J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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We must not, however, suppose for a moment that Romaine
was an idle man during the years when he had no settled
employment in the morning of Sundays. He appears to have
been constantly preaching charity sermons in London churches ;
for which purpose, from his great popularity, his services were
eagerly sought after. He also preached very frequently at the
chapel of the Lock Hospital, upon the first institution of that

At this period of his life he was several times called upon to
preach before the University of Oxford. This, however, came
to an end after he had preached two sermons, entitled, " The
Lord our Righteousness," on March 20, 1757, in St. Mary's.

(195) 1 1


These sermons gave great offence, and he was never allowed
to enter the University pulpit again after delivering them. They
are to be found among his published works at the present day,
and furnish a melancholy proof of the spiritual darkness in
which Oxford was sunk a hundred years ago ! The governing
bodv of an University which could exclude a man from its
pulpit for preaching such doctrine as these sermons contain,
must indeed have been in a miserably benighted state of mind.
Romaine's dedication of them to Dr. Randolph, President of
Corpus Christi, and Vice-chancellor of the University, is well
worth reading. He says, " When I delivered these discourses
I had no design to make them public ; but I have been since
compelled to it. I understand they gave great offence, espe-
cially to you, and I am in consequence thereof refused the uni-
versity pulpit. In justice, not to myself, for I desire to be out
of the question, but to the great doctrine here treated of, namely,
the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only ground
of our acceptance and justification before God the Father, I
have sent to the press what was delivered from the pulpit. I
leave the friends of our Church to judge, whether there be any-
thing herein advanced contrary to the Scriptures and to the
doctrines of the Reformation. If not, I am safe. If there be,
you are bound to make it appear. You have a good pen, and
have great leisure ; make use of them ; and I hope and pray
you may make use of them for your good and mine." Com-
ment on the whole affair is needless. The treatment which
Romaine received at Oxford was as little creditable to the Uni-
versity as that which he received in the west end of London
was to the parishioners of St. George's, Hanover Square.

It was about this period of his life that Romaine became in-
timate with the well-known Lady Huntingdon, who made him
one of her domestic chaplains. In this capacity he used to
pre h fiequently at her house, both in Loadon and near
Ashby-de-la-Zouch, and at the various chapels, or preaching-


bouses, which she built at Brighton, Bath, and elsewhere. To
her friendship, indeed, he was finally indebted for his appoint-
ment to the Rectory of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, in the fifty-second
year of his age. The circumstances, however, of his appoint-
ment to this post, the history of his twenty-nine years' ministry
in it, and some account of his writings, letters, and character,
are matters which I shall reserve for another chapter.


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.

The biographer of William Romaine can hardly fail to observe
that his life naturally divides itself into three portions. The
first extends from his birth to the commencement of his London '
ministry in 1746. The second ranges from 1746 to his final
settlement at St. Anne's, Blackfriars, in 1764. The third com-
prises his ministry at Blackfriars, up to the time of his death
in 1795. It is this third and last portion of his history which
I propose to deal with in this chapter.

Roraaine's appointment to the rectory of St. Anne's, Black-
friars, took place at a very critical period in his ministerial life.
He was now about fifty years old. After preaching as a lec-
turer in London for eighteen years, he was still without a stated
position as the incumbent of a parish. Every door seemed
shut against him. Opposition and persecution followed him
wherever he went. It seemed, in short, a question whether he
had not better give up London altogether, and turn his steps
elsewhere. Lord Dartmouth offered him a living in the
country. Whitefield urged him to accept a large church at '
Philadelphia, in America. Hot-headed friends pressed him to
let them build him a chapel. It seemed far from improbable


that he might fulfil the predictions of his enemies, and end by
leaving the Church of England and becoming a regular

