[b]'A FEW SUCH AS HIM WOULD MAKE A NATION TREMBLE' [/b]
William Grimshaw's fervent and determined preaching and pastoring inspired remarkable revival scenes in the Yorkshire village of Haworth
The picturesge village of Haworth in Yorkshire is today a literary shrine. Every year thousands of pilgrims make their way to the parsonage where the Bronte sisters wrote their famous novels.
But seventy years before Patrick Bronte took up his Yorkshire curacy, Haworth saw astonishing scenes of revival. Often a vast crowd - upwards of 6,000 people - would gather in the churchyard and stand in biting winds to hear preachers like George Whitefield and John Wesley.
God's instrument in this awakening was the Curate of Haworth, William Grimshaw, the man of whom John Wesley wrote: "A few such as him would make a nation tremble. He carries a fire wherever he goes." Under Grimshaw's ministry, not only did the congregation in the tiny village grow to over 1,200 communicants, but also the whole of the surrounding area experienced revival.
The son of a farm labourer, Grimshaw was born in Brindle, Lancashire in 1708. He entered the Church of England at the age of 23. He was appointed Curate of Todmorden, where he lived for 11 years, during which time a real change came over him. He began to be convicted about his way of life and the lack of spiritual light within his own soul. The death of his wife, Sarah, which left him a desolate widower with two young children, appears to have been a powerful means of drawing him to God. By the time Grimshaw left Todmorden and took up the curacy of Haworth, he was a changed man, on fire for God. At Haworth, he found a people who, according to Grimshaw's friend, ex-slave trader tumed hymn-writer, John Newton, "had little more sense of religion than their cattle and were as wild and uncultivated as the mountains and rocks which surrounded them." The harsh climate and primitive sanitary conditions in the village meant that life expectancy was little more than 25 years.
However, Grimshaw's fervent preaching of Christ, followed by house to house visitation, soon saw a marked change in the spiritual climate, and after five years the number of communicants had risen from twelve to over twelve hundred. According to Grimshaw: "My church began to be crowded, inasmuch that many were obliged to stand out of doors. Here, as in many places, it was amazing to see and hear what weeping, roaring and agony many people were seized with at the apprehension of their sinful state and the wrath of God."
Although an educated and able man himself, Grimshaw adapted his style to the rough, uneducated people of his parish, using the 'market language' of the day.
Grimshaw's labours became known to other evangelical leaders, and soon men like Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Henry Venn and Newton visited Haworth, preaching to huge crowds in the graveyard.
Grimshaw, arranged his converts in 'classes' of about a dozen members - a forerunner of the modern 'cell church' pattern - where people would meet together during the week for prayer, Bible study, with Grimshaw making a regular round of the classes to check that they were being run in an orderly and scriptural fashion.
Grimshaw was also a man of tremendous prayer. Since the early days of his spiritual awakening, he maintained the practice of praying four times a day. In the pulpit, it was said he prayed "like a man with his feet on the earth and his soul in heaven. He would take hold of the horns of the altar and not let go until God had given him the blessing."
Loved and revered by his people, Grimshaw was feared by the ungodly. They were more afraid of him than of the justice of the peace, for "his reproof was so authoritative, and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinner could not stand before him."
His ministry soon led him far beyond the bounds of his parish. He was instrumental in bringing the light of the gospel to places as far apart as Newcastle and Sheffield. And all this was achieved on horseback, travelling in all weathers over inhospitable countryside, often sleeping rough and with only the plainest of food to sustain him.
But his extra-parochial activities brought persecution, often from the ungodly clerics of the day. Labelled 'Mad Grimshaw' by his enemies, he and his coworkers often faced abuse and violence form the mobs. His most violent opponent was George White, a drunken Lancashire clergyman. Not content with issuing the most libellous statements about Grimshaw, White stirred up a mob that viciously attacked John Wesley and Grimshaw when they went to preach in Colne, stoning both the preachers and the crowd who had come to hear them.
Grimshaw's punishing schedule was finally beginning to take its toll on his sturdy frame when a virulent epidemic of typhus fever broke out in Haworth in 1763. Many fled the village, but such a consideration never occurred to Grimshaw, who believed his duty lay with his sick and dying parishioners. He preached his last sermon on March 20 but succumbed to the fever himself soon afterwards and died on April 3.
One of his letters sums him up: "When I come to die, I shall have my greatest grief and my greatest joy - my greatest grief that I have done so little for Jesus; and my greatest joy that Jesus has done so much for me. My last words shall be: Here goes an unprofitable servant."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon