"The Best Christians I meet with are generally
"Wherever we go amongst those called
Huntingtonians, there we find the best
preachers and the most godly hearers and the
most consistent lives."
"There is a depth and clearness of experience,
a savour and a sweetness, a rich, tender
feeling, unctuous utterance, a discrimination
between law and gospel, letter and spirit, form
and power, a separation from a lifeless
profession, whether presumptuous or
pharisaical, which distinguished them, in a
most marked and decisive manner, as a peculiar people."
These observations by Thomas Hardy of Leicester, (Letters Vol. 1 p.92 London 1837,) Cleeve W. Hooper, (Gospel Advocate 1872 p.128,) and J. C. Philpot, (Gospel Standard 1857 p.253,) should make us sit up and ask "who were these people?" Obviously the name Huntingtonian(1) indicates that they had certain distinctives in common with William Huntington himself, under whose ministry or through the reading of whose works many came under soul concern and were brought to a personal knowledge of salvation. Others were led more deeply into the truth of the gospel and the experience of grace.
(1)I have made no attempt to apologize for the term 'Huntingtonian.' It is a convenient title and the one commonly used to describe those who were hearers, friends or fellow laborers of William Huntington. (1745-1813) Usually applied to his contemporaries, it also more generally refers to those of later generations who have been drawn to his written works, and who have identified with him and his ministry.
After his own remarkable experience of conviction and conversion described in "that immortal [auto]-biography," 'The Kingdom of Heaven taken by Prayer,' Huntington began to feel the call to preach, though he fought against it at first. He was asked by some neighbors at Ewell in Surrey where he lived, to read, pray and expound the Scriptures to them, and this was evidently blessed by God as the numbers attending increased. Despite this he determined to preach no more for fear of presumption, and hid himself in his house when the time came for him to do so. One of the neighbors, Ann Webb then came shouting after him, "William, come, are you not ready? The house is full of people and you must come directly!" This Ann Webb and her husband Samuel seem to have been the first called by grace through his preaching. Huntington certainly believed so for later he wrote; "Having preached, exhorted, reproved and invited many of those poor people to Christ Jesus, I perceived I had not labored in vain, several were effectually wrought upon, one in particular whose name was Webb, as also his wife."
Later when he moved from Ewell, the couple became part of that unique and privileged circle of Huntington's correspondents, which in course of time, grew considerably; and it is in that correspondence, that we get to know more intimately many of the Huntingtonians, with their troubles and their joys, their afflictions and deliverances. Of Huntington's own letters to these friends, J. C. Philpot comments: "The kindness, tenderness, wisdom and knowledge of his own heart, of the devices of Satan, of the consolations of the Spirit, of the Word of God, and of the whole length and breadth of Christian experience displayed in them, is truly wonderful." (Gospel Standard 1856p259)
Many of these letters were addressed to fellow ministers, among whom was one who was to become his dearest friend - JENKIN JENKINS.
Affectionately given the title of "Welsh Ambassador" (or W. A. for short,) by Huntington, little is known of the earlier part of Jenkin's life except that he was a native of Wales. He studied for the ministry at the Countess of Huntingdon's college at Trevecca, after which he was settled at a chapel belonging to her "Connection" at Lewes, Sussex in 1782. However, he was still then in a state of unregeneracy. When Huntington preached at the village of Maresfield near Lewes, in June 1792, Jenkins was in the congregation. The sermon was brought home to his heart by the Holy Spirit, and he was awakened to see his real state before God. When preaching his friend's funeral sermon in 1810, Huntington recalled their meeting at that time, and how he had "perceived that God had wounded him, searched, tried, and laid the corruptions of his heart, the follies of his youth, the emptiness of his profession, and his presumptuous assumption of the ministry all open." (Last Fragments of Jenkin Jenkins, London 1811 p.280, Reproduced by John Crowter 1994)
Jenkin's convictions were indeed very deep, which often brought him low. In writing to Huntington at that time, he frequently described his soul troubles and expressed his despair. The letters sent in reply are masterly in their pastoral insight and rich encouragement, and the penman's cheerful optimism is evident when he tells the poor, tried Welshman, "I shall shortly have a fellow laborer after my own heart!"
Jenkins continued to preach despite his own feelings but the note in his ministry had now so altered that his congregation became divided. Those who preferred what has been termed "The polite and moderate Calvinism of the Countess of Huntingdon's connection" reacted against this difference and his pastorate was terminated, so he left along with some of the congregation. In 1804 land was purchased, and with Huntington's help enough money was raised to build another chapel, which the Coalheaver opened on July 7th 1805. It was given the name JIREH and still stands today though larger than the original building. During the past few years it has undergone extensive restoration and refurbishment, and a Calvinistic Independent Congregation still exists in Lewes.
Jenkins' pilgrimage was frequently plagued by doubts and fears, particularly regarding his former state as an unsaved minister and the harm it may have caused. These he shared with Huntington in correspondence which brought forth many replies full of Gospel consolation. One series of letters to Jenkins became one of Huntington's most well-known and instructive books; 'Contemplations of the God of Israel.'
