J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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the httle band whom God sent into the world at a special time,
to do a special work together in England. Whitefield, Wesley,
Grimshaw, Berridge, Rowlands, Romaine, Venn, Walker, and
Hervey, were all born in the first twenty years of the eighteenth
century, between 1700 and 1720.

The facts and events of Hervey's life are singularly few. He
was educated at the Grammar School of Northampton, and
remained there from the time he was seven years old till he
was seventeen. Two things only are recorded about his school-
boy life. One is, that he was very skilful and dexterous in all
games and recreations. The other is, that he made great pro-
gress in Latin and Greek, and would have got on even faster
than he did, if his schoolmaster had allowed him. But it
appears that this worthy pedagogue made it a rule never to allow
any of his pupils to learn quicker than his own son ! The
fiction of " Do-the-boys Hall," it may be feared, is built on a
very broad foundation of facts. Obscure Yorkshire schools
are not the only academies where little boys are victimized
and unfairly used.

In the year 1731, Hervey was sent to Oxford, and entered
at Lincoln College. The first two years of his University life
appear to have been spent in idleness. Like many young men,
he suffered much from the want of some wise friend to advise
and direct him in his studies. In 1733, however, he became
acquainted with the two Wesleys, Whitefield, Ingham, and
other steady young men, and derived great benefit from their
society. Under their influence and example, he began a steady
course of reading, and made himself master of such books as
" Derham's Astro-Theology," " Ray's Wisdom of God in Crea-
tion," and other works of a similar kind. He also commenced
the study of the Hebrew language. Nor was this all. He
began to follow his new companions in their efforts to attain
and promote a high standard of religion. Like them, he began


to live by method, received the communion every Sabbath,
visited the sick and the prisoners in jail, and read to poor
people. The last three years of his Oxford life were thus use-
fully employed, and the result was that he left the University,
in 1736, with a good foundation of steady habits of living, and
with a very fair amount of knowledge and scholarship. His
literary remains, indeed, supply abundant proof that, consider-
ing the times he lived in, he was a well-read and well-educated

No one seems to have been more useful to Hervey, at this
period of his life, than John Wesley. At a later date, after
doctrinal differences had separated the two men, the Rector of
Weston Favell bore grateful and honourable testimony to this
fact. He says, in one of his letters : " I heartily thank you, as
for all other favours, so especially for teaching me Hebrew. I
have cultivated this study, according to your advice. I can
never forget that tender-hearted and generous Fellow of
Lincoln, who condescended to take such compassionate notice
of a poor undergraduate, whom almost everybody contemned,
and whose soul no man cared for." Happy is that college
where Fellows show kindness to undergraduates, and do not
neglect them ! Attentions of this kind cost little ; but they are
worth much, gain influence, and bear fruit after many days.

In the year 1736, Hervey was ordained a minister by Dr.
Potter, Bishop of Oxford, and in 1736 became curate to his
father at Weston Favell. He seems to have filled this position
for a very short time. In 1738, we find him Curate of Dum-
mer, near Basingstoke, in Hampshire, a position, singularly
enough, which Whitefield had also occupied about the same
year. In 1740, he removed to Bideford, in North Devonshire,'
and remained there till August 1743. He then returned to
Weston Favell, and became once more curate to his father. •
This was his last move. On the death of his father, in 1752,
he succeeded him as Rector of Weston Favell and Collinetree.


but only survived him six years. He finally died, at Weston
Favell, on Christmas-day 1758, of pulmonary consumption, at
the comparatively early age of forty-five. Unlike most ministers,
he preached the gospel amongst the people who had known
him from his earliest infancy, and was buried within a very few
miles from the place where he had been born. In life and
death he " dwelt among his own people."

