J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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Art thou tempted to kill thyself? So was he. Art thou
tempted by the vanities of the world? So was he. Art thou
tempted to idolatry? So was he; yea, even to worship the
devil. He was tempted from the manger to the cross. He
was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief The Head in
heaven is sympathizing with the feet that are pinched and pressed
on earth, and says, 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?'"

(195} 14

2 I o ins INNER LIFE

I should find no difficulty in adding to these extracts, if
the space at my command did not forbid me. Feeble and
unsatisfactory, as they undoubtedly are, in the form of a trans-
lation, they will perhaps give my readers some idea of what
Rowlands was in the pulpit, so far as concerns the working of
his mind. Of his manner and delivery, of course, they cannot
give the least idea. It would be easy to fill pages with short,
epigrammatic, proverbial sayings culled from his sermons,
of which there is a rich abundance in many passages. But
enough, perhaps, has been brought forward to give a general
impression of the preaching that did such wonders at Llan-
geitho. Those who want to know more of it should try to get
hold of the little volume of translated sermons from which my
extracts have been made. Faintly and inadequately as it repre-
sents the great Welsh preacher, it is still a volume worth hav-
ing, and one that ought to be better known than it is. Scores
of books are reprinted in the present day which are not half so
valuable as Rowlands' eight sermons.

The inner life and ])rivate character of the great Welsh
preacher would form a deeply interesting subject, no doubt, if
we knew more about them. But the utter absence of all
materials except a few scattered anecdotes leaves us very much
in the dark. Unless the memoirs of great men are written
by relatives, neighbours, or contemporaries, it stands to reason
that we shall know little of anything but their public conduct
and doings. This applies eminently to Daniel Rowlands. He
had no Boswell near him to chronicle the details of his long
and laborious life, and to present him to us as he appeared at
home. The consequence is, that a vast quantity of interesting
matter, which the Church of Christ would like to know, lies
buried with him in his grave.

One thing, at any rate, is very certain. His private life was
as holy, blameless, and consistent, as the life of a Christian
can be. Some fifteen years ago, the Quarterly Reuiew contained


an article insinuating that he was addicted to drunkenness,
which called forth an indignant and complete refutation from
many competent witnesses in South Wales, and specially from
tlie neighbourhood of Llangeitho. That such charges should
be made against good men need never surprise us. Slander
and lying are the devil's favourite weapons, Avhen he Avants to
injure the mightiest assailants of his kingdom. Satan is pre-
eminently " a bar." Bunyan, Whitefield, and Wesley had to
drink of the same bitter cup as Rowlands. But that the charge
against Rowlands was a mere groundless, malicious falsehood,
was abundantly proved by Mr. Griffith, the vicar of Aberdare, in
a reply to the article of the Quarterly Review, printed at Car-
diff We need not be reminded, if we read our Bibles, who it
was of whom the wicked Jews said, " Behold a man gluttonous,
and a winebibber, a friend of pubhcans and sinners" (Matt,
xi. 19). If the children of this world cannot prevent the gos-
pel being preached, they try to blacken the character of the
preacher. What saith the Scripture? "The disciple is not
above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough
for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his
lord. If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub,
how much more shall they call them of his household V
(Matt. X. 24, 25).

The only light that we can throw on the character and private
habits of Rowlands is derived from the few anecdotes Avhich
still survive about him. I shall, therefore, conclude my account
of him by presenting them to my readers without note or com-

One leading feature in Rowlands' character was his hutnility.
Like every eminent servant of God of whom much is known,
he had a deep and abiding sense of his own sinfulness, weak-
ness, and corruption, and his constant need of God's grace.
On seeing a vast concourse of people coming to hear him, he
would frequently exclaim : " Oh, may the Lord have mercy on


me, and help me, a poor worm, sinful dust and ashes !" — When
a backslider was pointed out to him, who had once been one
of his followers, he said : " It is to be feared indeed that lie is
one of my disciples ; for had he been one of my Lord's disciples,
he would not have been in such a state of sin and rebellion."
He often used to say, during his latter days, that there were four
lessons which he had laboured to learn throughout the whole
course of his religious life, and yet that he was but a dull
scholar even in his old age. These lessons were the following
— (i.) To repent without despairing; (2.) To believe without
being presumptuous; (3.) To rejoice without falling into levity;
(4.) To be angry without sinning. He used also often to say,
that a self-righteous legal spirit in man was like his shirt, a gar-
ment which he puts on first, and puts off last.

