J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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without wife, sister, or brother, to minister to him, he was mer-
cifully kept in great peace to the last. Henry Owen's account
of a visit to him in 1792, the year before he died, is very touch-
ing and interesting. He says, " I lately visited my dear brother
Berridge. His sight is very dim, his ears can scarcely hear,
and his faculties are fast decaying, so that, if he continues any
time, he may outlive the use of them. But in this ruin of his
earthly tabernacle it is surprising to see the joy in his counte-
nance, and the lively hope with which he looks for the day of
his dissolution. In his prayer with me and my children, we
were much affected by his commending himself to the Lord, as
quite alone^ not able to read or hear, or do anything. But he
said, ' Lord, if I have thy presence and love, that sufficeth.' "

Berridge died at Everton vicarage on January 22nd, 1793.


For some little time the infirmities natural to his years had pre-
vented him doing much public work. But he was most merci-
fully spared any long season of pain and disease, and died after
only a few days' illness, the weary wheels of life not so much
broken by sickness as worn out and standing still. His frame
of mind during his last days was very comfortable. He spoke
but little, but what he did say was in terms of gratitude for the
rich support he experienced in the prospect of eternity. He
felt the stability of the rock on which he had been long resting
his hopes of heaven ; and while speaking of the excellency and
preciousness of the Saviour, he said in an emphatic manner,
" What should I do now if I had no better foundation to rest
upon than what Dr. Priestley the Socinian points out?"

He was buried in Everton churchyard on the following Sun-
day, amidst an immense concourse of people assembled from
all parts of the country.

Six clergymen, " devout men, carried him to his grave, and
made great lamentation over him." A funeral sermon was then
preached by the well-known Charles Simeon, from 2 Tim. iv. 7,
8, a text admirably well suited to the occasion. Old Henry
Venn of Yelling, his son John Venn, and Charles Simeon, were
among the few neighbours with whom the good old Vicar of
Everton felt entire sympathy; and his letters give frequent evi-
dence of the value he set on them, and the pleasure he took in
their society.

Berridge's tomb is placed on the north-east side of Everton
churchyard, where formerly those only were buried who had
come to some dishonourable end. But before he died he fre-
quently said that his remains should be laid in that part of the
churchyard, which, he said with characteristic pleasantry, might
be " a means of consecrating it." His epitaph, composed by
himself, is so remarkable in its way, that I think it needless to
make any excuse for giving it entire. It is inscribed on the
south side of his tomb, and at the time of his death required


nothing but the date of that event being inserted to complete
it. True to himself Berridge was quaint even to his grave.

Here lie
the earthly re^la.i\s of

John jjcrribcjc,







Art thou born again ?

No salvation without a new birth I

I was born in sin, February 1716.

Remained ignorant of my fallen state till 1730.

Lived proudly on faith and works for salvation till 1754.

Was admitted to Everton vicarage, 1751.

Fled to Jesus alone for refuge, 1756.

Fell asleep in Christ, January 22, 1793.

I leave the Vicar of Everton here. I have yet other things to
tell about him, but I have no room to give them now. A few
anecdotes illustrating his character, and some account of his
sermons, literary remains, and correspondence, will form the
substance of another chapter.


His Quaintness and Eccentricity — No Quaintness in his Outlines of Sermons — His Style
of Preaching Defended — Specimen of his Quaint Thoughts — His Humility, I,ovc of
Christ, Kindness, Self-Denial, Shrewdness, Courage — His Sympathizing letters.

Every student of natural history knows well that some of God's
creatures are curiously odd-looking and grotesque. There are
birds, like the American toucan, with bills of such enormous


size that we cannot understand how they are used. There are
beasts, hke the Mandril baboon, marked with such brilhant
blue and red colours that we are fairly at a loss to explain their
object. Yet they are all the work of an all-wise Creator. Our
Father made them all. Not one of them could have been made
better. Each and all, we need not doubt, is perfectly adapted
for the place in creation which it was intended to fill.