Jenkin Jenkin's ministry was blessed to many who could trace their spiritual birth or deeper understanding of what God had been doing in their souls to his preaching, and he was dearly loved by his devoted flock. One who was drawn to that ministry was HENRY YOUNG, who when under conviction of sin married one, who like himself, was "a seeker of good things." (Account of the experience of Henry Young taken from the Gospel Standard 1860)
One day a man came to their door selling two books. Huntington's "Innocent Game for Babes in Grace" and a letter of Jenkins to a Mr. Williams. Though they had been warned to steer clear of both men and their writings, they still bought the books. As Young's wife read Huntington's book she exclaimed, "why it seems as if the scales have fallen from my eyes. I never saw such a book as this in all my life. We must go and hear Mr. Jenkins!"
This they did taking a shilling because they had heard rumors that the pastor of Jireh was a covetous man and charged that amount to enter the Chapel! Young and his wife soon proved the rumor to be nonsense and they were "received with a smile." The preaching so suited their experience that after one attempt to return to their old place but "finding nothing" they settled at Jireh, firstly under Jenkin's ministry then that of John Vinall, although it meant many miles of walking. Young's verdict on that ministry is striking. "We had been fed on husks, but a spark of life had to be fed with living bread."
Among other friends of Huntington who sat under the ministry of Jenkins was Mary Hooper, the "Philomela" of "A Correspondence between Noctua Aurita (the listening own Huntington) and Philomela (the Nightingale.) A letter from Jenkins make up the preface to that book which he signs "Vesper Tumulis" (the bat among the graves!)
After Jenkins' death there seems to have been a brief pastorate under a Mr. Hudson, but the well-known and well loved JOHN VINALL later took the oversight of the Lewes chapel along with other Huntingtonian churches at Chichester and Brighton.
As a youth Vinall had begun to feel some concern for his soul and when he was "moved in providence" to Lewes he went first to hear the minister at Cliffe Church, not without "some feeling of pleasure." However, he afterwards attended the Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel while Jenkin Jenkins was still Pastor. This was at the time when Jenkins had been brought to see the emptiness of his own profession and his preaching being "very searching and close," it had a deep effect on John. This brought him to continually beg the Lord not to be deceived as to his state before Him. The Sussex Downs as well as his room heard many a cry to God from him at this time. Eventually when Huntington came to Lewes for the opening of Jireh Chapel, his fervent prayers were answered and he "received pardon and peace to his soul" during the preaching that day. Afterwards he heard Huntington again under an apple tree in the garden of James Blaker at Bolney where he received a blessing and "returned home filled with joy and peace in believing." He was called to the oversight at Jireh after a meeting when he and others were invited to pray and read a chapter of the Bible, expounding it if they felt they had a word of exhortation for the congregation. At first he refused but eventually consented, reading from Matthew chapter 21 though still feeling unable to make any comment. When he finally ventured to do so "the Lord favored him with such liberty and boldness as carried with it manifestation of the power and presence of God." From that time (September 1811) he preached continually, although he was not officially "ordained" till 1822. Vinall was another Huntingtonian minister who was loved and held in high esteem, and it was in his day that Jireh Chapel had to be enlarged to accommodate the numbers that worshipped there. Two of his sons, Ebenezer and another John, also became ministers. In his latter years he suffered from paralysis which laid him aside from the ministry for a time, though he was able to return in a limited way. Like some other Huntingtonians he also expressed some animosity towards Baptists, (something they had not learned from Huntington himself.) Generally this was not reciprocated and after his death J. C. Philpot could write to his friend John Grace of Brighton: "Mr. Vinall was so much esteemed by the children of God and made so useful to them in his day and generation....He was certainly very rash in some of his expressions against the Baptists, but though we edit a Baptist magazine we must not let the water put out the fire. (Recollections of John Grace, p.298, London 1893) A few months later John Grace himself a Baptist, expressed his own feelings in a letter to Philpot: "I miss my dear aged friend, Mr. Vinall with whom I occasionally had some nice conversation. O how things are altered. Where are those sterling men I used to know and converse with to our mutual profit. (Ibid. p. 303)
When John Vinall was finally "ordained" the officiating minister was THOMAS OXENHAM, known at the time as the inventor of a patent mangle. Oxennam was another who had been brought under the gracious influence of William Huntington, whom he called "a man much despised but much owned and blessed of his God." After suffering deep soul trouble and many temptations and tears he later recounted how "it was under a discourse of that servant of Christ, Mr. Huntington, God opened the door of hope in the Valley of Achor" to his distressed soul. He later received the assurance of salvation which he described as a divine light shining into his understanding, "whilst faith discovered a dying Saviour bleeding on the cross for my sins." He then joined the Church at Providence in London where Huntington was pastor. When he began to preach, he received Huntington's sanction and encouragement, and eventually settled as minister at the Independent Church at Welwyn, Hertfordshire.
Other ministers of the Gospel who were "Huntingtonians" and were contemporary with the Coalheaver himself, were men such as Joseph Chamberlain of Leicester, Samuel Turner, Joseph Burrell, James Bourne, William Abbott, Algar Lock and Thomas Burgess.
