J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

. (page 13 of 36)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 13 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

common sovereign, and are engaged in one common cause.
They are commanded by one general, and fight against one
common foe. And yet there are marked varieties and diversities
among them. Cavalry, infantry, and artillery have each their
own peculiar mode of fighting. Each arm in its own way is
useful. It is the well-balanced combination of all three whicli
gives to the whole army efficiency and power.

It is just the same with the true Church of Christ. Its
members all love the same Saviour, and are led by the same
Spirit; all wage the same warfare against sin and the devil, and
all believe the same gospel. But the work of one soldier of
Christ is not the work of another. Each is appointed by the


Great Captain to fill his own peculiar position, and each is
specially useful in his own department.

Thoughts such as these come across my mind, when I turn
from Whitefield, Wesley, and Grimshaw, to the fourth spiritual
hero of the last century — William Romaine. In doctrine and
practical piety, the four good men were, in the main, of one
mind. In their mode of working, they were curiously unlike
one another. Whitefield and Wesley were spiritual cavalry, who
^ scoured the country, and were found everywhere. Grimshaw
was an infantry soldier, who had his head-quarters at Haworth,
and never went far from home. Romaine, in the meantime,
was a commander of heavy artillery, who held a citadel in the
heart of a metropolis, and seldom stirred beyond his walls. Yet
all these four men were mighty instruments in God's hand for
good ; and not one of them could have been spared. Each did
good service in his own line ; and not the least useful, I hope
to show, was the Rector of Blackfriars, William Romaine. In
what are called /^////czr gifts, no doubt, he was not equal to his
three great contemporaries. But none of the three, probably,
was so well fitted as he was to fill the position which he occu-
pied in London.

William Romaine was born at Hartlepool, in the county of
' Durham, on the 25th of September 17 14. His father was one
of the French Protestants who took refuge in England after the
revocation of the edict of Nantes. He settled at Hartlepool as
a corn merchant, and appears to have prospered in business.
At any rate, he brought up a fiimily of two sons and three
daughters, and left behind a high character as a kind and esti-
mable man when he died, 1757, at the ripe age of eighty-five.

There is every reason to believe that Romaine's parents were

' decidedly religious people, and that from his earliest years he

saw true Christianity both taught and exemplified in his own

home. The value of this rare privilege can hardly be overrated.

The seeds of a long life of service and usefulness were certainly


sown by the Holy Ghost in this Hartlepool home. Romaine never
forgot this. In a letter written to a friend when he was seventy
years old, he uses the following expressions : " Mr. Whitefield
used often to put me in mind how singularly favoured I was.
He had none of his family converted ; while my father, mother,
and three sisters were like those blessed people of whom it is
written, 'Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.' And
as they loved him again, so do we."

At the age of ten, Romaine was sent to a well-known grammar
school at Houghton-le-Spring, in the county of Durham, founded
by the famous Bernard Gilpin at the time of the Protestant*
Reformation. At this school he remained seven years. From
thence, in the year 1731, he was sent to Oxford ; and after first
entering Hertford College, was finally removed to Christ Church.
For the next six years he appears to have resided principally at
Oxford, until he took his degree as Master of Arts in October


Of Romaine's manner of Hfe at Oxford we know nothing,
except the fact that he was a hard reader, and had a high
reputation as a man of ability. Of his friends, companions, and
associates, we have no record. This at first sight seems some-
what remarkable, when we remember that it was precisely at
this period that " Methodism," so-called, took its rise at the
University. In fact, it was just the time when John Wesley,
Charles Wesley, Whitefield, Ingham, and Hervey, were begin-
ning to work for Christ in Oxford, and had formed a kind of
religious society. There is not, however, the slightest trace of
any communication between them and Romaine. The most
natural supposition is, that he was wholly absorbed in literary
pursuits, and allowed himself no time for other work. To this
we may add the fact, that the natural bent of his character
would probably incline him to keep by himself and stand

