J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

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

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 30 of 36)
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have I done for so loving a Saviour ! If I preached even once
a week it was but a burden to me. I have not visited the
people of my parish as I ought to have done, and thus preached
from house to house. I have not taken every opportunity of

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speaking for Clirist. Do not think I am afraid to die. I assure
you I am not. I know what my Saviour has done for me.
I want to be gone. But I wonder and lament to think of the
love of Christ in doing so much for me, and how little I have
done for him ! "

On the 25th of December — the day that he died — his loving
friend and physician, Dr. Stonehouse, came to see him about
three hours before he expired. Hervey seized the opportunity,
spoke strongly and affectionately to him about his soul's con-
cerns, and entreated him not to be overcharged with the cares
of this life. Seeing his great weakness and prostration, the
doctor begged him to spare himself " No, doctor," replied
the dying man, with ardour, " no ! You tell me I have but a
few minutes to live : let me spend them in adoring our great
Redeemer." He then repeated the words, " Though my heart
and my flesh fail, God is the strength of my heart, and my
portion for ever ;" and also dwelt, in a delightful manner, on
St. Paul's words, " All things are yours ; whether life, or things
present, or things to come." "Here," he exclaimed, "here is
the treasury of a Christian ! Death is reckoned among this
inventor}" ; and a noble treasure it is. How thankful I am for
death, as it is the passage through which I go to the Lord and
Giver of eternal life, and as it frees me from all the misery
which you see me now endure, and which I am willing to
endure as long as God thinks fit ! I know that he will by-and-
by, in his own good time, dismiss me from the body. These
light afflictions are but for a moment, and then comes an
eternal weight of glory. Oh, welcome, welcome death! Thou
mayst well be reckoned among the treasures of the Christian !
To live is Christ, and to die is gain !" After this he lay for a
considerable time without seeming to breathe, and his friends
thought he was gone. But he revived a little, and, being raised
in his chair, said : — " Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart
in peace, according to thy most holy and comfortable words ;


for mine eyes have seen thy most holy ami comfortable salva-
tion ! Here, doctor, is my cordial. What are all the cordials
given to support the dying, in comparison of that which arises
from the promises of salvation by Christ \ This, this supports

He said little after this, and was rapidly drawing near his end.
About three o'clock in the afternoon he said : " The conflict is
over; now all is done." After that time he scarcely spoke any-
thing intelligible, except the words, " Precious salvation V At
last, about four o'clock, without a sigh or a groan, he shut his
eyes and departed, on Christmas-day 1758, in the forty-fifth year
of his age. Never, perhaps, was there a more triumphant
illustration of the saying of a great spiritual champion of the
last century, — " The world may not like our methodists and
evangelical people, but the world cannot deny that they die

I leave James Hervey here, ha-ving traced his history from his
cradle to his grave. He was a man of whom the world was not
worthy, and one to whom even the Church of God has never
given his due measure of honour. I am well aware that he was
not perfect. I do not pretend to say that I can subscribe
aitirely to everj-thing he wrote, either about the nature of faith
or about assurance ; but whatever his faults and defects, I do
believe that he was one of the holiest and best ministers in Eng-
land a hundred years ago, and that he did a work in his time
which will be seen to have borne good fruit in the last
great day.

I know well that Hervey was only a writer, and nothing but
a -writer. I know well that the value of his works has almost
passed away. Like our old wooden three-deckers, they did
good service in their rime, but are now compararively obsolete
and laid aside. But I believe the day will never come when the
Church will not require pens as well as tongues, able writers as
well as able preachers \ and I venture to think it would be well


for the Church of our day, if we had a few more hard students
and careful writers of the stamp of James Hervey. I therefore
boldly claim for him a high place among the spiritual heroes of
tne last century. Let us admire Whitefield and Wesley; but
let us not grudge Hervey his crown. He deserves to be had in

I now conclude this sketch with a few testimonies to Hervey's
merits, which, to say the least, demand serious attention. The
witnesses are all men of mark, and men who had many oppor-
tunities of weighing the merits of preachers and writers. Let
us hear what they thought of the subject before us, the rector
of Weston Favell.

