“He calleth unto Him whom He would, and they came unto Him.”
Methodists and Evangelicals
Quite early in the Revival, long before the point of ordination had been raised, the forces began to fall apart into two divisions. On one side were those who were slowly drifting into the position of a sect; on the other, those who in spite of discouragement were steadily loyal to the Church ; and by degrees the name Methodist became confined to the seceders, while the others were known as Evangelicals. It was not always easy to say on which side of the dividing line a particular individual must be placed, but the simplest test was his attitude towards the parochial system. All the Methodists, like their leader, claimed the world as their parish; they would not hear of confining themselves to work in a single village. The Evangelicals, on the other hand, were in danger of making the parish their world. Many of them strongly disapproved of the itinerant system, and even those who itinerated most always put their parish work on a higher level. "I wish well to irregulars and itinerants," wrote John Newton, "I am content that they should labour that way who have not talents to support the character of a parochial minister; but I think you are qualified for more important service." Even Berridge, who was always in trouble for invading other men's parishes, wrote, "All marching officers are not general officers, and every one should search out the extent of his commission. A minister who has a church will have a diocese annexed to it, and is only overseer of that diocese; and let him, like faithful Grimshaw, look well to it."
(a) IN LONDON
In London the Evangelicals at first were very weak. The Methodists were well provided with buildings. Whitefield had his tabernacle at Moorfields and his chapel in Tottenham Court Road. Wesley had the Foundry and many chapels in other quarters of the city. But for long the Evangelicals had not a single church. Their leader was William Romaine, a grave, scholarly man, who, while in his first curacy, had brought out a revised edition of Calasio's Hebrew Lexicon, a work of enormous labour, which was subscribed for by all the crowned heads of Europe. On the strength of this he had come to London looking for honours and promotion, "a very, very vain young man" — so he described his condition — "who knew almost everything but himself, and met with many disappointments to his pride, till the Lord was pleased to let him see the plague of his own heart." Here in some way that is not recorded the Revival touched him, and he gave the best possible proof of his conversion by taking his stand openly with the despised Evangelicals, though he knew that this meant the renunciation of all his hopes of preferment. His only regular appointment at this time (1749) was an afternoon Lectureship at St. Dunstan's, the famous old church in Fleet Street, where Tyndale had proclaimed the doctrines of the Reformation. Here for nine years he preached without interruption; but in 1758 the vicar died, and Alexander Jacob, his successor, strongly disapproved of the lecturers doctrine. The churchwardens also had a grievance. "Great crowds of people," they declared, "not parishioners, have been accustomed to assemble about the church every Sunday afternoon more than an hour before the opening of the doors, when Mr. Romaine was expected to preach, and to fill the aisles and pews as soon as the doors were opened, preventing the parishioners getting to their seats, and this crowd for two years past has been continually increasing." So the vicar and wardens determined to make an attempt to silence him. On consulting the founder's will they discovered that the money had been left for Lectures to be given while the courts were sitting; so on the first Sunday of the Long Vacation they met Romaine at the door, and informed him that he could not preach. On the first Sunday in the Michaelmas term a fresh surprise awaited him: he found the pulpit door locked, the vicar sitting in the pulpit, and the beadle sitting on the stairs, and he was told that the time of his Lecture had been changed to seven in the evening. His friends then took the case before the King's Bench, asking for a mandamus to restore the Lecture to its usual hour, and to allow it to continue all the year round, but the court decided that the vicar had acted within his legal rights. The churchwardens then declined to light or warm the church, or to open the doors a minute before the hour of the service, and preacher and congregation had to wait in the street, till the wooden giants on the tower had beaten out the hour of seven, and then grope their way cautiously to their seats. This was the only Evangelical service in any of the city churches, and very solemn and impressive it must have been, the crowded congregation sitting or standing in perfect darkness, while Romaine preached by the light of a taper, which he held in his hand. This continued for several years, till at last the Bishop interfered, and compelled the churchwardens to make proper arrangements. For forty-six years Romaine held this lectureship, and St. Dunstan's became "the rallying-point for Evangelicalism in London; but though he was now acknowledged to be the leading preacher in the city — people came from the country "to see Garrick act and hear Romaine preach" — though his manner was very grave and decorous, and his character above reproach, yet for seventeen years he failed to obtain any other permanent appointment. For a short time he was morning preacher at St. George's, Hanover Square, then at St. Olave's, Southwark, then at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, but in each case the prejudice against his teaching and against the "ragged, unsavoury multitude" who flocked to hear him was so strong that he could not stay. To attract the poor to church was an unpardonable offence. Friends urged him to give up the struggle; he was offered important churches in America, but he would not go. "Here my Master fixed me," he said, "and here I must stay. I am alone in London, and, while He keeps me there, I dare not move." At last, when he was fifty-two (1764), his patience was rewarded. The parishioners of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe with St. Anne, Blackfriars, had the right of electing their rector, and, though he declined to canvass, the choice fell upon him. Here he worked for the last thirty years of his life, holding his own Sunday services in the morning and afternoon, and still walking to St. Dunstan's for the evening lecture. Meanwhile his three best-known books — The Life of Faith (1763), The Walk of Faith (1771), and The Triumph of Faith (1795) — were influencing thoughtful men in all parts of the country; and this influence was due quite as much to his life as his words. "He lived," wrote his first biographer, "more with God than with men, and to know his real history, or the best part of it, it would be requisite to know what passed between God and his soul." He died in 1795, and was succeeded by his curate, William Goode, who held the living till his death in 1816.
During all the earlier part of Romaine's ministry his only sympathizers among the London clergy were two quite young men. Thomas Jones — "the seraphic Mr. Jones" his admirers used to call him — was junior chaplain of St. Saviour's, Southwark (1753-62); and, indeed, without his unfailing good temper he could not have stayed at his post. For nine years he had to endure a bitter persecution; his teaching was denounced, his sermons were caricatured, his personal character vilified in a never- ending stream of controversial tracts, and he died at the age of thirty-three worn out with the struggle.
From 1754 to 1759 Henry Venn was curate of the village of Clapham, and four times a week he rode into London to lecture at St. Antholin's, St. Alban's, Wood Street, and St. Swithin's, London Stone. On going to Clapham he had written to Wesley for advice, and two years later he had been present at the Methodist Conference at Bristol, but up to this time his views were not quite settled. In the autumn of 1757 Lady Huntington invited him to undertake a preaching tour with Whitefield in the western counties, but at the end she was not satisfied with the doctrine that he taught. "O friend," she wrote, "we can make no atonement to a violated law; we have no inward holiness of our own: the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord our Righteousness. Cling not to such beggarly elements, mere cobwebs of Pharisaic pride, but look to Him who hath wrought out a perfect righteousness for His people." This letter seems to have made him seriously think out his position, and, after further intercourse with Whitefield, he obtained a firm grasp of the doctrines of Redemption. When Walker of Truro visited him a few months later, he described him as "a London clergyman, till of late a sort of dependent on John Wesley, but now brought to believe for himself. He is a man very desirable in his temper, humble and teachable." But his chief work was not done in London. In 1759 he was called to Huddersfield, where we shall meet him later.
Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, whom we have just mentioned, was an earnest, strong-minded, imperious lady, daughter of one earl and widow of another, who devoted her whole life and fortune to the spread of the new teaching. The London churches might be closed to Evangelical clergy, but her house was always open, and a countess might have as many private chaplains as she pleased, and, if she cared to build a chapel in her grounds, no one could say her nay. Romaine became her senior chaplain, and the Evangelical clergy in the country were always sure of a welcome, whenever they came to London. "Good Lady Huntingdon,” wrote Whitefield, “goes on acting the part of a mother in Israel. Her house is indeed a Bethel. We have the Sacrament every morning, heavenly conversation all day, and preach at night. For a day or two she has had five clergymen under her root." Her chief aim was to evangelize her own class in society, and her "spiritual routs,'' as the wits called them, soon became a recognized function in the fashionable world. No Hostess in London was able to gather a more brilliant company of guests: the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cumberland, Lord North and the Earl of Chatham, Horace Walpole and Bubb Doddington, Lord Chesterfield and Lord Bolingbroke, the Duchess of Marlborough and Lady Suffolk, and indeed all the most illustrious men and women of the time, used to meet in her drawing-room to listen to her preachers; and, though much of the seed fell in very thorny places, some did bring forth fruit. The most important of her converts was the Earl of Dartmouth, the President of the Board of Trade and later Colonial Secretary. He was one of the most enlightened and cultured men of the day, patron of Watt's inventions and President of the Royal Society, and, after his conversion in 1756, he made it his special work to help forward the movement by securing livings for Evangelical clergy: he it was who sent Venn to Huddersfield, Robinson to Leicester, Stillingfleet to Hotham, Powley to Dewsbury, and Newton to Olney.
Meanwhile Lady Huntingdon was extending her work to other fashionable centres. By the sale of her jewels she was able to add a chapel to her house at Brighton. Later she bought a house at Bath, so that she might be able to build a chapel there— that chapel with the famous "Nicodemus corner" heavily curtained off, where bishops and other retiring persons might hear without being seen. Then her house at Tunbridge Wells was supplied with a chapel also, and all these were served by her chaplains in rotation. Her plan was to invite the Evangelical clergy to minister for a month at a time, while she supplied a substitute for their own parishes. But, as the number of chapels increased, the time came when this was no longer possible, and she, like Wesley, had to fall back upon lay preachers. To train these she established a theological college at Trevecca, but this never became a help to the Church: for in her old age Lady Huntingdon passed over into the ranks of dissent. The trouble arose over the Conventicle Act, which was always a thorn in the side of the Evangelicals — fifty years later it prevented Simeon from opening his Cambridge Bible-class with prayer. A large theatre surrounded by pleasure gardens had been opened in Clerkenwell for Sunday entertainments, and to stop this Lord Dartmouth and others bought the whole building, and determined to use it for mission services. They presented it to Lady Huntingdon in order that her chaplains might officiate; but this was on quite a different footing from a chapel in a private house, and the law at once interfered. The only way to make the services legal was to license the building as a dissenting chapel, and Lady Huntingdon, whose weakest point was inability to brook the smallest interference with her plans, rather than stop the services, chose this alternative (1782). All the Evangelical clergy resigned their chaplains' scarves, and she and her lay preachers became a separate body, which still survives as Lady Huntingdon's Connexion: but for thirty critical years her help and influence had been invaluable to the Evangelicals.
Another generous friend of the movement was John Thornton, a director of the Russia Company, who was said to be the wealthiest merchant but one in Europe. Cowper has sung of his "industry in doing good," "restless as his who toils and sweats for food." "Few," said Venn, "have ever done more to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help all that suffer adversity;" and this was no exaggeration, for he spent at least £10,000 on works of charity. Nor did he limit his care to the bodies of men. "He purchased," said Richard Cecil, "advowsons and presentations with a view to place in parishes the most enlightened, active, and useful ministers. He employed the extensive commerce in which he was engaged as a powerful instrument for conveying immense quantities of Bibles, Prayer Books, and the most useful publications to every place visited by our trade. He printed at his sole expense large editions of the latter for that purpose, and it may be safely affirmed that there is scarcely a part of the known world, where such books could be introduced, which did not feel the salutary influence of this single individual." The best known of these books was his English edition of Bogatzky's Golden Treasury, from which he removed all extracts which seemed to verge on Moravianism, and substituted short meditations written by himself and his friends. This rapidly became one of the most popular Evangelical books of devotion.
The Proprietary Chapels
Among the laity the Evangelicals were steadily increasing their strength, but for thirteen years Romaine was the only representative of the party beneficed north of the Thames; and when Newton came to St. Mary Woolnoth, in 1779, for another twenty years these two remained alone, though south of the river Roger Bentley had been presented by Thornton to St. Giles', Camberwell (1769), and William Abdy, in 1782, became curate-in-charge of St. John's, Horsleydown. Evangelical preaching from the pulpit would have been almost silenced for a whole generation, if it had not been for the lectureships and the proprietary chapels. These latter were semi-private chapels, which the Bishops had allowed to be built, as the simplest way of coping with the increase of the population, at a time when the law put every obstacle in the way of forming fresh parishes. The lay proprietors were always allowed to choose their own minister, and now they began frequently to select Evangelical clergy, so that soon these chapels became strongholds of the new teaching. Such were St. John's, Bedford Row, where the gentle Richard Cecil ministered (1780-1808), the most cultured and refined of all the Evangelical leaders, and Bentinck Chapel,” off the Edgware Road, where Basil Woodd (1785- 1831) taught his people to finance almost every good cause in the country. Such were the Broadway Chapel, Westminster, under John Davies, and Long Acre Chapel, under Henry Foster, and Ram's Chapel, Homerton. Of a similar character, too, was the Chapel of the Lock Hospital, to which seat-holders were admitted as well as the patients. Here Martin Madan led many to the truth, until the publication of an unwise book forced him to retire from the pulpit. Here, too, Thomas Haweis ministered for many years, and the stately De Coetlogon gained his name as the greatest of extempore preachers, and Scott the commentator fought the fight of which we shall speak later. Standing, as it did then, near Hyde Park Corner, this little chapel, half occupied by the most degraded sinners, was the chief representative of Evangelicalism in the fashionable West End.