Thoughts such as these come across my mind when I survey
the character of John Berridge, Vicar of Everton. Never, pro-
bably, did the grace of God dwell in a vessel of such singularly
tempered clay. There was a strange vein of quaintness in his
mental constitution, which seemed to crop out and bubble up
on every occasion. He was continually saying odd things, and
employing odd illustrations to convey his meaning. I do not
for a moment think that he was an intentional "joker of jokes,"
or really wished to set people laughing ; but his mind was so
peculiarly compounded that he could not help putting things
in a ludicrous way. It was in vain that his friends warned him
of his besetting sin, and entreated him to lay it aside. The
poor old evangelist acknowledged his infirmity, and pleaded
that he was born with a fool's cap on, and that a fool's cap was
not so easily put off as a night-cap. Hard as he strove to keep
down his enemy, it was never completely subdued. " Odd
things," he said, " break from me as abruptly as croaking from
a raven." The habit of quaintness was bone of his bones and
flesh of his flesh. It stuck to him as closely as his skin, and
never left him until he was laid in the grave. Quaintly he
thought and quaintly he spoke, quaintly he preached and
quaintly he wrote, quaint he lived and quaint he died. In
this respect I fully concede he was a beacon to be avoided,
and not an example to be followed.

While, however, I admit that Berridge was painfully quaint
and odd, I do not at all admit the justice of Southey's remark,
that he was " buffoon as well as fanatic." This judgment is


unwarrantably severe. The twenty-six Outlines of Sermons,
which his biographer has published, contain abundant proof
that the Vicar of Everton never deliberately prepared buffoonery
for the pulpit. On the contrary, with one or two trifling ex-
ceptions, there is a " conspicuous absence " of anything that
could create a smile. The reader of these Outlines will find
them very simple, very full of Scripture, very spiritual, and very
evangelical. He will find in them, no doubt, nothing very deep
or profound, nothing very striking or original ; though he will
always find man painted in his true colours and put in his right
place, and Christ magnified, glorified, and exalted in every page.
But if he expects to find anything ludicrous, jocose, or absurd,
any quaint anecdotes, or ridiculous illustrations, he will be
utterly and entirely disappointed. I should like those who
decr}^ poor Berridge as a mere pulpit jester, to read over, with
attention, the hundred pages in which Whittingham has recorded
the remains of the good man's preaching. If they do not alter
their opinion very materially, I shall be much surprised. They
will probably agree with me that if the composer of such Out-
lines of Sermons was a " buffoon and a fanatic," it would do
no harm to the Church of England if she had a few more such
" buffoons and fanatics" among her clergy.

In justice to Berridge, I give it as my own deliberate opinion,
that whatever quaintness there was in his sermons, was strictly
confined to the extemporaneous part of them, or to the illus-
trations which struck him on the spur of the moment. At any
rate, there is little or no trace of it in his written Outlines. A
man like the old Fellow of Clare Hall, of great natural genius, and
a keen sense of the ludicrous, with his mind full of Aristophanes
and Hudibras, might surely be lightly judged if he sometimes
said odd things in his sermons. The excitement of seeing a
great multitude hanging on his lips was doubtless great. The
anxiety to say what would arrest and arouse was, doubtless,
overwhelmiiTg. What wonder if he sometimes broke away from


the outlines of his sermons, and said things in the heat of his
zeal which in calmer moments he might condemn] One thing,
at any rate, is very clear from the remains of his preaching, and
that is, that he was a methodical preacher. If he did occasion-
ally break, over the fence, and let fall odd sayings, he managed
to get back into the road, and was sooner or later marching
along in good order.

After all, I venture to think that men are often far too
squeamish in their judgment of preachers. Great allowance
ought always to be made for those who, like Berridge, are con-
stantly preaching in rural districts to uneducated congregations.
None but those who have preached for many years in such
districts can have the least idea of the preacher's difficulties.
There is a gulf between his mind and the minds of his hearers
of which few have the smallest conception. How to get at
their understandings, how to make them comprehend what we
are saying, is the grand problem that has to be solved. Their
standard of taste is not that of Oxford or Cambridge. Things
that sound coarse and vulgar and unrefined to a trained mind
and a well educated ear, do not sound so to them. Their first
and foremost want is to understand what the preacher is talking
about; and he that can make poor farmers and labourers under-
stand what he says is a preacher deserving of the highest praise.
They care nothing for fine abstract ideas and rhetorical figures.
They only care to hear what they can carry away. Now this,
I suspect, was precisely the thing that Berridge never forgot.
His grand aim was to make his hearers understand, and to
attain that aim he sacrificed everything. If he made them
smile, he also made them weep. If he excited them, he did
not let them go to sleep. If he broke the rules of taste, and
made men laugh, he also succeeded in breaking hard hearts,
and making them repent. All honour be to him for his bold-
ness ! Better a thousand times for men to smile and be con-
verted, than to look stiff, and grave, and sleepy in their pews,