My first witness shall be William Romaine. He says : " I
never saw one who came up so near to the Scripture character
of a Christian, as Mr. Hervey. God enriched him with great
gifts and great graces. He had a fine understanding and a great
memory. He was very well skilled in Hebrew, and an excellent
critic in Greek. — There was great experience of heart-love upon
his tongue. He used to speak of the love of the adorable
Redeemer like one who had seen him face to face in the fulness
of his glory. As to his writings, I leave them to speak for
themselves. They stand in no need of my praises."

My next witness shall be Henry Venn. He says : " Mr.
Hervey was the most extraordinary man I ever saw in my life,
as much beyond most of the excellent as the swan for white-
ness and stately figure is beyond the common fowl. His
Meditations and Contemplations deserve your most sincere
regard. You may look upon them as you would upon Aaron's
rod, by which such wonders were wrought. These Thoughts
have been the means of giving sight to the blind, life to souls
dead in trespasses and sins, and winning the young, the gay,
and the rich, to see greater charms in a crucified Saviour than
in all that dazzles vain minds."

My next witness shall be Cowper the poet. He says : " Per-

VENN, COIVPER, <^c. 357

haps I may be partial to Plervey; but I think him one of the
most Scriptural writers in the world/'

My next witness shall be Richard Cecil. He says : " Let us
do the world justice. It has seldom found considerate, gentle,
but earnest, heavenly, and enlightened teachers. When it has
found such, truth has received a very general attention. Such
a man was Hervey, and his works have met their reward."

My next witness shall be the late Edward Bickersteth. He
says : " Few books have been so useful as Hervey's ' Theron
and Aspasio;' though like every human writing, it is not free
from error. But, with a few exceptions, the clear statements of
divine truth in the book, and the Christian addresses of the
author, full of kindness and affection, gentleness and sweetness
of spirit, draw out your best feelings, and win you over to evan-
gelical principles."

My last witness shall be Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta.
He says in his Journal, July 24, 1846: " I have been reading
tranquilly and pleasantly a volume of Hervey's Letters, full of
that thorough devotedness of heart, deadness to all earthly
things, and longings after grace and holiness, which character-
ized the leaders of the revival in our church. — Oh ! that the
spirit of Hervey might pervade our younger clergy and myself.
To walk with God is the only spring of happiness and use-

Testimonies like these deserve serious attention. My firm
belief is, that they are well deserved.


SnuIabiT aub bis 3|VuxtstriT.

Rom at Fanihani, 1740 — Ordained, 1762 — Vicar of Broad Henibury, Devonshire, 176S —
Removes to London, 1775 — Dies, 177S — Conversion, 1756 — His Preaching — His Writ-
ings as a Controversialist — His Hymns.

PERFECT orchestra contains many various instru-
ments of music. Each of these instruments has its
own merit and value; but some of them are curiously
unlike others. Some of them are dependent on a player's
breath, and some on his skill of hand. Some of them are large,
and some of them are small. Some of them produce very
gentle sounds, and some of them very loud. But all of them
are useful in their place and way. Composers like Handel, and
Mozart, and Mendelssohn, find work for all. There is work
for the flageolet as well as for the trumpet, and work for the
violoncello as well as for the organ. Separately and alone^
some of the instruments may appear harsh and unpleasant.
Combined together and properly played, they fill the ear with
one mighty volume of harmonious sounds.

Thoughts such as these come across my mind when I survey
the spiritual champions of England a hundred years ago. I see
among the leaders of religious revival in that day men of singu-
larly varied characteristics. They were each in their way emi-
nent instruments for good in the hands of the Holy Ghost.
From each of them sounded forth the word of God throughout
the land with no uncertain sound. Yet some of these good
men were strangely compounded, peculiarly constituted, and


oddly framed. And to none^ perhaps, does the remark apply
more thoroughly than to the subject of these remarks, the well-
known hymn-writer, Augustus Toplady.

