Rowland Hill: An Eccentric Ehud with a Witty Double-edged Dagger

Judges 3:15
       Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges.

A. W. TOZER (1897-1963): Few things are as useful in the Christian life as a gentle sense of humour, and few things are as deadly as a sense of humour out of control.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): It is not our design to write a life of Rowland Hill, but merely to sketch an outline portrait from the “eccentric” point of view―a vein of humour was manifest in him.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH (1839-1915): Rowland Hill used to warn young ministers against going up and down the country “with a sack of dried tongues for sale.”

C. H. SPURGEON: The manufacture of new commandments is a very fascinating occupation for some people…they say to us, “You shall not laugh on Sunday. You shall never create a smile in the House of God. You shall walk to public service as though you were going to the whipping post, and you shall take care when you preach that you always make your discourse as dull as it can possibly be.”―If you will be as dry as sawdust, as devoid of juice as the sole of an old shoe, and as correct as the multiplication table, you shall earn to yourself a high degree in the university of Drone-ingen, but if you wake up your soul and adopt an energetic delivery, and a natural, manly, lively, forcible mode of utterance, all the great authorities of that gigantic institution will say, “Oh dear, it is a pity he is so eccentric.”

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH: A Scottish minister stated that he never heard an anecdote from the pulpit until Rowland Hill began his itinerant labours there [in 1798]. The Scots complained that he rode upon all order and decorum. Mr. Hill, after this, called one of his carriage horses “Order” and the other “Decorum,” and when asked the reason, he answered, “Oh, I have given them these names that the people in the north may tell the truth in one way if they do not in another; but happy should I be to ride on the back of such order and decorum as they advocate till I had ridden them to death.”

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): He was from the beginning a peculiar individual, a perfectly original character…As Rowland Hill is not to be tried by ordinary rules, and as he is not likely to become a precedent or example―we may the more freely speak of his character and ministry.

THOMAS JACKSON (177?-1843): Rowland Hill was a strong compound of wisdom, good sense, drollery, and piety. There was no affectation in his style: he was perfectly natural.

WILLIAM JAY: In one of his sermons, he was speaking of the [relative] value of the Gospel―“It makes,” said he, “husbands better husbands, and wives better wives; parents better parents, children better children; masters better masters, and servants better servants; in a word, I would not give a farthing for that man’s religion whose cat and dog were not the better for it.” Everyone could not have uttered this, but I received it from no less a person than William Wilberforce, who heard it himself; and who remarked that, while probably everything else he said that evening was long ago forgotten, no one would ever forget this.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH: An old man once said to him, “Mr. Hill, it is just sixty-five years since I first heard you preach, and I remember your text, and part of your sermon.”
      “T’is more than I do,” Rowland Hill replied.
      “You told us,” the old man proceeded, “that some people were very squeamish about the delivery of different ministers, who preached the same gospel. You said, ‘Suppose you were attending to hear a will read, when you expected a legacy to be left you. Would you employ the time in criticizing the manner in which the lawyer read it? No, you would not; you would be giving all ear to hear if anything was left to you, and how much it was. That is the way I would advise you to hear the gospel.’”

WILLIAM JAY: He sometimes rendered a word of rebuke, equally strong and witty.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH: At public meetings his speeches were not less original than his sermons, and not infrequently contained a witty [stab] against those long harangues which he described as “containing a river of words, with only a spoonful of thoughts.”

ROWLAND HILL (1744-1833): His Royal Highness, the Duke of Kent, was in the chair [at one such meeting], and a man had the bad taste to spin out his dull tiresome oratory for more than an hour. Some of the people, tired to death, as well they might be, went away…It was my turn next; so I said, ‘May it please your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, I am not going to make either a long or a moving speech…After the very moving one you have just heard―so moving, that several people have been moved by it right out of the room―nay, I even fear another would so move His Royal Highness himself, that he would be unable to continue in the chair, and would, to the great regret of the meeting, be obliged to move off it also.”

WILLIAM JAY: Wit, it has been said, is a quality which instantly and irresistibly pleases and captivates more than any other attribute of a speaker. We need not wonder, therefore, if the possessor of this endowment should be tempted to use it unduly and unseasonably. How hard must it have been for Rowland Hill to leave his humour behind him when he entered the pulpit! This was, indeed, overruled for good; and the expectation of hearing something droll and witty drew many to hear him, who, though they came to laugh, returned to pray. But Rowland Hill himself was not unconscious of the danger here.

C. H. SPURGEON: On one occasion he preached in Dr. Collyer’s chapel at Peckham, where everything was of the most stately order. He spoke for twenty-five minutes in a strain of the deepest solemnity, but at last the real man broke out…In the vestry, at the close, he observed that he had over and over again resolved to utter no expression which could excite a smile.

ROWLAND HILL: But I find it’s of no use. Though my very life depended upon it, I could not help myself…Were I to live my life over again, I would preach just the same.

C. H. SPURGEON: Do we blame the man for being himself? We blame him not, but commend him. Originality is not to be condemned, but encouraged. Sir Joshua Reynolds says of painters, “Few have been taught to any purpose who have not been their own teachers.” It was the excellence of Gainsborough that he formed his style for himself in the fields, and not in the studios of an academy―we need in the pulpit more Gainsboroughs, for we have quite enough of the academy men of this school and the other…Rowland Hill, again, was odd by nature, and though he put great constraint upon himself his oddity would break out.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH: Entering the house of one of his congregation he saw a child on a rocking-horse. “Dear me,” he exclaimed, “how wondrously like some Christians! there is motion, but no progress.”

WILLIAM JAY: To conclude this imperfect sketch. Let us hear a voice, saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common;” and let us honour them whom God honours, however they may differ from us. He will do his own work in His own way; and let Him do what seemeth to Him good. We need instruments of all kinds, and every man in his own order. Sharpshooters may do execution, as well as the rank-and-file soldiers, and belong to the same army, though their movements are detached, and they seem to act irregularly. David essayed to go in Saul’s armour, and could not; but was he inefficient with his sling and stones?


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