and remain dead in trespasses and sins. I do not defend
Berridge's escapades and transgressions of good taste. I do
not recommend him as a model to young preachers. I only
say that those who run him down and depreciate him because
of his quaintness, would do well to remember that he did what
many do not — he awakened and converted souls. Thousands
of correct, and smooth, and prim, and proper clergymen are
creeping through this world, who never broke a canon of taste
in the pulpit, never told an anecdote, never used a vulgar ilkis-
•tration, and never raised a smile. They have their reward!
Their educated friends and relations admire them, and the
world praises them. But they never prick a conscience, never
frighten a sinner, never build up a saint, never pull down a
single stone of the devil's kingdom — never save a soul. Give
me the man who, like Berridge, may commit many mistakes,
and offend many scrupulous ears, but yet reaches hearts, and
helps to fill heaven.

Those who wish to form a correct idea of the singularly
quaint workings of Berridge's mind, must turn from the Outlines
of his Sermons to his other literary remains. These remains
consist of a collection of hymns called "Zion's Songs," a prose
work entitled " The Christian World Unmasked," and a selec-
tion of private letters to friends. The hymns I shall leave
alone. The Vicar of Everton was no more a poet than Cicero
or Julius Cffisar; and although the doctrine of his hymns is very
sound, the poetry of them is very poor, while the ideas they
occasionally present are painfully ludicrous. The " Christian
World Unmasked" is a dialogue between two imaginary
characters about the way of salvation, and contains much that
is pointed and clear; but it is written throughout in such a very
unrefined style, that it is not likely to be extensively useful.
The letters to private friends are excellent, and are worth all the
rest of Whittingham's volume put together. From these and
the "Christian World" I will now select a few specimens of


Lerridge's quaintness. I have spoken a good deal about it,
and it is only just and fair to let the reader see what it wa^

Let us hear how Berridge speaks of human nature: "Nature
lost her legs in Paradise, and has not found them since ; nor
has she any will to come to Jesus. The way is steep and
narrow, full of self-denials, crowded up with stumbling-blocks :
she cannot like it \ and when she does come, it is with huge
complaining. Moses is obliged to flog her tightly, and make
her heart ache, before she casts a weeping look on Jesus. •
Once she doated on this Jewish lawgiver, was fairly wedded to
him, and sought to please him by her works — and he seemed a
kindly husband ; but now, he grows so grim a tyrant, there
is no bearing of him. When she takes a wrong step, his
mouth is always full of cursing, and his resentment so im-
placable, no weeping will appease him, nor promise of amend-
ment." *

Let us hear Berridge about the " Whole Duty of Man : "
"The 'Whole Duty of Man' was sent abroad with a good
intent, but has failed of its purpose, as all such teaching ever
will. Morality has not thriven since its publication; and never
can thrive, unless founded wholly upon grace. The heathen,
for want of this foundation, could do nothing. They spoke
some noble truths, but spoke to men with withered hearts and
loathing appetites. They were like way-posts, which show a
road, but cannot help a cripple forward ; and yet many of them
preached higher morals than are often taught by their modern
friends. Li their way they were skilful fishermen, but fished
without the gospel-bait, and could catch no fry. And after
they had toiled long in vain, we take up their angle-rods, and
dream of more success, though not possessed of half their skill.
God has shown how little human wit and strength can do to
compass reformation. Reason has explored the moral path,

* '■ Christian World," p. ^^A)'^, Whittingham's Edition.


