The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

William Grimshaw of Haworth

Having recently read, and greatly enjoyed, Faith Cook’s excellent biography of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, I was inspired to read her account of the life of one of the great lady’s contemporaries, William Grimshaw; but reading this biography elicited from me a shameful confession! Despite having lived and done my secondary schooling just 15 miles from Haworth, like most of the rest of the world, I suspect, I have always associated Haworth with the Brontes and not Grimshaw, and yet, without doubt, as one historian wrote, “Mr Grimshaw’s ministry [was] the grandest period in the history of Haworth church” (p xv), the very church where Patrick Bronte was to become curate some 7 decades later.

Cook’s biography of the remarkable Grimshaw, who didn’t live to see his 55th birthday, is really evocative of the time and area in which he ministered, and you feel that you are riding the moors or walking the streets with him. Grimshaw’s ministry was wonderfully blessed of God during the time of the 18th century revival and he regularly preached to thousands of people who crowded into the parish church or thronged the grounds outside.

Of all the qualities of this unique individual that the biographer manages to draw out it is his zeal for the Lord, for the gospel and for souls of his people that strikes me most forcibly. Indeed, he has earned something of a reputation for being an eccentric, something Cook dismisses quite persuasively, but perhaps it was his uncommon zeal that earned him that label. It would certainly be so today.

This zeal is wonderfully illustrated when Faith Cook quotes John Newton, who wrote of Grimshaw’s ministry which was at a time when it was illegal not to go to church on a Sunday morning:

“It was his frequent and almost constant custom to leave the church, while the psalm before the sermon was singing, to see if any were absent from worship, and idling their time in the churchyard, the street, or the ale houses, and many of those whom he so found, he would drive into the church before him…They were more afraid of their parson than of a justice of the peace. His reproofs were so authoritative, and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinners could not stand before him”.

pp140-142

Or this story:

“…a group of unruly youths had been taking delight in jostling and assaulting some of Grimshaw’s parishioners as they gathered to attend a prayer meeting in a village near Haworth…on the next occasion, Grimshaw, disguised in a greatcoat, joined the youths. Because it was dark, they did not recognise the burly figure of the curate, as he urged them ever onwards from the back of the group. Gradually he inched the gang nearer and nearer to the lighted doorway of the cottage where the meeting was to be held. Then with one final heave, he pushed the last young man forward into the confines of the room and slammed the door. Still blinking in the bright light, the youths scarcely realised what was happening when their new companion suddenly produced a horsewhip from under his greatcoat and ‘dealt round its utmost virtue on the astonished clowns until his vigorous arm was tired.’ Having thoroughly subdued the miscreants, Grimshaw then fell on his knees and pleaded with great earnestness for their souls.”

pp142-143

Again and again, I hear Pastors today complaining of their workload that demands they preach, God forbid, twice on a Sunday and perhaps once during the week, and fear burnout if they do so. Are we really made of so much feebler stuff than these men of old? Grimshaw, like many of his contemporaries, would preach numerous times a week, often walking for several hours to minister to a small group of people in an isolated village.

His own prayer was, “Lord, grant that I may never faint till weakness, old age or death invalidate me.  By the grace of God, I’m resolved never to flag while I can ride, walk, creep or crawl.”

If you are unfamiliar with William Grimshaw’s life and ministry, I urge you to get a copy of this book. If it does nothing else, it will spur you on to pray that God might yet visit us again in our day through the ministry of another generation of such zealous men of God.

Banner of Truth Trust (1 December 1997) Review written in 2023

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