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 9 of 36)
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you can, but do not scream. Speak with all your heart, but
with a moderate voice. It was said of our Lord, ' He shall not
cry! The word means properly, he shall not scream. Herein
be a follower of me, as I am of Christ. I often speak loud,
often vehemently; but I never scream ; I never strain myself;
I dare not ; I know it would be a sin against God and my own

To one who neglected the duty of private reading and
regular study, he wrote as follows : —

" Hence your talent in preaching does not increase ; it is just
the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep ;
there is little variety ; there is no compass of thought. Read-
ing only can supply this, with daily meditation and daily prayer.
You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this ; you never can be
a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.
Oh begin ! Fix some part of every day for private exercises.
You may acquire the taste which you have not ; what is tedious
at first will afterwards be pleasant. Whether you like it or not,
read and pray daily. It is for your life ! There is no other
way ; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty super-
ficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul ; give it time and
means to grow : do not starve yourself any longer."

The last specimen of John Wesley's mind tliat I will give,
is an extract from a letter which he wrote to the Bishop of
Lincoln, by way of public protest, on account of the disgraceful
persecution which some intolerant magistrates carried on


against the Lincolnshire Methodists. It is an interesting letter,
not only on account of the holy boldness of its style, but also
on account of the age of the writer. He says : —

" My Lord, I am a dying man, having already one foot in
the grave. Humanly speaking, I cannot long creep upon the
earth, being now nearer ninety than eighty years of age. But
I cannot die in peace before I have discharged this office of
Christian love to your Lordship. I write without ceremony, as
neither hoping nor fearing anything from your Lordship or from
any man living. And I ask, in the name and in the presence
of Him, to whom both you and I are shortly to give an account,
why do you trouble those that are quiet in the land, those that
fear God and work righteousness ? Does your Lordship know
what the Methodists are — that many thousands of them are
zealous members of the Church of England, and strongly
attached, not only to His Majesty, but to his present ministry 1
Why should your Lordship, setting religion out of the question,
throw away such a body of respectable friends ? Is it for their
religious sentiments 1 Alas, my Lord, is this a time to perse-
cute any man for conscience' sake ? I beseech you, my Lord,
do as you w^ould be done to. You are a man of sense ; you
are a man of learning ; nay, I verily believe (what is of infinitely
more value), you are a man of piety. Then think, and let
think. I pray God to bless you with the choicest of his bless-

With this letter I conclude my illustrations of John Wesley's
mind and its working. It would be easy to add to the extracts
I have given from the large stock of materials which are still
within reach of all who choose to look for them. But there is
such a thing as overloading a subject, and injuring it by over-
quotation. I believe I have said enough to supply my readers
with the means of forming a judgment of John Wesley's mental

Has any one been accustomed to regard the father of


Methodism as- a mere fanatic, as a man of moderate abilities
and superficial education, as a successful popular preacher and
leader of an ignorant sect, but nothing more % I ask such an
one to examine carefully the specimens I have given of Wesley's
mind, and to reconsider his opinion. Whether men like
Methodist doctrine or not, I think they must honestly concede
that the old Fellow of Lincoln was a scholar and a sensible
man. The world, which always sneers at evangelical religion,
may please itself by saying that the men w4io shook England a
hundred years ago were weak-minded, hot-headed enthusiasts,
and unlearned and ignorant men. The Jews said the same of
the apostles in early days. But the world cannot get over facts.
The founder of Methodism was a man of no mean reputation
in Oxford, and his writings show him to have been a well-read,
logical-minded, and intelligent man. Let the children of this
world deny this if they can.

Finally, has any jone been accustomed to regard Wesley with
dishke on account of his Arminian opinions % Is any one in
the habit of turning away from his name with prejudice, and re-
fusing to believe that such an imperfect preacher of the gospel
could do any good % I ask such an one to remould his opinion,
to take a more kindly view of the old soldier of the cross, and
to give him the honour he deserves.

