J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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be more sensible of his infirmities than he was, and no one
could speak of himself more disparagingly than he did. He
says, in 1773: "Ten years ago, I hoped to be something long
before this time, and seemed in a promising way; but a nearer
view of the spiritual wickedness in my heart, and of the spiritual
demands of God's laws, has forced me daily to cry, 'O wretched


man that I am! God be merciful to me a sinner!' I am now
sinking from a poor something into a vile nothing; and wish
to be nothing, that Christ may be all. I am creeping down the
ladder from self-complacence to self-abhorrence; and the more
I abhor myself, the more I must hate sin, which is the cause of
that abhorrence." — " As the heart is more washed, we grow
more sensible of its remaining defilement; just as we are more
displeased with a single spot on a new coat, than with a hundred
stains on an old one. The more wicked men grow, the less
ashamed they are of themselves ; and the more holy men grow,
the more they learn to abhor themselves."

For another thing, Berridge was a man who gloried in our
Lord Jesus Christ., and in all his preaching, speaking, and
writing, delighted to make much of Him. He says, in one of
his letters: "Once I was sensible of my lameness, but did
not know that Christ was to be my whole strength as well as
righteousness. I saw His blood could purge away the guilt of
sin; but I thought I had some natural might against the power
of sin. Accordingly, I laboured to cut away my own corrup-
tions, and pray away my own will, but laboured in the fire. At
length, God has shown me that John Berridge cannot drive the
devil out of himself; but Jesus Christ, blessed be his name,
must say to the Legion, 'Come out.' I see that faith alone can
purify the heart as well as purify the conscience, and that Christ
is worthy to be my all in everything, in wisdom, righteousness,
sanctification, and redemption."

For another thing, Berridge was a man of singular kindness
and self-denial. No man perhaps ever carried on Christ's work
with more thoroughly disinterested views. Whether at home
or abroad he was always giving, and never receiving, and went
through all his immense labours gratuitously. Houses and
barns were rented for preaching, lay-preachers maintained in
all directions, and his own travelling expenses defrayed by him-
self. Whenever he preached in a cottage, he invariably left


half-a-crown for the use of it; and, during his itinerancy, he
actually spent ^j^J^Soo in this way alone. Cases of distress and
suffering always met with munificent help from him. His
whole income, both private and professional, was annually
spent in doing good, and even his family plate was sold to buy
clothes for his itinerant preachers. As to his own habits at
home, they were simple in the extreme. To one who came to
supply his pulpit (the Hon. and Rev. W. Shirley), when absent
from home, he wrote the following quaint intimation : " You
must eat what is set before you, and be thankful. I get hot
victuals but once a iveek for myself, namely, on Saturday; but,
because you are an Honourable man, I have ordered two hot
joints to be got each week for you. Use what I have just as
your own. I make no feasts, but save all I can, to give all I
can. I have never yet been worth a groat at the year's end,
nor desire it." As to his fare abroad, when itinerating in the
eastern counties, he says in another letter: "I fear my weekly
circuit would not suit a London or Rath divine. Long rides,
and miry roads, in sharp weather ! Cold houses to sit in, with
very moderate fuel, and three or four children roaring or rock-
ing about you ! Coarse food, and meagre liquor ! Lumpy beds
to lie on and too short for the feet, with stiff blankets like
boards for a covering ! Rise at five in the morning to preach ; at
seven, breakfast on poor tea; at eight, mount a horse with boots
never cleaned, and then ride home praising God for all mercies!"
For another thing, Berridge was a man of uncommon shrewd-
ness^ good sense^ and sagacity. Never was there a more complete
mistake than to suppose that he, any more than Romaine, was
a mere ranting, weak-headed fanatic. A careful perusal of his
remains will show them to be replete with deep, thoughtful, and
far-sighted remarks. His criticism of Cowper's Poems, his
letters about Lady Huntingdon's College at Trevecca, his well-
balanced statements of some of the most disputed points in the
Calvinistic controversy, and his sensible treatment of enthusiasts


under his ministry, are excellent evidences of this feature in his
character. I know i^w wiser and more comprehensive letters
of advice to a young minister about a sermon than one (not
dated) which Whittingham has inserted at the end of his collec-
tion. Among other things, he says : " When you open your

