Today the Yorkshire town of Haworth builds its tourist trade around the famous Bronte sisters. But seventy years before the Brontes were born, the crowds flocking over the moors to Haworth had come to see its minister William Grimshaw and hear him preach.
And Grimshaw had a huge national significance in the 18th century evangelical revival: he partnered closely with Wesley, Whitefield and others, and was John Wesley's chosen successor as Methodist leader should he and Charles die first (in fact they outlived him by twenty years).
Despite this, Grimshaw is not widely known today, partly perhaps because he left so few published writings, and rarely travelled outside the north of England. Faith Cook has produced a wonderful biography which is easy and gripping reading yet displays balanced and careful scholarship. A number of sources are uncovered for the first time, and the early biographical sketches (including that by his friend John Newton) are skilfully woven together.
The man who emerges is a true inspiration, a masterly blend of faith and love, humble in power and powerful in humility.
In doctrine he avoided most of the mistakes made by others (e.g. John Wesley's forays into 'sinless perfection') and yet he was magnanimous in putting aside secondary differences for the cause of Christ. Meanwhile he was gently uncomprising on the fundamentals. In this book we hear of his public humiliations under mob justice; his sternness to those who trifled with sin; his fearless preaching of Christ crucified; his constant warnings of hell; and his overarching kindness to all.
He was also full of the best good humour, more than once disguising himself (for instance) to catch out a gang of troublesome youths on a dark night. He would show such wonderful grace in his rebuke (and in kneeling and praying with them) that they were quite ashamed to repeat their misdemeanours.
Grimshaw was no stranger to personal suffering, being predeceased by first one wife and then another, and by one of his two children. In all he radiates an untiring joy in serving "him who has done so much for me".
An inspiring character, so relevant to church and social life today; presented in a fine and readable biography.