WILLIAM GRIMSHAW, (1708-1763)
from
A History of Preaching
by
F. R. Webber

One of the prominent members of the evangelical group that appeared within the Church of England was William Grimshaw. He was born in Brindle, Lancs., in 1708. After attending the grammar schools at Blackburn and Hesketh, he entered Christ College, Cambridge, from which he was graduated in 1730. He was religiously inclined in his boyhood days, but at Cambridge he fell in with a group of young men from whom he learned to drink, swear and gamble.

In spite of his bad habits he was given deacon's orders in 1731, and a little later he was ordained and became the pastor of Todmorden parish. At the outset he led a worldly life, drinking, cursing, and wasting his time playing at cards and going on hunting and fishing trips while his parish duties were sorely neglected. He excused himself at the time, declaring that he was careful in whose presence he swore and cursed, and when he was drunk he says that it was his custom to "sleep it off before he came home."

In 1734, when 26 years of age, Grimshaw began to study the Scriptures seriously. There he discovered certain threatenings of the Law, which brought him to such a state of terror that he could hardly perform his parish duties, neither did he dare mention his disturbed state of conscience, lest his parishioners think him made. "But this was the work of the Law upon his conscience, and the preparation of his soul for the Gospel of peace." After a considerable period of great distress, he found in the Gospel the promises of salvation to the most wretched sinner, and he laid hold of them with a God-given faith, rejoicing in the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ. "I was now," he declared later, "willing to renounce myself, with every degree of fancied merit and ability, and to embrace Christ only for my All in All. O, what light and comfort did I now enjoy in my soul, and what a taste of the pardoning love of God." His preaching improved so greatly that his congregation crowded the church, which had been all but empty before. There was a ring of conviction in his words, and he made clear to his people not only the awful nature of sin, but the great truth of salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ. The great facts of Redemption, which he now declared to his people, brought about an awakening of religious interest in his own parish, and in the countryside for miles around.

In 1742 Mr. Grimshaw became perpetual curate of Haworth, Yorks. The term "parish" in those days included more than a local congregation. The parish of Haworth was an extensive territory, including four small villages and the populous farming community surrounding them. When William Grimshaw went to Haworth parish, most of the people seldom attended a church service because of the "cold lectures upon lean, modern morality" which a listless generation of clergymen inflicted upon their people in lieu of evangelical truth. After the coming of Grimshaw the word of his preaching spread quickly, and the church was filled. In a short time "a growing number who approved and prized his ministry were soon distinguished not only by a change in their lives and sentiments, but in their tempers and conduct. Sin was, in many instances, forsaken and discountenanced; the drunkard became sober; the idle industrious, profaneness gave place to prayer and riot to decorum." Not only was there an outward improvement in the daily lives of the people, but under Grimshaw's preaching the people became acquainted with the great truths of God's Word, and throughout the large parish men, women and young people studied the Scriptures daily.

Grimshaw was tireless in his efforts to instruct his people. He established two circuits and made it a rule to make the rounds of one circuit each week. He divided the year into alternate weeks, one of which he termed his "busy week" and the other his "idle week." During the idle week he preached twelve to fourteen times, and in the course of his busy week he preached no less than twenty-four to thirty times. The Lord had given him great physical endurance, and he carried out his rigorous program month after month, and year after year. Although at this time he had not yet met Wesley and Whitefield, yet his methods were in some respects similar to theirs. His labor of preparation was made lighter because he was able, in going from one hamlet to another, to preach a sermon again and again. George Whitefield once declared that no sermon is really effective until it has been preached forty times or more. Grimshaw learned this lesson by experience, and after preaching the same sermon from twenty to thirty times in a single week, changing its details to suit the immediate occasion, his impressiveness and urgency of appeal increased from day to day.

One of the secrets of the overwhelming effect of the preaching of Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw and other such men is due, humanly speaking, to the fact that their sermons improved with repetition. They prepared carefully, and their sermons improved with frequent repetition. If a man preaches the same sermon four times a day in four different places, seven days in the week, even though he may possess but average gifts, his words will soon take on a ring of assurance that will prove impressive.

Grimshaw's labors bore fruit. His preaching was definite in character, and he did not neglect indoctrination. When he went to Haworth in the year 1742, his communicants numbered but twelve. At the end of twenty years this number had increased to 1200, even though Haworth is a country parish in the bleak Yorkshire moors. As Grimshaw visited the moorland cottages, he found people who hesitated to attend church because of their shabby clothing. He announced a third service each Sunday, in the parish church, and like Norman Macleod of a century later, invited the people to attend in their rough working clothes, which were all that some of them possessed. This service for the poor of the parish soon drew many people. He is often described as Yorkshire's first itinerating preacher, and wherever he discovered a genuine hunger for evangelical truth, he established another preaching station. "He thought that his tongue should never lie still in guilty silence, whilst he could speak to the honour of that God Who had done so much for his soul." . . .

As Grimshaw's evangelical preaching became known, people came from afar to hear him. Often they appealed to him after the service was over to come to their communities and preach. They told him of large parishes without resident pastors, and of other places where the rector or vicar spent much time in hunting, fishing, drinking and gambling, and very little time in preparing their sermons. People begged Grimshaw to visit such places, and they offered him the use of their homes, or of large barns, or even their open fields. Grimshaw was unable to refuse such constant invitations, and thus it was that he visited villages, towns and large cities throughout Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, and Cheshire. He established local groups of evangelical Christians, appointed local leaders over them so that the people might be kept together during the intervals between his visits. Some of the clergy opposed him, and more than once he was attacked by rough mobs who pelted him with stones and sticks and scattered his congregations. On one occasion a group of clergymen, led by the archbishop, confronted him and accused him of preaching in the parishes of other men. The archbishop ordered him to preach a sermon on two hours' notice, but when Grimshaw saw that a large crowd had assembled outside, he went at once and preached in such a manner that even the archbishop was in tears. "I would to God that all the clergy in my diocese were like this good man," he declared.

Grimshaw died at the age of 55. An epidemic swept through his parish, and day and night he went among the sick and dying. He contracted a fever which proved fatal. Even though many of the clergy denounced him, yet he adhered firmly to the Church of England to his dying day. Unfortunately he published very little. Too often does posterity judge the worth of a great preacher by his published works rather than by the excellency of his spoken words. For this reason Grimshaw has not always received the full credit that he deserves, although we have the written testimony of a number of eminent contemporaries that he was one of the greatest preachers of the eighteenth century.


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