James H. (James Harrison) Rigg.

Jabez Bunting, a great Methodist leader online

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No one can feel more deeply than the
writer how inadequate is the little book he
has written, when crit'cally regarded as a
life-sketch of the greatest man of middle
Methodism, to whose gifts and character
organized Wesleyan Methodism throughout
the world owes incomparably more than to
any other man. With more space a better
book might and ought to have been made.
But to bring the book within reach of every
intelligent and earnest Methodist youth and
of every working man's family, a very cheap
volume was necessary, and therefore a very
small one. The writer has done his best,
accordingly, to meet the views of the Metho-
dist Publishing House in this matter.

He knows how great and serious are some
of the deficiencies in this record ; especially

6 Preface

on the side of Methodist Foreign Missions,
as to which he has said nothing, though
Jabez Bunting in this field was the prime
and most influential organizer in all the early
years of our Church's Connexional mission
work and world-wide enterprises. The
subject was too large and wide, too various
and too complicated, to be dealt with in
a section of a small book. It is, besides,
the ever-various and far-reaching theme, in
these later as in earlier times of our Church
history, of those universally extended public
missionary meetings which Dr. Bunting may
be said to have taken the chief part in
organizing, and which are now more than
ever before prized and sustained in our
Methodism of to-day.





I. Youth and Early Manhood

II. Macclesfield

III. Early Ministry in London

IV. A Methodist Leader

V. Line of Development

VI. Character and Influence








During the first half of the last century
Dr. Bunting was, by universal consent, recog-
nized as the most influential minister of his
own Church, and as occupying a very high,
if not the highest, place among the Noncon-
formist leaders of his own time. Not that
he sought such recognition, or ever affected
the style or manner of a Nonconformist
leader ; the preferment was informal, but
was his by general consent.

He was providentially destined to great-
ness as a leader of his fellows, but yet he was
born in a low social position. Nor did he
attain to eminence as a Church leader by any
great stroke or special method of his own.
In his youth, indeed, his talents and scholarly
diligence had raised him to a position and
prospects which would have warranted the

io Introduction

confident expectation for him of a high
professional career ; but he sacrificed that
position, with all that it promised, for con-
science' sake, to enter upon the hard work,
and still harder poverty, with which was
very often coupled at that time more than
a little of social ostracism, that were the lot
of a Methodist itinerant preacher a hundred
years ago. From this beginning he won his
way, in after life, by modest and devoted
service, first to the confidence and high
appreciation of his fellow labourers as Metho-
dist preachers, and afterwards to the general
esteem and admiration of evangelical workers
in every class of society. As Wesleyan
Methodism grew into wider and still widening
acceptance and influence, his fame and
personal influence continually increased. The
reluctance of a modesty which welcomed
work and service, but in his earlier years
shrank from official position and distinction,
was overborne by the appreciation of his
brethren, both older and younger ; until at
length, while still in middle life, he could not
but accept the position for which he was
providentially destined, and, as the leading
minister of his own evangelistic Church, was

Introduction 1 1

lifted into pre-eminence among the evan-
gelical communities of England. He was
elected President of the Wesleyan Conference
while still in the prime of his life, and by
re-election held that office four times — in
1820, 1828, 1836, 1844. His funeral was an
occasion of almost national mourning.




It will be my first attempt, in this sketch
of Dr. Bunting's youth and earlier manhood,
to trace in slight outline the course of his
life, before he was ' called ' to the Christian

Jabez Bunting was of Derbyshire parent-
age. His father was a tailor of Monyash,
in the ' Peak ' of the county, who moved to
Manchester in middle life — a man of feeble
physique, but a Christian man. He was a
Methodist,^ who knew the value of a good
education ; and, though he was poor, he sent
his son to the best day-school in Manchester.


14 Jabez Bunting

His wife, whose maiden name was Mary
Redfern. was a superior woman, a godly
Methodist, much esteemed for her Christian
principles and firm good sense.

