William Grimshaw the Unprofitable

William Grimshaw died on April 7, 1763, in Yorkshire, England. He had been born, in Brindle, near Chorley, in Lancashire, England on September 14, 1708.

At the age of 18 he had entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, and taken ‘holy orders’ to become a Church of England clergyman. For the first two years of study he applied himself, but then took up bad friendships and decided to become a minister just for the living.

During his first pastorate – “where he amused himself with rural sports … jolly, careless and ready for a game or a match or a day with the dogs (hunting)” – William Grimshaw preached a “barren orthodoxy”.

Grimshaw decided to better his financial prospects by marrying into a prosperous family. But after four years of marriage his wife died and he was led to think of things eternal. Another incident that impacted him was the loss of a baby by a couple in his parish. He was unable to give them spiritual help and could only suggest that they go out and have fun to forget their sorrow.

For seven years Grimshaw struggled with an empty religion. On one occasion he shouted at his congregation, “We are in a damnable state and I know not how to get out of it”.

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Grimshaw tells of a curious vision that he saw whilst officiating in his church. He saw God the Father and God the Son “in a heated dispute” as to what to do with the godless vicar.  The Father said he should be damned but the Son “thrust His hands and feet through the ceiling” of the church and Grimshaw saw the “nail prints and from them poured fresh blood” (The Evangelical Renewal, by S. Baring-Gould, page 268; John Wesley, by C Vulliamy, page 191).

Thus it was, at the age of 28, Grimshaw became an evangelical preacher of the old-time gospel. He married again, but his second wife died five years later.

When Grimshaw moved to the west Yorkshire village of Haworth, in the Pennines of Northern England, there were only 12 communicants among these hardened people. The high mortality led to an average life span of only 26 years and the people were hardened by the austere living conditions.

Here Grimshaw attacked the sin of the inhabitants like a modern-day John the Baptist.  Before the Sunday service he would go out and round up shirkers with a riding crop (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 438).  Sometimes he would “prowl around his parish disguised as an old woman to detect evil doers” (S Baring-Gould, page 268). During his ministry “sin was checked. Sabbath-breaking became unfashionable, immorality was greatly restrained. Multitudes were converted. Oftentimes over 1,200 communicants observed the Lord’s Supper” (Biblical Evangelist, February, 1983, page 5).

This stern and physical approach to his ministry was motivated by genuine concern for the people. He dearly sought their conversion for their own good. He also preached beyond the borders of his parish, much to the chagrin of neighbouring ministers. And here he met the Methodist evangelists and befriended John Wesley and George Whitefield. These three became the three greatest preachers of their time. Grimshaw attracted crowds as big as any other.

“A tough evangelist of the stirring, manly sort, thinking it shameful to keep silence while so many had never heard, or never felt, the Word of God.  He is one of the monuments of Methodism,” says C Vulliamy, page 293.

Grimshaw often preached for 2 hours and he journeyed from place to place on foot, until the distances forced him to ride his white horse. He set up meetings for poor folk in his own barn, since they could not attend the church. While remaining an Anglican all his life he even set up the first Methodist church in Haworth. He preached as many as 30 times in a week.

He also faced physical abuse, being pushed from his horse, roughed up and even opposed by a minister who despised him.

“A faithful minister of Christ”, wrote Charles Wesley, in October, 1746.  And Wesley had such a high opinion of him that he was appointed leader of the great Methodist movement if the Wesley brothers preceded him in death. But it was not to be. On 7 April, 1763, William Grimshaw passed to his Heavenly Home.

On his deathbed William Grimshaw spoke to a fellow clergyman:  “My last enemy is come!  The signs of death are upon me.  But I am not afraid.  No!  No!  Blessed be God, my hope is sure and I am in His hands” (Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, by Bishop J C Ryle, page 130).  His last words were: “Here goes an unprofitable servant“.

Grimshaw was only 55 years old. He had caught a “putrid fever” while visiting the sick during an epidemic.

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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: www.donaldprout.com

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

The Cambuslang Revival Comes in Response to Prayer

The Cambuslang Revival commenced on the outskirts of Glasgow, February 15, in the year 1742.

“On Monday, 15 February, and again on Tuesday and Wednesday, a band of intercessors gathered at the manse,” writes John Shearer in his exciting book Old Time Revivals (page 33). The minister of the Parish Church was Rev William McCulloch. There had already been a touch of revival in the area the year previous, when George Whitefield came a-preaching in Glasgow. But now it broke out afresh under this humble, godly minister.

“For 12 weeks he preached daily to stricken people. The life of the community was transformed. Drunkenness and blasphemy ceased. Faults were confessed … restitution was eagerly made. Family worship was revived” (page 34).

And it all began with “a band of intercessors …”

“If My people, which are called by My Name, shall humble themselves, and pray…” (II Chronicles 7:14).