The spiritual history of Hervey presents several interesting
features. I can find no evidence that he knew anything of
vital religion when he was a boy or a young man. Though
mercifully kept from the excess of riot and immorality into
which the young frequently run, he seems to have been utterly
careless and thoughtless about his soul. The beginning of a
work of grace in his heart may undoubtedly be traced to his resi-
dence at Oxford, and his intercourse with Wesley and Whitefield,
which he commenced at the age of twenty. Yet even then he
seems to have been much in the dark for some years, and to
have been comparatively ignorant of the distinctive doctrines
of real Christianity. His college friends, it must be admitted,
knew little more than he did. Their early struggles after Hght
were made through a fog of mysticism and asceticism which
impeded their course for years. The freeness and simplicity of
the gospel, the finished work of Christ on the cross, the real
meaning of justification by faith without the deeds of the law,
the folly of putting doing before believing, all these were sub-
jects which this little band of young men at Oxford were very
slow to understand. Each and all in their turns struggled
through their mental difficulties, and came out on the right
side. But one of the last to reach " terra firma," and grasp
the whole truth as it is in Jesus, undoubtedly was James
Hervey. In fact, it was not till the year 1741, five years after
' he had been ordained, that he thoroughly received the whole
gospel into his heart, and embraced the whole system of evan-
gelical doctrine. Two sermons preached by Hervey at Bide-


ford about the year 1 741, in which he plainly avowed his change
of sentiments, were commonly called his " Recantation "

The state of Hervey's heart during the seven years preceding
1 741 must have been one of continual conflict and inward dis-
satisfaction. Enlightened enough to feel the value of his soul,
and to see something of the sinfulness of sin, he was still un-
acquainted with the way of peace. His letters written at this
period, both before and after ordination, exhibit a mind full of
pious thoughts, holy desires, and high aspirations, but with
everything out of proportion and out of place. The writer says
excellent things about the soul, and sin, and God, and the
Bible, and the world, and duty, and even says much about
Christ. You cannot help admiring his evident sincerity, purity
of mind, and zeal to do good. But you cannot help feeling
that he has not got hold of things by the right end, and does
not see the whole of religion. He is like an excellent and
well-formed ship without a compass and rudder. He has not
yet got his feet upon the Rock. He is incessantly putting
things in their wrong places. The last are too often first, and
the first are too often last. He does not say things that are
not true, but he does not say them in the right way, and at the
same time leaves out much that ought to be said.

The unsatisfactory character of Hervey's theology at the
beginning of his ministry is well illustrated by the following
anecdote. In one of the Northamptonshire parishes where he
preached before 17 41, there lived a ploughman who usually
attended the ministry of Dr. Doddridge, and was well-informed
in the doctrines of grace. Hervey being ordered by his physi-
cians, for the benefit of his health, to follow the plough, in
order to smell the fresh earth, frequently accompanied this
ploughman when he was working. Knowing that he was a
serious man, he said to him one morning, " What do you think
is the hardest thing in religion]" — The ploughman replied 3


" Sir, I am a poor man, and you are a minister ; I beg leave
to return the question." — Then said Mr. Hervey: '• I think the
hardest thing is to deny si/i/u/ se\( '/' grounding his opinion on
our Lord's admonition, " If any man will come after me, let
him deny himself." " I argued," said Mr. Hervey, " upon the
import and extent of the duty, showing that merely to forbear
sinful actions is little, and that we must deny admittance and
entertainment to evil imaginations and quench irregular desires.
In this way I shot my random bolt." — The ploughman quietly
replied : " Sir, there is another instance of self-denial to which
the injunction of Christ equally extends, which is the hardest
thing in religion, and that is, to deny righteous self You know
I do not come to hear you preach, but go every Sunday with
my family to hear Dr. Doddridge at Northampton. We rise
early in the morning, and have prayer before we set out, in
which I find pleasure. Walking there and back I find pleasure.
Under the sermon I find pleasure. When at the Lord's Table
I find pleasure. We return, read a portion of Scripture, and
go to prayer in the evening, and I find pleasure. But yet,
to this moment, I find it the hardest thing to deny righteous
self, I mean to renounce my own strength and righteousness,
and not to lean on that for holiness or rely on this for justifica-
tion." In repeating this story to a friend, Mr. Hervey observed,
'' I then hated the righteousness of Christ. I looked at the
man with astonishment and disdain, and thought him an old
fool, and wondered at what I fancied the motley mixture of
piety and oddity in his notions. I have since seen clearly who
was the fool ; not the wise old ploughman, but the proud
James Hervey. I now discern sense, solidity, and truth in his