The high character which he attained in the university, as a


learned man, is clearly shown by an anecdote related of him by

his curate and successor, Mr. Goode, after his death. He says
in his funeral sermon : " Dress was never a foible of Mr.
Romaine's. His mind was superior to such borrowed ornaments.
Immersed in the noble pursuit of literature, before his conse-
cration to a still more exalted purpose, he paid but little atten-
tion to outward decoration. Being observed at Oxford, on one
occasion, to walk by rather negligently attired, a visitor inquired
of a friend, Master of one of the colleges: 'Who is that slovenly
person with his stockings down V The master replied : ' That
slovenly person, as you call him, is one of the greatest geniuses
of the age, and is likely to be one of the greatest men in the

Commendation like this was, of course, somewhat exaggerated
and extravagant. But at any rate, there can be no doubt that
Romaine left Oxford a thorough scholar and a well-read man.
His worst enemies in after-life could never lay to his charge
that he was "unlearned and ignorant." They might dislike his
doctrinal views, but they could never deny that in any matter
of Hebrew, Greek, or Latin criticism, his opinion was entitled
to respect. Well would it be for the Churches, if in this respect
there were more evangelical ministers who walked in the steps
of Romaine. Grace and soundness in the faith, diligence and
personal piety, are undoubtedly the principal things. But
book-learning ought not to be despised. An ignorant and ill-
read ministry, in days of intellectual activity, must sooner or
later fall into contempt.

Romaine was ordained deacon at Hereford in 1736, by
Bishop Egerton ; and priest in 1738, by the Bishop of Win-
chester, the notorious Dr. Hoadley. The history of the first
eleven years of his ministerial life is involved in much uncer-
tainty. I am unable to tell the reader who gave him a title for
orders, or why he was ordained at Hereford. I can only find
out that his first engagement was the curacy of Lewtrenchard,


near Okehampton, in Devonshire. He went there on a visit to
an Oxford friend, whose father Hved at Lidford, and upon the
express condition that his friend should find him work. He
only remained here about six months. From Lewtrenchard he
removed into the diocese of Winchester, and was curate of
Banstead, near Epsom, for anything we can see, for an unbroken
period of ten years. Much of his after-course in life probably
hinged on this curacy. It was here that he became acquainted
with Sir Daniel Lambert, an alderman of London, who lived in
the parish, and was lord-mayor in 1741. He thought so highly
of Romaine that he appointed him his chaplain during the year
of his mayoralty — a circumstance which brought him into notice
as a preacher, both at St. Paul's Cathedral and in many other
London pulpits.

It is highly probable that the ten years which Romaine spent
at Banstead were years of deep study and literary pursuits. It
was at this time that he published two volumes in reply to
Warburton's " Divine Legation of Moses," in which he ably
controverted the main positions of that mischievous book. He
also prepared for the press a new edition of the Hebrew Con-
cordance and Lexicon of Marius de Calasio, in four large
volumes — a work which required very close attention, and which
employed him no less than seven years. The small size of his
cure at Banstead no doubt left him abundant time for study ;
and this time was well spent. The extremely firm and unwa-
vering position which he assumed on points of doctrine in after-,
life, may be traced in all probabihty to the quiet ten years
which he spent in his Surrey curacy. Foundation-stones are
often laid in a young minister's mind during his residence in
such a position, which nothing in after-life can ever shake or

One thing, at all events, is very certain, whatever else is
uncertain, about Romaine's ministerial beginnings. There
never seems to have been a period, from the time of his ordina-

1 5 4 rREA CUES A T S T. PA UL 'S.

tion, when he did not preach clear, distinct, and unmistakable
evangelical doctrines. The truths of the glorious gospel appear
to have been applied to his heart by the Holy Spirit from the
days of his childhood at Hartlepool. From the very first he
was a well-instructed divine, and, unlike many clergymen, had
nothing to unlearn after he was ordained.

The proof of this may be seen in the sermon which he
preached in St. Paul's Cathedral, as chaplain to the Lord
Mayor, on September 2, 1741. At this time, it will be remem-
bered, he was only twenty-seven years old. The title of this
sermon is, " No Justification by the Law of Nature," and the
text is Romans ii. 14, 15. Cadogan, his biographer, justly
remarks on this sermon : "Although we do not discover in this
discourse the same fertile experience, use, and application of the
truth as are to be found in his later writings, yet we discover
the same truth itself by which he was then made free from the
errors of the day, and in the enjoyment of which he lived and

died The truth is, he was a believer possessed of that

unfeigned faith which dwelt in his father and mother before
him, and we are persuaded that it was in him also."

