J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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to any mortal's apprehension here. We are so proud, that we
must have something to humble us ; and this is one means to
that end." — (15/// Feb. 1772.)

Let us hear what he says about assurance : " I believe that
the knowledge of our acceptance with God is to be constantly
urged as one of the greatest motives to lead a strict life, and to
abstain from all appearance of evil, seeing the Holy Ghost,
whose testimony alone can satisfy the conscience, will never
dwell with the slothful or lukewarm, much less with presumptu-
ous offenders. Scripturally to state, and firmly to maintain by
sound argument, the knowledge of salvation, is, I believe,
a most useful way of preaching — guarding against hypocrites,
who will sometimes speak great swelling words about these
matters, though themselves the servants of corruption, and con-
scious of the lie they tell in speaking of their joy in the Lord.
I judge that one great reason of the worldliness prevailing
amongst orthodox Dissenters is their teachers not pressing this
point ; and that, amidst very much error, one great cause of
Mr. Wesley's success, some years ago, was his urging Chris-
tians not to rest without joy in God from receiving the atone-
ment."— (1775.)

Let us hear what he says about holiness : " True holiness
is quite of another character than we, for a long time, in any
degree conceive. It is not serving God without defect, but
with deep self-abasement, with astonishment at his infinite con-
descension and love to sinners, to ungodly enemies, and to men
who in their lost estate are exceedingly vile. It is pleasing to


consider bow we are all led into this point, however we may
differ in others ; and were it not for the demon of controversy,
and a hurry of employment which leaves no time for self-know-
ledge or devout meditation on the oracles of God, I am per-
suaded we should very soon be so grounded on this matter,
that bystanders would no longer reproach us for our divisions."

Let us hear what he says about weak faith : "Weak faith
seeks salvation only in Christ, and yields subjection to him,
and brings the soul to his feet, though without assurance of
being as yet saved by him. There is not one duty a weak
believer slights. Weak faith is attended with sorrow and humili-
ation ; as in his case he sai^ with tears, ' Lord, I believe ;
help thou mine unbelief It produces new desires and affec-
tions, new principles and purposes, and a new practice, though
not in such strength and vigour as is found in old established
believers. Ask the weakest and most disconsolate believer,
whether he would forsake and give up his hope in Christ ; and
he will eagerly reply, 'Not for the whole world !' There is,
therefore, no reason why weak believers should conclude against
themselves ; for weak faith unites as really with Christ as strong
faith, just as the least bud in the vine draws sap and life from
the root no less than the strongest branch. Weak believers,
therefore, have abundant cause to be thankful ; and while they
reach after growth in grace, ought not to overlook what they
have already received." — (1784.)

Hear, lastly, what he says about indwelling sin : — " I sympa-
thize with you in your troubles from the corruption of nature.
I feel myself harassed with hardness of heart and coldness of
affection toward God and man, and by slightly performing
secret duties, when I know so well that God is ' a rewarder
(only) of those who diligently seek him,' How totally does the
estimate I made of myself thirty-five years ago differ from what
I know now to be my real condition ! I then confidently


expected to be holy very soon, even as St. Paul was ; and then
there would be no other difference here between me and angels
than that I, by watching, fasting, and praying without ceasing,
had conquered and eradicated sin, which they had never even
known. Now, when I compare myself with the great apostle,
I can scarcely perceive a diminutive feature or two of what
shines so prominently in that noble saint." — (1787.)