But great as was the influence of the chapels, the influence of the lecturers was greater. Under the Stuarts the custom had arisen for pious benefactors to endow lectureships to their parish churches, in order to increase the opportunities for religious instruction. The parishioners might elect any clergyman whom the Bishop would license, and invite him to lecture once a week at an hour when the church was not required for a regular service. This enabled the Evangelicals to make their voices heard. George Pattrick, when he was dismissed from the chaplaincy of Morden College, because his sermons were said to "treat almost solely of faith and grace and such like controversial points,” - offered himself for a vacant lectureship at St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, and, in spite of his refusal to canvass, and the vehement opposition of the vicar and churchwardens, he was elected by 947 votes to 357, a result which illustrates the growing strength of Evangelicalism among the laity. Though "more of a Barnabas than a Boanerges," he proved to be one of the most effective preachers in the city: at six o'clock on Sunday morning he lectured at St. Margaret's, Lothbury; in the afternoon he lectured at Shoreditch, and in the evening at St. Bride's, Fleet Street, and wherever he went the church was always packed to the doors. Venn, as we have seen, when he was curate at Clapham, lectured at St. Antholin's, St. Alban's, Wood Street, and St. Swithin's, London Stone. William Gunn, Newton's curate, filled St. Mary, Somerset, and St. Margaret, Lothbury, for his weekly lectures. Watkins at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, Watts Wilkinson at St. Mary, Aldermary, and St. Bartholomew, Exchange, drew enormous congregations. Even those who had pulpits of their own used this opportunity also. Romaine kept his lectureship at St. Dunstan's till the day of his death. Abdy lectured at Bow Church for thirty-nine years, and for twenty-three at All Hallows; Foster lectured at St. Antholin, St. Swithin's, and St. Peter's, Cornhill; Scott at St. Mildred, Bread Street; Goode and Davies at St. Lawrence, Jewry; Cecil at Spitalfields. And so, as the century closes, we see the Evangelicals in London excluded from all but three of the livings, but, nevertheless, lecturing weekly from many important pulpits, and ministering to large congregations in proprietary chapels. From a curious little publication called The Evangelical Museum, which contains, tucked in between the Watermen's Fares and the Marketing Tables, "A List of Churches in London and its Environs where the Gospel is preached," we learn that in 1791 out of the 142 churches in the London district there were thirty in which it was possible to hear an Evangelical preacher, if you went at the right time of day. A similar list in The Christian Ladies' Diary for 1815 shows that by that time the number had risen to forty-one.
The Eclectic Society
The Eclectic Society was the chief means of keeping these scattered preachers in touch with one another. This was a club, founded in 1783, to which almost all the London Evangelical clergy belonged, two or three Evangelical laymen, including John Bacon the sculptor, and two evangelically-minded dissenting ministers. They met once a fortnight in Cecil's vestry to drink tea and to discuss such questions as, — What is the best preparation for the pulpit? What is the best method of comforting afflicted consciences? How can we distinguish between true and counterfeit Christian experience? What is the best mode of conducting the visiting of the sick? Here, at these informal gatherings, many matters were talked over, and, as we shall see later, some of the most important steps in the history of the party had their origin in the debates of this little society.
(b) IN THE NORTH
Grimshaw of Haworth
Evangelicalism established itself in the North comparatively early. Its home was Haworth, that lean, grey village on the top of the desolate moors, cut off from the rest of civilisation by miles of rolling heather — the Haworth where, in later days, the Brontes dreamed and died. It was one of the loneliest spots in England, but it held a man whose influence was felt through all the surrounding counties. William Grimshaw in his younger days was a typical parson of the period. He read prayers and a sermon once every Sunday. "He refrained as much as possible from gross swearing, unless in suitable company, and, when he got drunk, would take care to sleep it out, before he came home." He was a huntsman, a fisherman, a first-rate card-player, anything but a herald of the Cross. Gradually, however, a great change came over his life. We need not trace the process. Parishioners' questions about their souls, which he could not answer, his wife's death, a copy of Owen on justification picked up in a friend's library, all played their part; and by the time he came to Haworth in 1742, his old energies were directed into new channels; he was a mighty hunter still, but it was a hunter of souls.
He found a hard task waiting for him there. At the best of times the West Riding character is by no means easy to mould. Thick-thewed and slow of speech and sullenly suspicious of a stranger, gruff and stubborn and hating restraint, his little flock greeted him with their favourite motto, "Keep thyseln to thyseln." Moreover, in that parish there were peculiar difficulties. For three years the place had been without a clergyman, and before that there had been a scandal, which, even in those days, ended in his predecessor being suspended from the ministry. The village seemed to have lapsed into open heathenism. Every funeral had its "arvill," which was a drunken orgy, but there were no religious rites, when the body was laid in the grave. Sunday was market day in Bradford, and those who did not go to market played football on the moors. The only element of religion in most of the people's lives was an ever-present fear of Barguest, the awful phantom dog, who prowled at night across the heather, and had to be propitiated by many curious rites.
But the Haworth folk soon found that in the new parson they had a man as brawny, as fearless, as strong-willed as themselves. He let them know that the Sunday football matches must be stopped, and the most reckless lad in the village dared not disobey. He let them know that he expected to see them all in church, and somehow or other, when Sunday came, very few were absent. Let us watch him as he conducts the service. Reality is the key-note of his character. Nothing merely formal or conventional is tolerated for a moment. Moreover, he realizes that the people before him are mere babes in religion. Before the prayers his eye sweeps the whole congregation, and woe to the man who is lounging forward and not on his knees — he is promptly rebuked by name, and called up to kneel at the chancel step. When he has satisfied himself that all are reverently kneeling, he begins to pray, and all contemporary authorities agree that to hear him was an experience never to be forgotten. "He was like a man with his feet on earth and his soul in heaven." "He would take hold of the very horns of the altar, which he would not let go, till God had given him the blessing." Or listen to him as he reads the lessons, translating every difficult sentence into the broadest Yorkshire, and interspersing many homely comments of his own. The hymn before the sermon at Haworth is always a long one — sometimes they even have the 119th Psalm — for at this point in the service Grimshaw has business elsewhere. He takes his stout riding-crop down from the vestry wall and marches out of church. "It was his custom," wrote John Newton, whose letters give the best picture of his friend's life, "to leave the church, while the psalm before sermon was singing, to see if any were idling their time in the churchyard, the street, or the ale-houses; and many of those, whom he found, he would drive into church before him. A friend of mine passing a public-house on a Lord's Day saw several persons jumping out of the windows and over a wall. He feared the house was on fire, but upon inquiring what was the cause of the commotion he was told that they saw the parson coming. They were more afraid of the parson than of a Justice of the Peace. His reproof was so authoritative and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinner could not stand before him. At last, when the customers of the "Black Bull" are safely within the fold, Grimshaw ascends the three-decker and takes his stand beneath the text, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus and Him crucified." Hot and strong the sermon comes, and hale with uncompromising dogma, yet full of racy thrusts and the quiet dry humour which Yorkshiremen appreciate. His boast was that he always used to preach "in market language," and sometimes his unconventionalities offended his closest friends; but John Newton defends him. " Frequently a sentence, which a delicate hearer might deem vulgar, conveyed an important truth to the ear and fixed it on the memory for years. I give my judgement on this point something in his own way — that is the best cat which catches the most mice."
Many of the leaders of the Revival, Whitefield and the two Wesleys, Venn and Romaine, preached from his pulpit at one time or another, but from all he exacted the same intense "directness. On one occasion Whitefield began in his suave conciliatory way with a few remarks about the privileges they enjoyed in Haworth, but Grimshaw sprang to his feet at once in the reading-desk and cried, "For God's sake do not speak so. I pray you do not flatter them. The greater part of them are going to Hell with their eyes open."
Many and various were the methods he devised for instructing his people. Excuses for non-churchgoing were utterly useless with him. Some pleaded their shabby clothes: for them he started a special service every Sunday evening. Others said that it was too far for them to walk to church: he promptly began barn services in the four outlying hamlets. The first Evangelicals always laid great stress on early rising: to them it was a necessary part of a methodical Christian life. No one who had learnt the value of time could possibly lie in bed after the sun was up, and daily service at five in the morning soon became the regular thing in many of their parishes. Grimshaw slowly taught his people to value this service too, and thus to begin each day's work with prayer. In addition to this he had what he called his monthly visitation. In twelve different parts of the parish he borrowed a farmhouse kitchen, and he used to summon seven or eight of the families round to meet him. Every one was expected to be there— parents, servants, children — and he questioned them all as to their knowledge of the Christian faith, taught them where they were ignorant, rebuked them for anything in their conduct of which he disapproved, warned them of the temptations that would beset them during the next few weeks, and dismissed them with his blessing.
Sometimes the flock rebelled against this very strenuous shepherding. Though Sunday football was abandoned, yet romping on the moors began to take its place; but Grimshaw was not to be worsted. "He not only bore his testimony against it from the pulpit, but went in person to detect the delinquents. There was a spot at some distance from the village, where many young people used to assemble on Sundays in spite of all his warnings. At last he disguised himself one evening,” — rumour declares that he borrowed an old woman's skirt and shawl — “that he might not be known, till he was near enough to discover who they were. He then threw off his disguise, and charged them not to move. He took down all their names, and ordered them to attend on him on a day and hour which he appointed. They all waited on him accordingly, as punctually as if they had been served with a warrant. After forming them into a circle and commanding them to kneel down, he prayed for them with much earnestness for a considerable time. After rising from his knees, he gave them a close and affecting lecture. He never had occasion to repeat this friendly discipline. He entirely broke the objectionable custom."
By these and a hundred other quite as original methods the rugged sinners of the moors were drilled into habits of decency and worship. The church soon proved too small for the congregation, and in 1757 it was enlarged, not by a rate, as was usual in those days, but by the freewill offerings of the people. But still it very often was not large enough. "I took horse for Haworth," wrote Wesley in his Journal. - "A December storm met us on the mountain, but this did not hinder such a congregation as the church could not contain. I suppose we had near a thousand communicants, and scarce a trifler among them. In the afternoon, the church not containing more than a third of the people, I was constrained to be in the churchyard." Two years later he wrote again: "The church would not near contain the congregation; so after prayers I stood on a scaffold close to the church, and the congregation in the churchyard. The communicants alone filled the church. In the afternoon the congregation was nearly doubled, and yet most of these were not curious hearers, but men fearing God." And again two years later: "The church would not near contain the people; however, Mr. Grimshaw had provided for this by fixing a scaffold on the outside of one of the windows, through which I went after prayers, and the people likewise all went out into the churchyard. The afternoon congregation was larger still. What has God wrought in the midst of these rough mountains!" Whitefield on one occasion noted that thirty-five bottles of wine were needed for one administration of the Holy Communion.
Grimshaw was a strong Churchman — "I believe the Church of England," he said, "to be the soundest, purest, most apostolical Christian Church in the world" — but he realized that the state of the country needed exceptional action, and so, unlike many of his brethren, he did not decline to itinerate. People began to come to his church from other villages round, and terrible tales were told of parishes that were utterly neglected, of absentee clergy and drunken clergy, and children growing up to manhood ignorant of the very elements of religion. The parochial system was designed to bring the Gospel to every man's door: it was never intended to be a means of keeping the Gospel out. And so he rode boldly forth over his parish boundaries, preaching in barns and the open air, wherever he had a chance, working through the whole country from Leeds to Manchester. Twice some of his neighbours sent complaints to the Archbishop, but the latter on each occasion declined to interfere. "We cannot find fault with Mr. Grimshaw," he said, "when he is instrumental in bringing so many to the Lord's Table"; and on the second occasion, when he came to Haworth to investigate things for himself, he exclaimed, "Would to God that all my clergy were like this good man," which might almost be taken as episcopal sanction of his work.
Venn of Huddersfield
A few hours ride to the south was Huddersfield, to which Henry Venn had come (1759) when he left Clapham, in his quiet way as full of zeal as Parson Grimshaw himself. Modern writers have rather misunderstood his position: he certainly was not "the first evangelist of the modern slum," nor was Huddersfield then "a huge, dark, manufacturing town." The Gazetteer still ranked it with the villages: though the parish included a large country district and several outlying hamlets, the population was only four thousand. Venn's work resembled Grimshaw's in many ways. Much of his time was spent on horseback, hunting out obscure parishioners in lonely farms and cottages. He drew the same enormous congregations, so that often the church could not hold the people, and the sermon had to be preached in the open air. He took the same care to make the services real. He would begin with a short exhortation reminding the careless that they were standing in the presence of God: a few words of explanation accompanied the Psalms and Lessons: and when the time for the sermon came, he had the same gift of moving thousands to repentance and tears. But his best work was done outside his pulpit. "He was one of the most eminent examples," wrote Sir James Stephen, "of one of the most uncommon of human excellencies, the possession of perfect and uninterrupted mental health." His common sense was sensible and sanctified in the highest degree, and shepherds and weavers, saints and sinners flocked to his study for advice. But behind all the good advice that he gave about farms or quarrels or marriages, there was always the deep desire to win the soul for God. "I wish you had known your grandfather," wrote Simeon long afterwards - to one of Venn's grandsons; "the only end for which he lived was to make all men see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." But after eleven years the work broke him down. A hacking cough and spitting of blood made it impossible to preach, and his friends procured for him (17 71) the little agricultural parish of Yelling, where the lighter work enabled him to recover his strength, and to labour on for twenty-six years more.