I should think no account of English religion in the last cen-
tury complete which did not supply some information about this
remarkable man. In some respects, I am bold to say, not one
of his contemporaries surpassed him, and hardly any equalled
him. He was a man of rare grace and gifts, and one who left
his mark very deeply on his own generation. For soundness
in the faith, singleness of eye, and devotedness of Hfe, he de-
serves to be ranked with Whitefield, or Grimshaw, or Romaine.
Yet with all this, he was a man in whom there was a most
extraordinary mixture of grace and infirmity. Hundreds, un-
happily, know much of his infirmities who know little of his
graces. I shall endeavour in the following pages to supply
a few materials for forming a just estimate of his character.

Augustus Montague Toplady was born at Farnham, in Surrey,
on the 4th of November 1740. He was the only son of Major
Richard Toplady, who died at tlie siege of Carthagena shortly
after his birth, so that he never saw his father. His mother s
maiden name was Catherine Bates, of whom nothing is known
except that she had a brother who was rector of St. Paul's,
Deptford. About the history of his family I can discover
nothing. I only conjecture that some of them must have been
natives of Ireland. Who his parents were, and what they
were doing at Farnham, when he was born, and what kind of
people they were, are all matters about which no record seems
to exist.

Few spiritual heroes of the last century, I must freely con-
fess, have suffered more from the want of a good biographer
than Toplady. Be the cause what it may, a real life of the
man was never written. The only memoir of him is as meagre
a production as can possibly be conceived. It is perhaps only
fair to remember that he was an only child, and that he died


unmarried; so that he had neither brother, sister, son nor
daughter, to gather up his remains. Moreover, he was one
who lived much in his study and among his books, spent
much time in private communion with God, and went very
httle into society. Like Romaine, he was not what the world
would call a genial man — had very few intimate friends — and
was, probably, more feared and admired than loved. But be
the reasons what they may, the fact is undeniable that there
is no good biography of Toplady. The result is, that there is
hardly any man of his calibre in the last century of whom so
very little is known.

The principal facts of Toplady's life are few, and soon told.
He was brought up by his widowed mother with the utmost
care and tenderness, and retained throughout life a deep and
grateful sense of his obligations to her. For some reason,
which we do not know now, she appears to have settled at
Exeter after her husband's death; and to this circumstance
we may probably trace her son's subsequent appointment to
cures of souls in Devonshire. Young Toplady was sent at an
early age to Westminster School, and showed considerable
ability there. After passing through Westminster, he was
entered as a student of Trinity College, Dublin, and took his
degree there as Bachelor of Arts. He was ordained a clergy-
man in the year 1762; but I am unable to ascertain where, or
by what bishop he was ordained. Shortly after his ordination
he was appointed to the living of Blagdon, in Somersetshire,
but did not hold it long. He was then appointed to Venn-
Ottery, with Harpford, in Devonshire, a small parish near Sid-
mouth. This post he finally exchanged, in 1768, for the rural
parish of Broad Hembury, near Honiton, in Devonshire, a
cure which he retained until his death. In the year 1775 he
was compelled, by the state of his health, to remove from
Devonshire to London, and became for a short time preacher
at a Chapel in Orange Street, Leicester Square. He seems,


however, to have derived no material benefit from the change
of chmate; and at last died of decline, like Walker and Hervey,
in the year 1778, at the early age of thirty-eight.

The story of Toplady's inner life and religious history is
simple and short; but it presents some features of great interest.
The work of God seems to have begun in his heart, when he
was only sixteen years old, under the following circumstances.
He was staying at a place called Codymain, in Ireland, and
was there led by God's providence to hear a layman named
Morris preach in a barn. The text — Ephesians ii. 13, "Ye
who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of
Christ " — and the address founded on it, came home to young
Toplady's conscience with such power, that from that time he
became a new man, and a thorough-going professor of vital
Christianity. This was in August 1756.

He himself in after-life referred frequently to the circum-
stance of his conversion with special thankfulness. He says
in 1768: "Strange that I, who had so long sat under the
means of grace in England, should be brought nigh to God in
an obscure part of Ireland, amidst a handful of God's people
met together in a barn, and under the ministry of one who
could hardly spell his name ! Surely it was the Lord's doing,
and is marvellous ! The excellency of such power must be of
God, and cannot be of man. The regenerating Spirit breathes
not only on whom, but likewise when, where, and as he listeth."