JOSEPH CHAMBERLAIN'S first contract with Huntington was through reading some of his books. As he read, like others he discovered that his own religion was built on a false foundation, but it was when he heard Huntington preach at Newark that he was finally brought into gospel liberty. The two men subsequently became close friends, and Huntington encouraged him, as it became clear that he was called to the ministry. He became pastor at Salem Chapel Leicester, but was a welcome preacher in other places including Providence in London. It was Chamberlain who preached in Jireh, Lewes, the evening after Huntington's funeral and also at Providence to his bereaved Church and Congregation - a gathering of about two thousand people.
JOSEPH BURRELL'S testimony is a most remarkable one. (Taken from "More Than Notion" by J H Alexander, Fauconberg Press, London 1964) Born in Molsheim in Alsacia, (now part of France) he was brought up as a Roman Catholic. His aunt had come into a fortune and took him under her wing to give him the best possible education. He was trained as a courtier and moved among the aristocracy also learning to play the piano and to draw and paint, in all of which he became proficient. However even in his unregenerate days he was blessed with a tender conscience which eventually brought him the sack from his employer because he would not enter into the decadence of court life. His aunt then packed him off to England and he became a music teacher in London. Through reading Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' childhood fears of hell and the wrath of God were revived and amplified. He had little knowledge of the Bible (not a book Roman Catholics were encouraged to read!) and had never heard a Gospel sermon. Under this sense of God's wrath he gradually wasted away almost to a skeleton, but the 'time of love' finally came for him. The house in which he lived belonged to a Mr. Legg who attended the ministry of William Huntington and when Burrell heard this he found himself longing to hear him. Discovering this, Legg was only too pleased to invite him to accompany him to a service at Providence. As soon as he entered the Chapel he felt at home. At first Huntington's preaching came as quite a shock to him as he used no notes and quoted considerable portions of Scripture with which Burrell was unfamiliar, but after a time sitting under that faithful ministry and drinking in its pure Gospel he was called by God's sovereign grace and settled at Providence. In time he became a notable minister himself and after the Coalheaver's death many moved to Titchfield Street, (off Oxford Street) where he had became pastor of a church, his ministry being greatly valued. Though admitting that Huntington was not perfect he stood firmly by him, saying "the Lord having brought me under the ministry of that excellent servant of his, Mr. Huntington, he caused me also highly to esteem him for his works sake: and the unfeigned love, reverence and spiritual regard I had for him was truly wonderful. God made him a nursing father to me indeed." When his first wife died he married one of Huntington's daughters, Naomi. He suffered from ill-health for many years but still lived to the age of eighty-three, retaining his faculties almost to the end. His death was very gentle and blessed, causing one who was with him to exclaim, "I would not have been without that night for all the world."
Among many places favored with Huntington's preaching were Newark, Grantham and Helmsley in Yorkshire. It was to the Independent Church at the latter, that he recommended SAMUEL TURNER, who beside being a minister also wrote some hymns, the best known probably being, "We have thy promise gracious Lord" (No. 1131 in Gadsby's selection.) Turner later moved to Sunderland rather reluctantly but "he saw the Lord's leading and guiding so clearly, that he dared not disobey."
Huntington also preached at Littleport on the Isle of Ely where the Martins lived, a family who became very dear to him. The many letters written to them display a most warm attachment for them which it is evident was mutual. When he lived at Cricklewood he wrote to them with almost childlike excitement at the approach of Summer and the expected imminent arrival of members of their family.
"The pee-pee bird, the first harbinger of summer has appeared a fortnight ago, and I called Naomi to hear its voice, Last week the cuckoo was in my hedge, Saturday last the swallow was building in my piggery and now the Martins are coming, so we shall soon have high summer at Cricklewood. I have no engagements except....at Richmond, to which place (some in coach and some on horseback) we will all go together, where we shall be welcome guests, glad will my heart be to see you....(William Huntington:Posthumous Letters Vol. 4 p.180,181 - Note the play on the name 'Martin!')
The company of his hearers and correspondents was indeed extensive. A large percentage of them were to be found in Sussex and his own county of Kent. Loving friends such as the Blakers of Bolney always made him welcome and drew from his pen many choice letters. It was in their garden that he preached under the apple-tree; at other times it was in their barn. There was also George Landsell, who like Huntington, was generous to a fault. Gift after gift arrived at the latter's house from him, which in the end necessitated a somewhat sharp ticking off, urging him to desist as there was some concern that dear George's liberality was outstripping his means and his family might be suffering. At the back of Jireh Chapel at Lewes beside the remains of Huntington and Jenkin Jenkins were buried some other Sussex friends and members of that Church, awaiting the day of resurrection. They are Thomas and Mary Marchant, Thomas and Mary Hooper, (Philomela) and a daughter, John Vinall and his first wife Ann, also his second wife Anna and a son Benjamin. So even in death the old Coalheaver is not alone, he is buried among friends. Contrary to the opinion of some, he was not a hard-hearted hermit. He did spend many hours alone especially in his study, his little "cabin" at Providence, seeking and reveling in communion with his God, but he also loved godly company and even in his cabin his thoughts and affections were not far from his friends as letter after letter poured forth there from his loving heart and pen.
