J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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some things I cannot subscribe to), he concludes his account
of the vicar of Huddersfield and Yelling with the following
passage: "With a well-stored memory, he was an independent,
if not an original, thinker. With deep and even vehement
attachments, he knew how to maintain, on fit occasions, even
to those he loved most, a judicial gravity, and even a judicial
sternness. He acted with indefatigable energy in the throng of
men, and yet in solitude could meditate with unwearied per-
severance. He was at once a preacher at whose voice multi-
tudes wept and trembled, and a companion to whose privacy
the wise resorted for instruction, the wretched for comfort, and
all for sympathy. In all the exigencies, and in all relations of
life, the firmest reliance might ahvays be placed on his counsel,
his support, and his example. Like St. Paul, he became all
things to all men, and for the same reason, that he might by
any means save some."

Such was the last of the seven great spiritual heroes of the
last century. I have dwelt long on his history, but I feel that
he deserves it. He was not the commanding preacher that
either Whitefield or Rowlands was. He did not possess the
polish of Romaine, or the originality of Grimshaw or Berridge.
But, take him for all in all, Henry Venn was a great man.

U'J5) 'JO


Mallvcr of ®riiro anir Vxb ||lhTistrn.

Burn at Exeter, 1714 — Educated at Exeter College, Oxford — Ordained, 1737 — Curate of
Truro, 1746 — At First very ignorant of the Gospel — Mr. Conon's Influence — Effect of
his Preaching — Opposition — Self-denial and Holy Life — Remarkable Effect on Soldiers
— Private Unity Meetings — Died, 1761 — Literary Remains — Preaching.

N intelligent Christian needs not to be reminded that
the Church of Christ has always recognized two
classes of prophetical writers in the Old Testament.
There are four who are called "the greater" prophets, and
twelve who are called "the less." All wrote by direct and
equal inspiration of God ; " all spake as they were moved by
the Holy Ghost ; " and yet we do not hesitate to assign a
higher importance to one class than to the other.

A well-informed man knows well, that in the solar system
some planets exceed others in size and glory. All are bright,
and beautiful, and perfect. All proclaim to the student of the
heavens that the Hand which made them was divine. Yet the
glory of such bodies as Jupiter and Saturn is far greater than
that of Mars, or Venus, or the Moon.

Thoughts such as these come across my mind as I turn from
the seven leading champions of the revival of English religion
in the last century to some of their lesser contemporaries.
There were not a few eminent ministers in our country who
were entirely of one mind with Whitefield and his fellow-
workers, and yet never attained to their greatness. They
sympathized with the great leaders in all matters of doctrine.


They co-operated with them in the main, and rejoiced in their
success. They cheerfully bore their share of the reproach cast
on " Methodism " or evangelical religion. They shrank from
no sacrifices, and spared no pains in setting forward Christ's
gospel. But they did not possess the extraordinary public
gifts of their seven brethren, and did not .therefore leave so
deep a mark on their generation. Like Silas and Timotheus
in St. Paul's days, they did good work in their own positions ;
but not work that attracted so much public attention as that
of the mighty " masters of assemblies " whom I have described
in preceding chapters.

But we must beware that we do not undervalue men merely
because they do not occupy prominent positions in the Church
of Christ. Various and manifold are the gifts of the Holy
Ghost, and he divides them to every man severally as he thinks
fit. One minister is called to preach to thousands, and shake
the world like a "son of thunder;" while another is called to
write hymns or compose books in an obscure corner of the
earth. One man has gifts of voice, and delivery, and action,
and fluency, and memory, and invention, which fit him to stand
up before multitudes — like Paul on I\Iars' Hill, or Luther at
Worms, or Whitefield in Moorfields — and to carry all before
him. Another is shy, and gentle, and retiring, and can only
make his mind work in solitude, quiet, and silence. Yet each
may be an instrument of mighty influence in God's hand. The
last day, indeed, may prove that the work of him whose voice
was never " heard in the street," and who dwelt among his own
people, produced more permanent eff"ect on souls than the
most brilliant open-air sermons. I fear that we are all apt to
exaggerate the value of public gifts, and to depreciate gifts
which make no show before the world. Yet a time may come
when the last shall be found first, and the first last.