2. The second excellency that I notice in Venn is his singular
wisdom and good soise in offering advice to others about duties.
This is a rare qualification. I sometimes think it is almost
easier to find a man of grace than a man of sense. How few
are the people to whom we can turn for counsel on practical
questions in religion, and feel a confidence that they will advise
us well ! The vicar of Huddersfield appears to me to have
possessed the spirit of counsel and of a sound mind in an emi-
nent degree. His letters to Jonathan Scott, John Brasier, and
Lady Mary Fitzgerald, containing directions for living a Chris-
tian life, and a solution of doubts and fears, ought to be read
in their entirety to be fully appreciated. They are so thoroughly
good all the way through that it is not fair to quote from them.
I know nothing in the English language, of a short kind, so
likely to be useful to those who are beginning a Christian life.
His letter to a clergyman on the study of Hebrew and the value
of translations of the Bible, is a model of sensible advice, and
furnishes abundant proof that evangelical clergymen of the last
century were not, as their enemies often insinuated, "unlearned
and ignorant men." Last, but not least, his letters to his son
and other clergymen on the ministerial office and its duties and
trials, and the mistakes of young ministers, are a magazine of
Christian wisdom which will amply repay examination. Indeed,
there are few books which I would so strongly recommend to
the attention of young clergymen as " Venn's Life and Letters."
The truth is, the whole volume is full of strong Christian good
sense, and it is difficult, in giving selections from it, to know


where to begin and where to stop. The following quotations
must suffice.

To a friend at Huddersfield he says, in 1763 : — "The first
thing I would press upon you is to beg of God more light.
There is not a more false maxim than this, though common in
almost every mouth, that ' Men know enough if they would
but practice better.' God says, on the contrary, ' My people
are destroyed for lack of knowledge.' And as at first men live
in sin easy and well pleased, because they know not what they
do ; so after they are alive and awake they do little for God,
and gain little victory over sin, through the ignorance that is in
them. They have no comfort, no establishment, no certainty
that they are in the right path, even when they are going to
God, because the eyes of their understanding are so little
enlightened to discern the things that make for their peace.
In all your prayers, therefore, call much upon God for divine

To a rich widow residing in London he says : — "In the day
when the eternal state of man is determined, the greater part of
those that are lost will perish, not through any gross and scan-
dalous iniquity, but through a deadness to God and his love, an
ignorance of their own sinfulness, and, in consequence of that,
through reigning pride and self-sufficiency. Now, the one
great source of all this miserable disorder, or that at least by
which it is maintained and strengthened, is keeping much com-
pany with those whom the Scripture marks out as engaged in
talk without sense — company, not with near relatives or chosen
friends, not with those for whom we have any real regard, but
with those who come to see us and we go to see them, only
because the providence of God has brought us into one town.
It is this that devours infinitely precious time, and engages us
in mere trifling, when we otherwise should be drawing nigh to
God and growing rich in divine knowledge and grace ; and
such slaves are we naturally to the love of esteem, so eagerly


desirous of having every one's good word, that we are content
to go on in the circle of fashionable folly, while our hearts con-
demn us, and a secret voice whispers, ' This manner of spend-
ing time can never be right.' "

To the same lady he says : — " You certainly judge right not

to restrain your son from balls, cards, &c., since a mother will

Qever be judged, by a son of his age, capable of determining for

him ; and perhaps, after your most strict injunctions to have

done with such sinful vanities, he would be tempted even to

violate your authority. The duty you are called of God to

exercise now is to bear the cross borne at different times and

in divers measures by all the disciples of a crucified Saviour.

True, it is painful to see one's dear child a lover of pleasure

more than of God — painful to see a young creature, born for

communion with God and acquaintance with heavenly joys,

wedded to trivial gratifications and the objects of sense alone.

But such are we ! God prevented us with his goodness, and

sounded an alarm in our souls, or we had been such to this

hour. He expects, then, that your experience should teach

you to wait for patience till mercy apprehend him also.

From the whole, you see you are to learn two most important

lessons from the painful situation you remain in with regard to

your son. The one is, your own weakness and inability to give

a single ray of light, or to excite the faintest conviction of sin, or

to communicate the least particle of spiritual good, to one who

is dearer to you than life. How ought this to take away every

proud thought of our own sufiiciency, and to keep us earnest

importunate suppliants at the door of Almighty mercy and free

grace ! The other lesson is, that your own conversion, and

reception of the Lord Jesus Christ as your portion and

righteousness, ought to be marvellous in your eyes. You have

many kind thoughts and the highest esteem for me, for which I

desire to retain a dear sense in my mind ; but you know I am

merely a voice which said, ' Behold the Lamb of God !' "


