This is the day that … Rowland Hill was born in 1744, in Shropshire, England, son of Sir Rowland Hill, a baronet. He was afforded education at the best schools, but he chose to relate most with the common man. He scandalised his superiors by undertaking open air preaching and visitation before he was ordained.
This colourful character, whom Spurgeon described as being full of fun in the pulpit (and meant it as a compliment), was one of the outstanding evangelicals of his day.
Hill was converted at the age of 18 and entered the Church of England ministry. But reproved by the bishop for his desire to preach everywhere – “in season and out of season” – he finally opened his own “Surrey Chapel” in London in 1783, which he built with his own funds. At the opening service on 8 June, he took as his text: “We preach Christ crucified” (I Corinthians 1:23). (In later years this same pulpit was occupied by the great F.B. Meyer.)
Holding strong Calvinistic views, Hill joined with Augustus Toplady in the controversy against the Wesleys. As an open air preacher, due to the influence of his friend George Whitefield, Hill often preached to 20,000 at a time. He loved to use personal anecdotes and attention catching comments, but was deemed to go too far at times.
“The Countess of Huntingdon”, we are told, “rejoiced in the success of his labours … but the name of Mr Hill is mentioned in her ladyship’s will as one of the men who was not to be permitted to preach in one of her chapels!” Perhaps his quaint wit, of which anecdotes abound, and his eccentricities would have been too much for her ladyship’s genteel congregations!
He was one of the founders of the London Missionary Society and the Religious Tract Society. And this latter movement gave birth to the British and Foreign Bible Society, of which he was also an ardent supporter.
Rowland Hill died on 11 April, 1833, and was buried in front of the pulpit from which he had dispensed the Word of God for 50 years. His last words had been: “I have no rapturous joys, but peace – a good hope through grace – all through grace.”
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.