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.
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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