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.
Had this on my bookshelf for quite a long time after I had bought it, but got round to reading it on holiday a few years ago. William Grimshaw is certainly a fascinating subject as he only came to true faith in Christ after entering the ministry. As a curate in charge (which is the present day term, I don't what they called it then) he had a remarkable ministry in Haworth 70 years before the Brontë's sisters father ministered there. Blunt speaking and thoroughly gospel orientated in his preaching, yet not without humour, he was, under God force, a force to be reckoned with and his firm but gentle pastoring was to produce a huge effect on the town. Yet it was his remarkable vision for gospel preaching in linking up with the primitive Methodists where he had an even greater and wide spread effect. This brought great crowds to Haworth and the preaching during this time brought a great change spiritual change to the town. George Whitefield and John Wesley were regular preachers in Haworth and the surrounding area and William Grimshaw was happy to team up with them even though they often face great opposition from the wider Church and local ministers who would instigate the use of violent mobs against them. As such this is not just an exciting read but an inspiring one, especially in a day and age when the majority of the church is more concerned with fitting in and worrying whether it will offend anyone. Faith Cook has done us a tremendous service by writing this account of a comparatively little known figure of the 18th century awakenings. As such many in he chuch would do well to learn from William Grimshaw and others who were not worried about the offence of the gospel as they realise that it was: 'foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God' (1 Corinthians 1:18).