But Romaine had a very deep sense of the value of the
Church of England. He loved her Articles and Prayer-Book
with no common love. Whatever her defects in administra-
tion, and however ill she treated her best children, he believed
that the occupant of her pulpits had peculiar advantages ; and
he steadfastly refused to leave her. He was catholic, and kind,
and liberal to those who were not churchmen, and lived in
habits of friendly communion with many of them. To this
even John Wesley, Arminian as he was, bears strong testimony.
In a letter to Lady Huntingdon, in 1763, he says, " Mr. Romaine
has shown a truly sympathizing spirit, and acted like a brother."
But nothing could induce him to give up his own position and
become a Nonconformist. At this juncture he was greatly
strengthened in his determination by the advice of that excel-
lent clergyman, Walker of Truro. He resolved to stick by the
Church in which he had been ordained, and to wait patiently
for some door to be opened. His patience was at length re-
warded. By a singular train of providences, he became rector
of an important parish in the City, and there spent the last
twenty-nine years of his life in the undisturbed exercise of his

The circumstances under which Romaine was appointed to
his new sphere of duty were somewhat remarkable. The
patronage of the united parish of St. Andrew by the Wardrobe
with St. Anne's, Blackfriars, is vested in the Lord-Chancellor
and the parishioners alternately. The immediate predecessor
of Romaine was Mr. Henley, nephew of the then Lord-Chan-
cellor Henley. He only held the living about six years, and
died of putrid fever, caught in visiting a parishioner. Upon
his death the appointment fell to the turn of the parishioners ;
and at once some friends of Romaine, without his knowledge


and consent, resolved to nominate him as a candidate for the
vacant Uving. It was soon found that at least two-thirds of the
parishioners were in his favour ; and though he refused to can-
vass for votes himself, his interest was warmly supported by-
Lady Huntingdon, Mr. Thornton, and Mr. Madan.

There were two other candidates beside Romaine, and in
accordance with the custom on such occasions, he was called
on to preach a probationary sermon before the parishioners.
This sermon, preached on September 30, 1764, from 2 Cor.
iv. 5, is to be found among his printed works, and is credit-
able both to his heart and head. One part of it, in which lie
assigned his reason for not canvassing the electors in person,
deserves particular notice. He says,—

" Some have insinuated that it was from pride that I would not
go about the parish, from house to house, canvassing for votes ;
but truly it was from another motive, — I could not see how this
could promote the glory of God. How can it be for the
honour of Jesus that his ministers, who have renounced fame,
riches, and ease, should be most anxious and earnest in the
pursuit of those very things which they have renounced I
Surely this would be getting into a w^orldly spirit, as much as
the spirit of parliamenteering. And as this method of can-
vassing cannot be for Jesus' sake, so neither is it for our honour;
it is far beneath our function : nor is it for your profit. What
good is it to your souls — what compliment to your under-
standing — what advantage to you, in any shape, to be directed
and applied to by every person with whom you have any con-
nection, or on whom you have any dependence 1 Is not this
depriving you of the freedom of your choice % Determined by
these motives, when my friends, of their own accord, put me
up as a candidate, to whom I have to this hour made no appli-
cation, directly or indirectly, I left you to yourselves. If you
choose me, I desire to be your servant for Jesus' sake ; and if
you do not, the will of the Lord be done."


It deserves notice that this sermon did the preacher's cause
no harm, but rather operated in his favour. It was well
received by the parishioners, and was pubHshed at their

Notwithstanding the strong support Romaine received, his
appointment was not finally secured without great difficulty and
opposition. A hotly contested election, a poll, a scrutiny and
an appeal to the Court of Chancery, interposed between the
first movement of his friends and the final accompHshment of
their wishes. At length, after eighteen months' delay, all ob-
stacles were overcome, a decree was given in his favour by Lord
Henley, and he was instituted and inducted rector of St. Anne's,
Blackfriars, in February 1766. No one, perhaps, throughout
this anxious period of suspense, worked more heartily in his
behalf than Lady Huntingdon. She saw clearly the immense
importance of such a champion of Christ's gospel being settled
in a prominent position in London ; and she left no stone un-
turned to secure his success. Help, too, was raised up in some
quarters of a most unexpected kind. A publican in the parish
is said to have been one of his most active supporters and can-
vassers ; and at first no one could understand the reason. But
after all was over, on Romaine's calling on him to thank him,
the worthy publican replied, " Indeed, sir, I am more indebted
to you than you to me ; for you have made my wife, who was
one of the worst, the best woman in the world."