A habit oi praying much was another leading characteristic of
Rowlands. It is said that he used often to go to the top of
Aeron Hills, and there pour out his heart before God in the
most tender and earnest manner for the salvation of the
numerous inhabitants of the country which lay around him.
" He lived," says Morgan, " in the spirit of prayer, and hence
his extraordinary success. On one occasion having engaged
to preach at a certain church which stood on an eminence, he
had to cross a valley in sight of the people, who were waiting
for him in the churchyard. They saw him descend into the
bottom of the valley, but then lost sight of him for some time.
At last, as he did not come up by the time they expected, and
service-time had arrived, some of them went down the hill in
search of him. They discovered him, at length, on his knees
in a retired spot a little out of the road. He got up when he
saw them, and went with them, expressing sorrow for the
delay; but he added, ' I had a delightful opportunity below.'
The sermon which followed was most extraordinary in power
and effect."

Diligence was another distinguishing feature in the character


of Rowlands. He was continually improving his mind, by read-
ing, meditation, and study. He used to be up and reading as
early as four o'clock in the morning ; and he took immense
pains in the preparation of his sermons. Morgan says, " Every
part of God's Word, at length, became quite familiar to him.
He could tell chapter and verse of any text or passage of Scrip-
ture that was mentioned to him. Indeed the word of God
dwelt richly in him. He had, moreover, a most retentive
memory, and when preaching, could repeat the texts referred
to, off-hand, most easily and appropriately."

Self-denial was another leading feature of Rowlands' char-
acter. He was all his life a very poor man ; but he was always
a contented one, and lived in the simplest way. Twice he re-
fused the offer of good livings — one in North Wales, and the
other in South Wales — and preferred to remain a dependent
curate with his flock at Llangeitho. The offer in one case
came from the excellent John Thornton. When he heard that
Rowlands had refused it, and ascertained his reasons, he wrote
to his son, saying, " I had a high opinion of your father before,
but now I have a still higher opinion of him, though he declines
my offer. The reasons he assigns are highly creditable to him.
It is not a usual thing with me to allow other people to go to
my pocket; but tell your father that he is fully welcome to do
so whenever he pleases." The residence of the great Welsh
evangelist throughout life was nothing but a small cottage pos-
sessing no great accommodation. His journeys, wdien he went
about preaching, were made on horseback, until at last a small
carriage was left him as a legacy in his old age. He was con-
tent, when journeying in his IMaster's service, with very poor
fare and very indifferent lodgings. He says himself, " We used
to travel over hills and mountains, on our little nags, without
anything to eat but the bread and cheese we carried in our
pockets, and without anything to drink but water from the
springs. If we had a little buttermilk in some cottages we


thought it a great thing. But now men must have tea, and
some, too, must have brandy !" Never did man seem so
thoroughly to realize the primitive and apostoHc rule of life —
" Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.'*

Courage was another prominent feature in Rowlands' char-
acter. He was often fiercely persecuted when he went about
preaching, and even his life was sometimes in danger. Once,
when he was preaching at Aberystwith, a man swore in a
dreadful manner that he would shoot him immediately. He
aimed his gun, and pulled the trigger, but it would not go
off. — On another occasion his enemies actually placed gun-
powder under the place where he was about to stand when
preaching, and laid a train to a distant point, so that at a
given time they might apply a match, and blow up the
preacher and congregation. However, before the time arrived, a
good man providentially discovered the whole plot, and brought
it to nothing. — On other occasions riotous mobs were assembled,
stones were thrown, drums beaten, and every effort made to
prevent the sermon being heard. None of these things ever
seems to have deterred Rowlands for a moment. As long as
he had strength to work he went on with his Master's busi-
ness, unmoved by opposition and persecution. Like Colonel
Gardiner, he " feared God, and beside him he feared nothing."
He had given himself to the work of preaching the gospel,
and from this work he allowed neither clergy nor laity, bishops
nor gentry, rich nor poor, to keep him back.