Remembering these things, I wish to give some acccunt of
four men of the last century who are far less known than some


of their contemporaries, and yet were eminently useful in their
(lay and generation. The first whom I will introduce to my
readers is Samuel Walker, the curate of Truro, in Cornwall.

Walker was born at Exeter in 17 14, and died in 1761, at the
early age of forty-seven. Partly from the circumstance that his
ministerial life was entirely spent in one of the most remote
corners of England, before railways were invented, and partly
from his habits of mind, which made him entirely decline all
public work of an aggressive and extra-parochial kind, he is a
man whose name is scarcely known to many Christians. Yet
he was one who, in his day, was most highly esteemed by such
men as Wesley, Whitefield, Romaine, and Venn, for his emi-
nent spirituality and soundness of judgment. Above all, he
was one who cultivated his own corner of the Lord's vineyard
with such singular success, that there were few places in Eng-
land where such striking results could be shown from preaching
the gospel as at Truro.

The facts of Walker's life of which any record remains are
few, and soon told. His family resided at Exeter, and was
well connected. He was lineally descended from the good
Bishop Hall, who was for a time Bishop of Exeter, and whose
grand-daughter married a Walker. His grandfather, Sir Thomas
Walker, was member of Parliament for Exeter. John Walker,
Rector of St. Mary the More, in Exeter, who wrote a well-
known volume about the "Sufferings of the Ejected Clergy"
under the Commonwealth, was also a relative of the subject of
this chapter ; in fact, the first edition of the work was pubHshed
in the very year that Samuel Walker was born.

We know little of Walker's boyhood and youth, beyond the
fact that he was educated at Exeter Grammar School, and was
there for ten years — from the age of eight till he was eighteen.
He went to Exeter College, Oxford, in 1732, and in due course
of time took his degree of B.A. in that university. He seems
to have made good use of his time while he was at college, and


to have acquired much knowledge, which he found valuable in
after-life. His biographer particularly mentions that " he culti-
vated logic with much success, and always considered his early
devotion to that science as the foundation of the facility he
afterwards attained in a clear and methodical arrangement of
his ideas. When complimented by his friends, who admired
the lucid and argumentative mode in which he treated every
subject, he always observed that logic had been his favourite
pursuit in youth, and that he recommended it to young divines."
Beside being a reading man, he seems to have been thoroughly
correct and moral in life ; and though utterly destitute of spirit-
ual light or religion, he was mercifully preserved from the
excesses into w'hich many young men plunge at college, to
their own subsequent bitter sorrow. We know nothing more
of Walker's university life. We have no account of his com-
panions, friends, or acquaintances. It is a curious fact, how-
ever, that it is clear, from a comparison of dates, that he must
have been an undergraduate of Exeter College at the very time
when the so-called Methodist movement began, and when
Wesley, Whitefield, and Hervey were commencing their line of
action as aggressive evangelists at Oxford. It is another
curious fact that Lincoln College, of which John Wesley was a
Resident Fellow, stands within fifty yards of Exeter College.
Romaine also w^as at Christ Church at the same time. But
there is not the slightest proof that Walker was acquainted
with any of these good'men.

Walker entered the ministry at the age of twenty-three, in
the year 1737. He was first curate of Dodescomb Leigh, near
Exeter, but only remained there one year. He then travelled
on the Continent for two years, in the capacity of private tutor
to the younger brother of Lord Rolle. On the termination of
this engagement he became first curate, and immediately after
vicar, of Lanlivery, near Lostwithiel, in Cornwall. He only
held this living during the minority of a nephew of the patron,


and finally resigned it in the year 1746. He then accepted
the office of stipendiary curate of Truro, in Cornwall, and
occupied that position for fifteen years, until the time of his
death in 1761.