What though John W^esley did not use all the weapons of
truth which our great Captain has provided % What though he
often said things which you and I feel we could not say, and
left unsaid things which we feel ought to be said % Still, not-
withstanding this, he was a bold fighter on Christ's side, a fear-
less warrior against sin, the world, and the devil, and an
unflinching adherent of the Lord Jesus Christ in a very dark
day. He honoured the Bible. He cried down sin. He made
much of Christ's blood. He exalted holiness. He taught the
absolute need of repentance, faith, and conversion. Surely
these things ought not to be forgotten. Surely there is a deep


lesson in those words of our Master, " Forbid him not : for
there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can
lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on
our part " (Mark ix. 39, 40).

Then let us thank God for what John Wesley was, and not
keep poring over his deficiencies, and only talking of what he
7vas not. Whether we like it or not, John Wesley was a mighty
instrument in God's hand for good ; and, next to George White-
field, was the first and foremost evangelist of England a hundred
years ago.


MiKiam ©rimsljato of palDortlj, anb I/is ^imstri).


Corn at Briiidle, 1708 — Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge — Ordained, 1731 — Curate
of Rochdale andTodinorden — Death of his Wife — Minister of Haworth, 1742 — Descrip-
tion of Haworth — Style of his Ministry — His Manner of Life, Diligence, Charity, Love
of Peace, Humility — His Ministerial Success.

jHE third spiritual hero of the last century whom I wish
to introduce to my readers, is one who is very little
known. The man I mean is William Grimshaw,
Perpetual Curate of Haworth. in Yorkshire.

Thousands, I can well believe, are familiar with the history
of Whitefield and Wesley, who have not so much as heard of
Grimshaw's name. Yet he was a mighty man of God, of whom
the Church and the world were not worthy. If greatness is to
be measured by usefulness to souls, I believe there were not in
England a hundred years ago three greater men than William

The reasons why this good man is so little known are soon

For one thing, Grimshaw never withdrew from his position
as a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England. He lived
and died incumbent of a Yorkshire parochial district. He
founded no new sect, and drew up no new articles of faith. He
found as much liberty as he wanted within the pale of a bene-


ficed clergyman's position, and ^^^th that liberty he was content.
Such a man, in the very nature of things, will rarely emerge
from comparative obscurity. No zealous partisan will chronicle
his actions and movements. No persecuted followers will pub-
lish accounts of his Hfe and opinions. The man who remains
in the ranks, or behind the intrenchments, will never be so con-
spicuous as he who carries on a guerilla warfare single-handed,
or stands forth outside on the plain.*

For another thing, Grimshaw never went to London, or
opened his mouth so much as once in a London pulpit. He
moved in a purely provincial orbit, in days when railways, tele-
graphs, and penny postage were not even dreamed of Within
that orbit, no doubt, he was a star of the first magnitude ; but
beyond it he was never heard or seen. We need not wonder
that he was little known in his day and generation. The minister
who never preaches in London, and writes nothing, must not
be surprised if the world knows nothing of him. Like some of
the judges of Israel, he may be great in his own district, but
some of the tribes will scarcely be acquainted with his name.

After all, the being famous is a thing that depends greatly on
position and opportunity. It is not enough to possess gifts
and powers : there must also be the means of exhibiting them.
For want of opportunity some of the greatest men perhaps are
buried in obscurity. There may be great physicians who could
never find a practice, great lawyers who could never get a brief,
and great soldiers who never had a chance of distinguishing
themselves. The main reason why the Churcli has done so
little honour to Grimshaw's name may be, that it had so little
opportunity of knowing him.

William Grimshaw was born at Brindle, in Lancashire, on the

* It ought to be remembered that neither Wesley nor W'hitefield ever held a living in the
Church of England. It is, therefore, not correct to speak of them as men who si'ceiied {rom.
the Church. They resigned no living or official position, simply because they had none to
resign. I'hey were practically excluded from the pulpits of the Establishment, because the
clergy as a body refused to admit them. But they never formally separated themselves
from the communion in which they had been ordained.