3. The third excellency which strikes me in Venn's character
is his singular prude7ice and tenderness in the management of his
children. Few ministers, perhaps, have ever been more success-
ful than he was in the education and training of his family ;
it\y, perhaps, ever trained their sons and daughters with such
unwearying pains, diligence, affection, watchfulness, and prayer.
The families of pious ministers, like the sons of Samuel and
David, have often brought discredit on their father's house ; or,
like the children of Moses, have not been in any way remark-
able. The family of Henry Venn forms a bright exception.
All turned out well ; all proved Christians of no common
degree ; and all gladdened their father's heart in his old age.

It would be impossible, in the narrow limits of this work,
to give any adequate idea of Venn's dealing with his children.
Those who feel an interest in the subject, and would like to
know a most successful parent's mode of communication with
his children, would do well to study the hundred pages of
letters to his children which are to be found in the volume of
his life and letters. Rarely indeed does a father succeed in
uniting faithfulness, spirituality, and deep familiar affection so
completely, in his correspondence with sons and daughters, as
Henry Venn did. I can only find room for three specimens.

To his daughter Catherine he says, in 1781, writing on the
due observance of the Sabbath : — " When I was of your age, I
was, alas ! a mere pretender to religion. Though I constantly
went to the house of God on the Sabbath, I saw not the glory
of the Lord — I understood not his Word — I did not hear it
when it was read — I asked for nothing — I wanted nothing for
my soul, — so foolish and ignorant was I ! I was glad when the
worship was over and the day was over, that my mouth might
pour out foolishness, and that I might return to my sports and
amusements. Oh, what a wicked stupidity of soul ! I am
astonished how God could bear with me. Had he said : ' I
swear thou shalt never ascend into the hill of the Lord, nor see


my face, who findest it such a weariness to be at church, and
art so proud and profane in spirit. No : dwell for ever with
those whom you are like ; dwell with the devil and his angels,
and with all who have departed this life enemies to my name
and glory.' Oh ! had the Lord spoken thus to me in dis-
pleasure, I had received the due reward of my deeds. But
adore him for his love to your father. In this state he opened
my eyes and allured my heart, and gave me to seek him and
his strength and face, and to join all his saints who keep holy
his day, and to be glad to hear them say, ' Come, and let us go
up to the house of the Lord.' Nay, more than this, he gave
me your blessed mother for a companion, who loved exceedingly
the house and day of the Lord ; and repaired to you and me
her loss, by giving me another of his dear children who sancti-
fies each Sabbath with delight, and reverences God's house
with her whole heart. Thus, instead of casting me into hell,
he has made me the father of one dear saint in glory, and of
four more — all of whom, I trust, fear and love the God of their
father and mother, and all of whom, I have a lively hope, I
shall meet in the courts above."

To his daughter Jane he writes, in 1785 : — "A great part of
our warfare is to overcome our natural propensity to seek
happiness in meat and drink, in dress and show ; which only
nourish our disease, and keep us from communion with God as
our chief good. More than thirty-seven years ago he was
pleased, in his adorable mercy, to give me a demonstration
that all was vanity and vexation of spirit but himself. From
that hour (such is the energy of 'divine teaching), rising up and
lying down, going out and coming in, I have felt this truth. 1
began and continued to seek the Lord and his strength and
his face evermore. I was then led to know how the poverty
and emptiness of all terrestrial good could be well supplied
from the fulness of an adorable Jesus. And, oh ! how unspeak-
ably blessed I am that I see my children impressed with the


same precious and invaluable feelings, and that 1 hope, upon
the best grounds, that we shall enjoy an eternity together in
glory, where you shall know your father, not the poor, polluted,
hasty^ sinful creature he now is, but holy, without spot, wrinkle,
or any such thing ; and when I shall know my dear children,
not as emerging from a sea of corruption, and struggling against
the law of sin in their members, and needing frequent intima-
tions to do what is right, but when naturally and continually
all within and without will be perfectly holy. Oh ! what a
meeting will that be, when all my prayers for your precious
souls ever since you were born, when all my poor yet well-
meant instructions and lessons from God's Word, and all your
own petitions, shall be fully answered, and we shall dwell in a
perfect union together !"