“The Whole Duty” and “The Complete Duty”
Meanwhile he had made his influence felt in every part of England by his pen, for his Complete Duty of Man became one of the most popular devotional books of the day. More than a century before, on the eve of the Restoration, there had appeared a treatise on The Whole Duty of Man. Its author's name was never known, but it sprang at once into a semi-official position. It was chained in churches for the people to read. It was made the basis of instruction in the charity schools. It was accepted as the recognized statement of sound and sober Church teaching. If we want to grasp the type of Churchmanship which prevailed in the eighteenth century, we can see it in all its strength and weakness in this rather unattractive little volume. It was written at the height of the reaction against the Puritan theology, and its author tries to reduce religion to its most prosaic elements. Everything emotional, everything speculative, all passionate yearnings after holiness and communion with the Unseen are relentlessly excluded as delusions. Every sensible person, we are told, ought to take care of his soul, for it is the most durable part of him, but to do so he must "act by the same rules of common reason, whereby he proceeds in his worldly business." He must go to church, pay his tithes, keep the fasts, avoid drunkenness, and seek to do his duty as a neighbour, a master, and a son. Whitefield may be pardoned his exaggeration when he said that its author knew no more about Christianity than Mohammed. The Evangelicals were always pointing out the deficiencies of this book. Venn did something better; he provided a substitute. The Complete Duty of Man is just as practical as The Whole Duty. In his parish work he had learnt most of the average Churchman's difficulties. He deals with the duties of husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants, neighbours and friends, the use of money, the sins of the flesh, the details of everyday life, but he deals with them in a very different spirit. "Christ the Law-Giver will always speak in vain, without Christ the Saviour is first known. All treatises to promote holiness must be deplorably defective, unless the Cross of Christ be laid as the foundation, constantly kept in view, and every duty enforced as having relation to the Redeemer." - "Duty first" is the message of the earlier book; "Christ the beginning and the end of all" is the message of the later; and by their fruits the two systems must be judged. No one would deny that the older school trained many upright men, the school in which Nelson learnt his great Trafalgar signal, but morally, spiritually England was perishing, and no man could find the remedy, until the Evangelical teaching swept through the land, revealing how sin could be conquered and duty consistently done.
The third great name in the North was that of Joseph Milner, Headmaster of Hull Grammar School and Afternoon Lecturer at the parish church, who to the horror of the Mayor and Corporation, about 1770, adopted Evangelical views after reading Hooker's Sermon on Justification. At once his friends dropped him. For years, his brother tells us, "few persons who wore a tolerably good coat would take notice of him when they met him in the street"; but the largest church in England was thronged to the doors, whenever he entered the pulpit, "drunkards and debauchees were reformed, the care of the soul became the topic of common conversation, the sick sent for him to their chambers, and, when he returned, he found his house crowded with visitors who had come for spiritual advice: great numbers of the poor and of the middle classes became truly religious." As a schoolmaster he also used his opportunities to the full, and the next generation of Evangelicals in Yorkshire was largely recruited from his pupils.
“History of the Church”
But his fame chiefly rests on his History of the Church of Christ, one of the greatest books that the movement produced. Its idea was a very happy one. The Church historian as a rule devotes so much of the space to schisms and heresies and more or less unedifying squabbles, that the general impression left on the mind is that the Christians must have been most unpleasant and unreasonable people. Milner determined to write a history of the good which Christianity had accomplished; "genuine piety is the only thing which I intend to celebrate"; "a history of the perversions and abuses of religion is not a history of the Church; as absurd were it to suppose a history of the highwaymen to be a history of England." His purpose was only to describe "the real followers of Christ," and to show how they had been the salt which kept each generation from corruption. To the modern reader the result is a little disappointing. A provincial schoolmaster living far from all great libraries could not hope to produce a work to rival that of Gibbon. But the book is no compilation: it is based throughout on original authorities; and it turned the attention of English readers to the almost forgotten writings of the early Fathers. He lived to carry his work from the Apostles to the middle of the thirteenth century, and his brother published two more volumes "on the plan and in part from the manuscripts" he had left.
Before his death Hull had become a strong Evangelical centre. "For many years past the clergy of the town," wrote his brother in 18oo, "have in general been very serious persons, and have lived in harmony with Mr. Milner both in doctrine and zeal. Some of them have been his pupils both in profane and sacred learning, and all of them looked up to him with reverence as a guide." "The town of Hull," lamented Dr. Croft, the Hampton Lecturer (1795) "affords one unfortunate instance of their success, for all the churches there are occupied by these pretended favourites of heaven." The most prominent of the younger men were John King, who became Vicar of St. Mary's in 1771, and Thomas Dykes, who built St. John's (1791) for the dock labourers, and became the first incumbent.
Adam of Winteringham
At Winteringham, on the Lincolnshire side of the Humber, Thomas Adam worked for fifty-eight years (1726-1784). He had come to the parish a wild young man of only twenty-four, who confessed that he had taken orders “more for the sake of worldly advantage 'than anything else." But about 1745 he read Law's Serious Call, and felt so humbled and ashamed that for months he dared not enter the pulpit, and the people noticed how he trembled and wept, as he read the prayers. For three years he struggled through the Slough of Despond, and then his burden rolled away as he read the Epistle to the Romans, and realized for the first time the meaning of the Cross. In 1753 he wrote his Lectures on the Church Catechism, which made his name known far beyond the borders of his parish, and men in all parts of the country began to turn to that distant Lincolnshire rectory for advice. John Thornton came all the way from Clapham to consult him; Venn sent the manuscript of the Complete Duty to him for comment and criticism; Lord Dartmouth used to ask his opinion on any matter that puzzled him; and when Walker of Truro was troubled with scruples about the burial service, it was to far-off Winteringham that he rode to pour out his perplexity. What was the secret of his influence? We see it when we turn to those "Thoughts on Religion," which his friends extracted after his death from Adam's private diary: "Hell is truth seen too late." "Heaven is wherever God is: in my heart if I desire it." These are two of the aphorisms. This choice little book, which was never intended for any eye but his own, has fascinated men like Chalmers and Heber, Coleridge and John Stuart Mill, and still lives, though all its author's tomes of divinity are forgotten.
Other Yorkshire Clergy
If we cross the Humber and return to Yorkshire, we find James Stillingfleet at Hotham, in whose well-stocked library Milner found the materials for his history. In York itself was William Richardson, for fifty years Vicar of "Belfry's" the largest church in the city, in his youth standing absolutely alone, but later the Nestor of a growing circle of Evangelical clergy. Among these was John Overton, whose True Churchmen Ascertained (1801) caused a tremendous controversy, for he boldly carried the war into the enemy's country, and tried to prove from a careful examination of the Articles and the history of the Prayer Book that Evangelicals were "the true Churchmen" and their opponents "in a very fundamental sense dissenters from the Church of England." Further north, at Helmsley, was Richard Conyers, ringing his Protestant Angelus every day, and teaching his peasants to pause in their work and breathe a silent prayer, whenever they heard the sound come floating over the fields. In the West Riding John Crosse, the blind Vicar of Bradford, was drawing such congregations that the great church could not hold them, though gallery after gallery was added. At Leeds, Miles Atkinson's influence was supreme, and William Hey, the famous surgeon, was his great supporter. Slaithwaite had a steady succession of Evangelical clergy. First "Boanerges" Furly, whom Venn had chosen for the living, then Matthew Powley, who had married the daughter of Cowper's friend, Mrs. Unwin, and then Thomas Wilson, one of Milner's pupils, for whom a new church had to be built, and afterwards enlarged, and yet it could not hold the people who flocked to hear him. "They stood," it is said, "like corn in a field, sometimes double rows in a seat; there was no dissent in that valley." Matthew Powley became Vicar of Dewsbury when he left Slaithwaite. Henry Coulthurst, as Vicar of Halifax, had all the twelve chapels-of-ease in the parish in his own patronage. Altogether, by the time that the end of the century had been reached, the Evangelicals were far stronger in Yorkshire than in any other part of the country.
The Elland Society
It was right then that Yorkshire should be the first county to turn its attention to the supply of Evangelical candidates for the ministry. Venn had founded a Clerical Society (1767) when he was at Huddersfield, in which like-minded clergy might meet for mutual edification, and, when he left, the meetings were continued by Burnett in Elland Rectory. At one of these meetings the difficulty of finding Evangelical curates was discussed, and it was decided (1777) to start a fund to help suitable young men, who hoped to be ordained, to go to Oxford or Cambridge. Thornton and other laymen of the party gave most generously, and the Elland Society began its long career of usefulness, one of the first students to receive a grant being Samuel Marsden, the future apostle of New Zealand.
In the other northern counties there were very few Evangelicals to be found. At Christ Church, Macclesfield, David Simpson was ministering (1775-99) with such success that on Good Friday, 1782, the number of the communicants was more than thirteen hundred. This church had been built for him, with the consent of Bishop Porteous, the first bishop to show any favour to the Evangelicals, by Charles Roe, the founder of the Macclesfield silk trade, after a terrible scene in the old parish church, when the rector had violently assaulted Simpson, who was then his curate, and thrown him bodily out of the pulpit in the middle of one of his sermons. At Manchester, Cornelius Bayley, who had been a teacher in Wesley's school at Kingswood, and afterwards curate of Madeley under Fletcher, obtained permission from the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church to build the new church of St. James' in 1788, and there he ministered till his death in 1812. In Westmorland, Thomas Hervey was Perpetual Curate of Underbarrow (1766-1806), "having no other clergyman of congenial sentiments within a distance of many miles.'' In Cumberland the only Evangelical was John Farrer of Stanwix, till Isaac Milner, of whom we shall speak later, became Dean of Carlisle in 1791, and drew such crowds to the Cathedral that it was said, "When the Dean preaches, you may walk on the heads of the people." In Northumberland and Durham we have not been able to discover a single Evangelical in the eighteenth century. For some reason that is not altogether clear, the movement which gained so firm a footing in one corner of Yorkshire was very slow in finding its way into any of the neighbouring counties.
(c) IN THE WEST
Fletcher of Madeley
In the West far the most striking figure was that of Fletcher of Madeley. He was pre-eminently the saint of the movement. "In four-score years," wrote John Wesley, "I have known many exemplary men, holy in heart and life, but one equal to him I have not known, one so inwardly and outwardly devoted to God." By his gentleness and humility, his long nights of prayer and extraordinary self-denial, his love of children and love of birds, his calm courage in the hour of danger, and constant realization of the presence of his Master as a Personal Friend, he recalls the legends of the medieval saints. "No country or age," wrote Robert Southey, " has ever produced a man of more fervent piety or more perfect charity" : and all contemporary writers seem to have been equally impressed: the strangest of all testimonials came from the infidel Voltaire, who, when challenged to produce a character as beautiful as that of our Lord, at once pointed to Fletcher of Madeley.
By birth he was not an Englishman. His real name was Jean Guillaume de la Flechere, but, because his English friends could never spell this correctly, he consented to be called John William Fletcher. He was born in Switzerland, and educated at Geneva for the ministry of the Swiss Church, but his mind revolted at the doctrine of Election, as taught in the home of Calvinism, and he came to England as a private tutor. While teaching in the household of Thomas Hill, of Tern Hall, Shropshire, he heard for the first time of the Methodists. Mrs. Hill was jesting about his earnestness: "'I shall wonder if our tutor does not turn Methodist by and by.' 'Methodist, madam,' said he, 'pray what is that?' She replied, 'Why, the Methodists are a people that do nothing but pray.' 'Then,' said he, 'by the help of God I will find them out.' " On his first visit to London he kept his word; he hunted out a Methodist preaching-house, and there he found a type of Christianity as far as possible removed from the stern Genevan Calvinism, bright, joyous, philanthropic, brimming over with enthusiastic love for God and man. The text, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord," seemed to come as a personal message, and gradually he learnt how to cast all his sin and weakness in simple faith on the Redeemer, Who had died to save him.
His thoughts then began to turn back to his old desire to be a minister of the Gospel, and he determined to seek work in his adopted country. On March 6th, 1757, he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Hereford, and priest on the following Sunday by the Bishop of Bangor. How a young foreigner without naturalization, without a degree in an English University, and without any prospect of parochial work could be ordained at all, and how he could be admitted to the priesthood after only a week's interval, it is impossible to say; but irregularities like this on the part of the rulers of the Church help to explain the irregularities of some of the first Evangelicals. Things which would be impossible today were then allowed to pass almost without comment. Three years later (1760) he found his life's work. By that time his pupils were too old to need a tutor, and Mr. Hill obtained for him the living of Madeley. This was a large Shropshire village in the Severn Valley, "remarkable for little else than the ignorance and profaneness of its inhabitants," containing a few well-to-do farmers, coarse and illiterate, who divided their interests between their cattle, their hunting, and their ale; a number of agricultural labourers, quite as coarse and even more ignorant than their masters; the colliers who worked the pits in two outlying hamlets, men every bit as degraded as Whitefield's friends in Kingswood; and the forgemen of Coalbrook Dale, the cradle of the iron trade, where the Darby’s had just introduced the process of smelting iron with coal. It was a strange contrast; on the one side three thousand people, rough, rowdy, drunken, bitterly resenting any interference and any suggestion of religion; on the other side this refined, sensitive scholar with his delicate health, his beautiful face, and his gentle, foreign ways, seeking to bend their stubborn necks beneath the yoke of Christ. Here he remained for twenty-five years (1760-85), and no one could persuade him to move. King George inquired through the Lord Chancellor what preferment would be acceptable. "Tell His Majesty," he replied," that I want nothing but more grace." Wesley urged him to give up his parish and become an itinerant, but, though Fletcher occasionally joined him on short preaching tours, he remained faithful to his stubborn and unruly villagers. His first task was to make them realize that the church was at least as important a place in the parish as the bull-ring. He called at every house to urge the people to attend. "Some made excuse," wrote Wesley, "that they could not wake early enough. He provided for this also. Taking a bell in his hand, he set out every Sunday at five in the morning, and went round the most distant parts of the parish, inviting all the inhabitants to the House of God." At first he was much discouraged by the tiny congregations; but gradually the numbers grew, and soon the little church could not hold the people, and one of the windows near the pulpit had to be taken out, so that others might stand in the churchyard and listen to the sermon. Many walked long distances and brought their dinners with them, and deep indentations in the pillars of the vicarage gates still show where they used to sharpen their knives.