Romaine entered on his new sphere with a very deep sense
of his own insufficiency. He who intended him to be a wise
master-builder, taught him to lay a sound foundation of self-
abasement and humility. His own letters on the occasion of
his election give a very graphic picture of his feelings.

In one he says : " My friends are rejoicing all around me,
and wishing me a joy that I cannot take. It is my Master's
will, and I submit. He knows best what is for his own glory
and his people's good ; and I am certain he makes no mistakes


on either of these points. But my head hangs down upon the
occasion, through the awful apprehension which I ever had of
the care of souls. I am frightened to think of watching over
two or three thousands, when it is work enough to watch over
one. The plague of my own heart almost wearies me to
death ; what can I do with so vast a number ?"

In a letter to Lady Huntingdon, of the same date, he says :
'• Now, when I was setting up my rest, and had begun to say
unto my soul. Soul, take thine ease, I am called into a public
station, and to the sharpest engagement, just as I had got into
winter quarters. I can see nothing before me, so long as breath
is in my body, but war; and that with unreasonable men, a
divided parish, an angry clergy, and a wicked world, all to be
resisted and overcome. Besides all these, a sworn enemy,
subtle and cruel, with whom I can make no peace — no, not a
moment's time, night and day — with all his children and his
host, is aiming at my destruction. When I take counsel of the
flesh I begin to faint ; but when I go to the sanctuary, I see
my good cause, and my almighty Master and true Friend, and
then he makes my courage revive. Although I am no way fit
for the work, yet he called me to it, and on him I depend for
strength to do it, and for success to crown it. I utterly de-
spair of doing anything as of myself, and therefore the more
I have to do, the more I shall be forced to live by faith on
Him. In this view I hope to get a great income by my
living. I shall want Jesus more, and shall get closer to him."

Whatever anticipations of trouble Romaine may have formed
in his mind, he met with comparatively little at Blackfriars.
In fact, his twenty-nine years' ministry there, compared to his
earlier days, was a season of quietness. Enemies and oppo-
nents no doubt he had, like every faithful clergyman who
preaches the gospel. But they could do Httle to disturb him.
The result was that the latter years of his life, though not
less useful than the former, were certainly less eventful. Like


the river that at first dashes brawling down the mountain-side,
but gUdes silently along when it reaches the plains and becomes
navigable, so Romaine's ministry from the time of his settle-
ment at Blackfriars, though it made less noise, was probably
more beneficial to the Church of Christ. He necessarily
became less of an itinerant and missionary preacher. The
claims of his own parish and pulpit obliged him to stay much
at home, and absorbed much of his time and attention. But
his usefulness, whatever some hasty judges might think, was
not only not diminished, but was probably much increased.
The plain truth is, that as rector of a London parish, Romaine
^ became a rallying point for all in London who loved evangelical
truth in the Church of England. Man after man, and family
after family, gathered round his pulpit, until his congregation
became the nucleus of a vast amount of good in the metro-
polis. His constant, unflinching declaration of Christ's whole
truth insensibly produced a powerful impression on men's
minds, and made them understand what a true clergyman of
the Church of England ought to be. His undeniable learning
made him an adversary that few cared to cope with, and
gave a weight to his assertions which they did not always pos-
sess when they came from the lips of half-educated men. His
position gave him peculiar advantages. Almost within sight
both of St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, he held a post from
which he was always ready to go forth and do battle, either
with tongue or pen. If error arose rampant, he was on the
spot prepared to attack it. If truth was assaulted, he was
equally prepared to sally forth and defend it. In short, the
good that he did, as rector of Blackfriars, though less showy,
was probably more solid and permanent than the good that he
did all the rest of his life.