The story of Jabez Bunting's life begins
properly with the visit to Monyash of a
Methodist preacher of more than ordinary
gifts for his itinerant vocation, John Bennet.
He described his ' circuit ' — or, in old Metho-
dist vernacular, his ' round ' — as one hun-
dred and fifty miles, in two weeks, during
which he preached thirty-four times, besides
meeting the ' Societies ' and visiting the
sick — Derbyshire, Lancashire, and Cheshire
being the principal scenes of his labours.
This evangelist visited Monyash, where
Mary Redfern heard him preach, and
was so impressed by the word, that she
forthwith joined the Methodist Society,
and became thenceforth a devoted follower
of Wesley. 1

1 The history of John Bennet is, in part, the
history of John Wesley, because of Bennet's mar-
riage with Grace Murray, \vho,but for the opposition
of his brother Charles, would have become the wife
and fellow helper of John Wesley. Bennet became
the head of a minor Methodist offshoot, known in
Lancashire as Independent Methodists.

Youth and Early Manhood I 5

Years afterwards, one of Wesley's
preachers, riding across country from the
Methodist Conference at Leeds to take ship
for America, as one of the first preachers sent
there by Wesley, called at Monyash, and
preached in the Methodist preaching-room
from the striking text in i Chron. iv. 9,
' And Jabez was more honourable than his
brethren.' That sermon made a deep im-
pression on Mary Redfern, and the text
evermore rested in her memory. When by
her marriage she had become Mary Bunting,
and a son had been born to her, she called
his name Jabez, mindful of the sermon she
had heard years before, and of the prayer
and the promise connected with the name
(1 Chron. iv. 9, 10). Her son Jabez may be
said, in a spiritual sense, to have enjoyed
that blessing.

The course and character of the son's life
were determined by the removal of his father
to Manchester, presumably through his
physical weakness and to escape from the
bitter winter climate of the Peak. He lived
in Newton Lane, Manchester, where his son
Jabez was born on the evening of Ascension
Day, May 13, 1779 ; he was baptized at the

1 6 Jabez Bunting

Collegiate Church, now the cathedral of that
city, on the 18th of July following. The
father died before he was an old man, but by
sending his son to the best school in Man-
chester, where the sons of professional gentle-
men received their education, he did, in effect,
determine the development of his son's mind
and character, and put him on the line of
intellectual progress and social culture and
elevation, which, combined with the influence
of the spirit and fellowship of Wesleyan
Methodism, and the converting power of true
religion, led to the remarkable history and
world-wide influence which made Jabez
Bunting the greatest leader of Methodism in
the century that followed the death of

The school in Manchester was conducted
by a Presbyterian minister, and among the
scholars was the son of the eminent physician
and publicist, Dr. Percival, at that time the
most distinguished citizen of Manchester
and one of the most celebrated men of
scientific culture and general knowledge in
England. Young Percival and the tailor's
son were class-mates and intimate friends,
and, as a consequence, when the boys had

Youth and Early Manhood 17

finished their course at school, in fine dis-
regard of social prejudices, the tailor's son
entered the family of Dr. Percival, probably
the most refined and truly liberal household
in Manchester. As Dr. Percival's valued
pupil and amanuensis ; his son's intimate
friend ; the friend also, then and thereafter
through life, of his daughters ; the trusted
and beloved inmate of that charming and
cultivated household : Jabez finished his edu-
cation as an English citizen and gentleman,
and a professional man. He was a member
of that household when he was converted as
a Christian believer, in the strictest evangelical
sense. He was still a member of the same
household when he offered himself for the
ministry of the ' people called Methodists,'
and was accepted on probation. This took
place in the last year of the eighteenth cen-
tury, Jabez Bunting being at the time twenty
years of age.