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In the 1740’s Cambuslang was a farming, mining and weaving community 5 miles south west of Glasgow. The faithful parish minister, William McCulloch, was of no special quality, but he earnestly desired to see his people come to genuine faith. Upon hearing of the George Whitefield revivals in America he began to preach gospel messages about what it is to be saved. This awakened the congregation to spiritual concerns.

A prayer movement of sorts was spreading through Britain and McCulloch authorised special prayer meetings in the parish, but only for those who were approved by the sincerity and consistency of their commitment. He was afraid of emotion and sensationalism, teaching his congregation to maintain decency in all matters, especially within the church.

As the fervour of the congregation rose, so too did the fervour of McCulloch’s preaching, until on Sunday February 14, 1742 a woman came under extreme conviction in the morning meeting. She was carried to the parsonage and there McCulloch answered her anguished cries of despair with promises from the Bible. McCulloch kept the event as orderly as possible by having those gathered at the parsonage sing psalms from time to time to settle the atmosphere. Note that psalms were the only approved songs for singing in Presbyterian churches. At the end of an extended and exhausting time of despair, exhortation and response the woman came to a glorious conviction of salvation.

That woman’s conversion popped the cork on the revival that had been brewing for many months and which had been bathed in earnest prayer. Word spread like wild-fire and crowds were drawn from far and wide. Ministers were called in to meet the needs of the ever growing crowds. Tents were erected near a spacious natural amphitheatre close to the church, as well as in the church yard and a nearby field.

McCulloch called upon George Whitefield to come and preach and when he arrived Whitefield declared that this was the most profound expression of revival he had seen anywhere in the world.

Over the previous century a tradition of special outdoor meetings focused on the Lord’s Table had been built up. Sacramental gatherings would run for four days or so and culminate in the serving of communion to the believers. Revivals had previously been associated with such events. McCulloch called for two such sacramental events in the months that followed. The second such gathering brought together over 30,000 people, some say as many as 50,000.

Hundreds were saved, piety and transformation was abundantly evident and uncontrolled weeping was widespread, despite the calls for decorum. This was the highlight of Scottish revivalism.

Opponents, mostly those of Deist persuasion, who did not believe in a present God who touched the hearts and lives of men, accused the revival of shallow emotionalism and ignorant sentimentality. And though the revival fires and the sacramental gatherings spread to other communities and touched many more lives, the revival was effectively doused by its opposition. Shortly thereafter the rising tide of reformed thinking extinguished the revivalist elements within the Scottish Presbyterian church.

But Cambuslang still stands as testimony to what can happen when humble souls preach the true gospel and willing hearts pray for revival.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

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

George Whitefield Preaches in the Open Air

George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England on December 16, 1714, the illegitimate son of an English barmaid.

Whitefield was converted through a Bishop who directed him to John 7:37 “Let the thirsty come to me”. To which Whitefield exclaimed aloud, “I thirst!” This admission of his own hopelessness led to an assurance of God’s grace for him.

His ordination message, at age 22, touched the hungry souls and irritated those hardened by religion. Two years later he was attracting huge crowds to his church in Bermondsey, during that time of Evangelical Awakening (1738) , but noted that more than a thousand people stood outside and the combined stink of the crowd was appalling.

Whitefield decided to begin “field preaching”, but his friend John Wesley thought it insane. It was also illegal to preach outdoor except at public hangings.

A hanging was to take place at the coalmining town of Kingswood, Bristol, where the population was totally illiterate and uncouth. When the accused committed suicide the miners dug up the corpse and partied.

Whitefield’s heart was broken for these people and he walked into their gathering and preached about the blessing on the poor in spirit. The people responded to his love for them. Whitefield wrote that as he preached he saw “the white gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks” (covered by coal dust).

Though Anglican pulpits were immediately shut to him, 10,000 people gathered at Kingswood the following Sunday. Whitefield was internationally famous from that day on.

Historians tell us that this man of God preached between 40 and 60 hours a week, a total of more than 18,000 sermons during 34 years of ministry. He crossed the Atlantic 13 times and ministered extensively in the New World American colonies.

Coupled to these amazing statistics are the sizes of the crowds which flocked to hear him. Preaching in the open air to crowds of 10,000–20,000 was not uncommon. “It has been estimated,” writes K. Hardman, in The Spiritual Awakeners, page 90, “to more than 100 million persons…”

Benjamin Franklin, who heard him preach many times in Pennsylvania, declared that he had a “voice like an organ”.

Whitefield and the Wesleys parted company in a controversy over predestination, but they were reunited in fellowship before Whitefield died. John Wesley preached at Whitefield’s memorial service in England.

George Whitefield, that prince among evangelists, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on 30 September, 1770, at the age of 56, and is buried beneath the pulpit of the Newburyport Presbyterian Church.

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

Matthew Henry Gives Us His Grand Commentary

This is the day that Matthew Henry was born in a Welsh farmhouse in Shropshire, England, close to the border of England and Wales, in 1662.

His father, Philip, had been ejected from his church for refusing to ‘bow the knee’ to the king’s demands. His non-conformist views would not allow him to recognize the king as “Head of the Church” nor be compelled to use the Prayer Book. Submitting to ordination by a bishop was also anathema to him.