During this period of Hervey's life, his old Oxford friend, the
famous George Whitefield, frequently corresponded with him.
That mighty man of God had been brought into the full light
of the gospel, and, Hke the Samaritan woman, burned with


desire to bring all whom he knew and loved into the same
glorious liberty. The following letter, while it shows White-
field's deep concern for his friend's salvation, makes Hervey's
defective religious principles at this period very evident : " I
long to have my dear friend come forth and preach the truth as
it is in Jesus ; not a righteousness or holiness of our own,
whereby we make ourselves meet, but the righteousness of
another, even the Lord our righteousness ; upon the imputa-
tion and apprehending of which by faith we shall be made meet
by his Holy Spirit to live with and enjoy God. Dear Mr.
Hervey, it is an excellent thing to be convinced of the freeness
and riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus. It is sweet to know
and preach that Christ justifies the ungodly, and that all good
works are not so much as partly the cause, but the effect of our
justification. Till convinced of these truths, you must own free
will is in man, which is directly contrary to the Holy Scriptures
and to the Articles of our Church. Let me advise dear Mr.
Hervey, laying aside all prejudices, to read and pray over St.
Paul's Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, and then to tell
me what he thinks of this doctrine. Most of our old friends
are now happily enlightened. God sets his seal to such preach-
ing in an extraordinary manner, and I am persuaded the gates
of hell will never be able to prevail against it. O that dear Mr.
Hervey would also join with us ! O that the Lord would open
his eyes to behold aright this mystery of godliness? How
would it rejoice my heart ! How would it comfort his own
soul ! He would no longer groan under a spirit of bondage ;
no, he would be brought into the glorious liberty of the children
of God." This letter was dated Philadelphia, November 10, '


Hervey's excellent biographer, John Brown of Whitburn,
gives the following clear account of his state of mind at this
period : " It is evident that he was seeking salvation ; but he
sought it, as it were, by the works of the law. One of his


leading errors was, that he had low, scanty, inadequate apprehen-
sions of the love of God. From this unavoidably followed a
disesteem of imputed righteousness, a conceit of personal qualifi-
cations, a spirit of legal bondage, and a tincture of Pharisaical
pride. He conceived faith to be no more than a mere believing
of promises if he did well, and of threatenings if he did ill. He
wished for a salvation to be bestowed upon some sincere, pious,
and worthy persons, and was distressed because he could not
find himself of that number. To use his own words, when he
felt he was deplorably deficient in duty, he would comfort him-
self with saying, ' Soul, thy God only requires sincere obedience,
and perhaps to-morrow may be more abundant in acts of holi-
ness.' When overcome by sin, he would call to mind his
righteous deeds, and so think to commute with divine justice,
and quit scores for his offences by his duties. In order to be
reconciled to God, and to ease his conscience, he would promise
stricter watchfulness, more alms, and renewed fastings. Over-
looking entirely the active obedience of our Redeemer, he fondly
imagined that through the death of Christ he might have pardon
of his sins, and could by his own doings secure eternal life."

"For some time," continues his biographer, "letters from
Whitefield were disregarded, or answered with stubborn silence ;
but at length, by this and other means, a saving change took
place in Mr. Hervey's mind. Says he, The two great com-
mandments — Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
heart ; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself — made the first
awakening impression on my heart. Amazing ! thought I ; are
these commands of God as obligatory as the prohibition of
adultery or the observation of the Sabbath % Then has my
whole life been a continued act of disobedience ; not a day nor
an hour in which I have performed my duty ! This conviction
struck me as the handwriting upon the wall struck the presump-
tuous monarcli. It pursued me, as Saul pursued the Christians^
not only to. my own house, but to distant cities ; nor even gave


up the great controversy till, under the influence of the Spirit,
it brought me, weary and heavy laden, to Jesus Christ. Then
God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shined
into my heart, and gave me the light of the glory of God in the
face of Jesus Christ."