planted it with roses, and fenced it round with motives ; but all
in vain.*

Let us hear him again : " Men are rightly treated in the
reading-desk, and called by their proper name of miserable
sinners. But in the pulpit they are complimented on the
dignity of their earthly, sensual, devilish natures, are flattered
with a princely will and power to save themselves, and orna-
mented with a lusty seam of merit. Justification by faith, the
jewel of the Gospel covenant, the groundwork of the Reforma-
tion, the glory of the British Church, is now derided as a poor
old beggarly element, which may suit a negro or a convict, but
will not save a lofty scribe nor a lewd gentleman. And the
covenant of grace, though executed legally by Jesus, purchased
by his life and death, written and sealed with his blood, is
deemed of no value, till ratified by Moses. Paul declares no
other foundation can we lay beside that which is laid, Christ
Jesus. But men are growing wise above that which is written,
and will have two foundations for their hopes. These are,
fancied merit, added to the meritorious life and death of Christ.
If an angel should visit our earth, and proclaim such a kind of
gospel as is often hawked from the press and pulpit, though he
preached morality with most seraphic power, and till his wings
dropped off, he would never turn one soul to God, nor produce
a single grain of true morality, arising from the love of God, and
aiming only at his glory." t

Let us hear him again : " Once I went to Jesus as a cox-
comb, and gave myself fine airs, fancying, if He were some-
thing, so was I ; if He had merit, so had I. I used him as a
healthy man wiH use a walking-staff — lean an ounce upon it,
and vapour with it in the air. But now He is my whole crutch;
no foot can stir a step without him. He is my all, as he ought
to be if he will become 'my Saviour, and bids me cast all my
care on him. My heart can have no rest unless it leans upon

* "Christian World," p. 335. t " Christian World," p. 341.

Uya; 16


him wholly; and then it feels his peace. But I am apt to leave
my resting-place ; and when I ramble from it, my breast will
quickly brew up mischief Some evil temper now begins to
boil, or some care would fain perplex me, or some idle wants
to please me, or some deadness or lightness creeps upon my
spirit, and communion with my Saviour is withdrawn. When
these thorns stick in my flesh, I do not try, as heretofore, to
pick them out with my own needle \ but I carry all my com-
plaints to Jesus, casting every care on him. His office is to
save, and mine to look to him for help. If evil tempers arise,
I go to him as some demoniac. If deadness creeps upon me,
I go as a paralytic. If dissipation comes, I go as a lunatic. If
darkness clouds my face, I go as a Bartimeus. And when I
pray, I always go as a leper, crying, as Isaiah did, Unclean,
unclean." *

Let us hear what he says in a letter to John Newton, dated
October i8, 1771 : "The foulest stain and highest absurdity in
our nature is pride. And yet this base hedgehog so rolls him-
self up in his bristly coat, we can seldom get a sight of his
claws. It is the root of unbelief Men cannot submit to the
righteousness of Christ, and pride cleaves to them like a pitched
shirt to the skin, or like leprosy to the wall. No sharp culture
of ploughing and harrowing will clear the ground of it. The
foul weed will be sure to spring up again with the next kindly
rain. This diabolical sin has brought more scourges on my
back than anything else ; and it is of so insinuating a nature,
that I know not how to part with it. I hate it, and love it ; I
quarrel with it, and embrace it; I dread it, and yet suffer it to
lie in my bosom. It pleads a right, through»the fall, to be a
tenant for life; and has such a wonderful appetite, that it can
feed kindly both on grace and garbage — will be as warm and
snug in a cloister as a palace, and be as much delighted with a
fine prayer as a foul oath."

* " Christian World," p. 248.


Let us hear what he says in a letter to Samuel Wilkes, dated
August 16, 1774: "Sitting closely on the beach is very sweet
after a stormy voyage; but I fancy you will find it more difficult
to walk closely with Jesus in a calm than a storm, in easy
circumstances than in straits. A Christian never falls asleep in
the fire or in the water, but grows drowsy in the sunshine. We
love to nestle, but cannot make a nest in a hard bed. God has
given you good abilities. This, of course, will make you re-
spected by men of business, and tempt you at times to admire
yourself, and thus bring a smart rod upon your back. Sharp
genius, like a sharp knife, often makes a wrong gash, and cuts
a finger instead of food. We scarcely know how to turn our
backs on admiration, though it comes from the vain world ; yet
a kick from the world does believers less harm than a kiss. I
apprehend a main part of your trial will lie here. When you
are tempted to think gaudily of yourself, and spread your
feathers like a peacock, remember that fine parts in themselves
are like the fine wings of a butterfly, which garnish out the
moth and grub beneath. Remember, too, that a fiend has
sharper parts than the sharpest of us, and that one grain of
godly grace is of more worth than a hundred thousand heads-
ful of Attic wit, or of philosophic, theologic, or commercial

