel of Luddenden Church, in the valley of the
Calder, not far from Haworth, Like Joseph, " he gave com-
mandment concerning his bones." He had drawn up full and
particular directions about his funeral long before he was taken
ill, and these directions were carefully followed. The number
of attendants was to be twenty, "religious or relative friends,
or both." He would have only a plain, poor man's burial suit,
and a plain, poor man's coffin of elm boards, with the words on
the cover, " To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." All
the way to the church suitable verses were to be sung, in
various selected metres and tunes, out of the 23rd, 39th, and
91st Bsalms, and also suitable hymns. One of the attendants,
at least, was to be a Methodist preacher, and he was to preach
a funeral sermon from the text on his coffin (Phil. i. 21). The
Methodist preacher selected for the occasion was his old friend


and fellow-labourer, Henry Venn.* The church at Luddenden
was too small to contain the immense congregation which
assembled, and the preacher had to take his position in the
grave-yard. " Tradition reports," says Hardy, " that Venn's
voice rose like the swell of a full-toned bell as he told forth the
virtues of his departed friend, and exhorted the people to follow
him as he had followed Christ." Never, indeed, had any man
a more honourable burial. Like Stephen, " devout men carried
him to his grave, and made great lamentation over him." He
had, as Venn well remarks, "what is more ennobling than all
the pomp of solemn dirges, or of a royal funeral. He was fol-
lowed to the tomb by a great multitude, who beheld his corpse
with affectionate sighs and many tears, and who cannot still
hear nis much-lo.ved name without weeping for the guide of
their souls."

Grimshaw was twice married, and twice left a widower. His
first wife was Sarah, daughter of John Lockwood of Ewood
Hall. She had been twice married before, first to William Sut-
cliffe of Scaitcliffe Hall, and secondly to John Ramsden, both
of whom died without children. He was evidently greatly
attached to his first wife, and her death, on the ist of No-
vember 1739, made a deep impression on him. His second
wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Cockcroft of Mayroyd,
near Hebden Bridge. I can find no record of the date of her

Grimshaw had only two children, both by his first wife, a son
and a daughter. His daughter died when only twelve years
old, when at school at Kingswood, near Bristol. Charles
Wesley says that " she departed in the Lord." His son sur-
vived his father only three years, and died childless. During
his father's lifetime he had been careless and intemperate, and
the cause of great grief. When he visited him on his death-

* All evangelical clergymen of the Church of England used to be called "Methodists"
a hundred years ago.


bed, Grimshaw told him to take care what he did, as he was
not fit to die. To him also he used the remarkable words that
" his body felt like a boiling vessel, but his soul was as happy
as it could be made by God." John Grimshaw died at Ewood
on the 17th May 1766, and by God's great mercy there was
hope in his death. His father's dying words perhaps sunk into
his heart, and at any rate his father's many prayers for him
were heard. After his father's death, he used to ride a horse
which formerly belonged to him, and one day meeting an
inhabitant of Haworth, the man remarked, " I see you are
riding the old parson's horse." — "Yes," was the reply; "once
he carried a great saint, and now he carries a great sinner."
Long before his death young Grimshaw had given clear evi-
dence of repentance unto salvation, and found pardon and
peace in Christ ; and a little time before he died, he was heard
to exclaim, " What will my old father say when he sees I have
got to heaven ]"


Literary Remains — Covenant and Summary of Belief — Letter to Christians in London —
Anecdotes and Traditions — Influence in his Parish — Haworth Races Stopped — Mode
of Discovering False Professors — Peculiarities in his Conduct of Divine Service — Tes-
timony of Romaine, Venn, and Newton.

In order to form a correct estimate of a great man's character,
there are two sources of information to which we should always
turn, if possible, in addition to the events of his life. The
literary remains he leaves behind him form one of these sources;
the anecdotes handed down about him by contemporaries form
another. From both these sources I will endeavour to supply
the reader of these pages with some further information about
William Grimshaw.

The literary remains of a man like Grimshaw are necessarily
few and scanty. It could hardly be otherwise. A clergyman
who was constantly preaching twenty or thirty times a-week,


and carrying on a system of aggressive evangelism all over
Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire, was not likely to have
much time for writing. In fact, his " Reply to White," already
referred to, is the only formal publication that he ever put
forth. He says himself in the Reply, " I have as little leisure
for writing as for anything I do." There are, however, a few
valuable relics of his thoughts still extant, which are useful, as
indicating his turn of mind, and will probably be thought inter-
esting by all Christian readers.

