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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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.]

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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:

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Charles Simeon at Cambridge

Charles Simeon was born in Reading, England, on September 24, 1759, and educated at Eton, then at King’s College, Cambridge.  It was during those student days he found it compulsory, under penalty of expulsion, to attend the Lord’s Supper three times during the year!!

Not a Christian at the time, nevertheless the Spirit of God moved upon his conscience. In order to better understand this spiritual requirement Simeon first read the Whole Duty of Man, and disciplined himself with forced disciplines of fasting, prayer and study. After three weeks he was sick from his efforts, but not spiritually renewed.

What followed was an acute awareness of his own sinfulness, such that he recounted being “so greatly oppressed with the weight of them, that I frequently looked upon the dogs with envy”. The next step in his journey was to purchase Bishop Wilson’s The Lord’s Supper – through which he found himself “much interested” in the story of the Scapegoat (Leviticus 16).

Simeon records the process of revelation: “What! may I transfer all my guilt to another? From that moment on I sought to lay my sins on the sacred head of Jesus, and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; and on the Thursday that hope increased; and on Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, Jesus Christ is risen to-day; Hallelujah! Hallelujah! From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord’s Table in our chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour.” Memoirs, p9

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And so it was that Charles Simeon was converted in the early part of his first year at University, on Easter Sunday, April 4, in the year 1779, at the age of 20.

That personal encounter, however, set Simeon up for lonely challenges. Cambridge was opposed to revivalism and had expelled students in preceding years for their religious fervour. Simeon spent three lonely years, without finding like faith among his fellows, recording of them “for 3 years I knew not any religious person” on the campus.

Simeon applied himself to the study of theology, determined to fulfil what he believed to be his calling to ministry. At the very end of his studies, shortly after his ordination, Simeon was given a unique opportunity. The vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, which Simeon frequently walked past, died. The Bishop promoted Simeon (a Deacon) to the role of ‘Curate in charge’ and Simeon became minister of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, where he remained for 54 years.

However Simeon found a new challenge upon his appointment, as the parishioners did not want his brand of evangelical preaching. The parishioners wanted the former assistant to become minister, so they locked their pews and even locked the building so Simeon could not use it for his various evangelistic activities. When Simeon put benches in the aisles the church wardens threw them out. As he battled with discouragement he even wrote out his resignation at one point.

But Simeon prevailed and won over those who opposed him, taking the influence of his ministry far beyond the bounds of Cambridge. His Sunday evening “conversation parties” at the vicarage, attracted Cambridge students as he taught them to preach. This ministry continued throughout his days and by this death it is estimated that about a third of all Anglican ministers had come under his teaching at some point.

Simeon also had to press past health challenges which limited him for a dozen years. At the age of 60 he suddenly regained his vigour and the Lord impressed him that the plans of retirement from that age were to be laid aside and he was to continue in the strength of the Lord without the life of ease he had promised himself. Simeon accepted that challenge and preached for another 17 years, until two months before his death on November 12, 1836.

Simeon’s lasting legacy is his writings, and notably his twenty-one volume Horae Homiletica; a collection of expanded sermon outlines from all sixty six books of the Bible.

People impacted by the godly preaching of this evangelical Anglican include Henry Martyn, who abandoned his plans for a career in law and went to the mission fields of India and Persia. British statesman William Wilberforce was also influenced by Simeon.

Simeon also had great impact through the Church Missionary Society which he established in England as well as through the University and College Christian Fellowship. He also helped found evangelistic organizations like the London Jews Society, the Religious Tract Society, and the British & Foreign Bible Society.

Simeon remained single and spent his life as the Lord’s servant, totally dedicated to the ministry to which he was called.

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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:

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John Milton Applies His Talents to His Faith

John Milton died on November 8, 1674. He is described as “the greatest poet of Christian themes England has produced”.

Born to a family of means in London on 9 December, 1608, his Christian convictions were most probably invoked through his mother, Sarah, who is described as a very religious person. His genius for poetry revealed itself at an early age. His paraphrase of Psalm 136 was written when he was 15 years of age …
Let us with a gladsome mind
praise the Lord for He is kind …

Originally it had 24 stanzas.

Milton considered himself destined for ministry, and was first taught languages by his father, then was schooled at St Paul’s School and Christ’s College Cambridge. After a year at Cambridge he was suspended for a fist fight with his tutor. Milton held his beliefs firmly. He was not particularly liked by the other students. At Cambridge he composed “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” on Christmas Day 1629.

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After graduation he spent time at home, engaged in literature, and then went to the Continent where he met many notables, including Galileo (then under house arrest by the church), the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Barberini and Calvinist theologian Giovanni Diodati.

Milton returned to London and was then caught up in the English Civil War. He became secretary to Oliver Cromwell writing political treatises to counter critical works originating on the Continent. He also wrote several prose works from a Puritan perspective including pamphlets against the episcopy.

At the age of 44 he became totally blind – but continued to write political treatises.

Then – in later life – he turned back to poetry.

His epic work, Paradise Lost, in which he “sought to justify the ways of God to man” was published in ten volumes in 1667. The copyright was sold for 5 pounds Sterling at a time when Milton’s finances had taken a turn for the worse.

Milton’s blindness made huge demands on his creativity. He would compose verses at night and commit them to memory, then dictate them to his daughters or other assistants in the morning.

Many of Milton’s religious views were at variance to Puritan theology, including his disbelief in the divine birth.

His domestic life was sad. His first wife, 17 year old Mary Powell, who married him when he was twice her age, left him after “a few weeks” then returned two years later (1645) and bore him three daughters.

After her death he re-married (1656), but his second wife died two years later.

At the age of 58 he married again to a much younger woman, despite the opposition of his daughters, and this third wife seemed to bring him peace in his last eight years.

His last manuscript, A Treatise of Christian Doctrine, in Latin, was not found until about 150 years after his death. It reveals Arian views – and a willingness to tolerate polygamy … (Chambers Biographical Dictionary).

Paradise Lost is controversial in its Christian message, subtly presenting Satan as the real hero of the poem. Romantic poet William Blake stated that Milton is “a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

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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 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.