But Fletcher was not the man to be satisfied with a crowded church. His aim was to make every man, woman, and child a Christian. The children were catechized in church every Sunday afternoon; six Sunday-schools were started later in various parts of the parish, and in summer he held wonderful classes in the woods, where he taught the children to pray and to sing the hymns that he wrote for them. Every week-night a service was held in some part of the parish, either in church, or in a cottage, or in the open air. He gathered all who seemed impressed into little societies, and rose at five in the morning to instruct them in the Christian faith. He fought against the evil around with unflinching courage. "It was a common thing for young persons of both sexes to meet together for what was called recreation; and that recreation usually continued from evening to morning, consisting chiefly in dancing, revelling, drunkenness, and obscenity." These gatherings Fletcher finally suppressed after a hard battle, bursting in upon them whenever they were held "with holy indignation," taking the names of all who were present, and sending them to their homes with stern rebukes. The Vicar soon became a terror to evil-doers. "He used always to run," said one collier, "after such wicked fellows as I was, in order that he might talk with us and warn us." "Whenever they saw him coming, they used to take to their heels; but often he ran them down, and many a man's life was changed by the conversation that followed. Indeed, it was in personal dealing with souls that his greatest strength lay. He had a wonderful gift of drawing lessons from the everyday things of life. To a woman poking the fire he spoke of the way the fire of love in the soul is apt to burn low; another who was sweeping a room he asked whether she was taking equal care to drive uncleanness out of every corner of her heart; to the farmer with his gun he spoke of sin as a missing of the mark; to the woman whose market basket he was carrying he spoke of One Who had died to bear a heavier burden for her. In anyone else it might have seemed unreal, and in some of his imitators it soon became ridiculous; but he did it in so tactful and impressive a way that those to whom he spoke seldom forgot his words.
A man so active was bound to meet with opposition. The rumour went round the parish that he was a Jesuit in disguise, and his foreign accent helped to make this credible. A neighbouring squire sent him a message that he intended to cane him publicly in the village street. At all events he was mixed up with the Methodists, and that was enough. The farmers decided that it was their duty to drive him from the parish. Some refused to pay their tithes, and, as his income from the living was only £100, he was often nearly starved, but he would not enforce his rights in a court of law. They prosecuted under the Conventicle Act a woman in one of the outlying hamlets, who had lent him a room for a week-night service, and she was fined £20, which of course had to come out of the Vicar's pocket. "You cannot well imagine," he wrote, "how much the animosity of my parishioners is heightened, and with what boldness it discovers itself against me. The people, instead of saying 'Let us go up to the House of the Lord,' exclaim, 'Why should we go and hear a Methodist?'" Meanwhile the colliers had their own plan for getting rid of him. They arranged a great bull-baiting, in which the Vicar was to take the place of the bull. One party set off to capture him, while the others stayed to get the dogs ready; but a funeral kept him from going to the place where they expected to find him, and so he escaped.
But through good report and evil report he quietly went on his way, winning sinners one by one for Christ and His Church. Twice only do we find him engaged in different work: first, when for three years he acted as visitor to Lady Huntingdon's College at Trevecca, which was no great distance from Madeley; and again when he took his part in the unfortunate Calvinist controversy. If there was any man in England who understood Calvinism, it was the ex-student of Geneva, and when he saw the sudden revival of the doctrines which had troubled his youth, he took up his pen and wrote his five Checks to Antinomianism, almost the only book that controversy produced of which the author had no cause to be ashamed. "I know not which to admire most," said that sternest of critics, John Wesley, "the purity of the language, the strength of the argument, or the mildness and sweetness of the spirit that breathes throughout the whole." But even this exciting controversy did not turn him aside from his parochial work. He was always first and foremost the pastor of his village flock, and he died of a fever, caught while visiting a sick parishioner, with the words on his lips, "O my poor! what will become of my poor?"
Shropshire and Gloucestershire
His nearest neighbours were Richard de Courcy, Vicar of St. Alkmund's, Shrewsbury (1774-1803), who had been one of Lady Huntingdon's chaplains, and John Hallward and John Mayor, successive Vicars of Shawbury. Elsewhere it was very difficult for Evangelicals to gain a footing. Cirencester, for example, had had no Vicar since the Reformation; the living had been called a perpetual curacy, and had been held by licence from the Bishop. But when, in 1778, Samuel Johnson, the Perpetual Curate, became an Evangelical, the office of Vicar was at once revived, and a Mr. Smith appointed, who dismissed the Curate, let the vicarage, and continued to live at Gloucester.
In Wales many of the clergy were taking their full share in the Revival — Griffith Jones, Rector of Llanddowror, Daniel Rowlands, Rector of Llangeitho, William Williams, Curate of Llanwrtyd, Howell Davies, Rector of Prengast; but though they did their utmost to keep their followers true to the Church — "Stand by the Church by all means," were the dying words of Rowlands, "there will be a great revival in the Church of England; stand by it even unto death" — all but David Jones of Llangan belong more to the Methodist wing of the movement than to the Evangelical.
At Bristol, the cradle of Methodism, the main current of the Revival flowed past and away from the Church, but even here a certain number of Evangelicals were found. Their first church was St. Werburgh's, which then stood in the heart of the city, and had around it a tiny parish of forty-six houses. Here Richard Symes was Rector, to whom Walker of Truro wrote in 1755, "I greatly rejoice that God hath introduced into your large city the purity of the Gospel doctrines by your means in a regular way." His curate, James Rouquet (1768-76), was one of the most attractive of the minor characters of the period. A son of Huguenot refugees, with all a Frenchman's vivacity, he had fallen under the spell of Whitefield while a boy at Merchant Taylors', and for a time had acted as master at Wesley's Kingswood school. He horrified the Bristol merchants by his ultra-Radicalism and his outspoken sympathy with the revolted colonies, but the poor almost worshipped him — some of his best work was done as chaplain of the hospital and gaol— and his funeral was a sight that Bristol long remembered: his friends from the slums turned up in their thousands to follow him to the grave. The second Evangelical parish was St. George's, Kingswood, the new church built for the miners to whom Wesley and Whitefield had ministered, and here Richard Hart laboured for nearly fifty years (1759-1808), combining the keenest evangelistic fervour with perfect loyalty to the Church. In three other parishes also the doctrines of the Revival were taught: All Saints', where James Stonehouse was Lecturer (1763-82), a man who had been a well-known physician and infidel, but was now preaching with great eloquence the faith which he once destroyed; the Temple, where Joseph Easterbrook was Vicar (1779-91), a somewhat erratic person, who believed he could cast out devils; and St. Mary-le-Port, where William Tandey was Curate-in-charge (1788-99), a cultured, thoughtful preacher of the type of Cecil. Here, too, lived James Ireland, the John Thornton of the west, the wealthy sugar refiner who gave ungrudgingly his life and fortune to help the work of the Evangelical clergy, and to increase their numbers. By his help the Bristol Clerical Education Society was formed (1795), which did for the western counties what the Elland Society did for the north, and in thirty years helped more than a hundred promising young Evangelicals, who were preparing for Holy Orders, to go to one or other of the Universities.
In Devonshire there was another group of Evangelical clergy. At Broad Hembury was Augustus Toplady (1768-78), the protagonist on the Calvinist side in the controversy, a strange blend of saintliness, scholarship, and scurrility. "I never attempt to hew millstones with feathers," he said; and therein he was wise. But that hardly excused his calling Wesley "a low and puny tadpole," whose "satanic guilt was only exceeded by his satanic shamelessness," or "the most rancorous hater of the Gospel system that ever appeared in this island." However, his hymn "Rock of Ages" atones for a multitude of sins, and his great work The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England was undoubtedly one of the most learned and brilliant books of the period. But his restless spirit led him to attempt far more than his frail and wasted body could accomplish, and his constant ill-health partly excused the violence of his controversial pamphlets. At Hatherleigh, Cradock Glascott was Vicar for nearly fifty years (1781-1831), a prisoner within his parochial boundaries by his oath to the Bishop, who, when he heard that he had been one of Lady Huntingdon's itinerant chaplains, had declined to institute him, unless he would swear never to go outside the parish, after he had once entered it. At Ashford, two miles from Barnstaple, was the studious Thomas Bliss, Hill at Tawstock, Williams at Clyst-Hydon; but the strongest man in this group was undoubtedly Robert Hawker, who worked in Plymouth for fifty years (1778-1828), first as Curate and then as Vicar of King Charles' Church. Theologically he was one of the highest of Calvinists, and defended his grim beliefs in innumerable volumes; but personally he was one of the simplest and most lovable of men; though he ruled his great congregation with a rod of iron, any beggar was able to wheedle him out of his last sixpence, and the bedroom doors in the vicarage had to be kept locked, so often had he stripped the beds to provide for the wants of his poor. His Sunday Schools were some of the earliest in the South of England, and the Children's Hymn Book which he compiled was the first of its kind; but fond as he was of children, he never learnt how to manage that mischievous little grandson of his, who afterwards became the well-known Vicar of Morwenstow.
Conon of Truro
In Cornwall the first Evangelical was a layman, George Conon, the Headmaster of Truro Grammar School. Little is known about his life, but his influence was felt, for almost all the gentlemen's sons in the middle and west of the county were educated by him. One day, however, a curious problem presented itself for solution. His doctor had ordered him some wine, and in that smuggling neighbourhood it was impossible to obtain any on which the duty had been paid. As a Christian he could not consent to participate in a fraud, and yet he could not pay the money himself without getting others into trouble. At last he determined to send what was due to the curate of the parish with a note asking him to hand it on to the proper authorities.
Walker of Truro
Truro at that time was a gay and frivolous little town, and Samuel Walker had come there as curate (1746), in order to be near the Assembly Rooms, for he was passionately fond of card-playing and dancing. A member of an old West Country family, well read and courtly, with handsome person, charming manners, and brilliant conversational powers, eloquent in the pulpit, orthodox in doctrine, but without a spark of any spiritual religion, he seemed to be settling down to the life of a fashionable abbe. Conon's note, however, induced him to call on the schoolmaster, and he found, he tells us, "the first person I ever met possessed of the mind of Christ." That call led to others, and with infinite tact the elder man brought him to see the emptiness of the life he was living, and the meaning and the truth of the Evangelical doctrines. Walker was in sole charge at Truro. His Rector was an absentee, who left him a free hand, so long as he forwarded half the pew rents, fees, and offerings punctually; and so he was able at once to alter his methods of work and preaching. Very calmly he explained from the pulpit the change in his views, warned those who were trusting, as he had been, to the mere formalities of Sunday worship for salvation, and began to preach repentance, faith, and the new birth. Of course opposition followed. His enemies appealed to the Bishop, but so irreproachable was his conduct, that not even Lavington, the sworn foe of every Evangelical, could find a handle against him. They then turned to the Rector, who promised to dismiss his curate. "He went, but on entering Walker's apartment he was received with an elegance and dignity of manner, which were natural to one who had long been the charm of Society, that he retreated overwhelmed with confusion, unable to say a word about the intended dismissal; he was in consequence reproached with his breach of promise, and went a second time, and again retreated without daring to allude to the object of his visit. He was pressed to go a third time by one of his principal parishioners, but said, 'Do you go and dismiss him, if you can. I feel in his presence as if he were a being of a superior order.'" So Walker remained Curate of Truro, till his last illness.
The work that he accomplished was extraordinary. He disapproved of the extra-parochial work of some of his brethren, and wrote strongly more than once against itinerancy; he believed in concentrating all his strength on the one corner of the vineyard committed to his care, and no one proved more clearly than he the possibilities of the parochial system. All Truro seemed to go to church in his day. It was said, "You might fire a cannon down every street in church time without a chance of killing a human being." The old frivolity and laxness of morals gradually disappeared. The cockpit and the theatre had to close their doors for lack of patrons. In one of his letters to Adam he writes after five years of work, "the number of those who have made particular application to me inquiring what they must do to be saved cannot have been less than eight hundred," which in a town of 1600 meant very nearly the whole adult population. His converts were formed into little societies, and watched over with the tenderest care; and when he died, in 1761, after more than twenty years of hard and prayerful work, he left Truro probably the most Christian town in England.