His covenant with God, given at length by Hardy, is a
very striking and interesting document, though too long for the
pages of a memoir like this.* The following disconnected
extracts will give some idea of it : —

" Eternal and unchangeable Jehovah ! thou great Creator of heaven
and earlh, and adorable Lord of angels and men ! I desire with the deepest
humiliation and abasement of soul to fall down at this time in thine awful
presence, and earnestly pray that thou wilt penetrate my heart with a suit-
able sense of thine unutterable and inconceivable glories." . . .

"I know that through Jesus, the Son of thy love, thou condescendest to
visit sinful mortals, and to allow their approach to thee and this covenant
intercourse with thee. Nay, I know that the scheme and plan are entirely
thine own, and that thou hast graciously sent to pi-opose it unto me, as
none untaught by thee could have been able to join it, or inclined to embrace
it, even when actually proposed." . . .

"To thee, therefore, do I now come, invited by thy love, and trusting
his righteousness alone, laying myself at thy feet with shame and confusion
of face, and smiting on my breast, saying with the publican, God be merci-
ful to me a sinner ! I acknowledge, O Lord, that I have been a great trans-
gressor. My sins have reached unto heaven, and mine iniquities have been
lifted up unto the skies. My base corruptions and lusts have numberless
ways wrought to bring forth fruit unto death, and if thou wert extreme to
mark what I have done amiss, I could never abide it. But thou hast gra-
ciously called me to return unto thee, though I am a prodigal son and a
backsliding child. Behold, therefore, I solemnly come before thee. O my
Lord, I am convinced of my sin and folly. Thou knowest, O Lord, I
solemnly covenanteil with thee in the year 1738. And now, once more and

* In giving this covenant to my readers, I would carefully abstain from saying that such
covenants ought always to be made, or to be pressed on all Christians. So far from that,
I think them likely to do harm to some minds. Let every one use his liberty. He that
finds it good to make a covenant, let him make it. But let him not condcTnn his neigh-
bour who makes none.


for ever, I most solemnly give up, devote, and resign all I am, spirit, soul,
and body to thee, and to thy pleasure and commands in Christ Jesus my
Saviour, this 4th of December 1752 ; sensible of my vileness and unworthi-
ness, but yet sensible that I am thy pardoned, justified, and regenerated
child in the spirit and blood of my dear and precious Saviour, Jesus Christ,
by clear experience, " . . .

"Glory be to thee, O my Triune God ! Permit me to repeat and renew
my covenant with thee. I desire and resolve to be wholly and for ever
thine. Blessed God, I most solemnly surrender myself tmto thee. Hear,
O heaven, and give ear, O earth ! I avouch this day the Lord to be my
God, Father, Saviour, and portion for ever. I am one of his covenant
children for ever. Record, O eternal Lord, in thy book of remembrance
that henceforth I am thine for ever. From this day I solemnly renounce all
former lords — world, flesh, and devil — in thy name. No more, directly or
indirectly, will I obey them. I renounced them many years ago, and I
renounce them for ever. This day I give up myself to thee, a living sacri-
fice, holy and acceptable unto thee ; which I know is my reasonable service.
To thee I consecrate all my worldly possessions ; in thy service I desire and
purpose to spend all my time, desiring thee to teach me to spend every
moment of it to thy glory and the setting forth of thy praise, in every station
and relation of life I am now or may hereafter be in. And I earnestly pray
that whatever influence thou mayest in any wise give me over others, thou
wouldest give me strength and courage to exert it to the utmost to thy glory,
resolving not only myself to do it, but that all others, so far as I can ration-
ally and properly influence them, shall serve the Lord. In that cause would
I, O Lord, steadfastly persevere to my last breath, steadfastly praying that
every day of my life may supply the defects and correct the irregularities of
the former ; and that by divine grace I may be enabled not only in that
happy way to hold on, but to grow daily more active in it. Nor do I only
consecrate all I have to thy service, but I also most humbly resign and sub-
mit to thy holy and sovereign will all that I have. I leave, O Lord, to thy
management and direction all I possess and all I wish, and set every enjoy-
ment and interest before thee to be disposed of as thou pleasest. Continue
or remove what thou hast given me, bestow or refuse what I imagine I want,
as thou seest good ; and though I dare not say I will never repine, yet I
hope I may say I will labour not only to submit but to acquiesce ; not only
to bear thy heaviest afflictions on me, but to consent to them and praise
thee for them ; contentedly resolving, in all thy appointments, my will into
thine ; esteeming myself as nothing, and thee, O God, as the great Eternal
All, whose word shall determine, and whose power shall order all things in
the world." . . .