Although converted and made a new creature in Christ
Jesus, Toplady does not seem to have come to a full know-
ledge of the gospel in all its perfection for at least two years.
Like most of God's children, he had to fight his way into full
light through many defective opinions, and was only by slow
degrees brought to complete establishment in the faith. His
experience in this matter, be it remembered, is only that of the
vast majority of true Christians. Like infants, when they are
born into the world, God's children are not born again in the


full possession of all their .spiritual faculties ; and it is well
and wisely ordered that it is so. What we win easily, we sel-
dom value sufficiently. The very fact that believers have to
struggle and fight hard before they get hold of real soundness
in the faith, helps to make them prize it more when they have
attained it. The truths that cost us a battle are precisely
those which we grasp most firmly, and never let go.

Toplady's own account of his early experience on this point
is distinct and explicit. He says : "Though awakened in 1756,
I was not led into a clear and full view of all the doctrines of
grace till the year 1758, when, through the great goodness of
God, my Arminian prejudices received an effectual shock in
reading Dr. Manton's sermons on the seventeenth chapter of
St. John. I shall remember the years 1756 and 1758 with
gratitude and joy in the heaven of heavens to all eternity."

In the year 1774, Toplady gave the following curious account
of his experience at this period of his life : — " It pleased God
to deliver me from the Arminian snare before I was quite
eighteen. Up to that period there was not (I confess it with
abasement) a more haughty and violent free-wilier within the
compass of the four seas. One instance of my warm and ignorant
zeal occurs now to my memory. About a year before divine
goodness gave me eyes to discern and a heart to embrace the
truth, I was haranguing one day in company on the universality
of grace and the power of free agency. A good old gentleman,
now with God, rose from his chair, and coming to me, held me
by one of my coat-buttons, while he mildly said : — ' My dear
sir, there are marks of spirituality in your conversation, though
tinged with an unhappy mixture of pride and self-righteousness.
You have been speaking largely in favour of free-will ; but from
arguments let us come to experience. Do let me ask you one
question. How was it with you when the Lord laid hold on you
in effectual caUing? Had you any hand in obtaining that
grace "? Nay, would you not have resisted and baffled it, if


God's Spirit bad left you alone in die hand of your own counsel \ '
— I felt the conclusiveness of these simple but forcible interro-
gations more strongly than I was then willing to acknowledge.
But, blessed be God, I have since been enabled to acknowledge
the freeness of his grace, and to sing, what I trust will be my
everlasting song, ' Not unto me., Lord., not unto nie ; but unto ihy
name give the glory.'' "

From this time to the end of his life, a period of twenty years,
Toplady held right onward in his Christian course, and never
seems to have swerved or turned aside for a single day. His
attachment to Calvinistic views of theology grew with his
growth, and strengthened with his strength, and undoubtedly
made him think too hardly of all who favoured Arminianism.
It is more than probable, too, that it gave him the reputation
of being a narrow-minded and sour divine, and made many
keep aloof from him, and depreciate him. But no one ever
pretended to doubt his extraordinary devotedness and single-
ness of eye, or to question his purity and holiness of life. From
one cause or another, however, he appears always to have stood
alone, and to have had little intercourse with his fellow-men.
The result was, that throughout life he appears to have been
little known and little understood, but most loved where he was
most known.

One would like much to hear what young Toplady was doing
between the date of his conversion in 1756, and his ordination
in 1762. We can only guess, from the fact that he studied
Manton on the seventeenth of John before he was eighteen, that
he was probably reading hard, and storing his mind with know-
ledge, which he turned to good account in after-life. But there
is an utter dearth of all information about our hero at this period
of his life. We only know that he took upon himself the office
of a minister, not only as scholar, and as an outward professor
of religion, but as an honest man. He says himself, that " he
subscribed the articles and lituigy from principle ; and that he


did not believe them merely because he subscribed them, but
subscribed them because he believed them."