Other Cornish Evangelicals
His influence over the neighbouring clergy was also very great. He formed (1750) a Parson's Club for those of Evangelical views, which met on the Tuesday after every full moon for the study of religious questions. Michell of Veryan, Penrose of Penryn, Vowler of St Agnes, and Vivian of Cornwood were the most active of the band, and the leaders of the Revival in the west of Cornwall. Meanwhile in the eastern half of the county, others were hard at work, of whom the most vigorous were George Thomson, Vicar of St. Gennys (1732-82), a firebrand of the Berridge type, who, when Lavington threatened to deprive him of his gown, took it off and folded it up, and laid it at the Bishop's feet with the remark that he could preach just as well without it; and John Bennet, Vicar of Laneast, converted when over seventy, who crowded into his last ten years more aggressive Christian work than most men accomplish in a lifetime. At one time it looked as though Cornwall would become a strong Evangelical centre, but there were not enough clergy to restrain the volatile Cornish temperament, and many of the converts of the Revival passed into the ranks of the Methodists.
(d) IN THE MIDLANDS
The first Evangelical parish in the Midlands was the village of Weston Favell, two miles from Northampton, where James Hervey was living his quiet, blameless life. He had been one of the Oxford Methodists, and a pupil of John Wesley, and he was still heart and soul with his old friends in their work. He did not itinerate — his health and his views of Church order made that impossible. Except for a brief curacy at Bideford, he hardly ever stirred beyond the borders of his parish. He had lived there as a boy; he returned in 1743 to be his father's curate; he succeeded his father as Rector (1752), and he died there in 1758. But he did much to help the movement with his pen. His first book, Meditations among the Tombs (1746), ran through twenty editions in a very few years, and his next, Theron and Aspasio (1755), was almost as popular. Their success is incredible to a modern reader. Two friends talk endless theological platitudes in the most bombastic language, while "cauliflowers sheltered their fair complexions under a green umbrella, and daisies were gay with the smile of youth and fair as the virgin snows"; but the books certainly appealed to polite circles in the eighteenth century — even the critical Monthly Review saw nothing ridiculous in them — and, since it is the aim of a band of missionaries to speak all the dialects of the country in which they work, it was well that there should be one among the Evangelicals who was able to translate his message into the jargon of the genteel world.
Berridge of Everton
But the man who left the deepest mark on this part of England was John Berridge of Everton. Great had been the sensation at Cambridge, when it was known that the senior Fellow of Clare, the brilliant scholar and famous wit, had "turned Methodist" and accepted a country living (1755). Greater still was the sensation in Bedfordshire, when, after a short period of groping in the dark, he grasped his message in its fullness, and began his work. He had brought down with him from Cambridge a spirit of reckless comicality; Hudibras and Aristophanes had soaked into his very soul. He often said extraordinary things which horrified his more sober friends. But Southey made a great mistake when he sketched him as a mere buffoon. He was a scholar and a gentleman, able to meet Lady Huntingdon and her friends on quite equal terms; indeed, Wesley described him as "one of the most sensible men of all whom it pleased God to employ in reviving Primitive Christianity." His sermons, as he wrote them, had nothing remarkable about them; they were very simple, very orthodox, and a trifle dull — we possess a number of specimens in his collected works; but, when they were delivered, they entirely changed their character. On the spur of the moment he interpolated so many quaint asides, homely illustrations, racy anecdotes, personal applications, and so many of those pithy proverbial sayings that the rustic loves, that he became a veritable Mrs. Poyser in the pulpit. The Church of England has had few clergy who could so perfectly get in touch with the ploughboy intellect.
The first result was alarming and almost disastrous. Not only was the church crowded, "the windows were filled within and without," wrote one who was present, "and even the pulpit to the very top, so that Mr. Berridge seemed almost stifled"; but, as the people began to grasp the great facts of eternity, there came a terrible epidemic of those hysterical seizures which had accompanied the earlier preaching of Wesley. The same eye-witness describes a typical scene. The sermon had hardly begun, when "a mixture of various sounds" arose from the congregation, "some shrieking, some roaring aloud; the most general was a loud breathing, like that of people half strangled and gasping for life. Others fell down as dead, some in silence, some with extreme noise. An able-bodied, fresh, healthy country-man dropped with a violence inconceivable. I heard the stamping of his feet, ready to break the boards, as he lay in strong convulsions at the bottom of the pew. About the same time John Keeling fell into an agony. Immediately after a well-dressed stranger, who stood facing me, fell backward, wringing his hands and roaring like a bull." All over the church a perfect Babel of noises broke out: some turned black in the face and gurgled, as though they were being choked, some groaned, others yelled, and all the time the deep voice of the preacher quietly went on speaking. And yet Berridge's sermons were far from sensational; there were no Jonathan Edwards pictures of the terrors of Hell: his own expression that he "prattled of Jesus" accurately describes his preaching; but week after week his congregation was transformed into a company of howling maniacs, and the strange thing was that the men were more subject to these seizures than the women. No one was more astonished than the preacher himself; but with simple faith he decided that this must come either from God or the devil. If it was of God, he need not mind, for it would result in good. On the other hand, if it was a device of the devil to try to stop God's work, he must press steadily on. In either case his duty was clearly to go on preaching the Gospel, and in time, as the Christian facts grew more familiar to the people, the excitement, though not the earnestness, passed entirely away, till Robinson of Leicester used to point to the reverence of the services in Everton Church as "a model and proof of what the Church of England could exhibit and effect."
When Berridge had got his own parish into proper order, he began to look around, and he saw everywhere empty churches, careless clergy, and immortal souls perishing for lack of knowledge. He knew that he was able to win the Bedfordshire labourer for God, and those words of the Ordination Service, "to seek Christ's sheep that are scattered abroad," kept ringing in his ears, till at last, like Grimshaw, he burst through his parish boundaries, and began to preach in barns and fields, wherever he could get an opening. Part of each week he devoted to his own parish, and on the other days he visited ten or a dozen villages, sometimes riding more than a hundred miles; and wherever he went audiences of thousands were waiting to hang on his lips, to learn for the first time what Christianity really was. Of course, this work brought him into serious conflict with the Bishop, who even threatened to imprison him in Huntingdon Gaol; but Pitt, who had been his friend at Cambridge, stepped in to protect him, and he ended his days as Vicar of Everton and Evangelist of the whole countryside between the Cam and the Nen.
Olney was another centre of Evangelical work; a squalid little Buckinghamshire town, "inhabited," wrote Cowper, "chiefly by the half-starved and ragged of the earth." It was altogether a most depressing place — a long street of tumble-down cottages with holes in the thatched roofs, cold fogs creeping up from the sluggish waters of the Ouse, and two thousand people sullenly fighting a lost battle with starvation. Every one in Olney lived by lace-making, and the time had come when no one could live by that kind of lace-making any more. From morning to night the whole population sat stooping over their pillows, desperately marshalling their regiments of pins and filling their bobbins with thread. But work as they would, they could not win a living out of their doomed trade, and crushed and hopeless they were slipping down the hill into habits of drunkenness and vice. Moses Browne, the poet-preacher, was the first Evangelical vicar, a pen-cutter, who had attracted notice by verses in the Gentleman's Magazine, and had been ordained late in life by the help of James Hervey and Lady Huntingdon. He was a good man, and left to his successor "a company of praying people." But he was not markedly successful, and after ten years he was glad to accept the chaplaincy of Morden College, a seventeenth-century institution for decayed London merchants.
He left behind, as curate-in-charge (1764), a very remarkable man. Most of the Evangelical clergy had led, before their ordination, quiet, even humdrum, lives. Not so John Newton. He had crowded into his early years enough adventures to supply materials for a dozen penny dreadfuls, and more than enough sin. Over his study mantelpiece at Olney still stand the texts he painted: "Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable," "But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee." Son of the captain of a small trader, he spent his boyhood in the docks and streets of strange cities; as a child he was an expert in blasphemy; at seventeen he read Shaftesbury, and became an avowed infidel. Every chance that his father gave him was thrown away; a position in Spain, another in Jamaica, both were forfeited. When seized by the press-gang, his father secured his appointment as midshipman, but his folly led to a public flogging, and reduction to the ranks. He then joined a ship sailing for West Africa, "in order," he said, "that I might now be as abandoned as I pleased without any control"; but at Sierra Leone he entered the service of a white slave-trader, only to find himself quickly reduced to the position of a slave. Here on this fever-stricken coast he toiled for a whole year, living on roots and persecuted by the man's negro mistress, who took a savage delight in making a white man miserable. A captain, who had promised his father to look for him, succeeded in setting him free, but his sufferings had not improved him. Blasphemous travesties of the Gospel story were his favourite form of wit, and his conduct on the vessel disgusted his rescuer. Later we find him as mate of a slave-ship, and then as captain, fighting with natives in African forests, fighting with ruffianly crews which mutinied and wanted to turn pirates, fighting with slaves who burst their hatches and tried to seize the vessel: a first-rate life to fill the pages of a boy's paper, but the strangest possible preparation for an Evangelical ministry. But, though he sunk very low, two links with the higher life still remained unbroken. The first was his romantic love for little Mary Catlett, who had won his sailor's heart, when she was a girl of thirteen. In his worst days the thought of her was some check upon him, and in 1750 he returned to claim her as his wife. The other link with better things was his love of books. On the African sands he taught himself Euclid, on the slave-ship he taught himself Latin, and one day he stumbled across a copy of Thomas a Kempis. This first shook his faith in his crude atheism; a Storm at sea deepened the impression, and a gradual change in his life began. For years he was more an earnest inquirer than a definite Christian, but just because his progress was so slow, when he did grasp the truth, his convictions were very deep and strong. In his search tor light he had made friends with many of the new teachers, Wesley and Whitefield, Berridge and Grimshaw, Venn and Romaine, and now his thoughts began to turn towards ordination. The difficulties seemed insuperable, but at last, through the influence of Lord Dartmouth, the Bishop of Lincoln accepted him, and this bluff sea-captain in his blue jacket, which he could hardly ever be persuaded to exchange for clerical dress, came to be Curate of this sad little town.
He threw himself into the work with characteristic thoroughness. He soon obtained funds from Lord Dartmouth and Thornton to relieve the bodily sufferings of his new parishioners, and then he was able to devote himself to the needs of their souls. From his diary we can compile a list of his regular meetings.
6 am - Prayer Meeting
Morning, Afternoon, Evening - Full Service with sermon
8 pm - Meeting for Prayer and Hymn-singing in the Vicarage.
Evening - Men's Bible Class
5 am - Prayer Meeting (good average attendance)
Evening - Prayer Meeting (the largest meeting of the week)
Classes for Young People and Inquirers
Afternoon - Children's Meetings, "to reason with them, and explain the Scriptures in their own little way."
Evening - Service in Church with sermon — attended by people from many of the villages round.
Evening - Meeting for Members of his Society
When we remember that he had no curate, and so had to take every meeting himself; that he was a most diligent visitor; that he held many cottage meetings in outlying corners of the parish, and was constantly announcing additional meetings on one excuse or another, we gain some idea of the amount of work he accomplished every week.
But when we have said all this, we have not mentioned yet the means by which he did most good. Preaching was not his strongest point: the effect was spoiled by his poor delivery and awkward gestures: though in spite of this his intense earnestness drew such congregations that a new gallery had to be added to the church. But his highest gift was the power of dealing with individuals. He was a specialist in sin. In the Roman Church he would have been one of the most trusted of confessors. To Olney there came a constant stream of men who were struggling with temptation, and they found in him one who had been a worse sinner than themselves, one who could understand and sympathize, one who was able to speak with authority as to the way of salvation. Those who could not come to see him sat down "to write, and from all parts of England letters poured in from men of every station, and they seldom failed to receive a helpful answer. He was the St. Francis de Sales of the Evangelical movement, the great spiritual director of souls through the post. "It is the Lord's will," he said, "that I should do most by my letters." And as we read those that have been preserved and printed, it is quite easy to understand his power; such gentle sympathy, combined with such sturdy common sense, made him a friend in whom it was indeed good to confide.
In 1767 some new parishioners came to live at Olney. The red house in the market-place was taken by Mrs. Unwin, a clergyman's widow with a son and daughter, and a shy sensitive invalid friend, who had come as a boarder in her husband's lifetime, and was now regarded quite as one of the family. This was the poet Cowper, a young lawyer whose career had been checked by a sudden attack of insanity. Careful treatment had restored his reason, but he remained totally unfit for the battle of life, and his friends subscribed sufficient money to enable him to live in the country. Very touching is the picture that he gives us of himself:
I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixed
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had Himself
Been hurt by the archers. In His side He bore
And in His hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts
He drew them forth, and healed, and bade me live.
