J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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may find fault with our opinions, but the world cannot deny
that our people die well." This was eminently the case with
Romaine. His fatal illness attacked him on Saturday, the 6th
of June 1795, ^"^ put an end to his life on the 26th of July.
The last sermon which he preached was on the preceding
Thursday evening at St. Dunstan's. It was an exposition of
the eighteenth chapter of St, John's Gospel; and he remarked
to his curate that he must get on as fast as he could, lest he
should not get through the Gospel before the lectures closed
for the summer. His concluding sermon at Blackfriars was on
the preceding Tuesday morning, from the thirteenth verse of


tlie i03rtl Psalm — " Like as a father pitieth his children, so the
Lord pitieth them that fear him," These dates are worthy of
special notice. This fine old servant of Christ, at the age of
eighty-one, was evidently preaching at least three days in every
week !

From the moment he was seized with his illness, he con-
sidered it to be his last : and though he had occasional
symptoms of recovery during the seven weeks that his illness
continued, he never entered the pulpit again. He spoke of
himself as a dying man, but always as one that had peace
in believing. On the morning of his seizure he came down to
breakfast as usual, in the house at Balham Hill, where he was
staying, and presided in family devotion. It was observed that
he prayed most earnestly to God that " he would fit them for,
and support them in their trials that day, which might be many."
He returned the same day to his own house in London, and
conversed most profitably and comfortably in the way, on the
approach of death and near prospect of eternity. He said,
" How animating is the view which I have now of death, and
the hope laid up for me in heaven, full of glory and immor-
tality !" On arriving at home his last illness struck him.

He continued at his own house in London under medical
advice for three weeks, and used all the means which his physi-
cian thought fit to prescribe. But he said, "You are taking
much pains to prop up this feeble body ; I thank you for it :
it will not do now." His Hebrew Psalter lay close by him,
and out of it he frequently read a verse or two, not being able
to attend to more. From the nature of his illness he could
speak but little ; and being once asked if he would see some of
his friends, he replied, " He needed no better company than he

" On the 26th of June," says his biographer, Cadogan, " he
left town, and went to a friend's house at Tottenham for a
fortnight, where he was so much better that he was able to


walk about the garden. Upon his return to town, he told his
curate that he had laid long in the arms of death, and if re-
covering, it was very slowly. ' But,' said he, ' this is but a poor
dying life at best ; however, I am in His hands who will do the
best for me ; I am sure of that. I have lived to experience all
I have spoken and all I have written, and I bless God for it.' —
To another friend he said, ' I have the peace of God in my
conscience, and the love of God in my heart ; and that, you
know, is sound experience. I knew before that the doctrines I
preached were truths, but now I experience them to be bless-
ings.' — Thanking another friend for a visit, he told him ' that
he had come to see a saved sinner.' — This he often affirmed
should be his dying breath; he desired to die with the lan-
guage of the publican in his mouth — ' God be merciful to me
a sinner !' "

He continued in London for a few days in this blessed frame
of mind, and then returned on the 13th of July to the house of
his friend, Mr. Whitridge, at Balham Hill, where he had been
the day that he was first taken ill. From this date his strength
rapidly decayed, but his faith and patience never failed him.
He was often saying, " How good is God ! What comforts
does he give me ! What a prospect do I see before me of glory
and immortality ! He is my God in life, in death, and through-
out eternity." On the 23rd of July, as he sat at breakfast, he
said, " It is now nearly sixty years since God opened my mouth
to publish the everlasting sufficiency and eternal glory of the
salvation in Christ Jesus ; and it has now pleased him to shut
my mouth, that my heart might feel and experience what my
mouth has so often spoken."

On the 24th of July, after being helped down-stairs for the
last time, he said, " Oh, how good is God ! With what a night
has he favoured me !" requesting at the same time that prayer
without ceasing might be made for him, that his faith and
patience might not fail. He spoke with great kindness and


affection of his wife; and, thanking her for all her care of him,
said, " Come, my love, that I may bless you : the Lord be with
you a covenant God for ever to save and bless you ! " — Mrs.
Whitridge, in whose house he was dying, on seeing and hearing
him bless his wife, said, " Have you not a blessing for me, sir?"
" Yes," he replied ; " I pray God to bless you." And so he
said to every one that came to him.