' commission, begin with laying open the innumerable corruptions
of the hearts of your audience. Moses will lend you a knife,
which may be often whetted at his grindstone. Lay open the
universal sinfulness of men's natures, the darkness of the mind,
the frowardness of the will, the fretfulness of the temper, and
the earthliness and sensuality of the affections. Speak of the
evil of sin in its nature, its rebellion against God as our Sove-
reign, ingratitude to God as our Lawgiver, and contempt both
of his authority and love. Declare the evil of sin in its effects,
bringing all our sicknesses, pains, and snares — all the evils we
feel, and all the evils we fear." — " Lay open the spirituality of

. the law and its extent, reaching to every thought, word, and
action, and declaring every transgression, whether by omission
or commission, deserving of death. Declare man's utter helpless-
ness to change his nature, or make his peace." — "When your
hearers are deeply affected with these things, which is often
seen by the hanging down of their heads, then preach Christ,
Lay open the Saviour's almighty power to soften the hard
heart and give it repentance, to bring pardon to the broken
heart, a spirit of prayer to the prayerless heart, holiness
to the filthy heart, and faith to the unbelieving heart. Let
them know that all the treasures of grace are lodged in Jesus
Christ for the use of the poor needy sinner, and that he is full
of love as well as of power; turns no beggar from his gate, but
receives all comers kindly; loves to bless them, and bestows
allhis bk'Ssings free. Here you must wave the gospel flag,
and •magnify ithe 1 Saviour supremely. Speak it with a full
raouth,;^hra<b'jliis' 'blood 'can wash away the foulest sins, and his
giiace'Siibdufe»the>8t(biut0stf<iOrruptions. Entreat the people to


seek his grace, to seek it directly, to seek it diligently, to seek
it constantly; and acquaint them that all who thus seek shall
assuredly find the salvation of God."

For another thing, Berridge was a man of extraordinary
courage and boldness. He was one of those who could say with
David: " I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, and not
be ashamed." In doing his Master's business, and delivering
his Master's message, he was never stopped for a moment by
fear of personal danger or regard for the opinion of the world.
Neither bishops, squires, nor parsons had any terrors for him.
At an early period of his evangelical ministry he took his line,
and from that line he never swerved. The occasion pf his first
resolving never to be afraid is strikingly described in the follow-
ing anecdote, which I take from the '' Churchman's Monthly
Penny Magazine" for 1852: — -

" In one of the villages in which he was known as a preacher of the new
doctrines, which were then beginning to excite a great sensation in different
spots in England, he was exposed, when passing through it, to the hootings
and revilings of the mob to an extent which frequently chafed his excitable
spirit. This village was composed nearly exclusively of a long, straggling
street, and, as is to be seen in many similar hamlets in England and else-
vfliere, was surrounded on one side by a narrow lane, which, jutting off at
one end, joined it again, by a much wider circuit than that made by the
street, at the other. On one day in which Berridge was about to pass
through this village, his spirit quailed within him, in anticipation of the
rough reception he would certainly meet with from the bigoted inhabitants.
He felt as if he could not encounter it, and accordingly turned into the
narrow lane of which we have spoken just at the moment when a pig-driver
of his acquaintance entered the street with his noisy charge. It was their
hap, each pursuing his own course, to meet again at the farther end of the
village, when the pig-driver, who not only knew Berridge, but knew his
principles, and knew the truth, looked up in his face with a mobt peculiar
expression, and said : ' So yoii are ashamed otit.''

"The saying went to his heart. 'Yes,' he said, 'I have been ashamed
oji't; I resolve, in the strength of God, to be ashamed of it no more, but
henceforth to press after it, firm unto the end.' A resolution which, under-
taken by a resolute mind in the fear of God, was, perhaps, never more
faithfully carried out in the future progress of a long and devoted life."

Last, but not least, Berridge was a man of deep acquaintance


7C'ith Christian experience^ and tender sympathy with the people
of God. Those who fancy that he was a rough, vulgar, ranting
out-door preacher, always full of jests and jokes and high spirits,
and always dwelling on elementary truths, know very little of
the good man's character. Let them read the following letters
carefully, and mark how the itinerant evangelist of Everton
could write to his friends. The first of the three was written
to a friend on the occasion of his wife's death, and will be
found in Whittingham's volume. The other two have come to
me from private hands, and have never been printed before: —

Everton, I\Iarch 26, 1771.