This is no place to write the poet's life. Much of his work, from John Gilpin to the Translation of Homer, lies outside our present subject, but some of it is of the greatest importance to students of the Revival. He and Newton soon became very close friends, and in time Cowper overcame his constitutional indolence sufficiently to take some part in the parish work; indeed, some have held Newton responsible for his fits of madness, but this is easily disproved; it is a simple matter of chronology. The first and worst of all the attacks with its desperate attempts at suicide took place before he came to Olney, when he neither prayed nor attended any place of worship, but was living the gay and careless life of a briefless barrister: and though his later attacks of melancholia took the form of religious depression, this was only natural, since by that time religion was the dominant interest of his life: a financier under similar circumstances would have imagined himself bankrupt. Moreover, the delusion from which he suffered, that, though once a child of God, he was "damned below Judas," was in flat contradiction to his theological creed; for he and Newton were both Calvinists, holding strongly the doctrine of final perseverance — "Once in grace, always in grace." "My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." Whatever may have been the cause of his madness — and it was probably physical — it is impossible to blame his Calvinism for it.
The Olney Hymns
The friendship between Newton and Cowper enriched the Church with another group of hymns. One of Newton's innocent little devices for keeping up his people's interest in the Prayer Meeting was to provide a new hymn every Tuesday evening, which he often took as a text for his address. This was sometimes written by Cowper and sometimes by Newton himself, and thus the friends wrote between them more than three hundred hymns, many of which have taken their place in the front rank of English hymnody. Among Newton's we find such well-known favourites as: —
"How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds."
"Glorious things of Thee are spoken."
"Come, my soul, thy suit prepare."
"Begone unbelief, my Saviour is near."
"Quiet, Lord, my froward heart."
"Approach, my soul, the Mercy Seat."
Cowper's contributions are just as popular, including amongst others: —
"Hark, my soul, it is the Lord."
"Oh for a closer walk with God."
"There is a fountain filled with blood."
"God moves in a mysterious way."
"Sometimes a light surprises."
"Jesus, where'er Thy people meet."
"What various hindrances we meet."
But Cowper's chief importance in the history of the Evangelicals lies in the fact that he was the author of The Task. This poem carried its message into quarters which the movement had not yet touched. Men who would have scorned the preaching of Grimshaw or the pages of Venn could not help reading the masterpiece of the first poet of the day, and the world of culture awoke to the fact that Evangelicalism was not a vulgar delusion of the masses, but a philosophy of life, which could appeal effectively to educated men. From one point of view this is surely the most extraordinary poem in literature. Its subject is a sofa! "You can write about anything," said his friend, Lady Austen, "write about this sofa," and he accepted the task. "I sing the sofa," he obediently begins, but, after tracing its evolution from the three-legged stool, he flies off at a tangent, and in five thousand charming lines discusses almost every other subject under the sun — theology, gardening, politics, literature, and contemporary life — returning apologetically to the sofa in his closing lines. At first the result is bewildering; tame hares and Handel's oratorios, petit maitre parsons and cucumber-growing, Brown's system of landscape gardening and the government of Louis XVI, seem hardly kindred subjects; but soon the charm of this rambling style makes itself felt, and moreover the reader begins to see that there is method in the madness. Four definite thoughts stand out clearly from the poem as a whole. First, the thought of the beauty and sanctity of Home. There is something suggestive in the fact that the great poem of early Evangelicalism was written round a sofa. Puritanism had centred round the State; the Oxford Movement was to centre round the Church; but Evangelicalism was essentially the religion of the Home. Family life, family joy, family worship were its interest.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate wait on each.
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
It held up before a restless world the picture of a quiet Christian home. In the second place the poem is a call to the Simple Life. Evangelicalism sets its face against all artificial amusements, the glare and glitter of the ball-room, the theatre and the card-table; it sought to educate its people to enjoy more wholesome pleasures. In this Cowper was a true son of the movement. "Friends, books, a garden, and perhaps a pen," this was his ideal of happiness.
A life all turbulence and noise may seem
To him that leads it wise and to be praised,
But wisdom is a pearl with most success
Sought in still waters.
And never have the joys of a simple life been more charmingly sung. His third point is that the simple life need not be the life of a recluse, but is quite compatible with a keen interest in all that is happening in the world.
What's the world to you?
Much. I was born of woman, and drew milk
As sweet as charity from human breasts;
I think, articulate, I laugh and weep
And exercise all functions of a man.
How then should I or any man that lives
Be strangers to each other?
This spirit largely accounts for the rambling nature of the poem. He takes an interest in everything — Captain Cook in the South Pacific, the earthquake in Sicily, the misgovernment of India, the sufferings of the Bastille prisoners, and the slaves in the sugar plantations.
Neither can I rest
A silent witness of the headlong rage
Or heedless folly by which thousands die,
Bone of my bone, and kindred souls to mine.
There spoke the spirit that was soon to abolish the slave trade, and carry the factory laws, and found the C.M.S. Lastly, the thought that underlies the whole poem is this: the only way to enjoy home, or the simple life, or the manifold interests of the world, is to put oneself into right relations with God.
Acquaint thyself with God, if thou wouldest taste
His works. Admitted once to His embrace
Thou shalt perceive that thou wast blind before.
Thine eye shall be instructed, and thine heart.
Made pure, shall relish with Divine delight,
Till then unfelt, what Hands Divine have wrought.
The Task is the best key to the lives of men like those who, a little later, were called the Clapham Sect.
Departure of Newton
But before The Task was written Olney had a new Curate. After a fire had burnt down a considerable portion of the town, and caused the greatest suffering to the poorest of the people, Newton tried to put a stop to Guy Fawkes celebrations, which he thought a serious danger to the thatched roofs. But the rougher elements in the place strongly resented this; a serious riot ensued; an attempt was made to destroy the vicarage, and Newton had to give in. From that moment he felt that his influence over the town was weakened, and, when he was offered by John Thornton the Rectory of St. Mary Woolnoth, a church in the very heart of the City, opposite the Bank, he decided (1780) to move to London, and leave Olney to another.
After a brief interregnum, he was succeeded (1781) by Thomas Scott, Curate of the neighbouring villages of Stoke Goldington and Weston Underwood. He was quite a rough diamond, a son of the soil, who on leaving school had worked for nine years on a farm. But all the time he retained a passionate love of books, and at last succeeded in obtaining ordination. His motives, as he describes them, were not very high—"a desire of a more comfortable way of procuring a livelihood, the expectation of more leisure to employ in reading, and a vainglorious imagination that I should sometime distinguish myself in the literary world." Like many self-educated men, he had a high opinion of his own intellect, and at this time held strongly Unitarian views, which — so lax had the discipline of the Church become — he did not consider any difficulty in the way of ordination. “After having concealed my real sentiments under the mask of general expressions, after having subscribed articles directly contrary to what I believed, after having declared in the most solemn manner that I engaged myself to be inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, not believing that there was any Holy Ghost, on September 20, 1772, I was ordained deacon."
Soon after settling at Stoke he walked over to Olney to hear Newton preach, but was not much impressed. "I thought his doctrine abstruse, imaginative, and irrational." The only result of his visit was that he began to treat his villagers to a course of heavy controversial sermons against Methodism. A few months later, however, Newton preached in another way a sermon that was far more effective. "Two of my parishioners," wrote Scott, "a man and his wife, lay at the point of death. I had heard of the circumstance, but, not being sent for, I took no notice of it, till one evening — the woman being now dead and the man dying — I heard that my neighbour Mr. Newton had been several times to visit them. Immediately my conscience reproached me with being shamefully negligent in sitting at home within a few doors of dying persons and never going to visit them. It occurred to me that whatever contempt I might have for Mr. Newton's doctrines, I must acknowledge his practice to be more consistent with the ministerial character than my own."
His next step was a very curious one; he began to try to convert John Newton to Unitarianism. He opened a correspondence expecting "that my arguments would prove irresistibly convincing, and that I should have the honour of rescuing a well-meaning person from his enthusiastical delusions." Hardly anything gives us a better view of Newton's wisdom and tact than the study of this correspondence. We see Scott attacking furiously — "I filled my letters with definitions, inquiries, arguments, objections, and consequences, requiring explicit answers " — and the old veteran quietly parrying every stroke as it falls, never yielding an inch of his ground, but never thrusting back, taking great care never to wound his young antagonist. This controversy drove the Socinian Curate to study his Bible more closely. Day after day he walked up and down the beautiful park at Weston, his Greek Testament in his hand, until at last he came to see that truth was on the side of his opponent. The whole story of how he was driven from one position to another, until at last he came to adopt the full Evangelical faith, is told in his autobiography The Force of Truth.
Such was the man who now came (1781) to be Curate of Olney. The appointment was not a popular one. Some of the people knew Scott, and had taken a violent dislike to him. Moreover, the parish as a whole needed very careful handling. Not only was the rough element dangerous, but the lives of many of the Church people were far from satisfactory. This was a difficulty that was making itself felt in many places at this time. As the first glow of the Revival passed away, it left behind a considerable class, who were willing and critical hearers of the Word, but declined to be doers. "They are almost all Calvinists,'' wrote Scott, "even the most debauched of them." We see what he meant from Cowper's picture of his neighbour, Geary Ball, who prided himself on an "experience many years ago, which, although it has been followed by no better fruits than will grow in an ale-house, he dignifies by the name of conversion." Scott was hardly the man to deal with so delicate a position. He was fearless and honest and plain spoken, but he lacked the grace of tact. "Mr. Scott," wrote Cowper to Newton, "would be admired, were he not so apt to be angry with his congregation. Warmth of temper, indulged to a degree that may be called scolding, defeats the end of preaching. But he is a good man, and may perhaps outgrow it." “He is a surgeon that makes more use of the knife than the poultice." His four years at Olney were not happy ones — "I am very unpopular in the town," he wrote, "and preach in general to small congregations. I am generally looked upon as unsound and legal," — and when the proposal was made (1785) that he should remove to London to be morning preacher at the Lock Chapel, he did so with a sense of relief.
Here he wrote the Commentary on the Bible which made his name famous. Seldom has any great work been written in such an extraordinary manner. Bellamy, an enterprising but impecunious publisher on the verge of bankruptcy, noticing the revived interest in the Bible, hit on the plan of issuing a Commentary in weekly parts, and offered Scott a guinea a week if he would begin at once. The offer was a tempting one. He had often longed to work through the Bible, seeking to determine the message of every verse, and the guinea was by no means to be despised by a married man, whose whole income barely came to £120 a year. But he wrote later, "I am convinced that I did not deliberate, consult, and pray, as I should have done. I was too hasty in determining." The killing thing was the speed with which the work had to be done. Each week's portion had to be written in a week. "Sick or well, in spirits or out, the tale of bricks must be delivered." "I have known him," wrote his son, "with great difficulty and suffering prepare as much copy as he thought would complete the current number, and then, when he had retired to bed, and taken an emetic, called up again to furnish more." This explains some of the peculiarities of the book. There are no quotations from the Fathers and no discussions of the views of other commentators. There was no time to read anything that any one else had written. A week was barely enough to think out his own interpretation, to compare it with parallel passages in other parts of the Bible, and to write it out in clear and fluent English.
Nor was the tyranny of the printer's boy his only trouble. Everything combined to deprive him of the quiet required for a task of this magnitude. His health broke down; asthma and fever made work ten times more difficult. His wife died. His congregation was divided by theological discussions, and the extreme Calvinists among them were trying to drive him from his position. His publisher proved a scoundrel. Before the sixteenth number appeared he announced that he had no more money, and that, if the work was to continue, the author must find the funds. With great difficulty Scott succeeded in borrowing what was needed, and then Bellamy promptly went bankrupt, and Scott found all his money lost, and he himself saddled with a debt of £500. "It was needful that the whole progress of the work should be stamped with mortification, perplexity, and disappointment, if the Lord meant me to do any good to others by it, and to preserve me from receiving essential hurt in my own soul. Four years five months and a day were employed in the work with unknown sorrow and vexation."
And yet in its way it was a really great work. His aim was to "speak plainly and intelligibly to persons of ordinary capacity." He set his face sternly against fanciful interpretations. He detested with all the strength of his sturdy Lincolnshire common sense writers who find the doctrine of the Trinity in Huppim, Muppim, and Ard, or the whole system of Pauline theology hidden in the tassels of the Tabernacle. His theory was that "every passage of Scripture has its literal and distinct meaning, which it is the first duty of a commentator to explain, and speaking generally, the spiritual meaning is no other than this real meaning with its fair legitimate application to ourselves.” Thus to him the elaborate furniture of the Tabernacle suggests merely that we should offer our very best to God, and though he was writing through the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, he fails to find them mentioned in Daniel or the Book of Revelation. To those who are accustomed to the mysticism of the Fathers and the subtleties of the Puritan divines no doubt this is disappointing; but he believed that the reverent way of approaching the Scriptures was to draw from them their own message, and not to weave in fanciful conceits of his own.
The success of the work was immediate: 37,000 complete sets were sold in the author's lifetime, which brought in to the publishers almost £200,000; yet so effectually did they muzzle the ox that was treading out the corn that Scott died, as he lived, quite a poor man. But he did not work for money, and he had his reward. The book is almost superseded now, but it profoundly influenced the religious life of its time. It was read aloud at family prayers in almost every Evangelical home, and it stamped its sane and sober methods on the minds of most of the party. To quote only one testimonial from a not very likely source, Cardinal Newman calls Scott, in his Apologia, "the writer who made a deeper impression on my mind than any other, and to whom, humanly speaking, I owe my soul." "It was he who first planted in my mind that fundamental truth of religion, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity." "What I admired was his resolute opposition to Antinomianism, and the minutely practical character of his writings." "For years I used almost as proverbs what I considered to be the scope and issue of his doctrine. Holiness rather than peace, and Growth the only evidence of life. Scott left London in 1803 for the Rectory of Aston Sandford, Bucks, where he died in 1821.