It is past all doubt that Walker was profoundly ignorant of
spiritual religion at the time of his ordination. Like hundreds
of clergymen, he undertook an office for which he was certainly
not " inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost," and professed him-
self a teacher of others while he himself knew nothing of the
truth as it is in Jesus. He says, in a letter dated 1756: "The
week before my ordination I spent with the other candidates
— as dissolute, I fear, as myself — in a very light and unbecom-
ing manner \ dining, supping, drinking, and laughing together,
when, God knows, we should all have been on our knees, and
warning each other to fear for our souls in the view of what we
were about to put our hands to. I cannot but attribute the
many careless, ungodly years I spent in pleasure after that time
to this profane introduction ; and, believe me, the review shocks
me. While I write, I tremble in the recollection of the wounds
I then gave Jesus."

In this painful and unsatisfactory state of mind Walker spent
the first two years of his ministerial life. Throughout that time
he was diligent and conscientious in the discharge of the
outward duties of his office. He preached, visited, catechised,
reproved, exhorted, and rebuked, but did no good at all.
Ignorant alike of his own heart's disease and of the glorious
remedy provided by Christ's gospel, he laboured entirely in vain.
In fact, he said himself, in after-years, " that though he was well
thought of, and, indeed, esteemed beyond most of his brethren
for regularity, decency, and endeavour to keep up external
attendance, and even for his public addresses, yet he felt he
ought to go sorrowing to the grave, upon a review of the years
so misspent."

The circumstances under which a complete change came


over Walker's heart, character, and ministerial life, were very
remarkable. They supply a most instructive illustration of
God's plan of leading people to Christ by ways " which they
know not." Walker had come to Truro in 1746, with peculiar
pleasure, on account of the notorious gaieties and festivities of
the place, in which the young curate at that time took great
delight. He entered the place a dancing, card-playing, party-
going clergyman, and was known only in that character for the
first twelve months of his ministry. It is said that at this period
" his only ambition was to be courted for his gaiety and admired
for his eloquence, and to become the reformer of the vicious by
the power of persuasion and example." Ignorant he was not
altogether, for, like every well-read man, he had historical no-
tions of the leading doctrines of the Christian religion. But, to
use his own words, " what he knew notionally, he neither felt
nor sought practically." He acknowledges that, even in the
midst of all his official decorum, he " was actuated by two hid-
den principles, as contrary to God as darkness is to light — a
desire of reputation and a love of pleasure." Such were the
beginnings of Walker's ministry ! Such was the unpromising
material which God was pleased to take in hand, and mould and
fashion into a goodly vessel of grace !

The manner of Walker's conversion is thus described by one
of his biographers. "He had been at least a year in his curacy
at Truro before he fell under any suspicion or uneasiness about ^
himself or his preaching. The first impression that he was in
error arose from a conversation between himself and a few of
his parishioners on the subject of justifying and saving faith, to
which he was judiciously led by a pious individual. This was a
Mr. Conon, master of the Grammar School at Truro, who, he
often said, was the first person he had ever met truly possessed
of the mind of Christ, and by whose means he became sensible
thut all was wrong within and without." Mr. Conon was one
of those rare servants of God who, like Job, are found in places


where you would think no good thing could grow, and who serve
to show that grace and not place makes the Christian. Inter-
course between this good man and the curate of Truro gradually
ripened into intimacy, and the result was the total conversion of
the minister through the pious instrumentality of one of his

The change that had come over the curate of Truro was soon
apparent, both in his preaching and practice. It could not be
hid. He ceased to take part in the frivolous worldly amuse-
ments which at one time absorbed his attention. He frankly
acknowledges that he did not take up this new line of action
without a mighty inward struggle, and that it was " long before
he could bring himself to any reasonable measure of indifference
about the esteem of the world, and then only with heart-felt
pangs of fear and disquietude." But he fought hard, and by
God's grace was more than conqueror. At the same time, says
liis biographer, " he began to preach as he felt, declared the
alteration in his views, and faithfully pointed out the evil of the
empty pleasures in which the inhabitants of his parish were
absorbed, and the danger of resting on the mere formalities of
Sabbath worship for salvation. Repentance, faith, and the new
birth became the topics of his sermons — truths which, though
treated with all the power of his highly cultivated mind, brought
down on him hatred as an enthusiast, derision as a madman,
and vehement opposition as the destroyer of harmless joys. An
infidel went even so far as to insult him in the pulpit, an affront
which he bore with singular patience and dignity."