" Dear Brother,— Mr. W informs me of the loss of your dear

wife. You once knew she was mortal ; but she has now put off mortality,
and is become immortal. Can this grieve you? Oh, that I was where. she

now is I —

' Safe landed on thaf peaceful shore,
Where pilgrims meet to part no more.'

vShe was once a mourning sinner in the wilderness, but she is now a glorified
saint in Zion ; the Lord is become her everlasting light— the days of her
mourning are ended. Does this trouble you ? — She was once afflicted with
bodily pains and weakness, encompassed with cares, and harassed with a
crowd of anxious, needless fears; but she has now arrived at her Father's
house, and Jesus has wiped away all tears from her eyes, and freed her in
a moment from all pains, cares, fears, and wants. And shall this affect
you? — You have not lost your wife; she has only left you for a few
moments — left an earthly husband to visit a heavenly Father — and expects
your arrival there soon, to join the hallelujah for redeeming love. Are you
still weeping ? — Fie upon you, brother ! — weeping because your wife can
weep no more ! weeping because she is happy, because she is joined to that
assembly where all are kings and priests ! weeping because she is daily
feasted with heavenly manna, and hourly drinking new wine in her Father's
kingdom ! weeping because she is now where you would be, and long to be
eternally ! weeping because she is singing, and singing sweet anthems to
her God and your God ! — O shameful weeping ! Jesus has fetched your
bride triumphantly home to his kingdom, to draw your soul more ardently
thither, he has broken up a cistern to bring you nearer, and keep you closer
to the fountain ; has caused a moment's separation, to divorce your affec-
tions from the creature; and has torn a wedding-string from your heart, to
set it a-bleeding more freely, and panting more vehemently for Jesus. Here-
after you will see how gracious the Lord has been, in calling a beloved wife
home, in order to betroth the husband more effectually to himself Re-


member that the house of mourning becomes and befriends a sinner ; that
sorrow is a safe companion for a pilgrim, who walks much astray until his
heart is well broken. May all your tears flow in a heavenly channel, and
eveiy sigh waft your soul to Jesus I May the God of all consolation comfort
you through life, and in death afford you a triumphant entrance into his
kingdom ! So prays your friend and brother in the gospel of Christ,

"J. Berridge."

" EvERTON, Sept. 14, 1773.

" Dear Sir, — I received your kind letter, and thank you for it. You
want nothing but an opened eye to see the glory of Christ's redemption ; and
he must give it, and will bestow it, when it is most for his glory and your
advantage. Had you Daniel's holiness, Paul's zeal, John's love, Magda-
len's repentance (and I wish you had them all), yet altogether they would
give you no title to a pardon. You must at last receive it as a ruined sinner,
even as the Cross-thief received it.

" No graces or services of your own can give you a right to pardon ; you
must come to Jesus for it, weary and heavy-laden; and if you are afflicted for
sin, and desirous of being delivered from its guilt and power, no past iniqui-
ties in your life, nor present corruptions of your heart, will be a bar to par-
doning mercy. If we are truly seeking salvation by Jesus, we shall be dis-
posed, as we are really bound, to seek after holiness.

" But remember, though holiness is the zualk to heaven, Christ is the
luay to God ; and when you seek for pardon, you must go wholly out of
your walk, be it good or bad, and look only to Him who is the way. You
must look to him as a miserable sinner, justly condemned by his law, a pro-
per brand for hell, and look to be plucked from the fire by rich and sove-
reign grace. You have just as much worthiness for a pardon as the Cross-
thief had, which is none at all ; and in your best estate you will never have
any more. A pardon was freely given to him upon asking for it freely, and
given instantly because no room was left for delays ; and a pardon is us
ready for you as for him, when you can ask for it as he did, with self-loath-
ing and condemnation ; but the proper seasons of bestowing the pardon are
kept in Jesus' own hand. He makes his mercy manifest to the heart when
it will most glorify his grace and benefit the sinner. Only continue asking
for mercy ; and seek it only through the blood of the cross, without any eye
to your own worthiness, and that blood in due time will be sprinkled on
your conscience, and you shall cry, Abba, Father.