Down in the South East were three other ministers who were attached to him; Isaac Beeman, Henry Birch and William Brook.
ISAAC BEEMAN was a native of Huntington's home town of Cranbrook in Kent. He led the worship with a few others in an old building on his own premises, by reading and praying, but never felt able to preach during Huntington's life-time, despite much persuasion. He greatly desired that the little congregation might have a better building for the meetings, so he decided to build a chapel at his own expense. When he told Huntington of his intention, he was adamant that Issac should not do so saying, "there is no cause for you to be at cost to yourself, we will see to that." After a disagreement as to where the chapel should be situated, in which Beeman came out victor! Huntington and his friends framed and prepared a building and had it sent down to Cranbrook on wagons in prefabricated form where it was erected and still stands today, though with some alterations and additions, including its circular front. Huntington often preached in it and delivered his well know sermon "The Heavenly Workfolk and their Mystic Pay" there which he later enlarged and published. It was only after the latter's death that Beeman felt able to commence preaching and his ministry was much blessed. The same thing happened there as at Jireh, Lewes, there was a need to extend the chapel. He died in 1838. One estimation at the time gave the number of those who attended the funeral at about one thousand people.
HENRY BIRCH was a seceder from the Church of England, having held several curacies. He was converted while in that body but being brought into contact with William Huntington, severed his connection and joined the church at Providence in London. He was very fond of his pastor whose ministry he described as "a blaze of light on weak eyes," adding that "to part with church preferments and emoluments for such a ministry" was to him like "parting with a straw for a guinea." It was also a saying of Henry Birch's that "Mr. Huntington was well acquainted with his divine Master, he knew the Lord Jesus well."
He was friendly with Isaac Beeman who invited him down to Cranbrook and after seeking the Lord's guidance he felt led to accept. After the latter's death he helped to lead the congregation by reading and prayer until a difference arose between him and some of the people because of the neglect of the ordinances as directed by the Head of the Church. This difference resulted in his leaving. He began to conduct services in his own home, starting to preach again at the same time to some who had left with him. They then moved to Dane House in Cranbrook in 1839 where a church was formally established. Henry Birch died in 1857 having been enabled to minister to his little flock nearly to the end.
Like Birch, WILLIAM BROOK was also ordained into the Church of England and became curate of St Nicholas Church in Brighton. He often preached before the dissolute Prince Regent and his entourage and on one occasion the Prince was forced to concede that if what Brook preached was true they were "all damned men." In common with others who have seceded from the Anglican church over the years, Brook became troubled by the wording of the Burial Service which he had to read at the funeral of one who had taken his own life, and had obviously died unrepentant and unsaved. Despite knowing this he had to describe the man as "a brother" and describe him as experiencing a bliss he clearly did not know. Brook was evidently called by grace while in the Establishment, but it was through reading some of Huntington's books that he was led into a deeper knowledge of Christ, and his own experience. After seceding he traveled to London and met Huntington himself, who received him affectionately and welcomed him to his house, even organizing a collection to buy him a chapel in Brighton. This was, as usual successful. The chapel was built and named Providence. Brook often preached at the London "Providence," which was always well attended on such occasions, giving some indication that he was accepted as a true Huntingtonian. Sadly because of his strong and vocal disagreement with his kind benefactor over his marriage to Lady Sanderson their close friendship was broken for some time. This was not the first time he had expressed himself on the matter and while he was entitled to have his own opinions and indeed share his concern with Huntington, especially as they were such close friends, it would have been wiser to have left the matter there. Huntington generally receives all the blame for this breach, but he was doing nothing wrong by marrying Elizabeth Sanderson and interestingly of his intimate friends, Brook seems to have been only one who seriously objected. Huntington not only naturally recoiled at this incessant criticism of his marriage, but would have felt a desire to protect his wife from it having a Gospel duty to do so. (See Ephesians 5) True this does not exonerate all of his conduct in the affair, but he certainly deserves at least more sympathy than he usually receives. Thankfully the breach between Brook and Huntington was healed when they met at the opening of the Chichester "Providence;" but things were never the same again. (One can still stand in the little vestry where they were left alone for a few minutes before the service at which Huntington was to preach and they were reconciled to one another.) Brook died at the early age of thirty seven but again like so many of the Huntingtonians he gave evidence of a most triumphant death.
Huntington's own congregation at both the first Providence Chapel (destroyed by fire in 1810) and the second, was large. It was not unusual for around two thousand to gather there under his ministry, taken from a cross-section of society, ranging from members of the royal household and a future prime-minister, through the middle classes with men such as Henry Peto the builder of London Bride and Thomas Bensley the King's printer (another dear friend,) to the poorer folk who flocked to hear the Word of God from his lips. Of the latter class was JOHN RUSK.
