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.

Thomas Goodwin the Famous Nonconfomist

This is the day that … Thomas Goodwin was born in Norfolk, England, in 1600.

Converted at the age of 20, when God spoke to his heart through a sermon based on Ezekiel 16:6, Thomas Goodwin went on to become a Church of England clergyman, until he clashed with the bishop!

He was told not to preach upon controversial subjects!

And a few years later – in 1633 – when he met non-conformist leader John Cotton, the die was cast.  Thomas Goodwin resigned from the Church of England and became a Congregationalist.

He pastored a London chapel, married Elizabeth Prescott, spent a year in ministry in Holland, then back to London.

During the Civil War he was a Chaplain to Oliver Cromwell (and later was at Cromwell’s deathbed);  he was the non-conformists’ leader at the Westminster assembly where he spoke 357 times during the five and a half years it was in session.  On 15 October, 1644, he was even called to order for speaking too long!

And he kept minutes of the meetings – 14 massive volumes.

His published writings cover 12 volumes (Banner of Truth) – for example, there are 36 sermons just on the first chapter of Ephesians.

During his lectures at Oxford his students called him “Dr Ninecaps”, possibly because of the “two double skull caps” he often wore (Puritan Profiles, by W. Barker, page 75).

Alexander Whyte speaks of him as “the greatest pulpit master of Pauline exegesis that has ever lived” (Thirteen Appreciations, page 158).

But some fellow Puritans – like John Owen – criticised Goodwin’s distinctive teachings on assurance.

Thomas Goodwin died on 23 February, 1680, and was buried in Bunhill Fields unconsecrated ground (since he was not allowed burial in the regular cemetery due to his non-conformist beliefs).

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.

Henry Francis Lyte Abides with God

This is the day that … Henry Francis Lyte preached his last sermon. Three books give the date as the 4th, but the biography states it was the 5th. Certainly it was the first Sunday in September, in 1857.

Born in Scotland 64 years previously, 1 June, 1793, Lyte began life in an unhappy home. The father was a Captain in the Royal Marines, engaged in the Napoleonic Wars. While Henry was just a lad his father abandoned the marriage, leaving “a destitute wife.” Henry was at a boarding school. His mother and brother died soon after, leaving Henry an orphan at age 9. He deeply felt the loss of his mother who had taught him to pray and to love the Bible.

Under the care of the kindly Dr Robert Burrows, Lyte blossomed in a handsome man, six feet tall and excelling above his fellow students. He abandoned his plans medical studies and chose Divinity.

He became a Church of Ireland clergyman and during the early days of his first pastorate found himself trying to comfort a dying fellow minister.

“My blood almost curdled,” writes Lyte, “to hear the dying man declare and prove (from the Scriptures) that he and I had been utterly mistaken in the means we had adopted for ourselves and taught to others. The teachings of St Paul reveal the false basis of our means of salvation…” (H.F. Lyte, by H. Garland, page 23). Lyte continues: “The poor man died, I rejoice to say, under the belief that although he had deeply erred, there was One whose death and sufferings would atone for his sins and fit him to spend Eternity in the presence of God.”

All of which led to Lyte’s conversion also, and to an evangelical emphasis in his preaching. Then, as Lyte carried the load of two parishes his health failed and he was advised to seek warmer climate than England afforded.

Returning from France and Italy, where he convalesced over his lung trouble, he took a parish in Cornwall where he met Miss Anne Maxwell. They wed in Bath, 21 January, 1818. Theirs was a happy marriage and Anne’s economy as a home manager greatly assisted them.

Lyte was musical and composed many songs, including sea shanties for the sailors in his sea-side parish. He produced a metrical version of psalms and many hymns for church use including “Praise my soul the King of Heaven“, “God of Mercy God of Grace”, “Sweet is the solemn voice that calls The Christian to the House of Prayer”, “Pleasant are thy courts above” and many others.

He was hard working and diligent in his parish, literary and tutorial duties, which led to a further collapse of his health in his 40’s, necessitating trips to the Continent to recuperate. His faithful wife enabled them to save the money and also held the home front while he was away through the winters.

He pastored two churches following his marriage, the latter being for 23 years at Lower Brixham, Devon. It was here he preached his last sermon – and on the same evening handed his newly written hymn to his daughter.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide …”

It was prophetic, as well he probably knew, for “life’s little day” was soon to “pass away.”

A trip to the Continent for health reasons was too late. He died on his way to Nice on 20 November, 1847.

Among his dying words were these, “Oh, there is nothing terrible in death; Jesus Christ stepped down into the grave before me…”

His final hymn was first performed at his memorial service in England. “Abide With Me” became an enduring favourite and is recorded as King George V’s favourite hymn.

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.

Caswell the Hymn Translator

This is the day that … Edward Caswell was born in Hampshire, England, in 1814.

The son of an Anglican vicar, young Edward graduated from Oxford in 1836, and three years later became a clergyman.

But during his first ministerial charge he was caught up in the Oxford Movement, which resulted in his seceding to the Church of Rome. After the death of his wife three years later he was accepted into the Roman Catholic priesthood.

For the next 28 years he worked among the “sick and the poor” at Edgbaston – and there he died on 2 January, 1878.

During those later years he wrote, and translated from the Latin, many hymns. Some of the best known include :

Jesus, the very thought of Thee …

O Jesus, King most wonderful …

When morning gilds the skies …

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.