On Saturday the 25th of July he was not able to get down
stairs, but lay upon a couch all day, in great weakness of body,
but strong in faith, giving glory to God, and the power of Christ
resting on him. Towards the close of the day some thought
they heard him say, " Though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." —
About an hour before his death, Mr. Whitridge, his host and
friend, said, "I hope, my dear sir, you now find the salvation
of Jesus Christ precious, dear, and valuable to you." His answer
was, " He is a precious Saviour to me now." These were the
last words he spoke to man. To the Lord he was heard to
say, " Holy ! holy ! holy ! blessed Jesus ! to thee be endless
praise !" About midnight, as the Sabbath began, he breathed
his last, and entered that eternal rest which remains for the
people of God. Well saith the Scriptures, " Mark the perfect
man, and behold the upright : for the end of that maji is peace"
(Ps. xxxvii. 37).

Romaine's friends and relations had fully intended to give
him a private funeral. But this proved impossible. The many
hearers of a minister who had preached the. gospel in London
for forty-five years could not be prevented showing their respect
and affection by following him to the grave. Scores looked up
to him as their spiritual father. Hundreds venerated his char-
acter and consistency, even though they did not fully embrace
the gospel he had preached. The consequence was that his
funeral, in spite of all wishes and intentions, was a peculiarly
public one. Fifty coaches followed the hearse from Clapham


Common, besides many persons on foot. By the time the
procession reached the obehsk in St. George's Fields, the mul-
titude collected was very great indeed ; but silence, solemnity,
and decorum prevailed. At the foot of Blackfriars' Bridge the
city marshals were waiting with their men in blacH silk scarfs
and hatbands, and rode before the hearse to the entrance of
the church. They had been ordered out by the lord mayor, as
his token of respect for the memory of a man whose character
had stood so high in the city of London. Thus went to his
long home on August 3rd, 1795, amidst every outward mark of
respect and affection, the venerable rector of Blackfriars. At
the end of his long forty-five years' ministry no one lifted up his
tongue against him. The winds and waves of persecution had
at length ceased. He had fairly lived down all opposition, and
he died honoured and lamented. So true is that word of Scrip-
ture, " When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even
his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. xvi. 7).

Romaine was once married, though rather later in life than
many ministers. His wife was a Miss Price, and, as we have
already seen, she survived him. He had children, of whom one
son died at Trincomalee in 1782, to his great sorrow. Another
son was with him in his last illness, of whom he spoke with
great affection, expressing his hope of him as a son in the faith,
as well as a son in the flesh. Of his other children I can find
no account.

Most of Romaine's literary works are so well known that I
need not trouble my readers with any account of them. His
largest work, " The Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith," has
been often reprinted, and holds a respectable position among
English evangelical classics. His " Twelve Sermons on the
Law and the Gospel" have also been more than once repub-
lished, and in my judgment deservedly so. I regard it as the
best and most valuable work he ever sent to the press. His
expository sermons on the 107th Psalm and on Solomon's Song

U95) 12


are not so well known as they ought to be. The latter espe-
cially throws more light on a most difficult book of Scripture
than many works of much higher pretensions. His single ser-
mons are of course very little known. But no One who wants
to get a just idea of the kind of preacher Romaine was, should
omit to read them. For simplicity, pith, point, and forcible-
ness, — for short, true, vigorous sentences, — they will bear a
favourable comparison with almost any evangelical sermons ot
the last century.

Many of his letters in his published correspondence are very
valuable. Like John Newton, he wrote in days when the
modern machinery of societies, committee meetings, Exeter Hall
gatherings, &c., was totally unknown, and when a man had
more leisure to write long letters than he has. now. Those who
like reading Newton's " Cardiphonia" and " Omicron," would
find Romaine's correspondence well worth perusing. Christ
and the Bible are the two golden threads which seem to run
through all his letters.