3rd of September 1708, Brindle is an agricultural parish, con-
taining at present about thirteen hundred people, and lies not
far from the three manufacturing towns of Preston, Chorley,
and Blackburn. Nothing whatever is known of the rank and
position of his parents. Who his mother was, whether he had
any brothers and sisters, what was his father's occupation and
employment, are all points which are now veiled in complete
obscurity. Beyond the foct that one of the churchwardens of
Brindle in 1728 was a certain William Grimshaw, nothing has
ever been ascertained.*

About Grimshaw's early life and education I can tell my
readers almost nothing. That he went to the Grammar Schools
of Blackburn and Hesketh, was admitted to Christ's College,
Cambridge, at the age of eighteen, and in due course of time
took his degree as Bachelor of Arts, are the only facts that I
can collect about the first twenty-one years of his life. But his
character as a boy and young man, and his conduct at school
and college, are matters about which I cannot supply the slight-
est information, because none exists. There are, however, no
grounds for supposing that he spent his time at all better than
other young men of his day, or that he evinced any concern
about religion.

In the year 1731 Grimshaw was ordained deacon, and entered
holy orders as curate of Rochdale. He seems to have taken
on him this solemn office without any spiritual feeling, and in
utter ignorance of the duties of a minister of Christ's gospel.
Like too many young clergymen, he appears to have been
ordained without knowing anything aright either about his own
soul, or about the way to do good to the souls of others. In
fact, in after-life he deeply lamented that he sought ordination
from the lowest and most unworthy of motives — the desire to

* I think it right to say, that almost the only accessible source of information about
Grimshaw is a biography of him lately published by Mr. Spencc Hardy. It is an interesting
volume, and well worth reading, though the author's predilections in favour of Methodism
are rather too manifest.


be in a respectable profession, and, if possible, to get a good

Grimshaw's stay at Rochdale, for some reason which we can-
not now explain, was a very short one. In September 173 1,
the very year that he was ordained, he became curate of Tod-
morden, and left Rochdale entirely. Todmorden lies in a
romantic valley between Rochdale and Leeds, well known to
alhvho travel by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Before
the steam-engine was invented, it must have been a singularly
beautiful place. Ecclesiastically, it is a chapelry in the patron-
age of the Vicar of Rochdale, and stands partly in the great
parish of Rochdale and partly in the equally large parish of
Halifax. Here Grimshaw continued for no less than eleven

The eleven years during which Grimshaw resided at Tod-
morden were, beyond doubt, the turning-point in his spiritual
history. It is much to be regretted that we possess nothing but
the most scanty information about this period of his life.
Enough, however, exists to throw some light on the way
through which he was led to become the man of God that he
was in after-days.

It appears then, according to ]\Iiddleton, one of his bio-
graphers, that about the year 1734, three years after he came
to Todmorden, Grimshaw began for the first time to feel deep
concern about his own soul, and the souls of his parishioners.
A change came over his life and outward behaviour. He laid
aside the diversions in which he had hitherto spent the greater
part of his time — such as hunting, fishing, card-playing, revel-
ling, and merry-making — and began to visit his people, and
press on them the importance of religion, like one who really
believed it. At the same time he commenced the practice of
praying in secret four times a-day. a practice which there is
reason to believe he never left off.

There is nothing to show that his views of Christianity at


this period were any but the most dark and obscure. Of the
distinctive doctrines of the gospel, of salvation by grace, justifi-
cation by faith, free pardon through Christ's blood, and the
converting power of the Holy Ghost, he probably knew nothing
at all. He had none but books of a very legal character, most
of them given by Dr. Dunster, Vicar of Rochdale, when he was
his curate. He had no friend to deal with him, as Peter did
with Cornelius, or Aquila and Priscilla did with Apollos, and
" show him the way of God more perfectly." But he was
honest in seeking light, and light came, though not immediately.
He prayed much, like Saul in the house of Judas at Damascus,
and after many days his prayer was heard. He used such
means as he had, and in so using means God met him and
helped him. He had a sincere desire to do God's will, and the
promise of the Lord Jesus was verified, " He shall know of the
doctrine whether it be of God" (John vii. 17).