By trade John Rusk was a sail-maker like his father, but mainly due to the ending of the Napoleonic Wars, demand fell and he and his wife and family were reduced to abject poverty. In his dairy we read of him trudging mile after mile in London where he lived, in search of work often to no avail. Yet though poor in this world he was one of God's chosen who are "rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love Him." (James 2:5)
Despite making a great profession of religion he confessed that he was very wretched and that he felt his life to be a sore burden. When he heard William Huntington preach he found his true state being described to him for the first time, and it was under that same ministry that he was brought to the true knowledge of salvation and the assurance of forgiveness of sins. His own words were "...I found a remarkable softness of affection. I knelt down and all my distress, torment, guilt, misery, bondage and slavish fear was gone, I was melted into nothing, and was enabled to claim God as my covenant God and Father. I could believe that he loved me with an everlasting love. I found much peace under the witness of the Spirit, and could hold fast an imputed righteousness." (John Rusk, Sail Maker and Well Instructed Scribe, p.6 H M Pickles, Coventry 1994)
Rusk was never permitted to rise above his poverty and suffered many trials and afflictions in body and in soul. He was never a preacher but he felt drawn to write, and the amount of soul-edifying matter that he did commit to paper was voluminous. Some of it was published in his own lifetime (he died in 1834) and more was preserved for posterity in the pages of many of the volumes of the Gospel Standard magazine from 1845 to 1908. It is a sign of their enduring value that some of those works are being republished today.
Among other Huntingtonians whose names also frequently appeared in the Gospel Standard are JOHN KEYT and CHRISTOPHER GOULDING.
Keyt's conversion experience was both deep and striking, and he was another who although a member of a church that had an "evangelical" pastor, found a marked difference when he stared to attend Monkwell St Chapel in London where Huntington preached on Tuesday evenings. That difference he scathingly describes as between "vain jangling" and "the glorious truths of the everlasting Gospel and blessed privileges of the heirs of promise insisted on."
It is in a letter to William Huntington that we learn something of Christopher Goulding's experience. (Gospel Standard 1875, p285) He was another who was brought up in the Church of England. He was born in Cumberland, but moving down to London he was taken by an uncle to hear Huntington at Providence. Although initially he understood little if anything of the sermons, he was struck by the attentiveness of the congregation. His observation is worth quoting: "I never saw such a congregation before, for instead of looking about them or falling asleep they appeared to be all eyes and ears, giving such particular attention, and taking such heed to the things that were spoken."
This was to be Goulding's experience too, for he felt himself to the ministry of the despised Coalheaver, and it was through his preaching that his dead soul was quickened and he was made conscious of his sins before a holy God, not only outward acts, but "sin in the desires and thoughts of the heart." Then came the time when through Huntington's Gospel preaching and his own reading of the Scriptures that the Lord was pleased to "shed abroad his love in his heart," and show him his sins were forgiven through the merits of the Saviour. He later became a member of the church at Providence.
It is Goulding in that account of his experience, who gives us what could be called a summarized confession of faith:
"God was pleased to choose His people freely, without anything in them
to merit His favor, so He will save them in Christ Jesus freely, with an
everlasting salvation; that He will give them all, not only of grace
here, but glory hereafter; that they shall never perish, not one of them,
neither shall any pluck them out of His hands; that they shall persevere
in the Lord's strength, and not one ever totally and finally fall away;
that Jesus Christ being their Head and Husband, and they the purchase of
His blood, His portion and His hire, He will never lose one, but will
raise them all up at the last day, so that not a hoof shall be left
behind. And furthermore they being all secured by the bond of an
everlasting covenant, and the everlasting love of the Father, Son and
Spirit, the threefold cord which cannot be broken, they must of
consequence, be saved and brought safe home to glory; otherwise this cord
would be broken and the covenant agreement between the ever-blessed
Trinity would be null and void. All that Christ died for must be saved,
and none else can be, because there is salvation in no other. Though the
Lord is pleased to will a thousand changes in us yet He is the same, the
unchangeable Jehovah; the same yesterday today and for ever, He rests in
His love to His people and here it is that my poor soul finds and ever
desire to find, rest." (Ibid. p.121)
It will be seen from this that the Huntingtonians were High Calvinists which simply means that they stood for the pure, unadulterated doctrines of the Word of God. But theirs was no cold, academic head-knowledge. Indeed the great truth they contended for to a man, was the necessity of the application of that Word to the heart. After hearing Huntington himself preach, Christopher Goulding on reaching home set to "examine the Word to see whether these things were so or not." His comment on the result is choice; From that time the Bible and I came together; and blessed be God for such a meeting, it being now my study, meditation and soul's delight." He writes too of imputed righteousness, that it was the first doctrine that the Lord was pleased to "reveal and apply with power" to his heart. It was this contending for the revelation and application of the Gospel in the heart that was the prominent tenet of the Huntingtonians and separated them from the dead formalism of many of their contempories. In fact it can come as quite a shock at first to discover that they came down just as hard on mere intellectual Calvinism as they did on the pseudo-gospel of Arminianism! All they were doing however, was taking Christianity back to its roots as that Gospel which comes "not in word only but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." (1 Thess. 1:5) What has been written of William Huntington could be said of all Huntingtonians:
"In his ministry he contended for manifestations of Christ to the soul as a vital point, and that a sinner must know and feel that he is lost before the Gospel can be apprehended in its sweetness and power." (John Hazelton: "Holdfast," London 1909.)