Robinson of Leicester
In 1774 Thomas Robinson began his forty years ministry in Leicester, being first Curate of St. Martin's, and then Vicar of St. Mary's. He was distinctly a learned fellow of Trinity, Cambridge, who had been won to Evangelical views by reading Theron and Aspasio; very grave and dignified in the pulpit — "he stood," we are told, "as the messenger of heaven, and, unmoved by the presence of proud objectors or captious hearers, proclaimed 'Thus saith the Lord.'" Yet in the homes of his people he was full of merriment and fun, "the lively guest who paid richly for his entertainment by the pleasantry of his anecdote and conversation.'' At first he had to overcome the usual opposition; the churchwardens locked the doors against him, the choir bellowed the most unsuitable psalms instead of those which he instructed the clerk to announce; but soon new galleries had to be built to accommodate a thousand additional worshippers, and in his later years he exercised an influence in the town that cannot be over-estimated. As his fellow-townsman, Robert Hall, the famous dissenter, wrote: "The revolution which Baxter accomplished at Kidderminster, Robinson effected at Leicester."
Clarke of Chesham Bois
At Chesham Bois, a Buckinghamshire village with only twenty-four houses, Thomas Clarke was Rector from 1766 to 1793. He was perhaps the most learned of all the Evangelicals. Romaine called him the walking Synopsis - "he gives you the opinion of every commentator, and then gives his own, which is worth all the rest put together"; and Venn declared: "I will always take Clarke's opinion, until Solomon rises from the dead"; yet he never published a book. His influence lives through the men he trained for Holy Orders; the rectory was always full of pupils, and many of the best of the younger clergy, including Woodd, and Burn, and Jerram, and William Goode, owed not a little of their efficiency to the trouble he had taken with them.
Jones of Creaton
Other Evangelicals were scattered here and there. Thomas Pentycross at St. Mary's, Wallingford, who got into serious trouble with the Bishop for habitually overcrowding his church, Newell at Great Missenden, Brodbelt at Aston Sandford, Talbot at Kineton, Cadogan at Reading; and towards the end of the century a tiny Northamptonshire village became an important Evangelical centre. Thomas Jones had been driven from parish to parish because of the doctrines that he preached — at Oswestry the Rural Dean had even beaten him on the head with a stick in a vain attempt to change his theological views - but at last (1785) Simeon procured for him the curacy of Creaton, with a stipend of £25 a year. He remained in this village of forty-six houses for nearly fifty years, lodging in the inn, as there was no parsonage and he could not afford a cottage, and proving himself a quite exemplary parish priest. He was no great preacher, but as a pastor and worker he was unequalled. For years the attendance at the Lord's Table on the first Sunday in the month never fell below eighty-five, which meant that the whole adult population of the village were communicants. A Sunday School was started as soon as he came to the parish, and this was followed by a Dame School, to teach the children to read. Then a Sick Club and Clothing Club were formed, all very familiar now, but almost unheard of in those days. Then, with the profits of his books, he built six almshouses for aged widows. But his influence was also felt throughout the Church as a whole. He had found how difficult it was to live on £25 a year, even though he was a bachelor with few and simple wants; but there were scores of married curates, who had no larger income: for their benefit he founded the Society for Poor Pious Clergymen, which, in the first eighteen years of its work, distributed more than £35,000. For many years, in the week after Easter, he used to invite all the Evangelical clergy of the surrounding counties for what would now be called a Retreat, when Simeon and other leaders preached, till the Bishop of Peterborough forbade the use of the church for such a purpose. But no Episcopal veto could stop the Autumn Clerical Meeting, when the Evangelicals used to sit in the kitchen of the inn, and discuss their work, and lay their plans, and counsel one another. Here, too, was founded the Creaton Clerical Education Society, which did for the Midlands what the Elland and Bristol Societies were doing elsewhere. It did not long survive its founder, but in thirty- eight years it made it possible for fifty Evangelical laymen to enter the Ministry. Jones had also the pen of a very ready writer, and a steady stream of devotional books, both in Welsh and English, carried the doctrines that he loved into thousands of homes and lives.
(e) AT THE UNIVERSITIES
What happened to the young men whom the Clerical Education Societies were raising money to support? At first they naturally turned to Oxford which they knew as the birthplace of Methodism; but they found the College authorities quite unsympathetic. The Common Room world had never forgiven Wesley his plain-spoken sermons, and it had often been decided, as the bottles of port went round, that it was the duty of a University to stamp out emotionalism in religion. The only Evangelical Church was St, Mary Magdalene, where Haweis, who was afterwards at the Lock Chapel, was at that time Curate. This church was put out of bounds for all undergraduates, and the proctors visited it every Sunday to see that none were present; and later the Bishop of Oxford was persuaded to withdraw Haweis' licence.
The St Edmund Hall Case
James Stillingfleet, Fellow of Merton, then became leader of the little band of Evangelicals, and to avoid disturbance in the Colleges he borrowed a room in the town in which to meet his undergraduate friends for prayer and Bible study. Great was the indignation in the Common Rooms, when this was known, and it was decided to strike a decisive blow. St. Edmund Hall, hitherto a Nonjuring centre, under the rule of the devout and kindly Dr, Dixon, had received some of the pupils of Newton and Fletcher of Madeley, and now "lay under the odium of there being too much religion there." In February, 1768, John Higson, the Vice-Principal, made a formal complaint that there were among the undergraduates "several enthusiasts who talked of regeneration, inspiration, and drawing nigh to God," and, when the Head declined to take action, appealed to the Vice-Chancellor to hold a Court of Inquiry. The scene which followed reads like a page of medieval history. The dingy little dining-hall crowded with noisy gownsmen. The Quad outside and Queen's Lane full of those unable to get in. The solemn procession of red-robed doctors from the University church. The seven students, nervous and bewildered, standing before their judges, "hissed at, pushed about, and treated in a manner that the vilest criminal is not allowed to be treated at any Court of Justice in the Kingdom." The reading of the formidable accusation, charging them with being enemies of the Church, frequenters of an illegal conventicle, and men destitute of learning. Higson, the accuser, voluble and vehement, explaining that the first point meant that they held "the doctrines of Election, Perseverance, and Justification by Faith without Works," and that they were "connected with reputed Methodists, Mr. Venn, Mr. Newton, Mr. Fletcher "; that the second point referred to the prayer meetings in the borrowed room in the home of the saddler's widow, "a humble but pious friend of Mr. Whitefield"; and as to the third point, producing a long piece of crabbed Latin from the University Statutes, and challenging the unhappy young men to translate it on the spur of the moment before that critical and excited crowd. Two accomplished the feat with ease, and were equally successful with a passage from the Greek Testament, but the other five stumbled horribly, and he claimed that his point was proved. In addition to this he charged three of them with the offence of having been tradesmen before they came to Oxford. Dr. Dixon, Principal of the Hall, rose cool and sarcastic. He reminded Mr. Higson that the doctrines he mentioned were taught in the Thirty-nine Articles, declared that the conduct of the accused had been excellent — "he never remembered seven youths whose lives were so exemplary," and suggested that even if they had rather too much religion, the Court would be more profitably employed in inquiring into the lives of those who had too little. The seven said nothing, except that they were willing to abandon any meeting which the authorities thought undesirable. But Dr. Durell and his assessors had already made up their minds. Six of the seven were found guilty, and sentenced to be expelled from the Hall and University. The decision was considered as final, and other colleges followed suit. Magdalen, for example, sent a man down "for having been tainted with Methodistical principles." Wherever an undergraduate was suspected of sympathy with the Revival, he was asked, in a way which he could not refuse, to remove his name from the books, "and thus," wrote Dr. Nowell, the Principal of St. Mary Hall, "were disappointed the hopes of those who were desirous of filling the Church with their votaries." "Oxford," wrote Horace Walpole, "has begun with these rascals, and I hope Cambridge will wake."
It was to Cambridge that the Evangelical leaders were now turning their eyes, but here the prospect for a time seemed equally discouraging. Venn of Huddersfield had the greatest difficulty in finding a college that would consent to admit his son. The first to break down this wall of prejudice was the gentle William Parish, a profound scientist and humble Christian and Fellow of Magdalene. With the greatest difficulty he persuaded his college to receive the men whom the Elland Society were helping to train for the Ministry. Here they were tolerated, but nothing more, for Gretton, the Master, was always hostile, protesting against the college being turned into "a nest of Methodists."
But the position was entirely changed in 1788, when Isaac Milner, the younger brother of Joseph Milner of Hull, was appointed President of Queens'. A big North Countryman, who had forced his way up, by sheer strength of character and intellect, from a weaver's loom, he had been not only Senior Wrangler, but so far ahead of his competitors that the examiners had added the word Incomparabilis to his name: and in his new post he showed that he was not afraid of difficulties. The college at that time was in very low water; its numbers had sunk from over two hundred to less than sixty; and Milner decided on a bold and startling revolution. The religious traditions of Queens' were strongly Latitudinarian, but the new President, like his brother, was a keen Evangelical, and he determined to make his college a sort of School of the Prophets, the stronghold of Evangelicalism in Cambridge. Of course there was much opposition, but Milner was not by any means an easy man to crush; the tutors who opposed him had to resign or retire to country livings, and as the appointment of their successors rested with the President alone, soon, as a contemporary wrote, "he acquired such entire ascendency over the Fellows, that, after a few years, no one thought of offering the slightest opposition to his will." Under his benevolent despotism the college prospered mightily. Evangelical parents sent their sons; young Evangelicals seeking ordination came from all parts of the country, and before long, instead of being one of the smallest colleges, Queens' became one of the largest in the whole University. Even his appointment to the Deanery of Carlisle (1791) made no difference to his work. He gave his vacations to the cathedral, but the terms to his college. In the course of a long and honourable life he gained many distinctions, but we remember him as the man who fought and won the battle, which made a university education possible for avowed Evangelicals.
Milner's work was supplemented by that of Charles Simeon. One gathered the men together, and the other trained them. Simeon had come up to King's from Eton a wild undergraduate, famous for his love of horses and extravagance in dress; but one day he discovered that the rules of the college compelled him to receive the Communion on the following Sunday. He had lived in an utterly careless home, but he knew enough of religion to realize that attendance at the Lord's Table was a serious thing, which should not be undertaken without some preparation. "I thought Satan himself was as fit to attend as I." Not quite knowing what to do, he went to a bookseller's shop, and bought a copy of Bishop Wilson on the Lord's Supper, and learned from it for the first time the meaning of the Atonement. This was the turning-point in his life. Henceforth all his energy was concentrated in a single channel. His one ambition was to make all Cambridge grasp this doctrine too.
He became Fellow of his college, and then took Holy Orders, and was appointed (1783) Minister of Trinity Church, by the Market Place. Here he learnt what it meant to be known as an Evangelical. The seat-holders deserted the church in a body, and locked the great doors of the pews, so that no one else should use them. When Simeon placed forms in the aisles, the churchwardens threw them out into the churchyard, and for more than ten years his congregation had to stand. Rowdy bands of undergraduates used to try to break up the service. "For many years," wrote one of his contemporaries, "Trinity Church and the streets leading to it were the scenes of the most disgraceful tumults. In vain did Simeon exert himself to preserve order. In vain did Parish, who was popular with the undergraduates, station himself outside the door to prevent improper conduct; though one undergraduate, who had been apprehended by Simeon, was compelled to read a public apology, the disturbances still continued. "Those who worshipped at Trinity," wrote another, "were supposed to have left common sense, discretion, sobriety, attachment to the Established Church, love of the liturgy, and whatever else is true and of good report, in the vestibule."
But Simeon went on with his work with quiet pertinacity, never deliberately doing anything to provoke opposition, but never flinching from declaring what he knew to be the truth, and won first toleration, and then recognition as the most inspiring teacher in Cambridge. Trinity Church was always crowded with undergraduates. His Friday Conversation Circle for the discussion of religious questions, his Bible Class and Doctrine Class never failed to fill his room at King's with eager young disciples, and especially his famous Sermon Class, in which most of the Evangelical preachers of the next generation were trained. And this continued for fifty years with results which no man can estimate. A teacher so wise, so genial, so spiritual, moulding the lives of the men from whom the bulk of the clergy were drawn, acquired a position almost unique in the English Church. "If you knew what his authority and influence were," wrote Lord Macaulay, who was himself at Cambridge in Simeon's later days, "and how they extended from Cambridge to the most remote corners of England, you would allow that his real sway in the Church was far greater than that of any Primate." Down to comparatively modern times in undergraduate slang an earnest Christian was always called a "Sim".
