Joseph Parker was born as an only child, at Hexham-on-Tyne in Northumberland, England, April 9, 1830. Reared by godly parents, he wrote: “I seriously believed that if I had touched a (playing) card or a box of dice there might have been murder under our roof!”
By the age of 18 he was preaching the old-time Gospel “on the saw-mill on the village green,” and he tells us that he hurled upon the 100 rustics who assembled, “all the thunderbolts of an outraged Heaven!” He married at the age of 22 and in the spring of 1852 he wrote to Dr John Campbell, minister of Whitefield Tabernacle, Moorfields, London, for advice as to entering the Congregational ministry. After a short probation he became Campbell’s assistant.
There followed a five-year ministry in Banbury, 11 years at Cavendish Street, Manchester, where he made himself felt as a power in English Nonconformity, and 33 years at the City Temple in London.
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“Through all his career,” writes W Robertson Nicoll, “Dr Parker was firmly and consistently evangelical …” (Princes of the Church, page 177).
His 1000 sermons through the whole Bible were later printed in 25 volumes (The People’s Bible), and copies may still be found in second-hand shops! As a prolific writer, he published some sixty books, created many articles, edited journals and even tried to establish a newspaper.
He preached extemporaneously to thousands every Sunday and Thursday. He was an orator par excellence. And he was also a law unto himself. “He was not only minister of the church, but also its treasurer and deacons!” (Preachers I Have Heard, by A Gammie, page 39).
“His stimulating and original sermons, with their notable leaning towards the use of a racy vernacular, made him one of the best known personalities of his time.”
His magnificent hymn is found in but a few hymnbooks:
God holds the key of all unknown
and I am glad.
If other hands should hold the key
or if He trusted it to me
I might be sad …
Parker was a communicator of genius and was known to make unexpected outbursts that both astonished and attracted his congregations. His ability to attract huge congregations in England, Scotland, and the US testified to a rare ability to make the Christian message relevant to his own generation. He influenced other preachers through his books on preaching and ministry and through his autobiographical writings. However most of his written works were too verbose for later audiences and they are not widely noticed today.
Joseph Parker died at his home in Hamstead, after a debilitating illness (“ascended” is what the brass tablet said on his coffin) on 28 November, 1902.
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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