JAMES BOURNE, who was a member at Providence for a time and became a minister himself goes as far as to say "Faith in the written Word without the powerful application of God the ever blessed Spirit is presumption." (Thomas Bradbury: Grove Chapel Pulpit Vol. 1 p.92)
Connected with this there was a high view of the ministry. The Huntingtonians had no time for those who had merely passed through human institutions and were set up for ministers, yet gave no evidence that they were called of God to that highest of callings, nor for those who set up themselves. In a letter of Joseph Chamberlain's, for instance, we see how serious he considered this work to be:
"I have spent the morning in searching the Scriptures, in waiting upon the Holy Spirit for instruction and in meditating upon my text. My employment now will be to entreat the Holy Spirit to fulfill his office in bringing to my remembrance what He has suggested to my mind, and to apply the Word with power." (Ibid. p.121)
Notice the repeated reference to the need of the Holy Spirit for himself and to apply the Word with power. This insistence on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit was a constant burden with the Huntingtonians. In the inimitable words of the Coalheaver: "What is all religion without the Holy Spirit! And empty show and a weariness to the flesh."
If they insisted on the need of communication from God to the soul, these people were just as emphatic regarding the place of prayer in the lift of seeker and believer alike. William Huntington's delight in prayer is proverbial. When he wrote, "the life and soul of real religion lies in being alone with God and in seeking His blessed face by humble prayer" he was making no theoretical statement--rather it was a reflection of his own life and experience. This was echoed by the Huntingtonians as a whole. James Bourne, for instance, has no doubt that it is "a sad thing to have a religion that knows nothing of communion with the Lord." Prayer of course is a proof of the believer's dependence upon God, though sadly how show we are at times to avail ourselves of this greatest of all privileges. James Bourne again writes: "We are apt to go to human needs (if near at hand) and by that are kept longer in misery, whilst if human means are withheld, we must go the fountain-head, where alone all real and efficacious help is to be had." (Life and Letter of James Bourne, p.71 London 1875) True prayer is the very essence of a living religion. Without it there is a mere shell, a cold lifeless effigy that may boast of having all the right features, but has no "vital breath." Seeking communion with the Triune God and looking for communications from Him denote life, no matter how weak and even wordless prayer might appear to be. This of course applies to the whole realm of Christian life and experience. James Abbot another hearer of Huntington warns of resting in a carnal confidence in being right because of a "greater knowledge of the essential doctrines of the Gospel," and exhorts to "seek to have a heart-felt experience of the POWER of these doctrines. (Gospel Standard 1948 p.81) He also distinguishes between "a description of experience" and "an experience felt." John Rusk writing on the subject of faith takes up the same theme: "Faith differs from head-notions, inasmuch as what it discovers it always applies and brings home to the heart," (John Rusk, Gospel Standard 1859 p. 103) while Isaac Beeman emphazises that faith is not simply believing in the fact of the atonement, rather a laying hold of it. Faith itself, the Huntingtonians stressed, is not a duty but "a divine principle infused into the heart in regeneration" and that "those who speak of duty faith only will leave you short of Christ." Indeed they had not time at all for the humanistic additive of "free-will" in any shape or form, for they believed and had experienced in their own souls that mankind is in bondage to sin, spiritually dead through the fall of Adam, and utterly incapable of making one step towards the true God. Hence the need of the Holy Spirit, and the necessity of His power and influence to apply salvation to the heart, from its beginnings to the entrance into glory. Theirs was very much the true Holy Spirit religion whose influence was clearly seen in their lives. It has been a favorite ploy of their adversaries down to this day to accuse them of Antinomianism, but this simply shows an ignorance of their lives and a misunderstanding of their position. They sought diligently to obey the precept "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ," and none lived more consistently separate holy lives. James Abbot speaks for them all when he writes "a lively sense of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus will enable those who have it to walk in His fear and seek the welfare of others." (Gospel Standard 1948, p.81)
Their trials and afflictions were real and they knew the power of indwelling sin. They also believed the Scripture doctrine of chastisement feeling it in their own experience. They knew times of deliverance and felt mercy and joy. In fact theirs was a true all round religion that concerned both soul and body, and dictated their whole existence. How feeble our own conception of God and shallowness of experience when compared with theirs! This is not to exalt the Huntingtonians themselves for they were men and women "subject to like passions as we are" but rather to magnify the grace of God that was in them.
What happened to these Huntingtonians? Are there still such people today? Many of those contemporary with Huntington himself survived him. The last minister who knew him personally was John Vinall, who died in 1860. But others followed on, sometimes termed second and third generation Huntingtonians. Under Joseph Burrell's ministry for instance, a church was gathered whose influence was felt in other places. James Bourne was a member there, and he also preached elsewhere, particularly when he retired from his work as an artist. Then the six Gilpin sisters and their favored brother Bernard, from Pulverbach in Shropshire came into the picture. Bernard went to Cambridge University and then became curate of St. Andrew's Church in Hertford, but for conscience sake he seceded along with some of his congregation, and an Independent church was formed with him as the pastor. Port Vale chapel in Hertford was later built for him. He was of the Huntingtonian stamp though not uncritical of Huntington. Many of the experiences of the folk who made up these congregations in London, Hertford, Pulverbach and elsewhere were recorded and published, some from the pen of Bernard himself. The story of them has been skillfully woven together in the book 'More than Notion' in which we see clearly the Lord's hand upon them uniting them in "the faith of God's elect" and a common spiritual experience.