Let us hear what he writes to Lady Huntingdon about the
marriage of ministers, on March 23, 1770: "Before I parted
with honest G., 1 cautioned him much against petticoat snares.
He has burnt his wings already. Sure he will not imitate a
foolish gnat, and hover again about the candle % If he should
fall into a sleeping lap, like Samson, he will soon need a flannel
night-cap, and a rusty chain to fix him down, like a chained
Bible to the reading-desk. No trap so mischievous to the field-
preacher as wedlock ; and it is laid for him at every hedge
corner. Matrimony has quite maimed poor Charles [Wesley],
and might have spoiled John [Wesley] and George [Whitefield],


if a wise Master had not graciously sent them a brace of ferrets.
Dear George has now got his liberty again ; and he will escape
well if he is not caught by another tenter-hook. Eight or nine
years ago, having been grievously tormented with house-keep-
ing, I truly had thought of looking out for a Jezebel myself.
But it seemed highly needful to ask advice of the Lord.
So, kneeling down on my knees before a table, with a Bible
between my hands, I besought the Lord to give me a direc-
tion." I may add that Jeremiah xvi. 2 settled the question, to
Berridge's satisfaction, in the negative.

In another letter he says : *' A man may be constitutionally
meek as the lamb, constitutionally kind as the spaniel, consti-
tutionally cheerful as the lark, and constitutionally modest as
the owl ; but these things are not sanctification. No sweet,
humble, heavenly tempers, no sanctifying graces, are found but
from the cross."

In another letter he says : "A Smithfield fire would unite the
sheep of Christ, and frighten the goats away ; but when the
world ceases to persecute the flocks, they begin to fight each
other. Indeed, the worst part of the sheep is in his head,
which is not half so good as a calf's head ; and with this they
are ever butting at each other."

In another letter he says : " I told my brother Mr. Henry
Venn he need not fear being hanged for sheep-stealing, while
he only whistles the sheep into a better pasture, and meddles
neither with the flock nor fleece. And I am sure he cannot
sink much low^er in credit; for he has lost his character right
honestly by preaching law and gospel without mincing. The
scoffing world makes no other distinction between him and me,
than between Satan and Beelzebub. We have both got tufted
horns and cloven feet; only I am thought the more impudent
devil of the two."

I leave the subject of John Berridge's quaintness here. It
would be easy to multiply quotations like those I have given ;


but I have probably said enough to give my readers some idea
of the strange workings of the good Vicar of Everton's mind. I
do not pretend to defend his odd sayings. I fully admit that they
were calculated to interfere with his usefulness. But, once for
all, I must request my readers not to judge them too severely,
and, above all, to beware of setting down the eccentric author
of them as a ranting fool. Berridge, we may depend on it, was
nothing of the kind. Quaint as his sayings were, a Christian
reader will seldom fail to discern in them a deep vein of common
sense, shrewdness, and sagacity. Odd and unrefined as his
illustrations often were, they wxre just the kind of thing that
arrests and keeps up the attention of rural hearers. Let us
grant that he erred in an excess of quaintness^ but let us not
forget that hundreds of preachers err in an excess of correct
diilness, and never do good to a single soul.

I should be sorry to leave on my reader's mind the impres-
sion that quaintness was the leading characteristic of the good
Vicar of Everton. There were other prominent features in his
character which were quite as remarkable as his quaintness, but
which his detractors have found it convenient to forget. There
were many grand and fine points about this old evangelist,
which deserve to be had in remembrance, and which all who
love pure and undefiled religion will know how to appreciate.
I will briefly mention a few of them, and then draw my account
of him to a conclusion.

Berridge was a man of deep humility. That queen of all the
graces, which adorned Whitefield and Grimshavv so remark-
ably, was a prominent feature in his character. No man could

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 20 of 36)