Jabez Bunting remained the valued friend
of Dr. Percival through the life of that
eminent man, who appointed him one of his
executors. He was the friend and corre-
spondent, sometimes the counsellor, of the
daughters after their father's death. The


1 8 Jabez Bunting

remarkable tone and aspect of gentlemanly
and scholarly breeding which distinguished
Dr. Bunting in after life, and made him
always at home in good society, whether of
higher or lower rank, was no doubt largely
due to his intimate association as a youth
with Dr. Percival and his family. The clear
and pure English, free from all note of pro-
vincialism, whether ' country ' or ' cockney,'
which he spoke, and his excellent style,
equally manly and scholarly, as a speaker
and writer, must also have been due very
much to his training as Dr. Percival's pupil
and secretary. He gave up his hopes and
his more than fair prospects, as a medical
student, for the poverty and wearing labours
of a Methodist itinerant preacher. But all
that he had learned from Dr. Percival, and
all that he sacrificed when he enlisted as
servant and soldier of Christ in the life of
a Methodist preacher, served directly to
prepare him for his calling as a Christian
minister and an evangelical leader in the
Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The boy Jabez had, as a matter of course,
in that primitive period of Wesleyan Metho-
dism, been trained, not only in Methodist

Youth and Early Manhood 19

doctrine and rules of godly life, but as an
attendant at the morning service of the
parish church, where he had been baptized
by the parish clergyman. But he had also
from childhood gone with his parents to the
Methodist preaching-house, his mother carry-
ing him from a very early age, not only to
the preaching in the evening, but to the
lovefeast in the afternoon or evening, a
' means of grace ' in which the early Metho-
dists specially delighted.

On this latter point hung a matter of
importance for his after life. Whilst Joseph
Benson, the preacher, divine, and commen-
tator, was stationed at Manchester, the boy,
who by this time had fully arrived at an age
of moral accountability and, indeed, of bright
intelligence, was still received with his
mother into the quarterly lovefeast of the
Society, though by rule none but decided
believers or earnest seekers after Christ and
His salvation were admitted, by show of a
proper ticket, to that peculiarly sacred and
confidential service. When Mr. Benson,
however, had removed from Manchester to
another ' circuit,' and Mr. Mather, an able
Scotchman and one of the most influential

20 Jabez Bunting

and exact in discipline among the ministers —
one who, like Benson himself, had been
elected, and indeed then was, President of
the Conference — succeeded Benson as super-
intendent of the Manchester Circuit, he re-
fused to allow Jabez, by this time a youth in
his teens, to accompany his mother to this
sacred Society gathering. This circumstance
made a great impression on the boy, as it
had deeply touched his mother. The result
was his definite decision for Christ and His
service — or, to use Methodist language, his
full and convinced c conversion.' In later
life he said, ' Many attribute their conversion
to their having attended a lovefeast. I
attribute mine to having been shut out of
one.' This was a lesson for all his life to one
who, in after years, had need to guard
sacredly the lesson for his Church of firmly,
though patiently and equitably, maintaining
its rules of Christian order and principle.

The lad received a note of admission on
trial into the ' Methodist Society ' — the
Wesleyan Methodist Church — in September
1794, being fifteen years of age. At the
same time, his intimate and life-long friend,
James Wood, joined the Society, and, after

Youth and Early Manhood 21

filling many offices of trust in Methodism, died
in its fellowship, having founded an in-
fluential family, which to this day cleaves
to the same Church, serving it with stead-
fast loyalty. James Wood was an eminent
citizen of Manchester, and the first president
of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce ;
he was also a county magistrate. Through
all his more mature life he was also a class-
leader, as well as a local preacher, in the
Methodist Church. 1

It is proper here to note that, though
Dr. Percival, whilst a Presbyterian by re-
ligious profession, was, like most of the
English Presbyterians of this period, an
Arian in his professed creed, nevertheless,
when his pupil had taken the step of entering
the Methodist ministry, he sent him a kind
and cordial letter, and with it a generous
gift to enable him to buy books to help him
in his studies for his vocation. He was
nearly connected by marriage with the
eminent Irish divine, Archbishop Magee,
whose learned and able work on the cardinal

1 Dr. Bunting in after life attributed to Benson's
ministry his decisive * awakening ' to the spiritual
life. Mather brought him to final decision.

22 Jabez Bunting

Christian doctrines of Atonement and Sacrifice
was for many years the most generally valued
standard authority on that great subject.
When a copy of that work was needed for
Mr. Benson's use as Methodist editor, and,
the work being out of print, was not to be
procured, Dr. Percival took great pains to
obtain the only copy, as it would seem, that
could be had, through his kind offices with
the Archbishop, and sent it to his former
secretary, for his use on behalf of Mr. Benson
and the Methodist Book-Room. That Mr.
Bunting's religious influence was beneficial
in the family of Dr. Percival may be probably
inferred from the fact that nearly all the
members of the large family circle became
serious adherents of the Church of England,
and so remained through life, retaining to
the end their warm friendship for their
father's secretary and executor.