Perhaps, after all, one of the most useful publications that
Romaine ever sent forth is one that is hardly known at all. I
may be wrong, but my firm belief is, that my estimate of its
usefulness will be found correct at the last day. The publica-
tion I refer to is called " An Earnest Invitation to the Friends of
the Established Church to join with several of their brethren,
clergy and laity, in London, in setting apart an hour of every
week for Prayer and Supplication during the present trouble-
some times." There is strong reason to believe that this little
publication was made eminently useful when it first appeared,
and has led to an amazing succession of supplications, inter-
cessions, and prayers down to the present day. It was beyond
t all doubt a move in. the right direction. It sent men to Him
who alone has all hearts in his hands, and alone can revive his
Church in dead times. Who can tell but that much of the
Spirit's work in the last sixty years will be found at last to have


been the answer to Romaine's prayers? One fact, at any rate,
deserves to be specially remembered. When Romaine first sent
forth this Invitation in 1757, he only knew about a dozen cler-
gymen in all England who were willing to unite w^ith him, and
join his scheme of prayer. But when he died, in 1795, he
reckoned that the number of like-minded men in the Establish-
ment had swelled to at least three hundred. That fact alone
speaks for itself.

I leave the fourth spiritual hero of the eighteenth century
here, and ask my readers to give his name the honour that it
deserves. He had not all the popular gifts of some of his con-
temporaries. He had not the genial attractive characteristics
of many in his day. But take him for all in all, he was a great
man, and a mighty instrument in God's hand for good. He
stood in a most prominent position in London for forty-five
years, testifying the gospel of the grace of God, and never
flinching for a day. He stood alone, with almost no backers,
supporters, or fellow-labourers. He stood in the same place,
constantly preaching to the same hearers, and not able, like
Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, and other itinerant brethren, to
preach old sermons. He stood there witnessing to truths which
were most unpopular, and brought down on him opposition,
persecution, and scorn. He stood in a most public post, con-
tinually w'atched, observed, and noticed by unfriendly eyes,
ready to detect faults in a moment if he committed them. Yet,
during all these forty-five years, he maintained a blameless
character, firmly upheld his first principles to the last, and died
at length, like a good soldier at his post, full of days and honour.
The man of whom these things can be said must have been no
common man. It is place and position that specially prove
what we are. In England one hundred years ago there were
not four spiritual champions greater and more honourable than
William Romaine.


glanici liotolaniis anb bis glhiistrn.


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

|NE of the greatest spiritual champions of the last cen-
tury, whom I wish to introduce to my readers in this
chapter, is one who is very httle known. The man
I mean is the Rev. Daniel Rowlands of Llangeitho in Cardi-
ganshire. Thousands of my countrymen, I suspect, have some
little acquaintance with Whitefield, Wesley, and Romaine, who
never even heard the name of the great apostle of Wales.

That such should be the case need not surprise us. Rowlands
was a W^elsh clergyman, and seldom preached in the English
language. He resided in a very remote part of the Princi-
pality, and hardly ever came to London. His ministry was
almost entirely among the middle and lower classes in about
five counties in Wales. These circumstances alone are enough
to account for the fact that so few people know anything about
him. Whatever the causes may be, there are not many English-
men who understand Welsh, or can even pronounce the names
of the parishes where Rowlands used to preach. Li the face


of these circum stances, we have no right to be surprised if his
reputation has been confined to the land of his nativity.

