Joseph Barber Lightfoot at Cambridge

Joseph Barber Lightfoot was born in Liverpool, England, on April 13, 1828.  He was to become one of Anglicanism’s most notable bishops – W. Robertson Nicoll describes him as “pre-eminently the scholar of the Church of England” (Princes of the Church, page 22).

The Dictionary of English Church History speaks of his “profound learning and matchless lucidity of exposition” (page 328), whilst Warren Wiersbe approvingly quotes The Times newspaper that stated, “He was at once one of the greatest theological scholars and an eminent bishop.  It is scarcely possible to estimate adequately as yet the influence of his life and work” (Listening to the Giants, page 52).

After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, he was ordained to the priesthood, and eventually became Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.  In 1879 he was appointed Bishop of Durham. He also had a continuing role as a professor at Cambridge, where he had great influence over the students who came under his care.

We are told that he was a gifted linguist – fluent in six languages and able to use six more.

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History Faces Bar

His ‘sons’ – men training for ordination – breakfasted with him regularly before listening to his lectures and advice for ministry.

His Commentaries on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon “ought to be in every minister’s library”, says Warren Wiersbe. These commentaries were noteworthy in that Lightfoot departed from the idea of using the text as a source of homilies, or to investigate previously held interpretations. Instead, he aimed to arm the reader with such insight as to come to his own conclusions, thus giving the text itself to the reader, not the beliefs of the commentator.

Lightfoot was also one of the scholars who translated the New Testament for the Revised Version (1870-1884).  (Spurgeon said that this translation was “strong in Greek but weak in English”.)

It is said of him, “His sermons were not remarkable for eloquence, but a certain solidity and balance of judgment, an absence of partisanship, a sobriety of expression combined with clearness and force of diction, attracted hearers and inspired them with confidence.” Four volumes of his sermons were published in 1890.

As a member of what was known as the Cambridge School, with fellow graduate Dr BF Westcott, he soundly rebutted the influence of German theologians and criticism, which were gaining some currency in England at that time.

Bishop JB Lightfoot never married, and his assiduous studies and diligence to his commitments robbed him of good health. He died in Bournemouth on 21 December, 1889, and his Bishopric passed to his life-long associate Dr Westcott.

[This Bishop Lightfoot is not to be confused with John Lightfoot, also an English divine – a member of the Westminster Assembly in the 17th century.]

History Faces Bar

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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Benjamin Keach Punished for Preaching the Truth

This is the day that … Benjamin Keach was arrested for publishing a children’s book!

It was 1664, in Aylesbury, England. Keach was a 24 year-old non-conformist – that is, he refused to conform to the teachings of the state church. He was a Baptist.

In those days religious toleration was at a low ebb – non-existent might be a better word.

Such was the antagonism toward religious non-conformists that the judge tried to find a way to impose the death sentence. When the jury found Benjamin guilty only of misquoting a single verse of Scripture, Judge Hyde bullied the jurors into finding the defendant guilty of other charges.

Two years earlier 2000 ministers were ejected from their living because of their refusal – among other things – to submit to bishops and use the Prayer Book.

Parliament had passed a law (the Act of Uniformity) designed to bring all Christians under the banner of Anglicanism.

Benjamin Keach was actually preaching when the soldiers arrived … “violently laid hold of him, tied him and threw him to the ground. Then they declared their intention of killing him by riding their horses over him. As the men spurred their horses forward, an officer appeared and at the last moment saved the preacher from a horrible death” (B. Keach, by R. Dix, page 11).

He was charged with printing “a seditious and venomous book” entitled The Child’s Instructor – a book that taught doctrines contrary to the Book of Common Prayer.

Especially noted were his views on the baptism of believers (rather than infants), and that “it is the gift of God that makes a minister of the gospel and not learning from universities or human schools.”

Keach was sentenced to a fortnight in prison, two hours in the pillory, fined 20 pounds Sterling (a small fortune in those days) and his book was publicly burned.

While in the stocks in the public square he preached to the people and they looked upon him as a hero. Rather than pelt him with rotten vegetables they respected him. Keach’s preaching was so effective that the sheriff threatened to gag him. When a Church of England minister spoke out against Keach the crowd responded by scorning the minister for his godless life.

Like thousands of others, Benjamin Keach suffered – more than once – because of his faith in Jesus Christ and because he believed a man’s religion is not bound by the state – but by the Word of God (ibid, page 15). In this Keach was recognising the higher government of God over our lives than the governments imposed by men. Just as the early apostles declared that they must obey God and not man.

Sixty books came from his pen, he introduced hymn-singing into Baptist services, and for many years preached to large congregations … even up to 1000 people.

By the time of his death in 1704 (at the age of 64) he was one of the best-known Baptists in all England.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Henry Alford Produces his Greek New Testament

This is the day that … Henry Alford was born in London, in 1810.

The fifth generation of Anglican rectors who made a worthy impact, it was not long before Henry Alford showed himself an exceptional child.  His mother died shortly after he was born and at an early age Henry was in the sole care of his studious father. So it is no wonder his academic preparation was exemplary.

At age 6 he wrote a manuscript on the Travels of Paul. Before he was 10 he wrote Latin odes … and a history of the Jews!! (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 27).

Higher education took place at Trinity College, Cambridge – and from thence Alford served as a clergyman in the Church of England, eventually, in 1857, being appointed Dean of Canterbury.

He became, says his biographer, a man of many talents – “a poet, a preacher, a musician, a painter, a Bible scholar, a philologist … he could build an organ and play it!”

Adding to his many talents was his determination to see a task through to completion, as the following anecdote affirms. Henry was thrown from his horse in the February of 1847 when going to deliver his first lecture. Despite being very seriously shaken and disfigured he punctually appeared before his audience with his face and head covered with surgical bandages, and — resolutely lectured.