It might have been anticipated, from the
position which Jabez Bunting occupied in
the family of Dr. Percival, that his course
for the future was plain before him. He was
already known as a young and earnest
Methodist, a fact which raised no prejudice
against him in the mind of his principal.

Youth and Early Manhood 23

The prospect was that in due time he would
become a partner with the doctor, and the
guardian of his family and their interests.
Writing a few years after this to a brother-
minister, a townsman of Mr. Bunting's, Joseph
Entwisle, who was twice elected President
of the Conference, and was doubtless the
minister of all others the most beloved and
venerated by his brethren, said that Mr.
Bunting had sacrificed great prospects in the
medical profession when he became a Metho-
dist minister. Such was certainly the case.
He might have continued to serve as a local
preacher, and to work side by side in Metho-
dism with his intimate friend James Wood
until, while Mr. Wood was president of the
Manchester Chamber of Commerce, his friend
would have come to be recognized as one of
the leading physicians of Manchester, and
the successor, as well as the executor and
trustee, of Dr. Percival. In such a case he
might well have become the most influential
Methodist, and at the same time one of the
leading citizens, of Manchester. Such a
future was undoubtedly more than a possi-
bility in the case of so strong and gifted a
man as Jabez Bunting, if he had retained

24 Jabez Bunting

his connexion with Dr. Percival and suc-
ceeded to his professional position, though
always a Methodist. Such a future, indeed,
was a more natural and probable outlook for
him, according to business possibilities and
prospects, than any other. Nevertheless, he
deliberately turned away and took up the
work and profession of a Methodist itinerant
preacher, with the poverty, the social in-
feriority, and the severe toil and continual
self-sacrifice which such a calling could not
but involve, knowing full well all that it
meant for himself, and the continued hard-
ship that would be the lot of his mother and
sisters. In so doing he left the obvious and
easy path for the difficult and uncertain —
and at all events the hard and self-denying —
lot of a Methodist preacher. It is impossible
to explain or understand this result in any
other way than by recognizing the ' call ' of
Providence, for higher than earthly interests
and reasons, to ' leave all ' and become a
minister of Christ's gospel to the common
people of England. How, by what means
and instrumentality, he was led to the
conviction that he was called to become a
Methodist_home missionary — such in effect

Youth and Early Manhood 25

in its earliest aspect was his vocation — is an
interesting and instructive inquiry.

It may be presumed, to begin with, that
the influence of his excellent and devoted
mother had much to do with her son's
deliberate choice of the work and life of a
Methodist itinerant preacher. From the time
when, under the influence of Mr. Mather, he
joined the ' Society,' the mother who had
taken him in his earliest years to the Metho-
dist preaching and the lovefeasts must have
borne him continually in her mind and on
her heart as belonging to Christ and Metho-
dism, and her example and influence must
have laid deep hold of him. He was her
Jabez, and she looked forward to his fulfilling,
in a high and holy sense, the word of Scripture
which had dwelt in her mind and on her
heart. Accordingly, when, as a mere youth,
he began to deliver addresses to young people,
and to take an interest in their conduct and
pursuits, his mother would naturally begin
to surmise what work for Christ her son might
be called upon to do. Besides which, his
father's house was situated very near to the
superintendent minister's house, in Oldham
Street Chapel yard, the inmates of which,

26 Jabez Bunting

Mr. Percival Bunting informs us in the
volume from which I have already quoted,
took kindly to their neighbour's polite and
promising son, who ' went in and out of their
dwelling almost at his pleasure.' Thus he
drank in influences higher, stronger, and
more congenial than even the studies and
the society with which he became familiar
at the home of his schoolfellow and friend,
and in the circle of which Dr. Percival was
the centre. Such influences drew him with
increasing strength and with growing spiritual
inspiration towards the work of the gospel
ministry as a ' Methodist preacher,' with all
its toil and worldly disadvantages.