" Present my kindest love to my dear brother Mr. Romaine. The Lord
continue his life and usefulness. Kind respects and Christian salutation to
Mrs. Olney. Grace and peace be with both, and with your affectionate and
obliged servant. J. Berridge."

" EVEKTOX, Nov. 7, 1786.

"Dear Sir, — I received your kind letter, along with your present. T
thank you for the present, as being a token of your respect, and attended, I


find, with your daily prayers for me, which I vahie more than human pre-
sents. The Lord bless you, and lift up the light of his countenance upon
you, and give you a sweet enjoyment of his peace.

"I have hitherto found that Christian people who live in the dark, fearing
and doubting, yet waiting on God, have usually a very happy death. They
are kept humble, hungering and praying, and the Lord clears up their evi-
dences at length in a last sickness, if not before, and they go off with halle-

" From what I know of you, and from the account you give of yourself, I
have no doubt of the safety of your state : yet rest not here, but seek further.
Two things should be carefully attended to by all upright people — one is the
evidence of the Word, the other is the evidence or witness of the Spirit.
The Word says : ' All that believe are justified from all things' (Acts xiii. 39).
I ask, then, do you not place your whole dependence on Jesus Christ for
salvation? Do you not heartily accept of Jesus Christ in all his offices, and
are you not daily seeking to him to teach you and rule you, as well as to
pardon you ? Then you are certainly a believer, and as such are justified in
God's sight from all your sins, according to the plain declaration of God's
Word. Let this encourage you to seek with confidence for the evidence of
the Spirit, to proclaim that justification to your heart. The evidence of the
Word is given to hold up the heart in a season of doubts and fears, and the
evidence of the Spirit comes to scatter those fears. Remember also that
salvation does not depend on the strength of faith, but the reality of it. In
the gospels, Jesus often rebukes weak faith, but never rejects it. Weak faith
brings but little comfort, yet is as much entitled to salvation as strong.

" I have had much of my nervous fever this summer ; never once stirred
out of ray parish, and never further in it than to my church ! Through meicy
I am somewhat better ; and when alone, with a Bible before me, am com-
posed and comfortable, yet scarce able to bear visits, so weak are my spirits.

. . . Give my love to Mr. G -, and tell him from first to last he has been

the friend of my hfeart. I send my kind respects to your partner. Grace
and peace be with you both, and with your affectionate servant,

"John Berridge."

I close my account of the good old Vicar of Everton with
one remark. The man who could write such letters as these is
not one who ought to be lightly esteemed. John Berridge is a
minister who has never been rightly valued on account of his
one besetting infirmity. The one "dead fly in his ointment"
has made the Church ignore his many gifts and graces. Yet
he was a man of whom the world was not worthy. Good
judges of men, such as John Thornton, Lady Huntingdon,
Wesley, Venn, Fletcher, John Newton, Rowland Hill, Charles


Simeon, Jones of Creaton, were all agreed about him, and all
held him in honour. Let us reform our judgment of the good
man, and cast our prejudices aside. Whatever some may-
please to say, we may rest assured that there were few greater,
better, holier, and more useful ministers a hundred years ago
than old John Berridge.


Pcnrn ©emt nnb bis pinistrn.


Born at Barnes, Surrey, 1724— His Ancestors— Curious Anecdotes of his Boyhood and
Youth— Enters St. John's, Cambridge, 1742— Fellow of Queen's, 1749— Curate of We^t
Horsley, 1750— Curate of Clapham, 1754— Change in his Religious Views— Becomes
acquainted with Whitefield and Lady Huntingdon— Married, 1757— Vicar of Hudders-
field, 1759.

■HE seventh spiritual hero of the last century to whom
I wish to direct the attention of my readers, is one
better known than several of his contemporaries.
The man I mean is Henry Venn, for some time Vicar of Hud-
dersfield, in Yorkshire, and afterwards Vicar of Yelling, in
Huntingdonshire. He is the only English minister of the
eighteenth century whom I consider worthy to be ranked with
the six whose memoirs I have already put together— -viz.,
Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, Romaine, Rowlands, and Ber-
ridge. These seven men appear to me, in some respects, to
stand alone in the religious history of England a hundred years
ago. Beside them, no doubt, there were many others of
eminent grace and gifts. But none attained to the degree of
the first seven.