In addition to all this, we must remember that no biographical
account of Rowlands was ever drawn up by his contemporaries.
Materials for such an account were got together by one of his
sons, and forwarded to Lady Huntingdon. Her death, un-
fortunately, immediately afterwards, prevented these materials
being used, and what became of them after her death has never
been ascertained. The only memoirs of Rowlands are two
lives, written by clergymen w'ho are still living. They are
both excellent and useful in their way, but of course they labour
under the disadvantage of having been drawn up long after the
mighty subject of them had passed away.* These two volumes,
and some very valuable information which I have succeeded in
obtaining from a kind correspondent in Wales, are the only
mines of matter to which I have had access in drawing up this

Enough, however, and more than enough, is extant, to prove
that Daniel Rowlands, in the highest sense, was one of the
spiritual giants of the last century. It is a fact that Lady
Huntingdon, no mean judge of clergymen, had the highest
opinion of Rowlands. Few people had better opportunities of
forming a judgment of preachers than she had, and she thought
Rowlands was second only to Whitefield. It is a fact that no
British preacher of the last century kept together in one district
such enormous congregations of souls for fifty years as Row-
lands did. It is a fact, above all, that no man a hundred years
ago seems to have preached with such unmistakable power of
the Holy Ghost accompanying him as Rowlands. These are
great isolated facts that cannot be disputed. Like the few

* The memoirs of Rowlands to which T refer are two small volumes by the Rev. John
Owen, Rector of Thriissington, and the Rev. E. Morgan, Vicar of Syston, both in the
county of Leicester. The private information which I have received has been supplied by
a relative of the great Welsh apostle, though not in lineal descent, the Rev. William Row-
lands of Fish.guard, South Wales. Some few facts, it may be interesting to my readers to
know, come from an old man of eighty-five, who, when a boy, heard Rowlands preach.


scattered bones of extinct mammoths and mastodons, they
speak volumes to all who have an ear to hear. They tell us
that, in considering and examining Daniel Rowlands, we are
dealing with no common man.

. Daniel Rowlands was born in the year 17 13, at Pant-y-beudy
in the parish of Llancwnlle, near Llangeitho, Cardiganshire.
He was the second son of the Rev. Daniel Rowlands, rector of
Llangeitho, by Jennet, his wife. When a child of three years
old, he had a narrow escape of death, like John Wesley. A
large stone fell down the chimney on the very spot where he
had been sitting two minutes before, which, had he not pro-
videntially moved from his place, must have killed him.
Nothing else is known of the first twenty years of his life,
except the fact that he received his education at Hereford
Grammar School, and that he lost his father when he was
eighteen years old. It appears, from a tablet in Llangeitho
Church, that when Rowlands was born, his father was fifty-four
and hrs mother fort}'-five years old. His father's removal could
not therefore have been a premature event, as he must have
attained the ripe age of seventy-two.

From some cause or other, of which we can give no account,
Rowlands appears to have gone to no University. His father's
death may possibly have made a difference in the circumstances
of the family. At any rate, the next fact we hear about him
after his father's death, is his ordination in London at the early
age of twent}^, in the year 1733. ^^ ^^'^^ ordained by letters
dimissory from the Bishop of St. David's, and it is recorded, as
a curious proof both of his poverty and his earnestness of
character, that he went to London on foot.

The title on which Rowlands was ordained was that of curate
to his elder brother John, who had succeeded his father, and
held the three adjacent livings of Llangeitho, Llancwnlle, and
Llandewibrefi. He seems to have entered on his ministerial
duties like thousands in his day — without the slightest ade-


quate sense of his responsibilities, and utterly ignorant of the
gospel of Christ. According to Owen he was a good classical
scholar, and had made rapid progress at Hereford School in all
secular learning. But in the neighbourhood where he was born
and began his ministry, he is reported never to have given any
proof of fitness to be a minister. He was only known as a
man remarkable for natural vivacity, of middle size, of a firm
make, of quick and nimble action, very adroit and successful in
all games and athletic amusements, and as ready as any one,
after doing duty in church on Sunday morning, to spend the
rest of God's day in sports and revels, if not in drunkenness.
Such was the character of the great apostle of Wales for some
time after his ordination ! He was never likely, afterwards, to
forget St. Paul's words to the Corinthians, " Such were some
of you" (i Cor. vi. 11), or to doubt the possibility of anyone's