To attempt to chronicle all the events of his life during his
twenty-nine years at Blackfriars would be of little use, even if
we possessed materials for doing it. From the very beginning


of his incumbency, he took great pains to have the services of
his church conducted with strict reverence and good order.
Like many other clergymen, he never rested till he had put the
fabric of his church in good repair, had built a good parsonage,
and made the parochial schools thoroughly efficient. These
things once accomplished, he gave himself entirely to the
direct work of his office. He was never idle, and seldom
passed a silent Sabbath. Preaching, visiting, writing for the
press, or corresponding with the many who asked his advice,
occupied nearly all his time to his life's end.

He was not perhaps what would be called now-a-days a
"genial" man. He was " naturally close and reserved," says
Cadogan, " irritable to a certain degree, short and quick in
his replies, and frequently mistaken as being rude and morose
where he meant nothing of the kind. Had he paid more
attention than he did to the various distresses of soul and body
which were brought before him, he would have had no time
left for reading, meditation, and prayer, and, in short, for
what every man must attend to in private who would be use-
ful in public. It was not uncommon for him to tell those
who came to him with cases of conscience and questions of
spiritual concern, that he said all he had to say in the pul-
pit. Thus people might be hurt for th^ mornent by such a dis-
missal, but they had only to attend his preaching, and they
soon found that their difficulties had impressed him as well
as themselves ; that they had been submitted to God, and that
they had been the subject of his serious and affectionate con-

These observations of Cadogan's deserve special attention.
Romaine, unhappily, is not the only minister whose reputation
has suffered from gross misrepresentation and misconstruction.
Few men, unfortunately, are so liable to be unfairly judged as
ministers who fill prominent posts, and are eminent for gifts
and graces. Even Christians are too ready to set them down


as haughty, proud, cold, distant, reserved, and unsocial, without
any just ground for so doing. The immense demands con-
tinually made on their time and strength, the many private
difficulties they frequently have to contend with, the absolute
necessity they are under of much daily reading, meditation, and
communion with God — all these things are too often entirely
forgotten. Many indeed are the wounds of feeling which minis-
ters have to endure from the unkind remarks of unreasonable
friends. The cup which Romaine had to drink is a cup which
many clergymen have to drink in the present day.

The few anecdptes preserved about Romaine are all some-
what characteristic of the man as Cadogan describes him.
They all give the idea of one who was short and abrupt to an
extreme in his communications ; so much so, in fact, that we
can quite understand captious people being offended by him.
And yet the anecdotes always tend to prove that he was a man
of no common graces, gifts, and good sense.

He was one evening invited to a friend's house, and, after
tea, the lady of the house asked him to play at cards, to which
he made no objection. The cards were brought out, and when
all were ready to begin playing, Romaine said, " Let us ask
the blessing of God." "Ask the blessing of God!" saii the
lady in great surprise ; " I never heard of such a thing before a
game of cards." Romaine then inquired, " Ought we to engage
in anything on which we cannot ask God's blessing'?" This
reproof put an end to the card-playing.

On another occasion he was addressed by a lady, who ex-
pressed the great pleasure she had enjoyed under his preaching,
and added that she could comply with his requirements, with
the exception of one thing. "And what is that f asked Ro-
maine. " Cards, sir," was the reply. " You think you could
not be happy without them?" " No, sir, I know I could not."
" Then, madam." said he, " cards are your god, and they must
save you." It is recorded that this pointed remark led to


serious reflections, and finally to the abandonment of card-

When the unhappy Dr. Dodd was sentenced to death for
forgery, Romaine, among others, felt a deep and melancholy ,
interest about him. There was once a time when he and Dodd
had been on terms of intimacy, from their common zeal for
the prosecution of Hebrew learning. When, however, poor
Dodd began to love the world better than Christ, the intimacy
gradually ceased, and he actually told Romaine that he hoped
he would not acknowledge him if they met in public ! Before
his execution, Romaine visited him in Newgate at his particular
request, and many were anxious to know what he thought of
the prisoner's spiritual state. But the only answer that could
be extracted from him was this : '"' I hope he may be a real
penitent ; but there is a great difference between saying, ' God ,
be merciful to me a sinner,' and really feeling it."