When he was but a boy of seventeen, it
is notable, and was, as it were, prophetic of
his future vocation, that he became the
founder of ' A Society for the acquirement of
religious knowledge consisting of young men
of the Methodist Connexion in Manchester,'
the rules of which, composed and written out
by himself, were contained in a book lent to
his son and biographer. Among the objects
of the Society was ' improvement in religious
knowledge, experience, and practice,' and
every sixth meeting was to be employed ' in

Youth and Early Manhood 27

exercises wholly and distinctly of devotion.'
The minute-book of this Society records
what was probably his first attempt to
expound Holy Scripture. ' Thursday morn-
ing,' so the minute reads, ' Brother Rea
being detained by indisposition, the president,
J. Bunting, read the first chapter of the
Epistle to the Romans, which afforded
matter for conversation.'

A little later in this early stage of Methodist
circuit organization in Manchester, we find
Jabez Bunting, still in his teens, taking
an active part in the working of the Prayer
Leaders' Association of Manchester Metho-
dism, which, in effect, was a branch of the
Methodist home missionary agency of that
time for bringing awakening gospel truth into
contact with the working classes throughout
the country. In Manchester this agency
was powerfully worked, and in 1796 Jabez
Bunting was its secretary, as appears from
a document he left behind entitled ' A Plan
of the Methodist Sunday Evening Prayer-
meetings in Manchester,' for the September
quarter, 1798, a relic which bears the signa-
ture, ' Jabez Bunting, 35, Church Street,
Secretary.' This plan gives the names of

28 Jabez Bunting

212 prayer-leaders — a large proportion of
the Society members, who regularly visited
sixty-four places in the town and neighbour-

The transition of a youth so active and
diligent as this secretary of the prayer-
leaders, and at the same time so well educated
and gifted, to the work of a local preacher
must have been easy and natural, and could
not fail to take place speedily. There is
evidence to show it was in 1798, when he was
nineteen years old, that he made his earliest
attempts in the way of extemporaneous
address to a congregation in the open air.
At a later period in that year he preached
his first sermon at a village — now, no doubt,
absorbed — between Manchester and Blackley,
when a number of his friends gathered round
him, who were greatly impressed with the
maturity and effectiveness of the sermon.
He was employed as local preacher eleven
months, during which period he preached
fourteen sermons. After fully weighing the
reasons pro and con, as to which he left
behind a comprehensive logical enumeration
and statement of the arguments, and the
balance which determined his conclusion, he

Youth and Early Manhood 29

consented gladly to his being proposed in the
Manchester Quarterly Meeting as a candidate
for the Methodist itinerant ministry at the
ensuing Conference, 1799.

This was indeed a disinterested choice.
He relinquished the assured prospect of
pecuniary competence and professional dis-
tinction for a life of severe toil and narrow
means. By his father's death in 1797,
leaving no property behind him, Jabez was
left alone to care for his mother and two
sisters. A letter from the son to his clever
and helpful sister — the other sister was a
helpless invalid — in regard to the treatment
of their father in the last stage of his physical
decline, shows with what dutiful care the
youth of eighteen gave minute directions
for the tendance and nourishing of his father
during the latest weeks of his life, when he
had to leave Manchester for the fresher air
of Macclesfield, with his daughter to nurse
him, helped by such aid and allowances
as the mother and son could provide for
him. This letter is given in Dr. Bunting's
biography, and there is in it evidence of
professional care as well as of filial affection.

The father lived only three months after

30 Jabez Bunting

the letter was written. On his death Jabez
became the stay of the family, as far as his
own limited means enabled him so to be. He
gave all he could spare to help his mother
and sisters. When, after two years had
passed, the poor youth became a poor
Methodist preacher, he gave his mother one-
half of his circuit allowances, and he continued
so to do as long as she lived. Happily, his
mother was a woman greatly esteemed both
by the Manchester ministers and by the

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Online LibraryJames H. (James Harrison) RiggJabez Bunting, a great Methodist leader → online text (page 1 of 6)