The effects of Walker's new style of preaching seem to have
been very deep and extraordinary. Astonishment and surprise
were the first prevailing feelings in the minds of all. To hear
their curate denouncing the very practices in which he had
lately indulged himself, and pressing home the very doctrines
which he had neglected or despised, was enough to make men's
hair stand on end ! Anger and irritation were naturally excited


in the hearts of hundreds who loved pleasure more than God,
and were determined to cling to the world. But all alike seem
to have been thoroughly aroused and impressed. His biographer
says : " The earnestness of the preacher, and the striking altera-
tion of his habits as well as of his sermons, stirred up the curio-
sity of the people, who, while they were enraged at the fidelity,
were enchained by the eloquence and trembled at the sternness
of their reprover. Evgn out of the pulpit they feared the pre-
sence of their minister. The Sabbath loiterers would retire at
his approach, saying, ' Let us go ; here comes Walker.' His
manner is said to have been commanding and solemn in the
extreme, and his life so truly consistent that at length he awed
into silence those who were at first most clamorous against
him. At last such crowds attended his ministry, that the
thoroughfares of the town seemed to be deserted during the
hours of service, so that it was said you might fire a cannon
down every street of Truro in church time, without a chance
of killing a single human being."

No well-informed Christian will be surprised to hear that a
man preaching and living as Walker did, was assailed by every
kind of persecution. The great enemy of souls will never allow
his kingdom to be pulled down without a struggle to preserve
it. If he cannot prevent a faithful minister working, he will
labour in every way to hinder and impede his work. The
worldly portion of the Truro people resolved to get rid of a
man who pricked their consciences and made them uncomfort-
able. They first tried to injure the curate of Truro with the
bishop of the diocese ; but in this attempt, happily, they failed.
They then endeavoured to prevail on the rector of Truro to dis-
miss him from his cure, a move which led to the following
remarkable result. His biographer says : " Mr. Walker's
enemies, being some of the wealthiest inhabitants of Truro,
found the rector only too willing to listen to their complaints,
and he promised that he would go to his curate and give him


notice to quit his charge. He went ; but like the Gaul who was
sent to the Roman hero to despatch him in prison, he retired
startled and abashed at his lofty tone and high bearing. On
entering Walker's apartment, he was received with an elegance
and dignity of manner which were natural to one who had long
been the charm of society, and became so embarrassed as to be
perfectly unable to advert to his errand. He at length made
some remark which afforded an opportunity of speaking of the
ministerial office and character, which Walker immediately
embraced, and enlarged on the subject with such acuteness of
reasoning and solemnity of appeal to his rector, as a fellow-
labourer in the gospel, that he retreated overwhelmed with con-
fusion, and unable to say a word about the intended dismissal.
He was in consequence reproached with a breach of his pro-
raise, and went a second time to fulfil it. He again retreated
without daring to allude to the object of his visit. He was
pressed to go a third time by one of his principal parishioners,
but replied, ' Do you go and dismiss him, if you can ; I cannot.
I feel in his presence as if he were a being of superior order,
and I am so abashed that I am uneasy till I can retire.' A
short time after this the rector was taken ill, when he sent for
Mr. Walker, entreated his prayers, acknowledged the propriety
of his conduct, and promised him his hearty support if he re-
covered." From this time to the end of his ministry, no weapon
formed against the curate of Truro seemed to prosper. He
held on his way without let or hindrance, though not, of course,
without much hatred, opposition, and petty persecution. But
nothing that his opponents could do, or devise, was able to stop
or silence him. So true is that word of Scripture : " When a
man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be
at peace with him" (Pro v. xvi. 7).