JOHN GRACE of Brighton was another in the Huntingtonian line. It was through John Vinall's preaching that the Lord spoke pardon and peace to his soul, but he was later convinced of believer's baptism which cooled relations between the two men, though he ever esteemed Vinall and his ministry. John E Hazelton says of John Grace "he was highly esteemed in many parts of the country....as a lively and experimental preacher, to whom not a few could refer as the instrument used in delivering them from darkness and bringing them into the Kingdom of "the Son of His love." ("Holdfast," London 1909, p.145) John Grace was a great lover of the works of Huntington. In a letter to J. C. Philpot he writes; "I have been reading much of Mr. Huntington's writings lately. I can see eye to eye with him as my teacher, and often wonder what people's religion consists of that are tired of his writings....How little you hear of his line of things now! But those who are led to profit by them have little relish for the flimsy religion of the present day." (Recollections of John Grace, p.269)
One who loved the ministry of both John Grace and John Vinall was JAMES NYE. (1822-92) His reading of Huntington's 'Kingdom of Heaven' brought him to comment "I loved the man for the sake of his book." Nye's life was another one of great poverty in material things yet his spiritual experience was deep and real. It has been pertinently observed that "Huntington offered him both a mirror and a guide" ("A Small Account of My Travels Through the Wilderness" Queenspark Books, Brighton, no date.) something that could be said of countless numbers who have had cause to thank God for bringing the Coalheaver's books into their lives.
ARTHUR CHARLEWOOD is another example. In a letter which was published in the 1872 volume of the Gospel Advocate he testifies of "the power that attends the reading of Huntington's works." When under much concern in early life" he writes "I brought many books but when I got Huntington I saw the emptiness and legality of many others." Another comment from the same letter is well worth quoting in the light of the present day anti-Huntington fever, "to me it is quite a mystery how any man with the love of God in his soul can think lightly of the works of that highly honored saint of God."
Despite these glowing testimonies, it has to be acknowledged that as the circle of Huntington's immediate friends and fellow laborers diminished so also did the best days. Yet what might be called Huntingtonianism did not die. In a very real sense it has always existed, for it is really another name for New Testament, Apostolic Christianity. The true stream of this has never ceased to run through history though frequently muddied by the hand of men. In Huntington the pure fountain bubbled over. Moreover, as that immediate circle gradually passed away, others were raised to stand in the breach. The name of the old Coalheaver was not permitted to disappear in the mists of time, nor (much more importantly) the truths he was raised to proclaim and defend. Beside the continuance of the Independent Huntingtonian Churches, many Strict Baptist Churches also maintained the same emphasis on free and sovereign grace and the experience of sin and salvation in the soul of every elect and ransomed sinner. In fact some Baptist churches had Independent beginnings. Providence chapel, Cranbrook was one with a rather strange history--despite having had almost exclusively Baptist ministers from its commencement, it was not until 1909 that a Baptist church was formed. As we have seen there was some bitterness over the question of baptism in some places but this was certainly not always the case, and the same vein of doctrine and experience ran on both sides of the baptismal pool. Edward Carr, for instance who became pastor of a Strict Baptist chapel in Bath spoke of hearing Ebenezer Vinall (a staunch Independent) on visits to Brighton, and remembered that "it was his delight to slip in whenever he could hear him," adding that "his ministry was most comforting to seekers." (Chronicles of a Chequered Pathway, p.10 London 1895) He believed that those seasons were his best hearing times. Interestingly when Carr was the minister at Alfred Street Strict Baptist church in Leicester (before moving to Bath) a considerable proportion of his congregation were not Baptists but came from the Huntingtonian Salem chapel where Joseph Chamberlain had been pastor. His glowing testimony regarding them was "many of them were sincere lovers of the truth and true possessors of the grace of God. Amongst them were some of my most spiritual hearers and warmest personal friends." (Ibid. p.81)
In London after Huntington's death, because of various problems that arose at Providence (including the refusal of the trustees to allow men such as William Gadsby to preach there,) many of his old hearers moved to Conway Street Chapel, John Rusk among them. There they found the same faithful experimental Gospel preaching their souls delighted in.