Fervent and deep feeling was the last characteristic which I
mark in Rowlands. He never did anything by halves.
Whether preaching or praying, whether in church or in the
open air, he seems to have done all he did with heart and
soul, and mind and strength. " He possessed as much ani-
mal spirits," says one witness, "as were sufficient for half-a-
dozen men." This energy seems to have had an inspiring
effect about it, and to have swept everything before it like a,


fire. One who went to hear him every month from Carnar-
vonshire, gives a striking account of his singular fervour when
Rowlands was preaching on John iii. 16. He says, " He dwelt
with such overwhelming, extraordinary thoughts on the love
of God, and the vastness of his gift to man, that I was
swallowed up in amazement. I did not know that my feet
were on the ground ; yea, I had no idea where I was, whether
on earth or in heaven. But presently he cried out with a
most powerful voice, ' Praised be God for keeping the Jews
in ignorance respecting the greatness of the Person in their
hands ! Had they known who he was, they would never have
presumed to touch him, much less to drive nails through his
blessed hands and feet, and to put a crown of thorns on his
holy head. For had they known, they would not have cruci-
fied the Lord of glory.' "

I will wind up this account of Rowlands by mentioning a
little incident w^hich the famous Rowland Hill often spoke
of in his latter days. He was attending a meeting of INIetho-
dist ministers in Wales in one of his visits, when a man,
nearly a hundred years old, got up from a corner of the
room and addressed the meeting i;i the following words: —
"Brethren, let me tell you this: I have heard Daniel Row-
lands preach, and I heard him once say, Except your con-
sciences be cleansed by the blood of Christ, you must all
perish in the eternal fires." Rowlands, at that tune, had been
dead more than a quarter of a century. Yet, even at that
interval, "though dead he spoke." It is a faithful saying, and
w^orthy of all remembrance, that the ministry which exalts
Christ crucified most, is the ministry which produces most last-
ing effects. Never, perhaps, did any preacher exalt Christ more
than Rowlands did, and never did preacher leave behind him
such deep and abiding marks in the isolated corner of the
world where he laboured a hundred years ago.


foljit §ttribge anb bis P^htisirn.



Born at Kingston, Notts, 1716 — Educated at Nottingham — Fails to learn the Business of a
Grazier — Goes to Clare Hall, Cambridge, 1734 — Elected Fellow of Clare, 1742 —
Curate of Stapleford, 1749 — Vicar of Everton, 1755 — Begins to Preach the Full Gospel,
1757 — Open-air Preaching — Itinerant and Extra-parochial Ministrations — Singular Phy-
sical Effect on some Hearers — Opposition and Persecution — Dies, 1793 — His Epitaph.

HUNDRED years ago there were spiritual giants in
tlie Eastern Counties of England, as well as in Lan-
cashire and Wales. The sixth leader of the great
revival of last century whom I wish to introduce to my readers,
was a man as remarkable in his way as either Grimshaw or Row-
lands. Like them, he lived in an obscure and out-of-the-way
village. But, like them, he shook the earth around him, and was
one of those who "turn the world upside down." The man I mean
is John Berridge, Vicar of Everton, in the county of Bedfordshire.
Of all the English evangelists of the eighteenth century, this
good man was undeniably the most quaint and eccentric. With-
out controversy he was a very odd person, a comet rather than
a planet, a man who must be put in a class by himself, a
minister who said and did things which nobody else could say
or do. But the eccentricities of the Vicar of Everton are pro-
bably better known than his graces. With all his peculiarities,
he was a man of rare gifts, and deeply taught by the Holy Ghost.
Above all, he was a mighty instrument for good in the orbit in


which he moved. Few preachers, perhaps, a hundred years
ago, were more honoured by God and more useful to souls than
the eccentric John Berridge.