The struggle between light and darkness in Grimshaw's mind
appears to have continued several years. Long as this delay
may seem to us, we must not forget that he was entirely without
help from man, and had to work out every spiritual problem
unassisted and alone. But though the work within him went
on slowly, it went on solidly and surely. The illness and death
of his first wife, leaving him a desolate widower with two chil-
dren, after four years of married life, appears to have been a
powerful means of drawing him nearer to God. The perusal
of two most valuable Puritan books, "Brooks' Precious Remedies
against Satan's Devices," and " Owen on Justification," seems
to have been extremely helpful and establishing to his soul.
And the final result was, that after several years of severe con-
flict, Grimshaw no longer " walked in darkness, but had the
full light of life" (John viii. 12). The scales completely fell
from his eyes. He saw and knew the whole truth, and the
truth made him free. He left Todmorden a far wiser and hap-
l)ier man than he entered it. Hard as the schooling was, he


there learned lessons which he never forgot to his life's end.
Few men, perhaps, have ever so thoroughly verified the truth of
Luther's saying, " Prayer and temptation, the Bible and medi-
tation, make a true minister of the gospel."

Grimshaw's testimony to the power of the Scriptures at this
crisis in his spiritual history, is very striking and instructive.
Like many others, he found the Bible almost a new book to
his mind. Up to this time he had known it only in the letter,
but now he became acquainted with it in its spiritual power.
He afterwards told a friend that "if God had drawn up his,
Bible to heaven, and sent him down another, it could not
have been newer to him." So true is it that when man be-
comes a new creature " old things pass away and all things
become new."

Grimshaw's people at Todmorden soon found that a change
had come ov^er their minister's mind. In the middle of his
spiritual conflict, and before he had found peace, it is related
that a poor woman came to him in great distress of soul, and
asked him what she must do. He could only say, " I cannot
tell what to say to you, Susan, for I am in the same state my-
self; but to despair of the mercy of God would be worse than
all." Another woman, named Mary Scholefield, of Calf Lees,
had sought his advice in the beginning of his ministry, and got
the following answer : " Put away these gloomy thoughts. Go
into merry company. Divert yourself; and all will be well at
last." At a later period he went to her house and said, "O
Mary, what a blind leader of the blind was I, when I came to
take off thy burden by exhorting thee to live in pleasure, and
to follow the vain amusements of the world ! " Incidents like
these, we may be sure, would soon be known throughout Tod-
morden. True conversion, hke the presence of Christ, is a
thing that cannot be hid.

It would indeed be interesting if we had any authentic
records of Grimshaw's history during these momentous eleven


years at Todmorden. But God has thought fit to withhold
them from us. It is certainly very curious that without the
least concert with the other great evangelists who were his
contemporaries, he should have arrived at the same doctrinal
conclusions and taken up the same line of action. But it is
an established fact, and well ascertained, that all the time he
was at Todmorden he was an entire stranger to Whitefield and
Wesley, and never read a line of their writings. It is no less
curious to observe how God was pleased to wean him from the
love of worldly things, by taking away his beloved wife, whose
loss he seems to have felt most keenly. But the well-instructed
Christian will see in all this part of his history the hand of
perfect wisdom. The tools that the great Architect intends to
use much, are often kept long in the fire, to temper them and
fit them for work. The discipline that Grimshaw went through
at Todmorden was doubtless very severe. But the lessons he
learned under it could probably have been learned in no other
school, k

In the month of May 1742, Grimshaw was appointed
'minister of Haworth in Yorkshire, and remained there twenty-
one years, until his death. How and by what interest he got
the appointment, we do not know. At the present time,
the patronage is in the hands of the Vicar of Bradford and
certain trustees. It is not unlikely that his first wife's family
had something to do with it.* Haworth is a chapelry in the
parish of Bradford, and about four miles from the town of
Keighley. It stands in a cold, desolate, bleak moorland
country, on the hills which divide Yorkshire from Lancashire,
and, running down from the Lake district to the peak of
Derbyshire, form the "backbone" of England.. None but
those who have travelled from Manchester to Leeds by the
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, or from Manchester to

* Haworth is best known at present as the birth-place and residence of the unhappy
Charlotte Urontc, whose father was incumbent of the place.