Over the years many have discovered the vast spiritual treasury in Huntington's books and testimonies of their worth abound. Prominent ministers such as J. C. Philpot, David Doudney, Thomas Bradbury and A. J. Baxter along with many others spoke with unashamed enthusiasm of the good they had done them. Doudney for example wrote in the Gospel Magazine which he edited for fifty-three years; "Whatever be the unfavorable opinions entertained of MR. HUNTINGTON by the religious world, so called, we are happy to be among the exceptions," (Gospel Magazine 1857 p.167) while Baxter confessed that no man's work had been blessed to him more than Huntington's letters. The following remark by Thomas Bradbury leaves us in no doubt where he stood: "Old Watchman Garrard; the highly favored Gadsby, and the despised Huntington--I do glory in such company." (Life and Letters, London, p.156)
Neither was such esteem for Huntington confined to this country. A Dr. Uriel Lindsley writing from America in 1819 begged to be sent as many of his books as were published. In one of his letters he makes comments like "Mr. H. was a man after my own heart," and "there is not a person in my knowledge since the days of Paul who writes so much in the apostolic style....or who is so manifest to my conscience in the sight of God as he?" (Gospel Standard 1862, p.271)
What about the Huntingtonians today? We go back to the question do they still exist? If that means are there those who value, indeed delight in the works of William Huntington, and feel they can identify in even some small measure with the spirit and experience of the old Huntingtonians, the answer must be in the affirmative. There is certainly a renewed interest in the rich legacy of their writings and their experiences which it is hoped is more than academic. It is interesting too, that alongside this, there has arisen the old hatred and opposition from some quarters that is strikingly reminiscent of that experienced by these people in their day. Wherever there is a sincere desire to return to simple unadulterated Gospel doctrine, experience and practice, it can be guaranteed there will be an outcry against it. One thing is certain, whoever picks up one of Huntington's books or something of the old Huntingtonians, and reads it seriously and honestly, cannot remain neutral! Some effect will be felt!
One who highly esteemed these works was J. C. Philpot. Though of a different character to Huntington and having a much different upbringing, a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, ordained in the Church of England, yet eventually taking his God-ordained place among the Strict Baptists, he was in many ways a true Huntingtonian. Like Huntington he was raised in the sovereignty of God to be a leader, preaching and writing in the same line of things. During his editorship of the Gospel Standard magazine his ardent love for Huntington and the Huntingtonians is clearly evident as hardly a month went by without some letter, account of an experience or other material by one or more of them appearing in the magazine. His own reviews of Huntington's books are unsurpassed and in them there is an unashamed defense of the man and his ministry. Though not excusing his faults there is not the critical element which one or two of the later Huntingtonians sometimes fell prey to. He seems to have had a clearer grasp of Huntington's calling than most, seeing even a need of his controversial writings, making the point that as a controversialist he was simply being "a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Of his letters, Philpot remarks; "Taken as a whole, one may say they contain the very cream of vital godliness" (Memoir & Letters of J. C. Philpot, p.409, London 1871) and confessed "no writer knocks the pen so completely out of my hand as the poor Coalheaver, whose very name must now hardly be whispered in the professing church." This from an Oxford Scholar! "Like a master musician" he writes, "he runs up and down the chords of the heart, and strikes off without the least effort, passages of consummate truth and beauty. It almost seems as if the book of the human heart with all its deceitfulness and baseness, the book of the new man of grace, with its varied pages, and the book of the Word of God were all equally familiar with him, and that he turns alternatively from one to the other with all the intimacy that a merchant has with his journal and ledger and finds in a moment what order to write or what sum to pay." (Ibid. p.383) In a letter to John Grace after the death of John Vinall he reveals his sense of oneness with the Huntingtonians too. "You know very well that my heart has always been with the real Huntingtonians" he admits. "There is, or rather was a blessed life, feeling and savor with those who were partakers of the same grace and spirit as the blessed Coalheaver."
Even in his day though, Philpot bemoans the passing of better days, for he humbly adds, "I know not where to look for men of similar depth of experience and sweet unction of utterance." (Ibid. p.294)
Here we must leave these godly folk. This has been merely a glimpse of them. May it serve as an encouragement to search out and read more of them, to magnify the grace of God in them and above all to seek ourselves to know with them that "true religion" that is "more than notion."
The final word we leave with Francis Hews, a Baptist minister at Dunstable and a contemporary of Huntington who heard him preach but did not know him personally. His testimony must be that of all true Huntingtonians who have been drawn to the preaching or the written words of the Coalheaver, finding something of their own desires, feelings and experiences mirrored in them, and who bless God for such a Christ exalting and soul-establishing ministry.
"Each time I have heard that dear man, I have had abundant reason to bless the Lord for the opportunity....I am well satisfied he is sent of God, and his writings are a real blessing unto my soul. I know of no books excepting the Bible [that mean] so much to me as some of his. I have heard his "Bank of Faith" is much despised, and his 'Kingdom of Heaven taken by Prayer' likewise, by some professing religion, but they have always been such people as I was well satisfied had little or none of the power of God's truth in their hearts, and what has been said has always made the man and his books more valuable in my esteem. I have often vindicated his cause, although I never spoke to him in my life. I was obliged to do from my own experience, which teaches me to love and acknowledge the man as sent of God, and I will take his part until I have Scriptural reason for the reverse, I believe his works have been of great service to several of my people, and even babes in Jesus can see the divine stamp upon them." ("Spoils Won in the Day of Battle," pgs. 102,103, published by E. J. Woodcraft, Biggleswade 1972.)