The second marked period in Romaine's ministerial life
extends from 1748 to 1766. Within this space of eighteen
years he met with some of his greatest trials, and filled many
different posts in the Lord's vineyard, but always in London.
I may add, that at no time in his life, perhaps, was he more
useful and more popular. He was in the full vigour of body
and mind, and enjoyed a reputation as a bold and uncompro-
mising preacher of evangelical doctrine throughout the metro-
polis, which few other living men equalled, and fewer still

The first post that Romaine regularly occupied in London
was that of lecturer at St. Botolph's, Billingsgate. The circum-
stances which led to his appointment were so singular that I
think it well to mention them. They supply an admirable


illustration of the manner in which God works by his providence
in finding a right position for his people. It seems, then, to
have been Romaine's intention, after finishing his edition 01
Calasio's Lexicon, to return to his native county, and to seek
employment near his home. In fact, he had actually packed
up his trunks, and sent them on board ship with this view. But
as he was going to the water-side, in order to secure his own
passage, he was met by a gentleman, an entire stranger to him,
who stopped and asked him if his name was Romaine. The
gentleman had formerly known his father, and was led to make
the inquiry by observing a strong resemblance to him in the
clergyman whom he met. After some conversation about his
family, this gentleman, who was a man of some influence in the
city, told him that the lectureship of St. Botolph's, Billingsgate,
was then vacant, and that if he liked to become a candidate for
the post, he would gladly exert his influence in 'his behalf
Romaine, seeing in this unexpected providence the finger of
God, at once consented, provided he was not obliged to canvass
the voters in person, a custom which he always thought incon-
sistent with the oflice of a clergyman. The result was, that in
the autumn of 1748 he was chosen lecturer of St. Botolph's, and
commenced his long career as a London clergyman.

It is deeply instructive to observe in a case like this, how
God chooses the habitation of his people, and places them
where he knows it is best for them to be. Cadogan, Romaine's
excellent biographer, remarks on this part of his history : " A
settlement in the metropolis was the thing of all others which
he last thought of, and to which he was the least inclined.
From the bent of his genius to the study of nature, of minerals,
fossils, and plants, and the wonders of God in creation, a
country life, so favourable to these pursuits, would have been
chosen by him. But God chose otherwise for him ; and by a
circumstance trivial and accidental to appearance, but in reality
a turn of providence such as decides the condition of most men,

156 77? 6* UBLES AT ST. D UNS TA N'S.

called him to a city-lectureship, and so detained him in London,
where he was kept to the end of his existence as a witness for
Jesus Christ, with abilities as truly suited to this meridian as
those of the Apostle Paul to the meridian of Ephesus, Corinth,
or Rome."

In the year 1749, he was chosen lecturer of St. Dunstan's in
the West — an appointment which brought down on him one of
the fiercest storms of persecution which he had to face in the
course of his ministry. The Rector of St. Dunstan's, for some
reason, disputed his right to the pulpit, and occupied it himself
during the time of prayers, in order to exclude him from it.
Romaine, in the meantime, appeared constantly in his place to
assert his claim to the lectureship, and his readiness to perform
the duties of the office. The affair was at length carried into
the Court of King's Bench, and after hearing the cause argued,
Lord Mansfield decided that Romaine was legally entitled to
the lectureship, and that seven o'clock in the evening was a
convenient time to preach the lecture.