My account of this good man is compiled from very scanty
materials. A single volume, of no great size, containing his
literary remains, and a short biography by his curate, Mr. Whit-
tingham, is the only source of information about him that I can
find. In this, however, there is nothing that should surprise us.
He was never married, and lived entirely alone. He resided
in an isolated rural parish, far away from London, in days when
there were no railways, and even turnpike roads were not good.
He was settled at a distance from his own family, in a county
where, apparently, he had no relatives or connections. He
wrote very little, and was chiefly known by his preaching,"
Add to these facts the mighty one, that Berridge belonged to
" a sect everywhere spoken against," and we need not wonder
that the records remaining of him are very few. But there is a
memorial of him that will never perish. The last day will show
that his Master kept " a book of remembrance," and that " his
record was on high."

John Berridge was born at Kingston, in the county of Not-
tinghamshire, on j\Iarch i, 17 16, within a very few years of
Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, Romaine, and Rowlands. The
village in which he was born may be seen any day from Keg-
worth Station by those who travel to the north along the Mid-
land Railway. His father was a wealthy farmer and grazier
at Kingston^ who married a Miss Sarah Hathwaite, in the year
1 7 14. John Berridge was his eldest son. He had three other
sons, about whom I can find out nothing, except that his brother
Thomas lived and died at Chatteris, in the Isle of Ely, and
survived the- subject of this memoir.*

* A well-informed correspondent expresses some doubt as to Thomas Berridge having
died at Chatteris. He says there is reason to think that he lived and died at Draycott in
Derbyshire. He also says that in 184 1 a direct lineal descendant of one of John Berridge's
brothers was living at Sutton-Bonnington, in Nottinghamshire.


The first fourteen years of Berridge's life were chiefly spent
with an aunt at Nottingham, with whom he was a particular
favourite. Here also he received the groundwork of his educa-
tion, but at what school, and under what teacher, I have been
unable to ascertain. It is evident that even when a boy he was
remarkable for seriousness and steadiness ; so much so, as to
excite the attention of all who knew him. There is not, how-
ever, the slightest proof that he knew anything at this time of
scriptural religion ; nor was it likely, I fear, in those days, that
he would hear anything about it in Nottingham. No doubt, in
after-life he had abundant reason to be thankful for his early
morality. Steadiness and correctness of life, of course, are not
conversion, and save no man's soul. But still they are not to
be despised. The scars left by youthful sins, even after for-
giveness and complete reconciliation with God, are never wholly
effaced, and the recollection of them often causes bitter sorrow.

Berridge himself ascribes his first serious impressions to a
singular circumstance : — " One day, as he was returning from
school, a boy, who lived near his aunt, invited him into his
house, and asked if he might read to him out of the Bible. He
consented. This, however, being repeated several times, he
began to feel a secret aversion, and would gladly have declined
if he had dared. But having obtained the reputation of being
pious, he was afraid to risk it by refusal. One day, however,
as he was returning from a fair, where he had been spending a
holiday, he hesitated to pass the door of his neighbour, lest he
should be invited as before. The boy, however, was waiting
for him, and not only invited him to come in and read the
Bible, but also asked if they should pray together. It was then
that Berridge began to perceive he was not right before God, or
else he would not have felt the aversion that he did to the boy's
invitations. And such, he says, was the effect of that day's
interview, that not long afterwards he himself began a similar
])ractice with his companions."


Facts such as these are always interesting to those who study-
God's ways of deahng with souls. It is clear that he often
"moves on the face" of hearts by his Spirit long before he
introduces light, order, and life. We must never despise the
" day of small things." The impressions and convictions of
children, especially, ought never to be rudely treated or over-
looked. They have often a green spot in their characters which
ought to be carefully cultivated by good advice, kind encourage-
ment, and prayer. Berridge, unfortunately, seems to have had
no one near him at this critical period to guide and direct him.
Who can tell but the counsel of some Aquila or Priscilla, if they
had found him at Nottingham, might have saved him from
many years of darkness, and from many agonizing exercises of
mind %

At the age of fourteen Berridge left school, and returned to
his home at Kingston, with the intention of taking up his
father's business. This plan, however, soon fell to the ground.
For some time his father used to take him about to markets
and fairs, in order that he might become familiar with the price
of cattle, sheep, and pigs, and learn his business by observa-
tion and experience. The next step, of course, was to ask him
to give his judgment of the value of animals which his father
wished to purchase — a matter in which necessarily lies the
whole secret of a grazier's success. Here, however, poor John
was so invariably wrong in his estimates, that old Mr. Berridge
began to despair of ever making him fit to be a grazier ; and
used often to say, "John, I find you cannot form any idea of
the price of cattle, and I shall have to send you to college to
be a light to the Gentiles."