To his son John, on his appointment to the rectory of
Clapham, he writes, in 1792 : — "Children, the old adage says,
are careful comforts. I find the truth of this now, particularly
respecting you. I was careful to see you called out to useful-
ness ; and now providentially a great door is found, I am in
daily concern lest you should be hurt and suffer loss in your
new station. You must beware of company ; you must be
much in secret and retirement. Visiting friends, and being
seldom in a solemn spirit before the throne of grace, ruin most
of those who perish among professors of godliness."

The following facts, communicated to me by a connection of
Henry Venn's, are in themselves so deeply interesting, and
throw so much light on his mode of dealing with little children,
that I make no apology for introducing them here. It appears
that one of his daughters married a widower with a family of
young children. These motherless little ones excited a strong
interest in his heart, and he took one of them, only three years
old, to his home at Yelling, and endeavoured to train the child
for God. My correspondent says : —

" The first thing he found out was that the poor child wms


afraid of the dark. That very evening he took him by the
hand, led him into his study, where the shutters were already
closed, and seating him on his knee, with his arm close round
him, he told the timid boy so wonderful a story out of God's
Book as to make the child forget all beside. This he repeated
day by day, till the evening story came to be anxiously expected.
' You will sit by my side to-day, John, and hold my hands,
while you hear a new Bible story,' said the venerable man,
after many a story had been told on the knee ; ' and to-morrow
you will like to sit by me without holding my hands, will }'0u
not?' This point once gained, a seat at a little distance was
chosen, still in the dark \ then one opposite ; then one at the
furthest end of the study ; till, before winter closed, my father
had entirely forgotten his fears of the dark, nor did they at any
period of his hfe ever recur to him."

The advice given by this more than grandfather to the child,
when he left Yelling for school, was often quoted ; and though
for a time he threw off the restraints of religion, and sought
happiness in the world, the closing words of his venerable friend
were never forgotten, and in after-life were repeated to his
children and grandchildren scores if not hundreds of times :
" Remember, little John, if anything could make heaven not
heaven to me, it would be the not having you with me there."

God's blessing did follow that Christian teaching ; and after
a long life spent, first in actively doing, and then in suffering,
his Father's will, that " Little John" rejoined his loved and
honoured teacher in the skies, frequently saying, " When I get
to heaven, how I shall bless God for the early lesson of dear
old Henry Venn !"

4. The fourth excellency that I notice in Venn is his singular
tmworldliness and cheerfulness of spirit. He had his share of
worldly trials ; and these, too, of all sorts and descriptions.
Sickness and severe bodily trials — the loss of his wife in the
middle of his abundant labours at Huddersficld — straitened


circumstances, arising out of the extreme scantiness of his
professional income,' — all these things broke in upon him from
time to time, and sorely tried his faith. But he seems to have
been wonderfully strengthened throughout all his troubles. He
preserved a cheerful frame of mind under every cross and trial,
and was always able to see blue sky even in the gloomiest day.

His very portrait gives one the impression of a happy Chris-
tian. As we look at it, we can well understand the story that
on more than one occasion he was asked to preach by clergy-
men who did not know him, under the idea that he was a jolly
parson of the old school, and not a Methodist preacher ! *
They judged of him by his smiling face, and could not imagine
that the man who had such a countenance could be the friend
of Whitefield, Berridge, and Wesley. Striking, indeed, is the
lesson that the incident contains. Well would it be for the
Church of Christ if all preachers of the gospel were more care-
ful to recommend their principles by their demeanour, and to
show by their bearing that their Master's service is truly happy.