The precise time and manner of Rowlands' conversion are
points involved in much obscurity. According to Morgan, the
first thing that awakened him out of his spiritual slumber, was
the discovery that, however well he tried to preach, he could-
not prevent one of his congregations being completely thinned
by a dissenting minister named Pugh. It is said that this made
him alter his sermons, and adopt a more awakening and alarm-
ing style of address. According to Owen, he was first brought
to himself by hearing a well-known excellent clergyman, named
Griffith Jones, preach at Llandewibrefi. On this occasion his
appearance, as he stood in the crowd before the pulpit, is said
to have been so full of vanity, conceit, and levity, that Mr.
Jones stopped in his sermon and ofi"ered a special prayer for
him, that God would touch his heart, and make him an instru-
ment for turning souls from darkness to light. This prayer is
said to have had an immense effect on Rowlands, and he is
reported to have been a different man from that day. I do not
attempt to reconcile the two accounts. I can quite believe


that both are true. When the Holy Ghost takes in hand the
conversion of a soul, he often causes a variety of circumstances
to concur and co-operate in producing it. This, I am sure,
would be the testimony of all experienced believers. Owen
got hold of one set of facts, and Morgan of another. Both
happened probably about the same time, and both probably
are true.

One thing, at any rate, is very certain. From about the year
173S) when Rowlands was twenty-five, a complete change came
over his life and ministry. He began to preach like a man in
earnest, and to speak and act hke one who had found out that
sin, and death, and judgment, and heaven, and hell, were great
realities. Gifted beyond most men with bodily and mental
qualifications for the work of the pulpit, he began to consecrate
himself wholly to it, and threw himself, body, and soul, and
mind, into his sermons. The consequence, as might be ex-
pected, was an enormous amount of popularity. The churches
where he preached were crowded to suffocation. The effect of
his ministry, in the way of awakening and arousing sinners, was
something tremendous. " The impression," says Morgan, " on
the hearts of most people, was that of awe and distress, and as
if they saw the end of the world drawing near, and hell ready
to swallow them up. His fame soon spread throughout the
country, and people came from all parts to hear him. Not
only the churches were filled, but also the churchyards. It is
said that, under deep conviction, numbers of the people lay
down on the ground in the churchyard of Llancwnlle, and it
was not easy for a person to pass by without stumbling against
some of them."

At this very time, however curious it may seem, it is clear
that Rowlands did not preach the full gospel. His testimony
was unmistakably truth, but still it was not the whole truth. He
painted the spirituality and condemning power of the law in
biich vivid colours that his hearers trembled before him, and


cried out for mercy. But he did not yet lift up Christ crucified
in all his fulness, as a refuge, a physician, a redeemer, and a
friend ; and hence, though many were wounded, they were not
healed. How long he continued preaching in this strain it is,
at this distance of time, extremely difficult to say. So far as I
can make out by comparing dates, it went on for about four
years. The work that he did for God in this period, I have no
doubt, was exceedingly useful, as a preparation for the message
of later days. I, for one, believe that there are places, and
times, and seasons, and congregations, in which powerful
preaching of the law is of the greatest value. I strongly sus-
pect that many evangelical congregations in the present day
would be immensely benefited by a broad, powerful exhibition
of God's law. But that there was too much law in Rowlands'
preaching for four years after his conversion, both for his own
comfort and the good of his hearers, is very evident from the
fragmentary accounts that remain of his ministry.

The means by which the mind of Rowlands was gradually
led into the full light of the gospel have not been fully explained
by his biographers. Perhaps the simplest explanation will bf*
found in our Lord Jesus Christ's words, " If any man will do
his will, he shall know of the doctrine'^ (John vii. 17). Row-
lands was evidently a man who honestly lived up to his light,
and followed on to know the Lord. His Master took care
that he did not long walk in darkness, but showed him " the
light of life." One principal instrument of guiding him into
the whole truth was that same Mr. Pugh who, at an earlier
period, had thinned his congregation ! He took great interest
in Rowlands at this critical era in his spiritual history, and
gave him much excellent advice. " Preach the gospel, dear
sir," he would say ; " preach the gospel to the people, and
apply the balm of Gilead, the blood of Christ, to their spiritual

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 15 of 36)