Among his many writings was A Dissuasive against Rome – a polemic against certain High Church tendencies in the Rome-ward direction in the Anglican Church.

A. Bailey tells us that Dean Alford was “a supporter of the Evangelical Alliance, and throughout his life he maintained cordial relations with non-conformists” (Gospel in Hymns, page 390).

But it is his Greek New Testament that is regarded as his magnum opus.  This great work, which appeared between 1849-1861, occupied him for twenty years of his life and “took its place as the standard critical commentary of the later nineteenth century” (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 251).  The word ‘critical’ should not be misunderstood in that sentence.  Whilst Dean Alford analysed the current theories and textual problems, he held to an evangelical position.

In order to harvest the depth of critical work originating in Germany, Alford taught himself German. Thus he brought to the English scholar insights which had previously not been available.

In the foreword to his New Testament for English Readers, (2 volumes, published 1863), he insists on belief in plenary inspiration – “I hold it to the utmost … the inspiration of the sacred writers I believe to have consisted in the fullness of the influence of the Holy Spirit specially raising them to, and enabling them for, their work, in a manner which distinguishes them from all other writers in the world, and their work from all other works …” (Volume 1, page 27).

Among his well-known hymns still sung today, are “Come, ye thankful people, come” and “Forward be our watchword”.

Dean Alford died in 1871.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Charles Simeon The Rejected Preacher Who Prevailed

This is the day that … Charles Simeon was born in 1759.

The place was Reading, England, and the aristocratic home in which young Charles was reared was one of ‘affluence’.

It was during his education at Kings College, Cambridge that he was wonderfully converted through the reading of a sermon on the subject of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16).

As he read about propitiatory sacrifice in the Old Testament, he thought, “What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lie my sins on his head?” He immediately laid his sins “upon the sacred head of Jesus.”

Despite the fact that “he found no Christian fellowship at the university” young Simeon’s Bible became his constant companion. Three years later, in 1782, he was ordained as a Church of England deacon and appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge the following year.

And there it was he ministered over the next 50 years.

“Highly unpopular at first on account of his message and manner, scorned and abused for many years, he carried on regardless of men’s opinions, until in the end he became perhaps the best known and best respected name in Cambridge” (C. Simeon, by H.E. Hopkins).

Opposition there certainly was!

“The pew holders locked the doors of their pews to prevent visitors from using them. So Simeon placed benches in the aisles, but the church officers threw the benches into the church yard. Simeon started a Sunday evening service to reach needy sinners, but the officers locked the church doors!” (Victorious Christians, by W. Wiersbe, page 62).

“When I was an object of much contempt and derision in the university,” he later wrote, “I strolled forth one day, buffeted and afflicted, with my little Testament in my hand … The first text which caught my eye was this: ‘They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.'”

He invited students to his home on Sundays and Friday evenings for “conversation parties” to teach them how to preach. By the time he died, it is estimated that one-third of all the Anglican ministers in the country had sat under his teaching at one time or another.

One Anglican historian writes that Charles Simeon introduced the singing of hymns into Anglican services … for which the Prayer Book makes no provision (apart from Psalms, Canticles and Veni Creator). “In singing hymns evangelicals (like Simeon) were no doubt acting illegally, as, it would seem, we all are today” (Through the Ages, by F.E. Barker, page 277).

Before his death on 13 November, 1836, he also played a major role in establishing the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, and the London Jews Society. He has been described as “the most famous evangelical clergyman” the Church of England ever produced (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 625).

He remained a bachelor his whole life, and his entire ministry was at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge—even today a focal point of evangelicalism in England.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Samuel Wilberforce Reforms the Role of Bishops

This is the day that … Samuel Wilberforce was born in Clapham, England, in 1805.

His father was William Wilberforce, famous parliamentarian who fought for the abolition of the slave trade – and won.

Raised in the evangelical tradition, young Samuel was “not particularly studious” during his education at Oxford, but set his sights on “holy orders” and was ordained to the Church of England priesthood in 1829.

He also “set his sights” on Emily Sargent, a vicar’s daughter (“she was 13 and I was 15 when I saw her first. And we never changed our minds!”) They married in 1828.

One biographer tells us how he “learned the Epistle to the Ephesians by heart” (19th Century Preachers, by J. Edwards, page 142).

As his ministry continued he came under the influence of John Henry Newman and Edward Pusey, leaders in what was called the “Oxford Movement” (not to be confused with the Oxford Group movement). This High Church teaching, with its Romeward emphasis, caused a major upheaval in 19th century Anglicanism.

Wilberforce remained loyal to the Church of England, even displaying “a passionate hatred of Rome” (Dictionary of English Church History, page 634), whilst many of his friends and direct relatives, including his son-in-law, seceded to the authority of the Pope.

His wife died in March, 1841.

He became Bishop of Oxford on 30 November, 1843, and “so began the most memorable episcopate of modern times” (ibid).

Controversies raged about him but “his eloquence and ready wit excelled in reconciling men of diverse opinions, hence his nickname of ‘Soapy Sam’” (Concise Universal Biography, page 1394).

Moreover he laboured to quicken the zeal of the clergy. The whole modern concept of a bishop constantly in touch with his diocese … instead of sitting silently by sipping unending cups of tea, or spending time fox hunting … begins with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.

Dean Burgon called him “the remodeller of the Episcopate” – one who changed the face of the role of bishop in the Church of England.

He held firmly to the ‘doctrine’ of baptismal regeneration and of apostolic succession.

On 19 July, 1873, his life was suddenly cut short due to a fall from his horse.

His sons also attained significant posts within the church, continuing the family influence in English religion and politics.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.