"Dispose my affairs, O God, in a manner which may be wholly subser-
vient to thy glory and my own true happiness ; and when I have done,
borne, and endured thy will upon earth, call me home at what time and in
what manner thou pleasest. Only grant that in my dying moments, and
the near approach of eternity, I may remember this my engagement to thee,



and may employ my latest breath in thy service ; and do thou, when thou
seest me in the agonies of death, remember this covenant too, though I
should be incapable of recollecting it. Look down upon me, O Lord, thy
languishing, dying child ; place thine everlasting arms underneath my head ;
put strength and confidence into my departing spirit, and receive it to the
embrace of thine everlasting love." . . .

• "And when I am thus numbered with the dead and all the interests of
mortality are over with me for ever, if this solemn memorial should fall into
the hands of any surviving friends or relations, may it be the means of mak-
ing serious impressions on their minds, and may they read it not only as my
language, but as their own, and learn to fear the Lord my God, and with
me to put their trust under the shadow of his wings for time and for
eternity." . . .

"I solemnly subscribe this dedication of myself to the ever-blessed Triune
God, in the presence of angels and all invisible spectators, this fourth day of
December 1752. William Grimshaw,"

The next document from which I will supply some extracts,
is a Creed or Summary of Belief which Grimshaw sent to
Romaine in December 1762, only four months before his death.
It is to be found at length in Middleton's Biographia Evangelica.
This creed is a regular systematic statement of Grimshaw's
religious views, drawn out into twenty-six heads, and is of course
far too long to be inserted in this place. A few paragraphs are
all that I can give the reader. They prove, at any rate, that,
however much Grimshaw may have agreed with Wesley on many
points, he certainly was not an Arminian.*

" XXII. — I believe it is by the Spirit we are enabled, not to eradicate (as
some affirm), for that is absurd, but to subjugate the old man; to suppress,
not extirpate, the exorbitancies of our fleshly appetites ; to resist and over-
come the world and the devil, and to grow in grace gradually, not suddenly,
unto the perfect and eternal day. This is all I acknowledge or know to be
Christian perfection or sanctification.

*' XXIII. — I believe that all true believers will be daily tempted by the
flesh, as well as by the world and the devil, even to their lives' end ; and
they will feel an inclination, more or less, to comply, yea and do comply

* It is worthy of remark, that in one of his letters, on another occasion, Grimshaw uses
the following language: " My perfection is to see my own imperfection; my comfort, to
feel that I have the world, flesh, and devil to overthrow through the Spirit and merits of
my dear Saviour ; and my desire and hope is to love God with all my heart, mind, soul,
and strength, to the last gasp of life. This is my perfection. I know no other, expecting
to lay down mj' life and my sword together."


therewith. So that the best behever, if he knows what he says, and says
the truth, is but a sinner at the best.

" XXIV. — I believe that their minds are incessantly subject to a thousand
impertinent, unprofitable thoughts, even amidst their reading, meditation.,
and pi-ayers ; that all their religious exercises are deficient ; that all their
graces, how eminent soever, are imperfect; that God sees iniquity in all
their holy things ; and though it be granted that they love God with all
their hearts, yet they must continually pray with the psalmist, ' Enter not
into judgment with thy servant.'

" XXV. — But I believe that Jesus is a full as well as a free Saviour, the
same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He alone is not only the believer's
wisdom and righteousness, but his sanctification and redemption; and in
him is a fountain ever open for sin and uncleanness unto the last breath of
his life. This is my daily, necessary privilege, my relief, and my comfort.

"xxvi. — I believe, lastly, that God is faithful and unchangeable; that all
his promises are yea and amen ; that he never, never will, as the apostle
says, leave me; will never, never, never forsake me; but that I, and all
that believe, love, and fear him, shall receive the end of our faith — the sal-
vation of our souls.

" Here is the sum and substance of my creed. It is at least what I pre-
sume to call my form of sound words. In it I can truly say I have no
respect to men or books, ancient or modern, but to the Holy Scriptures,
reason, and experience. According to this creed hitherto I have, and I
hope hereafter to proceed in all my preaching, debasing man and exalting
my dear Lord in all his offices."

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 11 of 36)