Along with nearly two thousand other ministers, Philip Henry had refused to submit to the Act of Uniformity, which had come into effect on 24 August 1662 and was radically opposed to all that Puritans like Henry stood for.

So young Matthew grew up in a godly home where Christian principles and conscience were adhered to – regardless of the consequences.

Matthew apparently suffered from a weak constitution during his childhood. But what he lacked in physical health he made up for in spiritual vigour. There is credible evidence that he could read the Scriptures when only three years old. His conversion took place before he turned eleven. Ion Henry’s words, one of his father’s sermons ‘melted’ him and caused him to ‘enquire after Christ’.

Taught at first by his father, an excellent educator, Matthew gained further education from nonconformist schools and at one time studied law. But he kept his focus on the ministry calling, taking occasion to preach where ever he could. The dissenters of Chester liked what they heard and invited him to be their minister.

Henry began his ministry with Presbyterian ordination on 9 May, 1687. Over the course of the next two decades his Chester congregation increased to more than 350 members. Not surprisingly, his success as a pastor caused other churches to seek him as their minister.

His first wife died in childbirth, in 1689. The following year he wed Mary Warburton – and all three children born to them died in infancy.

For 25 years he ministered at Chester. After rejecting many calls by other churches he finally chose to pastor a dissenting church in Hackney, London, so he could be closer to printers, in view of the large commentary he was composing.

Ill health plagued him. He suffered from diabetes and repeated attacks of kidney stones.

In June, 1714, while on a preaching tour of Cheshire, he was thrown from his horse and taken to the house of a nearby parson, where he died the following morning, 22 June, 1714, aged 52.

While Henry wrote a number of worthy works, his memory lives on in his monumental Commentary, The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. Henry had begun this massive work in November 1704. By the time of his death ten years later, the project had got as far as the end of the book of Acts. It would be finished by a number of ministers after his death.

The commentary is quintessentially Puritan. It focuses on biblical spirituality and is alert to the need to glorify God in the whole of life. It is also chock-full of the terse and piquant aphorisms that the Puritans delighted to use to penetrate the hearts of their hearers and readers. Here are a few examples:
‘God’s grace can save souls without preaching, but our preaching cannot save them without God’s grace, and that grace must be sought by prayer’ (on Ezekiel 37:1-14).

‘Ministers may be serving Christ, and promoting the great ends of their ministry, by writing good letters, as well as by preaching good sermons’ (on Acts 18:7-11).

‘It is easier to build temples than to be temples to God’ (on 2 Chronicles 24:1-14).

‘The pleasures of sense are puddle-water; spiritual delights are rock water, so pure, so clear, so refreshing — rivers of pleasure’ (on Exodus 17:1-7).

‘The beauty of holiness is that which the grave, that consumes all other beauty, cannot touch, or do any damage to’ (on Psalm 49:6-14).

George Whitefield, we are told, read Henry’s commentary through four times … on his knees!

Spurgeon speaks of Matthew Henry’s Commentary as “first among the mighty” – and recommends that every minister of the gospel should read it through “once at least”.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was so moved by Henry’s comments on Leviticus 8:35 that he based one of his most famous hymns on them. Henry had written: ‘we have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily duty to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it’. Gripped by this comment, Wesley sat down to write “A charge to keep I have”.

One does not have to agree with everything this great Puritan said to be blessed indeed by his Scriptural reflections.

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.

Howell Harris Preaching in the Rain

This is the day that … Howell Harris died, in 1773, “loyal to the last to the church whose sacraments he had been denied. His funeral was attended by 20,000 people.”

He was born in Wales on 23 January 1714, and early in life he decided to become a Church of England clergyman.

By the age of 17 he was “playing cards and drinking, dice-playing and gossiping,” and by his own confession, living “like a hypocrite.”

But on Palm Sunday, 1735, the vicar of the church he attended said: “If you are not fit to come to the Lord’s Table, you are not fit to come to church, not fit to live, not fit to die.” Thus began his pilgrimage to the Father’s House, and on 25 May of that same year he was able to rejoice in the knowledge of sins forgiven.

Although he became a member of the Established Church, he was never an ordained clergyman, and the more he sought the friendship of his non-Anglican brethren the more his church parted company with him.

He is remembered as the founder of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Church, and a remarkable revivalist. Thousands gathered to hear his open-air preaching. “Two thousand people once stood two hours in drenching rain unable to tear themselves away from the spell of Harris’ eloquence.”

It was he who influenced George Whitefield to take his pulpit to the fields.

At times he was subjected to the fury of mobs – especially at Bala in 1741. At Caerleon the angry crowd attacked, and Harris’ fellow preacher was blinded in one eye.

Arnold Dallimore describes him as “the greatest Welshman of that day and, indeed, as among the greatest men that Wales ever produced” (Biography of G. Whitefield, Volume 1, page 246).

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.