Short and abrupt as the rector of Blackfriars evidently was in
his demeanour, he was very sensible of his own deficiencies of
temper, and very willing to confess himself in the wrong. On
one occasion a dissenting minister who often attended his lec-
tures, called on him to complain of some severe reflections
which he thought Romaine had made upon Dissenters. Having
made his complaint, Romaine replied, " I do not want to have
anything to say to you, sir." — " If you will hear me," added the
other, " I will tell you my name and profession. I am a Pro-
testant dissenting minister." — " Sir," said Romaine, " I neither
wish to know your name nor your profession." Upon this the
unfortunate Nonconformist bowed and took his leave. Not
long after Romaine, to the great surprise of his hearer and
reprover, returned the visit, and after the usual salutation, be-
gan : " Well, INIr. T., I am not come to renounce my principles,
I have not changed my sentiments, I will not give up my
preference for the Church of England ; but I am come as a
Christian to make some apology. I think my behaviour to you

172 • Ills LATTER YEARS.

sir, the other day, was not becoming, nor such as it should have
been." They then shook hands, and parted good friends.

Romaine's last illness found him still doing his Father's
business, and happy in his work. He lived to the great age of
eighty-one, and enjoyed the full use of his faculties to the very
last. During the last ten years of his life he seems to have
become greatly mellowed and softened, and to have been a
beautiful example of that lovely sight, a godly old man, " a
hoary head found in the way of righteousness." He went
. gradually down the valley toward the river, with all the golden
richness of a setting sun in summer. There appeared to be
little but heaven in his sermons or in his life ; and, like dying
Baxter, he spoke of his future home with great familiarity, like
one who had already seen if.

It was well remarked by some of his friends, in these last
days of his ministry, that he was a true diamond, naturally rough
and pointed, but the more he was broken by years the more he
appeared to shine. Thgre wa^s ofteri a light upon his coun-
tenance — and particularly when he preached — which looked
like the dawn, or a faint appearance of glory. If any one asked
him how he did, his general answer was, "As well as I can be
out of heaven." He made this reply, shortly before his death,
to a friend of a different communion, and then added, " There
is but one central point, in which we must all meet — Jesus
Christ and him crucified." This was the object which he
always kept in sight — the wonderful God-man, whom, according
to his own words, " He had taken for body and for soul, for
. time and for eternity, his present and everlasting all."

Romaine's simple and. regular habits of life, no doubt, had
much to say to his length of days and vigorous old age. There
are ministers, unquestionably, who seem independent of regular
food and hours, and whose iron constitutions appear to stand
any strain. But their number is small. Of Romaine, Cadogan
says, " His hour of breakfast was six in the morning ; of dinner,


half-past one in the afternoon; and of supper, seven in the even-
ing. His family were assembled to prayer at nine o'clock in
the morning, and at the same hour at night. His Hebrew
Psalter was his constant companion at breakfast, and he often
said how much his first repast was sanctified by the Word of
God and prayer. From ten o'clock to one he was generally
employed in visiting the sick and friends. He retired to his
study after dinner, and sometimes walked again after supper in
summer. After evening service in his family, he retired again
to his study, and to his bed at ten. From this mode of living
he never deviated, except when he was a guest in the house of
friends ; and then he breakfasted at seven, dined at two, and
supped at eight. His adherence to rules, in this respect, was
never more marked than in a circumstance which happened
during the last years of his life. He was invited by an eminent
dignitary of the Church to dine with him at five o'clock. He
felt respect for the inviter, and wished to show it. Instead,
therefore, of sending a written apology, he waited upon him
himself, thanked him for the invitation, and excused himself by
pleading his long habits of early hours, his great age, and his
often infirmities."

Romaine's death-bed was a beautiful illustration of the truth
of John Wesley's saying, " Our people die well ! The world

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 14 of 36)