Even then, however, the troubles of the lectureship were not
over. Cadogan says that even after Lord Mansfield's decision,
the churchwardens refused to open the doors of the church till
seven o'clock, and to light it when there was occasion. The
result was, that Romaine frequently read prayers and preached
by the light of a single candle, which he held in his own hand.
Besides this, as the church doors were kept shut unl.il the precise
moment fixed for preaching the lecture, the congregation was
usually assembled in Fleet Street waiting for admission. The
consequence was a great concourse of people, collected in a
principal thoroughfare of the metropolis, and though not noisy
or disorderly, occasioning much inconvenience to those who
passed that way. This state of things actually continued for
some time. Happily for all parties. Dr. Terrick, Bishop of
London, who had once held the lectureship himself, happened
to pass through Fleet Street one evening when the congrega-


tion were waiting outside St. Dunstan's. Observing the crowd,
he asked the cause of it, and being told that it was Romaine's
congregation, he interfered with the rector and churchwardens
on their behalf, expressed great respect for the lecturer, and
obtained for him and his hearers that the service should, begin
at six, that the doors should be opened in proper time, and
that lights should be provided in the winter season. From this
time forth Romaine continued in the quiet exercise of his
ministry at St. Dunstan's, without disturbance, and to the edifi-
cation of many, to the end of his life. In fact, he held this
lectureship for no less than forty-six years, though it was only
worth eighteen pounds a-year !

In the year 1750, Romaine was appointed assistant morning-
preacher at St. George's, Hanover Square, and held the office
for five years. Of all the many pjulpits which he occupied
during his long ministry, this was by far the most important.
Standing, as the church does, in an extremely prominent posi-
tion in the west end of London, and well known as the mother-
church of the most fashionable quarter of the metropolis, it
opened up to him a great and effectual door of usefulness.
Romaine, in many respects, was just the man for the post.
His undeniable powers as a preacher attracted attention. His
well-known scholarship commanded respect even from those
who did not agree with him. And best of all, his bold, uncom-
promising declarations of the real gospel of Christ, and plain
denunciations of fashionable sins, were precisely the message
which the Bible leads us to expect God will bless. It is not,
perhaps, too much to say, that from the day St. George's,
Hanover Square, was built, to this very day, it has never had
its pulpit so well filled on Sunday mornings as it was for five
years by Romaine.

The circumstances of the times in which he preached at St.
George's made his testimony peculiarly valuable and important.
A cold heartless scepticism about all the leading truths of


Christianity prevailed widely among the upper and middle
classes of society. Bis?iop Butler had complained not long
before, that " many persons seemed to take it for granted that
Christianity was fictitious, and that nothing remained but to set
it up as a principal object of mirth and ridicule." That such
principles naturally produced the utmost profligacy, reckless-
ness, and immorality of practice, no Bible reader will be sur-
prised to hear. In fact, the utter ungodliness of the age was
so thorough that few living in the present day can have the
slightest conception of it. Against this ungodliness Romaine
boldly lifted up a standard, and blew the trumpet of the gospel
with no uncertain sound. He was in the highest sense a man
for the times, and he was exactly in the right place. Those
who would like to see hovv boldly and powerfully he delivered
his Master's message, would do well to read two sermons which
he delivered at St. George's, one of them entitled, " A Method
for Preventing the Frequency of Robberies and Murders;"
and the other, " A Discourse on the Self-Existence of Jesus

Just about the time, that he was removed from the pulpit of
St. George's, the inhabitants of London were dreadfully fright-
ened by two severe shocks of an earthquake. Happening simul-
taneously with the awful earthquake which in a moment over-
threw Lisbon and destroyed forty thousand persons, this event
caused great alarm. Thousands of persons fled to Hyde Park
and spent the night there. Hundreds crowded to the places of
worship where so-called Methodist doctrines were preached, and
anxiously sought consolation. Even Sherlock, Bishop of London,
thought it necessary to publish a Letter to his Diocese on the
subject, in which he exhorted the clergy " to awaken the people,
to call them from their lethargy, and make them see their own
danger." Here again Romaine was just the man for the occa-
sion. He preached and printed two sermons, which even now
will amply repay perusal. One of them is called, " An Alarm


to a Careless World ;" and the other, " The Duty of Watchful-
ness Enforced." Delivered at the time they were, we cannot
doubt that they are specimens of the kind of sermons which
Romaine usually preached at that period of his ministry. I
think it impossible to read them without feeling deep regret
that the Church of England in the west end of London has not
had more of such preaching.