How long this state of suspense about Berridge's future life
continued, we have no means of ascertaining. In all proba-
bility it went on for two or three years, and was a cause of much
family trouble. An old Nottinghamshire grazier was not likely
to let his eldest son forsake oxen and sheep, and go to college,


without a hard struggle to prevent him. But the son's distaste
for his father's caUing was deep and insuperable. His religious
impressions, moreover, were kept up and deepened by conversa-
tion with a tailor in Kingston, with whom he became so inti-
mate that his friends threatened to bind him to articles of
apprenticeship under him. At last old Mr. Berridge, seeing
that his son had no apparent inclination for anything but read-
ing and religion, had the good sense to give up his cherished
plans, and to consent to his going to Cambridge. And thus
John Berridge was finally entered at Clare Hall on October 28,
1734, in the nineteenth year of his age.

God's ways are certainly not like man's ways. Curious as it
may appear, for fourteen or fifteen years after entering Clare
Hall, John Berridge seems to have gone backward rather than
forward in spiritual things. He took his degree as B.A. in 1738,
and as M.A. in 1742; and about the same time was elected
Fellow of his College, and resided there, doing comparatively
nothing, till 1749. He was a hard-reading man, and made such
progress in every branch of literature that he obtained a high
reputation in the University as a thorough scholar. A clergy-
man who knew him well for fifty years, said that he was as
^ familiar with Greek and Latin as he was with his mother tongue.
He says himself that he sometimes, at this period of his life,
read fifteen hours a-day. But his very cleverness became a
snare to him. His natural love of humour and social disposi-
tion entailed on him many temptations. His acquaintance was
courted by people of high rank and position ; and men like the
elder Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham, were among his intimate
associates and friends. All this, no doubt, was very pleasant to
flesh and blood, but very bad for his soul. In short, he had to
learn, by bitter experience, that wit and brilliant powers of con-
' versation, like beauty, musical skill, and a fine voice, are very
perilous possessions. They seem to help people forward in this
world, but they are in reality most dangerous to their possessors.


Whittingham, his biographer, says of him at tliis time : —
" ' Hudibras ' was so familiar to him, that he was at no loss in
using any part of it on any occasion. AVhile he was at college,
if it was known he would be present at any public dinner, the
table was sure to be crowded with company, who were delighted
with the singularity of his conversation and his witty sayings.. '
But as ' evil communications corrupt good manners,' so Eer-
ridge speedily caught the spirit of his company, and drank in
the Socinian scheme of religion to such a degree that he lo-st
all his serious impressions, and discontinued private prayer fo-r
the space of ten years, a few intervals excepted ! In these in-
tervals he would weep bitterly, reflecting on his sad staSe of^
mind compared with what it was when he first came to the
University; and he would often say to a fellow- student, after-
wards an eminent clergyman, ' Oh that it were with me as> in
years past !' "

This part of Berridge's history is indeed a melancholy pic^uiire.
It is the more so when we remember that it was during this
period of his life that he must have taken holy orders as a Fel-
low of Clare Hall, and professed that he was " inwardly moved
by the Holy Ghost" to take upon him the office of a minister t
He was probably ordained by the Bishop of Ely. How utterly
unfit he was for the ministerial office, we may see at a gb^nce
from the account given of him by Whittingham. Yet it is a
sorrowful fact, I fear, that the case of Berridge has only be-en
that of thousands. No earthly condition appears to be so
deadening to a man's soul as the position of a resident Fellow
of a college, and the society of a Common room at Oxford o^r
Cambridge. If Berridge fell for a season before the influences
brought to bear upon his soul at Clare Hall, we must in justice
remember that he was exposed to extraordinary temptations.

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 18 of 36)