Huddersfield by the London and North-Western, or from
]\Ianchester to Sheffield by the Great Northern Hne, can have
any adequate idea of the rugged, weather-beaten, mountainous
clmracter of this district. Its valleys are beautiful, highly
cultivated, and teeming with life and manufacturing activity.
But the upper parts of the country are often as wild, and steep,
and uncultivated, and unapproachable, as a Highland moor.
At the top of one of the roughest parts of the mountain dis-
trict lies the village of Haworth, the principal scene of Grim-
shaw's ministerial labour.

Haworth a hundred years ago was perhaps as rough and un-
civihzed a place as a minister could go to. Even Doomsday-
Book specially describes it as " desolate and waste." It is a
long narrow village, built of brown stone, approached by a
steep ascent from Keighley or Kebden bridge. The street is
so steep that one can understand it must have been only
recently that wheeled carriages went there. Indeed, there is a
legend that when the first carriage came to Haworth the
villagers brought out hay to feed it, under the idea that it was
an animal ! Such was the parish in which Grimshaw set up
the standard of the cross. A less promising field can hardly
be imagined.

Grimshaw began his work at Haworth after a manner very
different from his beginning at Todmorden. He commenced
preaching to his wild and rough parishioners the gospel of
Christ in the plainest and most familiar manner, and followed
up his preaching by house to house visitation. His preaching
was not confined to the walls of the church. Wherever he
could get people together, whether in a room, a barn, a field, a
quarry, or by the roadside, he was ready to preach. His visit-
ing was not a mere going from family to family to gossip about
temporal matters, sickness, and children. Wherever he went
he took his Master with him, and spoke plainly to people about
their souls. In this kind of work his whole life was spent at


Haworth. Preaching publicly and privately repentance to-
ward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, after the
manner of St. Paul, was his one employment throughout the
whole twenty-one years of his ministry. He himself describes
his mode of action in the following letter : —

" The method wliich I, the least and most unworthy of my
Lord's ministers, take in my parish, is this: I preach the gospel
- — glad tidings of salvation to penitent sinners through faith in
Christ's blood only — twice every Sunday the year round, save
when I expound the Church Catechism and thirty-nine articles,
or read the Homilies, which in substance I think my duty to
do in some part of the year annually, on the Lord's day morn-
ings. I have found this practice, I bless God, of inexpressible
benefit to my congregation, which consists, especially in the
summer season, of perhaps ten or twelve hundred souls, or, as
some think, many more. We have also prayer, and a chapter
expounded every Lord's Day evening. I visit my parish in
twelve several places monthly, convening six, eight, or ten
families in each place, allowing any people of the neighbouring
parishes that please to attend the exhortation. This I call my
monthly visitation. I am now entering into the fifth year of it,
and wonderfully has the Lord blessed it. The only thing more
are our funeral expositions and exhortations, and visiting our
societies in one or other of the three last days of the month.
This I purpose, through the grace of God, to make my con-
stant business in my parish so long as I live."

In carrying on this kind of work, Grimshaw gladly availed
himself of every help that he could obtain from like-minded
men. He became acquainted with John Nelson, the famous
Yorkshire stone-mason, one of the most remarkable lay-
preachers whom Wesley sent forth, and frequently received
him at Haworth. He welcomed those few clergymen who
were of one heart with himself, and seized every opportunity of
getting them to preach to his people. Whitefield, the two


Wesleys, Romaine, and Venn, were among those whom he
was only too glad to place in his pulpit. On such occasions it
was no uncommon thing to leave the church and preach in
the churchyard, in order to meet the convenience of the
crowds who came together. When the Lord's Supper was
administered at such seasons, it was sometimes necessary for
the first congregation of communicants to retire from the
church and give way to others, until all had partaken of the

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 9 of 36)