The Simeon Trust
Today his name is best known in connexion with his Trust. His attention had been called early to the question of Church Patronage. He saw men like Newton and Scott and Romaine, some of the most efficient and godly clergy in the Church, remaining unbeneficed almost to the end of their lives, while utterly worthless and useless idlers were able to secure important livings for the sake of the loaves and fishes. "The greatest reform that the Church needs," he wrote to the Bishop of Oxford, "is an improvement in the method of appointing to the cure of souls." Some money, which he inherited through a brother's death, gave him his opportunity, and he determined to buy the patronage of a certain number of livings. "Others purchase income," he wrote, "I purchase spheres of work." As years passed on, other Evangelicals gave money for the same purpose, or handed over to him livings that were in their gift, and in this way arose the Simeon Trust, which has the right of appointing to more than a hundred parishes, including some of the most important in the country. The wording of the Trust Deed is very characteristic of the man, "In the Name and in the Presence of Almighty God," he wrote, "I give the following charge to all my trustees and to all who shall succeed them in the Trust to the remotest ages, I implore them for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and I charge them also before that adorable Saviour, Who will call them into judgement for their execution of this trust, Firstly, That they be very careful, whenever they shall be called upon to fill up a vacancy in this Trust, which they must invariably do within three months of a vacancy occurring, that they elect no one who is not a truly pious and devoted man, a man of God in deed and in truth, who, with his piety, combines a solid judgement and a perfectly independent mind. And I place this first, because a failure in this one particular would utterly defeat, and that in perpetuity too, all that I have sought to do for God and for immortal souls. Secondly, That when they be called upon to appoint to a Living, they consult nothing but the welfare of the people, for whom they are to provide, and whose eternal interests have been confided to them. They must on no account be influenced by any solicitation of the great and powerful, or by any partiality towards a particular individual, or by compassion towards anyone on account of the largeness of his family or the smallness of his income. They must be particularly on their guard against petitions from the parishes to be provided for, whether on behalf of a curate that has laboured among them or of any other individual. They must examine carefully, and judge as before God, how far any person possesses the qualifications suited to the particular parish, and by that consideration alone they must be determined in their appointment of him."
Another pillar of the Evangelical cause at Cambridge was Joseph Jowett, Regius Professor of Civil Law and Tutor of Trinity Hall (1775-95), whose sermons at St. Edward's used to draw large congregations; while Yelling, the parish to which Venn of Huddersfield retired (1771-97), was within a ride of the city, and many undergraduates used to find their way to the rectory, when they were in need of counsel and advice.
Towards the end of the century Oxford again became open to Evangelicals, and St. Edmund Hall, under Isaac Crouch (1783-1806) and Daniel Wilson (1806-18), resumed its work of training those who were hoping to take Orders. But the identification of the party with so small a foundation, and the fact that Simeon's name drew most of the keenest men to Cambridge, prevented Evangelical ism from gaining much real power in Oxford; for years it was only the rather mysterious "religion of Teddy Hall."
(f) IN THE SOUTH-EAST AND EAST
When the names of the Evangelical clergy are gathered together in a single chapter they look a considerable body, but it must not be forgotten how isolated they were. In parts of Yorkshire and Cornwall they formed compact little groups, but in all the other counties for every one Evangelical parish there were ten or twenty parishes round hostile and unsympathetic. And when we come to the south-east and eastern counties, there were hardly any Evangelicals to be found at all. In Kent there was Vincent Perronet, Vicar of Shoreham, near Sevenoaks (1728-85), "the Archbishop of Methodism," a gentle, generous, studious old man, living a patriarchal life with his twelve children around him, the only man who was able to curb the strong will of Wesley. At Bexley was his friend Henry Piers (1739-69), who had had in early days Charles Wesley as his curate. In Essex Robert Storry, Adam's curate, was Vicar of St. Peter's, Colchester (1781-1814), and William Cawthorne Unwin, Cowper's friend, Rector of Stock, near Ramsden (1769-86). At Rauceby, in South Lincolnshire, John Pugh was Vicar (1771-99), a stern disciplinarian, probably the last clergyman to insist on offenders doing penance by wearing a white sheet in church. But Mr. Lecky's statement that "before the close of the century the Evangelical movement had become dominant in England" is manifestly a mistake. Even Mr. Gladstone's calculation that the Evangelicals at this time formed about one in twenty of the clergy is probably an over-estimate. They were certainly the most earnest and vigorous party in the Church, but numerically they were still a very small minority.
(g) DOCTRINES AND METHODS
The Evangelicals did not invent any new theology. They simply taught the old doctrines of the Reformation — the doctrine of the Trinity (as opposed to the current semi-Socinianism), the guilt of man, his acceptance only through the merits of Christ, renewal and sanctification by the Holy Spirit, and the obligation of universal holiness. They accepted the Thirty-nine Articles as an almost perfect summary of the Faith. On the vexed question of Calvinism there was no hard line of division; a few, like Romaine, and Toplady, and Hawker, were extreme Calvinists or rather Augustinians; a few, like Fletcher, on the other hand, were extreme Arminians; but the majority learnt the lesson of the Calvinistic controversy, that to certain metaphysical questions there can be no logical answer. "Scripture," wrote Simeon, "is broader and more comprehensive than some very dogmatical theologians are inclined to allow, and as wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve one common end, so may truths apparently opposite equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man's salvation. There is not a decided Calvinist or Arminian in the world who, if he had been in the company of St. Paul whilst he was writing his Epistles, would not have recommended him to alter his expressions." And while many of the Evangelicals called themselves "Moderate Calvinists," they often meant little more than that they looked at life from the point of view beautifully expressed in the words of the hymn: —
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of Thee,
In this alone rejoice with awe,
Thy mighty grasp of me.
Their methods of work have already been described in the account that has been given of the various parishes. On three points, however, a little more may be said. Like the Methodists, they formed their converts into small societies, and much of their time was given to superintending these. "Preaching kindles the fire," wrote Berridge, "but Societies nurse and keep the flame alive." "My judgement decidedly is," said Simeon, "that without Societies the people will never be kept together, nor will they ever feel related to their minister as children to a parent, nor will the minister himself take that lively interest in their welfare, which it is both his duty and his happiness to feel." But towards the end of the century it began to be seen that these Societies were very difficult to manage: some lay at the mercy of a few loquacious members, others tended to become nurseries of unreal religious emotions; so that when the subject was discussed (1800) by the Eclectic Society, almost all the speakers seemed to acknowledge that the difficulties outweighed the benefits, and as a matter of fact in the next generation these meetings were gradually abandoned.
The greatest change which the Evangelicals made in the Church Service was the introduction of hymn-singing. Hitherto nothing had been allowed but metrical psalms. Sternhold and Hopkins' Version was still the one most generally used, though the "New Version," by Tate and Brady had been adopted by many of the town churches. These psalms, which were sung by the choir alone, or by the parish clerk, were everywhere regarded as a sort of voluntary or interlude in the service, during which the congregation sat and rested, and often chatted. "Psalm-singing,'' wrote Berridge, "is become a vulgar business in our churches. The tax of praise is collected from a solitary clerk or some bawling voices in a singing loft: the congregation may listen, if they please, or talk in whispers, or take a gentle nap." "Among us," wrote Romaine of the London Churches, "psalmody is performed by some few, set by themselves in a singing gallery, where they sing to be admired for their fine voices, and others hear them for their entertainment." The Evangelicals set to work to reform this. The first and by no means easy task was to get the congregation to stand. "I will only mention one thing more," wrote Romaine, in the preface of his Hymn Book, "which is a great impropriety, and to me very offensive, and that is the posture generally used in singing. When subjects go upon any joyful occasion to address their sovereign, is it the custom of any nation of the world to do it sitting? Does the person who pays homage sit, or he who receives it?" "But," he added, knowing that many would refuse to abandon the old custom, "if you think otherwise, and prefer sitting, lolling, or any lazy, indolent posture, I will not unchristian you. We may differ and not quarrel." The next step was to give the people something worth singing, and many of the leading Evangelicals began to compile hymn books. Martin Madan's Psalms and Hymns was the first issued (1760); this was a small book, intended for use in the Lock Chapel, but, though it contained only one hundred and forty-two hymns, owing to its bright and joyous spirit and high literary standard it was rapidly adopted by many congregations. In the same year Berridge issued his Collection of Divine Songs, a far larger book, but less satisfactory. Conyers of Helmsley (1767), Romaine (1775), De Courcy (1775), Toplady (1776), Simpson (1776), Joseph Milner (1780), Cadogan (1785), John Venn (1785), Cecil (1785), Robinson (before 1790), Woodd (1794), Simeon (1795) — all published collections, adapted to their own tastes and those of their congregations. There was considerable variety among them. The most conservative was Romaine’s; for he did not include a single hymn, and almost all the psalms were taken from Sternhold and Hopkins, though occasionally one was admitted from the Scotch version; but he only printed the most edifying verses, and gave short introductions, explaining the devotional meaning. Cecil's book was also conservative — not till the seventh edition were any hymns admitted — but he drew his psalms from every source, including Milton and Addison, and produced a beautiful collection. On the other hand Robinson of Leicester went to the opposite extreme, and excluded all psalms from the old versions. The other books combined the old and the new with more or less happy results, the most remarkable being Simpson of Macclesfield's on account of its size — more than six hundred hymns and a number of anthems — and Basil Woodd's with its special hymns for every Sunday in the year "adapted to the Epistle and Gospel of the day." Soon one or other of these books was adopted by practically all the clergy of the party, and hearty congregational singing became a marked feature of an Evangelical service. Churchmen of other schools, however, still rigidly adhered to the old metrical psalms, and denounced hymns as a most deplorable and disloyal innovation. As late as 1813 Bishop Howley tried in London "to forbid the use of hymns, and to bring the congregations back to the Old and New Versions, but," he writes, "I was so strongly dissuaded that I dropped the notion. This, I think, might be easily done in the country, but town congregations, I fear, will never willingly give up hymns." In 1820 Bishop Marsh of Peterborough forbad all hymns in his diocese.
In 1780 Robert Raikes, the editor of the Gloucester Journal, opened his first Sunday School in Sooty Alley, and so introduced another new method of work. It was not quite a novelty. Luther had formed Sunday Schools in Germany during the Reformation, and Cardinal Borromeo had used them at Milan in the seventeenth century, and a few schools were already at work in England: there was one at Catterick in 1764, founded by Theophilus Lindsay, the Socinian Vicar, and another at High Wycombe in 1769 worked by Hannah Ball, a young Methodist, and Simpson of Macclesfield had opened his in 1778, but the system attracted little attention, till the Gloucester experiment. Raikes was a rich Evangelical layman, a friend of the Wesleys and Whitefield— Charles Wesley often stayed with him for the Musical Festival — yet a staunch Churchman and a regular attendant at the daily cathedral service. He had begun his philanthropic work as a prison reformer, but, on the principle that prevention is better than cure, he turned his attention to the little ragamuffins who were running wild in the streets. With the help of Thomas Stock, the Curate of St. John the Baptist's, he arranged with four decent women, "to receive so many children as I should send on Sunday, whom they were to instruct in reading and in the Church Catechism. For this I engaged to pay them each a shilling." "The children were to come soon after ten in the morning and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one, and after reading a lesson they were to be conducted to church. After church they were to be employed in repeating the Catechism till half after five, and then to be dismissed with an injunction to go home without making a noise and by no means to play in the streets." Mr. Stock "engaged to lend his assistance by going round to the schools on Sunday afternoon to examine the progress that was made and to enforce order," - There were at first endless difficulties over discipline. The wilder spirits had to be hobbled like cattle with logs of wood before any attempt could be made to march them to church; but before long Raikes succeeded in winning the children's affection, and sometimes as many as fifty little urchins would join him of their own accord at the daily cathedral service.
For three years he said little about his experiment, but by 1783 he was sufficiently satisfied with the result to insert a short description of the schools in the Gloucester Journal. This paragraph was copied by some of the London papers, and general attention was attracted to the scheme. The Evangelical clergy took up the matter warmly. In 1783 Fletcher started six schools at Madeley, and Wilson opened one at Slaithwaite; in 1784 schools were founded by Cornelius Bayley at Manchester and Miles Atkinson at Leeds, and Wesley wrote in his Journal, "I find these schools springing up wherever I go; perhaps God may have a deeper end therein than men are aware of." In 1785 Cowper wrote to Newton, "Mr. Scott called upon us yesterday. He is much inclined to set up a Sunday School. Mr. Jones has had one some time at Clifton, and Mr. Unwin writes me word that he has been thinking of nothing else day and night for a fortnight." In 1786 Richardson founded the York Church of England Sunday School Society with Edward Stillingfleet as secretary, which began with ten schools and enrolled more than five hundred children on the first Sunday; by this time the movement was spreading rapidly in all parts of the country.
In many ways these early schools differed from those of today. There were no school buildings, so the classes had to be held in cottages. There was little other education, so the first thing to do was to teach the children to read; otherwise they could make no use of Bible, Prayer Book or Hymn Book. Hence the long hours from ten to half-past five, and the fact that up to the end of the century all the teachers were paid, the usual rate being a shilling a week. This made a Sunday-school rather an expensive matter; nor was this the only difficulty. The movement had to face an immense amount of ignorant opposition. The parents sometimes believed that the children were being gathered together to be sold as slaves in the colonies. Bishop Horsley, the leading Bishop of the day, declared that there was "much ground for suspicion that sedition and atheism were the real objects of some of these institutions," It is said that the Pitt Cabinet seriously contemplated a bill to suppress Sunday Schools altogether. It is very curious to read the pamphlets which "good Churchmen" wrote against this and many other methods which are now accepted by all as part of the Church's system. Few in those days would have dared to prophesy that two such utterly "enthusiastical" things as hymn-singing and Sunday-schools would before long be in use in practically every parish in the country.
(Notes to be added later)