After all, it would be difficult to give a more vivid and in-
teresting account of the change which came over Hervey than
that which he himself gives in a letter to his faithful friend,
George Whitefield. He says : " You are pleased to ask how
the Holy Ghost convinced me of self-righteousness, and drove
me out of my false rest. Indeed, sir, I cannot tell. The light
was not instantaneous ; it did not flash upon my soul, but arose
like the dawning of the day. A little book by Jenks, upon
' Submission to the Righteousness of God,' was made service-
able to me. Your journals, dear sir, and sermons, especially
that sweet sermon on the text, ' What think ye of Christ ■?' were
a means of bringing me to the knowledge of the truth. iVnother
piece has been also like precious eye-salve to my dim and
clouded understanding — I mean Marshall's ' Gospel Mystery
of Sanctification.' These, blessed be He who is a light to them
that sit in darkness, have in some degree convinced me of my
former errors. I now begin to see I have been labouring in
the fire, and wearying myself for very vanity, while I have
attempted to establish my own righteousness. I trusted I knew
not what, while I trusted in some imaginary good deeds of my
own. These are no hiding-place from the storm ; they are a
refuge of lies. If I had the meekness of Moses and the patience
of Job, the zeal of Paul and the love of John, I durst not
advance the least plea to eternal life on this footing. As for my
own beggarly performances, wretched righteousnesses, gracious
Emmanuel ! I am ashamed, I am grieved that I should thrust
them into the plan of thy divine, thy inconceivably precious
obedience ! My schemes are altered. I now desire to work in
my blessed Master's service, not for life, but from life and

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salvation. I would study to please him in righteousness and
holiness all the days of my life."

In another letter to Whitefield, of about the same date,
Hervey says : " I own, with shame and sorrow, I have been a
blind leader of the blind. My tongue and my pen have per-
verted the good ways of the Lord, have darkened the glory of
redeeming merit and sovereign grace. I have dared to invade
the glories of an all-sufficient Saviour, and to pluck the crown
off his head. My writings and discourses have derogated from
the honour, the everlasting, incommunicable honour of Jesus.
They presumed to give works a share in the redemption and
recovery of a lost sinner. They have placed filthy rags on the
throne of the Lamb, and by that means have debased the
Saviour and exalted the sinner. But I trust the divine truth
begins to dawn upon my soul. Oh, may it, like the rising sun,
shine more and more till the day break in all its brightness,
and the shadows flee away ! Now, was I possessed of all the
righteous acts that have made saints and martyrs famous in all
generations, could they be transferred to me, and might I call
them my own, I would renounce them all that I might win

I make no excuse for the length at which I have dwelt on
this portion of Hervey's history. A mere worldly man may see
nothing interesting in it ; but a true Christian, unless I am
greatly mistaken, will find it full of instruction. It is useful to
mark the diversities of the operation of the Spirit. How slowly
and gradually he carries on his work in some hearts, compared
to the rapid progress he makes in others ! It is useful to mark
the extent of his operations. How thoroughly he can turn
upside down a man's theological opinions ! How little we know
what a young self-righteous minister may one day, by God's
grace, become ! Well would it be for the Christian Church if
there were more ministers in her pale taught of God, and brought
to sit at the feet of Christ, like James Hervey.


The lasi seventeen years of Hervey's life were spent in com-
parative retirement at Weston Favell. " My house," he writes
to a friend, " is quite retired. It faces the garden and the field,
so that we hear none of the tumultuous din of the world, and
see nothing but the wonderful and charming works of the
Creator. Oh, that I may be enabled to improve this advan-
tageous solitude !" Willing as he doubtless was to go forth into
public and do the work of an evangelist, like his beloved friend
Whitefield, his delicate health made it quite impossible. From
his youth up he had shown a decided tendency to pulmonary
consumption. He had neither voice nor physical strength to'
preach in the open air, address large congregations, and arrest
the attention of multitudes, like many of his contemporaries.
He saw this clearly, and wisely submitted to God's appoint-
ment. Those whom he could not reach with his voice, he
resolved to approach by his pen. From his isolated study in
his Northamptonshire parish he sent forth arrows which were
sharp in the hearts of the King's enemies. In a word, he
became a diligent writer on behalf of the gospel from the time
of his conversion till he was laid in his grave. Ill health, no
doubt, often stopped his labour, and laid him aside. But,
though faint, he was always pursuing. Delicate and weak as
he always was, his pen was very seldom idle, and he was always
doing '-what he could." The work to which he devoted him-
self required a large measure of faith and patience. He
laboured on uncheered by admiring crowds, and unaided by
the animal excitement which often carries forward the wearied
])reacher. But while health and strength lasted he never ceased
to labour, and seldom laboured in vain. Hundreds were
reached by Hervey's writings, who would never have conde-
scended to listen to Whitefield's voice.