Romaine's ministry, as assistant morning-preacher at St.
George's, Hanover Square, began in April 1750 and ended in
September 1755. During that time he preached occasionally
at Bow Church, in exchange with Dr. Newton, afterwards Bishop
of Bristol ; and also at Curzon Chapel, then called St. George's,
Mayfair, in exchange with the Rector. The circumstances
under which lie left St. George's are so remarkable that they
deserve special notice.

It appears that the office which he filled as assistant morning-
preacher was not a regularly endowed and independent ap-
pointment, but one entirely dependent on the Rector, and kept
up at his own option, discretion, and expense. The Rector of
St. George's, who first invited Romaine to take the office, and
then at the end of five years removed him from it, was Dr.
Andrew Trebeck. His appointment was owing to his high
character and reputation, and not to personal friendship ; his
removal was caused by the popularity and plainness of his
ministry. The real truth was, that his preaching attracted such
crowds to the old parish-church, that the regular seat-holders
took offence, and complained that they were put to inconve-
nience. Strong pressure was brought to bear upon the Rector ;
and he, " willing to please " the parishioners, gave Romaine
notice to terminate his engagement. This notice he received
quietly, saying, that " he was willing to relinquish the office,
hoping that his doctrine had been Christian, and owning the
inconvenience which had attended the parishioners." A more
discreditable affair than this probably never disfigured the


parochial annals of the diocese of London. An eminent and
godly clergyman was removed from his post because he attracted
too many hearers ! And yet, at this very time, scores of clergy-
men in London churches were no doubt preaching every week
to empty benches or to congregations of half-a-dozen people,
without any one interfering with them !

It is consolatory to think that there was one parishioner at
least in St. George's, Llanover Square, who made a noble pro-
test against the treatment which Romaine received. This was
the old Earl of Northampton. He rebuked those who com-
plained that the parish-church was crowded, by reminding them
that they bore the greater crowd of a ball-room, an assembly,
or a play-house, without the least complaint. " If," said he,
" the power to attract be imputed as a matter of admiration to
Garrick, why should it be urged as a crime against Romaine %
Shall excellence be considered exceptionable only in divine
things'?" — Another member of the congregation who is said to
have adhered steadfastly to Romaine's cause at this juncture,
was Mr. John Sanderson, afterwards state-coachman to George
III. This worthy man lived to the great age of eighty-nine,
and died in 1799, after long adorning the doctrine he professed
by an exemplary and godly life.

During the five years that Romaine was preaching at St.
George's, he occupied for a short time the situation of Pro-
fessor of Astronomy at Gresham College. There is little record
extant of what he did in this office, and it is doubtful whether
he was very successful in it. In all probability he was a much
better theologian than an astronomer, and was better fitted for
lecturing about Christ and heaven than about the sun, moon,
and stars. But whatever credit he lost as a professor of astro-
nomy, he retrieved a hundred-fold by his conduct about the
Bill for removing Jewish disabilities. This he thought it his
duty to oppose vehemently, to the great gratification of many
citizens of London. In fact, his arguments were so highly


esteemed, that his various letters on the subject were collected
into a pamphlet and reprinted by his friends in the City
in 1753-

From the date of Romaine's removal from St. George's,
Hanover Square, until his appointment to the Rectory of St.
Anne's, Blackfriars, we find him occupying several different
positions, and never long in any one. The only post which he
never vacated was the Lectureship of St. Dunstan's, Fleet
Street. In the beginning of 1756 he became curate and morn-
ing-preacher at St. Olave's, Southwark. He continued in this
office until the year 1759, residing most of the time in Walnut
Tree Walk, Lambeth. After leaving St. Olave's, he was morn-
ing-preacher for two years at St. Bartholomew the Great, near
West Smithfield. From thence he removed to Westminster
Chapel, but only preached there six months. The abrupt
termination of his engagement there was occasioned by a fresh
piece of persecution. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster
withdrew their patronage and protection from the chapel, and
refused him their nomination for a licence to preach there.
From this time he had no stated employment in the Church,
except the Lectureship of St. Dunstan's, until he was chosen
Rector of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, in 1766.

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 13 of 36)