One reason why Henry Venn is better known than many
of his day, is the excellence of the only biography of him.
Few men certainly have been so fortunate in their bio-
graphers as the evangelical Vicar of Huddersfield. In the


whole range of Christian memoirs, I know few volumes so truly
valuable as the single volume of " Henry Venn's Life and '
Letters." I never take it down from my shelves without think-
ing of the words which our great poet puts in the mouth of
Queen Katherine : —

" After my death I wish no other herald,
No other speaker of my living actions,
To keep mine honour from corruption,

But such an honest chronicler as . "

Henry VIII., Act iv. sc. 2.

In fact, almost the only fault I lind with the book is one which
is most rare in a biography — it is too short !

Another reason why Henry Venn's name is so well known to
English evangelical Christians, is the happy circumstance that
he left behind him children who followed him " even as he fol-
lowed Christ." His son, and his son's sons, have all been
thoroughly like-mmded with him. For more than a century
there has never been wanting a minister of his name within the
pale of the Church of England, to preach the same doctrine
which he preached in the pulpit of Huddersfield. The name
of " Venn " has consequently never ceased to be before the
public. When Whitefield and Wesley and Berridge were laid
in their graves, they left no sons " to keep their name in
remembrance," however numerous their spiritual children may
have been. But the family-name of Venn has been so much in
men's mouths for three generations, that there are {t\N English
Christians who are not acquainted with it.

While, however, I fully admit that Henry Venn's name is
well known in this country, I cannot help thinking that there is
much confusion in men's minds as to the period of his ministry,
and the time when he died. Some, I know, are in the habit of
speaking of him as a contemporary of Scott, and Cecil, and
Simeon. Even a writer Hke Sir James Stephen, in an article
contributed to the Edinburgh Review., speaks of him as the


" last of four evangelical fathers," of whom Scott, Newton, and
Milner were the first three ! All these ideas about Venn are
totally inaccurate. The authors of them, I suspect, confound
Henry Venn with his son John Venn of Clapham. Henry
Venn belonged to an earlier generation, and was well known
and popular long before Newton, or Scott, or Cecil, or Simeon,
or Milner, were ever heard of To class him with these good
men is an entire mistake. His true place is with Whitefield,
and Wesley, and Grimshaw, and Rowlands, and Romaine, and
Berridge. These were the men by whose side he laboured.
These were the men with whom he must be ranked. To clear
up Henry Venn's true history, and to convey some correct
information about the main facts of his life and ministry, is the
object that I set before me in the present memoir. Once for
all, I wish it to be understood that the men I undertake to
write about in this work are men of the last century. The men
of the present century are men that I purposely leave alone.

Henry Venn was born at Barnes, in Surrey, on the 2nd of
March 1724 — within twenty-one years of the birth of John
Wesley. He was the descendant of a long line of clergymen,
reaching downwards in unbroken succession from the time of
the Reformation. William Venn died vicar of Otterton, Devon-
shire, in 1 62 1. Richard Venn, his son, succeeded him at
Otterton ; and after suffering greatly for his steadfast adherence
to the Church of England in the Commonwealth times, died
quietly in possession of his living. After him, his son, Dennis
Venn, died vicar of Holberton, in Devonshire, in 1691. And
finally his son, Richard Venn, rector of St. Antholin's, in the
City of London, was the father of the subject of this memoir.
These facts are fi'.U of interest. At the present day the name of
Venn has appeared for seven generations in the clergy list of
the Church of England !

Henry Venn's father is said to have been " an exemplary and
learned minister, very zealous for the interests of the Church of


England, and renaarkable for great liberality towards the poor,
and especially towards distressed clergymen/' Little is known
about him, except the fact that he was the son of a very strong-
minded mother, who said that " Richard should not go to
school till he had learned to say ' No.'" He was once brought
into much public notice, and incurred obloquy, on account of
the opposition which he made, in conjunction with Bishop Gib-
son, to the appointment of Dr. Rundle to the Bishopric of
Gloucester. The grounds of his objection were certain expres-
sions which he had heard Dr. Rundle use, of a deistical ten-
dency ; and the result of his opposition was, that Dr. Rundle
was actually kept out of the see of Gloucester, and was obliged
to content himself with the Irish bishopric of Derry.* When

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 21 of 36)