The very retirement of Weston Favell was not without its
advantages. It gave the worthy rector unbroken leisure for
writing. He could sit down in his study without fear of being


disturbed by the endless petty interruptions which disturb the
dweller in large towns, and make the continuous flow of thought
almost impossible. Above all, it gave him plenty of time for
reading and storing his mind. It has been well said that
"reading maketh a full man," and no one can look through
Hervey's literary remains without seeing abundant evidence
that he was a great reader. With Greek and Roman classical
writers he was familiar from his youth. The following theolo-
gical writers are said to have been among his special favourites :
Chrysostom, Gerhard, Alting, Owen, Manton, Goodwin, Rey-
nolds, Hall, Beveridge, Bunyan, Hopkins, Howe, Bates, Flavel,
Caryl, Poole, Charnock, Traill, Turretine, Witsius, Vitringa,
Hurrion, Leighton, Polhill, Gill, Brine, Guyse, Boston, Rawlins,
Coles, Jenks, Marshall, Erskine, Milton, Young, and Watts.
The names of these authors speak for themselves. The man
who was familiar with their works was likely to be full of matter,
and when he wrote for the press he had a fair right to claim a
patient hearing. The ways of God's providence are mysterious
and truly instructive. If Hervey had not been kept at home
by ill health, he would probably never have had time for much
reading. If he had not had time to be a reader, he would
never have written what he did.

The English Puritans appear to have been special favourites
with Hervey. Again and again, in his biography, we find him
speaking of them in terms of the highest commendation. For
instance, he says in one place, " Be not ashamed of the name
Puritan. The Puritans were the soundest preachers, and, I
believe, the truest followers of Christ in their day." Again :
" For my part I esteem the Puritans as some of the most zealous
Christians that ever appeared in our land." Again : '• The
Puritans, one and all of them, glory in the righteousness of their
great Mediator ; they extol his imputed righteousness in almost
every page, and pour contempt on all other works compared
with their Lord's. For my part I know no set of writers in the


world so remarkable for this doctrine and diction. It quite
distinguishes them from the generality of our modern treatises."
I make no apology for these quotations. They throw broad,
clear light on Hervey's theological opinions. Nothing brings
out a man's distinctive religious views so thoroughly as his
choice of books. Tell me what divines a minister loves to read,
and I will soon tell you to what school of theology he belongs.

The principal literary works which Hervey published in his
life-time, were two volumes of " Meditations and Contempla-
tions," and three volumes of " Dialogues and Letters" between
two fictitious persons, whom he named " Theron and Aspasio."
The " Meditations" are soliloquies and thoughts arising out of
such subjects as the tombs, a flower-garden, creation, night, and
the starry heavens. The " Dialogues" touch on many points
of theology, but especially upon the great doctrine of justifica-
tion by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ. If fife had
been continued, Hervey intended to have added a fourth volume
of " Dialogues," of which the subject was to have been Chris-
tian holiness. But his early death cut short the design, and he
was only able to tell his friends that they must regard his favourite
book, Marshall on Sanctification, as his deputy and representa-
tive. His words were, — " I do, by these presents, depute
Marshall to supply my lack of service. Marshall expresses my
thoughts, prosecutes my schemes, and not only pursues the same
end, but proceeds in the same way. I shall therefore rejoice in
the prospect of having the 'Gospel Mystery of Sanctification'
stand as a fourth volume to ' Theron and Aspasio.'"

Both the works above mentioned attained an extraordinary
degree of popularity from the moment they were published, and '
procured for the author a world-wide reputation. They formed,

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 28 of 36)