One would like, furthermore, to know exactly where he began
his ministry, and in what parish he was first heard as a preacher
of the gospel. But I can find out nothing about these points.
One interesting fact about his early preaching I gather from a
curious letter which he wrote to Lady Huntingdon in 1774. In
that letter he says : " As to the doctrines of special and dis-
criminating grace, I have thus much to observe. For the first
four years after I was in orders, I dwelt chiefly on the general
outlines of the gospel in this remote corner of my public
ministry. I preached of little else but of justification by faith
only, in the righteousness and atonement of Christ, and of that
personal holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
My reasons for thus narrowing the truths of God were these
two (I speak it with humiliation and repentance): — i. I thought
these points were sufficient to convey as clear an idea as was
absolutely necessary of salvation ; 2. And secondly, I was partly
afraid to go any further.

" God himself (for none but he could do it) gradually freed
me from that fear. And as he never at any time permitted me
to deliver, or even to insinuate anything contradictory to his
truth, so has he been graciously pleased, for seven or eight
years past, to open my mouth to make known the entire
mystery of the gospel, as far as his Spirit has enlightened me
into it. The consequence of my first plan of operations was,
that the generality of my hearers were pleased, but only few
were converted. The result of my latter deliverance from
worldly wisdom and worldly fear is, that multitudes have been
very angry ; but the conversions which God has given me reason
to hope he has wrought, have been at least three for one before.
Thus I can testify, so far as I have been concerned, the useful-
ness of preaching predestination ; or, in other words, of tracing
salvation and redemption to their first source."


An anecdote related by Toplady himself deserves repetition,
as a curious illustration of the habits of clergymen at the time
when he was ordained, and his superiority to the habits of his
contemporaries. He says : " I was buying some books in the
spring of 1762, a month or two before I was ordained, from a
very respectable London bookseller. After the business was
over, he took me to the furthest end of his long shop, and said
in a low voice, ' Sir, you will soon be ordained, and I suppose
you have not laid in a very great stock of sermons. I can
supply you with as many sets as you please, all original, very
excellent ones, and they will come for a trifle.' My answer
was : ' I certainly shall never be a customer to you in that way ;
for I am of opinion that the man who cannot, or will not
make his own sermons, is quite unfit to wear the gown. How
could you think of my buying ready-made sermons % I would
much sooner buy ready-made clothes." His answer shocked
me. ' Nay, young gentleman, do not be surprised at my offer-
ing you ready-made sermons, for I assure you I have sold ready-
made sermons to many a bishop in my time.' My reply was :
' My good sir, if you have any concern for the credit of the
Church of England, never tell that news to anybody else hence-
forward for ever.' "

The manner of Toplady's life, during the fifteen or sixteen
years of his short ministry may be gathered from a diary which
he wrote in 1768, and kept up for about a year. This diary is
a far more interesting record of a good man's life than such
documents ordinarily are, and gives a very favourable impression
of the writer's character and habits. It leaves the impression
that he was eminently a man of one thing, and entirely engrossed
with his Master's business — much alone, keeping little company,
and always either preaching, visiting his people, reading, writing,
or praying. If it had been kept up for a few years longer, it
would have thrown immense light on many things in Toplady's
ministerial history. But even in its present state it is the most


valual)lc record wc possess about him, and there seems no
reason to doubt that it is a tolerably accurate picture of his
mode of living from the time of his ordination to his deatli.

So little is known of the particular events of the last fifteen
years of Toplady's life, that it is impossible to do more than
give a general sketch of his proceedings. He seems to have
attained a high reputation at a very early date as a thorough-
going supporter of Calvinistic opinions, and a leading opponent
of Arminianism. His correspondence shows that he was on
intimate terms with Lady Huntingdon, Sir R. Hill, Whitefield,
Romaine, Berridge, Dr. Gill, Ambrose Serle, and other eminent
Christians of those times. But how and when he formed ac-
quaintance with them, we have no information. His pen was
constantly employed in defence of evangelical religion from the

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 30 of 36)