There can be no doubt that Walker's position at Truro was
greatly strengthened by his eminent holiness, self-denial, and
consistency of life. Whatever his enemies thought of his preach-


ing, they could not deny that he was a singularly holy man.
Like Daniel, they could find no fault in him except concerning
the law of his God. Two remarkable instances of his self-
denial and disinterestedness deserve special mention. One is
his voluntary resignation of the vicarage of Talland, to which he
had been appointed about the time of his coming to Truro, with
the bishop's license of non-residence. On becoming a con-
verted man, his conscience told him that he ought not to receive
an income for which he discharged no ministerial duty. Acting
on this principle, he cheerfully gave up the preferment unasked
and unpersuaded, relinquished all his accustomed comforts, and
went into humble lodgings of the plainest kind. The other
instance is even more singular. He refused the opportunity of
marrying a lady eminently suited to be his wife, who would
have readily accepted his hand, on the sole ground that she had
too much fortune. To a friend who seriously advised him to
propose to her, he made the following remarkable reply : " I cer-
tainly never saw a woman whom I thought comparable to Miss

, and I believe I should enjoy as much happiness in union

with her as it is possible to enjoy in this world. I have reason
also to think that she would not reject my suit. Still it must
never be ! What would the world say of me % Would not they
imagine that the hope of obtaining such a prize influenced my
profession of religion % It is easy, they would say, to preach
self-denial and heavenly-mindedness, but has not the preacher
taken care to get as much of this world's good as he could
possibly obtain % It must never be ! I can never suffer any
temporal happiness or advantage to be a hindrance to my use-
fulness." Conscientiousness like this is certainly very rare, and
to many persons may seem totally incomprehensible and absurd.
Whether, also, in Walker's behaviour to the lady, there
was not something of morbid scrupulosity, and whether a happy
marriage might not have lengthened his life and usefulness, are
questions which admit of doubt. But there is no denying that


not a few evangelical ministers have withered their own useful-
ness by marrying wealthy wives. And one thing is very certain,
that Walker's character for eminent disinterestedness and un-
worldliness became so thoroughly established, that in this
material point the breath of slander never touched him to the
very end of his days.

The direct visible effects of Walker's ministry at Truro were
very remarkable and extensive. Worldhness and wickedness
were checked to an extraordinary extent, and even those who
loved sin were ashamed to commit it so openly as they had
done in time past. Not long after he began to preach the real
gospel and to call men to repentance, the theatre and cockpit
in the town were both forsaken, and given up to other pur-
poses ; and similar reforms extended to places in the neighbour-
hood through his instrumentality. The influence of his ministry,
in fact, was singularly felt by many who were never converted.
He said himself that he had reason to think almost all his
hearers at Truro were, at one time or other, awakened more or
less, "although I fear many of them have rejected the counsel
of God against themselves."

Of positive spiritual results in the saving of souls by any one's
ministry, a wise man will always speak cautiously. We see
through a glass darkly, and are easily deceived in such matters.
Yet I see every reason to believe that Walker's ministry at
Truro was really the means of turning hundreds from darkness
to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. It is a certain
fact that in 1754, after he had preached the gospel only seven
years at Truro, he recorded that no less than eight hundred
persons had made particular application to him, from time to
time, inquiring what they must do to be saved. Making every
allowance for many of this number who doubtless drew back
after their first convictions, and returned to their sins, this simple
fact ought to fill our minds with astonishment. The parish of
Truro, even at this day, does not contain more than ten thou-


sand people. A hundred years ago it must have been a much
smaller place. The ministry which in seven years could arrest
the attention of eight hundred persons in such a parish, must
have been one of singular power, and singularly blessed of

One of the most interesting examples of his ministerial suc-
cess w^as the extraordinary effect that he produced on a regi-
ment of soldiers which was quartered in Truro in 1756. As
soon as they arrived. Walker set up a sermon for their special
benefit on Sunday afternoon, which w^as called " the soldiers'
sermon." After a little time the number of attendants became
very large ; and the mere fact that it was a voluntary service,
specially intended for soldiers, no doubt helped greatly to bring
hearers. The attention of the men was thoroughly arrested,

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 26 of 36)