One single extract from his correspondence will suffice to
show the vicar of Huddersfield's unworldly spirit. He heard
that a lady, who knew and valued him, had made a will,
leaving him a large sum of money. He at once wrote her a
letter, positively declining to accept it, of which the following
extract is a part : " I understand by my wife your most kind
and generous intention toward me in your will. The legacy
would be exceedingly acceptable ; and I can assure you the
person from whom it would come would greatly enhance the
benefit. I love my sweet children as much as is lawful ; and
as I know it would give you pleasure to administer to the
comfort of me and mine, I should with greater joy accept of
your liberality.

" But an insurmountable bar stands in the way — the love of

^ All Evangelical clergymen a hundred years ago were called "Methodists." Many
people in the present day arc not aware of this fact.


Him to whom we are both indebted, not for a transient benefit,
for silver or gold, but, for an ' inheritance incorruptible, unde-
filed, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.'
His honour, his cause, is, and must be, dearer to his people
than wife, children, or Hfe itself It is the pious resolve of his
saints, ' I count all things but loss for the excellency of the
knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.' To be, therefore, a
s stumbling-block in the way of any that are seeking him, to give
the least countenance to any that would gladly bring his
follow^ers into contempt, would grieve me while in health,
darken my mind in sickness, and load me with self-condemna-
tion on my death-bed. After the most mature deliberation,
therefore, it is our request that you will not leave us any other
token of your regard than something of little value."

5. The last excellency that I note in Henry Venn is his
extraordinary catholicity and kindliness of spirit, a?id his readiness
to love and honour his brethren. Jealousy among ministers of
Christ is, unhappily, a very common feeling. Nowhere, per-
haps, will you find men so slow^ to recognize the gifts of others,
and so quick to detect their faults, as in the ranks of preachers
of religion. Of all the men of last century who attained
eminent usefulness, I find none so free from jealousy as Henry
Venn. He seems to delight in speaking well of his fellow-
labourers, and to rejoice in their gifts and success.

It would be taking up too much room to quote all the
expressions he uses about his contemporaries. Let it sufllice to
say that I find in his " Life " repeated kind words about the
following men, — Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, Romaine,
Walker, Conyers, Hervey, Howell Harris, Berridge, Fletcher,
Robinson, Newton, Adams, Cecil, Scott, and Abraham Booth
the Baptist. That list alone is enough to show the largeness
and warmth of Venn's heart. To suppose that he agreed with
all these good men in all things, is simply unreasonable. But
he had a quick eye to see grace, and a ready mind to acknow-


ledge and admire it. Well would it be for the Church of
Christ, if all ministers were more of his frame and spirit in this
matter ! Envy and jealousy are too often the greatest blots on
the character of great men.

It only remains for me, now, to conclude my account of
Henry Venn by quoting the language used about him by three
good judges, though very different men.

Let us hear what Cowper the poet thought of him. He says,
in a letter to Newton, written in 1791: "I am sorry that Mr.
Venn's labours below are so near to a conclusion. I have seen
few men whom I could have loved more, had opportunity been
given me to know him better ; so at least I have thought as
often as I have seen him."

Let us hear what Charles Simeon of Cambridge thought of
him. He says : " I most gladly bear my testimony that not
the half, nor the hundredth part, of what might have been justly
said of that blessed man of God has been spoken. If any
person now living, except his children, is qualified to bear this
testimony, it is I, who, from my first entrance into orders to
his dying hour, had most intimate access to him, and enjoyed
most of his company and conversation. How great a blessing
his conversation and example have been to me will never be
known till the day of judgment. I dislike the language of
panegyric, and therefore forbear to expatiate on a character
which, in my estimation, was above all praise. Scarcely ever
did I visit him but he prayed with me, at noon-day, as well as
at common seasons of family-worship. Scarcely ever did I
dine with him but his ardour in returning thanks, sometimes in
an appropriate hymn, sometimes in prayer, has inflamed the
souls of all present. In all the twenty-four years that I knew
him, I never remember him to have spoken unkindly of any
one but once ; and then I was struck with the humiliation he
expressed for it in prayer next day."

Let us hear, lastly, what Sir James Stephen thouglit of Henry


Venn. In his " Essays on Ecclesiastical Biography " (amidst

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 25 of 36)