HE, BEING DEAD, YET SPEAKETH Mr. J. C. PHILPOT 1802 – 1869
Extracted from brochure issued in connection with special services held at Stamford Chapel on December 9th, 1969 to commemorate the centenary of the death of Mr. Philpot. Compiled by Mr. D. Oldham, Pastor at North Street Chapel, Stamford.
The fact that God has been graciously pleased to outline the history of a spiritual work in His children for the many centuries compassed by the scriptures of truth, is a pointer to the instruction that will be given, under His blessing, by a close study of the pages of history. This study places a very real responsibility upon the observer and commentator of later days, for the reason that the person spoken of can no longer appear to defend himself from false charges made. In history, as in every field of truth, we need to beg for a spirit of scrupulous honesty. The possibility of misrepresenting the character of a person through wilful ignorance is far greater with those who are gone than with those who are still present to answer us. This very danger of misunderstanding, Mr. J. C. Philpot clearly expressed when writing of Oliver Cromwell, in these words: “Envy follows eminence as the shadow follows the sun; and envy, open-eyed to every defect, is blind to every merit.” It is well for us to give heed, when we in turn, come to speak of J. C. Philpot himself.
It is a hundred years since he was called home, and though the saint never lived who was to be invariably followed as a standard, yet it would be ingratitude to the Lord Himself to fail to trace His mercy and wisdom in using the human instruments of His choice, and to despise the lessons they themselves were taught so thoroughly.
To bring to the light of day additional material regarding one whose praise is in all the churches, and all of whose writings have been eagerly devoured from his own day down to this, would be an unenviable, if not impossible, task. The present attempt is merely a brief remembrancer of one of God’s servants much used then and now.
J. C. Philpot was born on 13th September 1802. He was brought up among the upper classes with the background of a respectable family in the Church of England. Whilst at one of the famed schools of the land, he fell very gravely ill at the age of 9, which, assisted by the supposed remedy, probably began that weakness of
bodily strength that was a trial to him all through life. In due course, he passed through Oxford, and was subsequently engaged as a tutor to a young family in Ireland. Before crossing over, he had business to transact at Leicester, and on his way to Great-ford, Lincs., the coach broke down at Oakham; during the delay, Mr. Philpot bought a copy of Hart’s Hymns at the bookshop there. Since Mr. Philpot traces his call by grace later than this, it is striking that the Lord in providence brought this book to his notice, and inclined him to buy itÂ—evidently for its literary merit as much as anything else. He lived to greatly esteem the far greater excellence of its spiritual content.
Having settled to his duties in Ireland, there followed in time that great affliction, very tenderly related in after years by his son, when he was disappointed in love, and so soon severed from seeing her any more. Not until the years had passed and she had gone, did he feel able to entertain thoughts of married life. But out of this great trouble sprang his call by grace. The Lord used the trial of his mind to do his soul good. As with a flower, the calyx recedes from sight as the petals unfold, so the former things were lost from view as he for the first time beheld by faith the living God, sin, salvation and a Saviour.
During this period in Ireland, we read of him engaging in Sunday School work; but soon he returned to England, and finding himself unaccepted now in Oxford circles, he ministered in the Church of England at Stadhampton from 1828 to 1835. On the Lord’s Day there, the pattern was Sunday School, morning service, afternoon service, and later a scripture exposition to the Sunday School at his homeÂ—a farmhouse at this period. On Tuesdays there was Prayer Meeting, on Thursdays a lecture. During his stay here he appointed tract distributors and began a Poor Fund. A friendship was begun with another young clergyman named Tiptaft, and at the latter’s invitation he preached one week-evening to the congregation of labourers which jammed his church.
By the year 1833 he felt the dead ceremonies of the Church of England, which implied spiritual life in everyone involved, to be so distressing and contrary to the truth, that he sent no children to be confirmed according to the usual custom.
It was during this sifting period that he learned to say, “I am more for confusion, guilt and bondage, than liberty, assurance and freedomÂ—not that I object to the realities of these latter, but to their counterfeits so universally current.”
In 1835, on March 22nd, he preached for the last time in the Church of England. To follow the dictates of conscience was no easy affair; but he was taught to count the cost, the extent of which few of his critics have had to face. He was obliged, in the prospect of poverty, to sell most of his books, well-bound and magnificent volumes though many of them were. Their sale in London lasted three days.
On his 33rd birthday the same year he was baptised by John
Warburton at Allington. The friendship begun already between these two men was to continue throughout life, and it was the same dear friend who conducted the first baptisms at North Street Chapel, Stamford during the early years of Philpot’s pastorate there. Regarding the place the subject of baptism occupied in his subsequent ministry, Philpot says, “Though not always prating about it, I cannot bear to have baptism spoken against, as a part of the faith delivered to the saints. I never saw an argument against it worth a straw.”
Away in Lincolnshire, Stamford’s prosperous surgeon Mr. J. G. de Merveilleux had recently built his North Street Chapel on the edge of its ancient stone streets; for a number of years a little body had met to hear the truths of sovereign grace at a little shop down near the riverside, where Thomas Hardy often preached; in the surgeon’s house in 1832 he had also entered his rest. After this, Tiptaft had preached for Mr. de Merveilleux, and as a result of that sermon, the decision was made to build the chapel, Tiptaft laying the foundation stone in 1834. Mr. de Merveilleux had bought the land, formerly a yard, garden and workshops, in June the previous year.
To this Chapel, in 1836, Philpot came to preach. Already, its history, though short had been eventful. Mr. de Merveilleux had engaged as the regular minister a duty-faith man, and so soon had had to withdraw from his ministry; as a consequence, the minister had left with most of the congregation, leaving Mr. de Merveilleux to worship and read sermons in the vestry, with a mere dozen folk. What assaults he must have had from Satan that it would all come to nothing. For Philpot’s first preaching, however, on 17th July 1836, the Chapel was crammed. The General Baptist minister had left his flock to visit friends, so his congregation came too, but people from far and wide filled the pewsÂ—and continued to do so, regularly travelling twenty milesÂ—numbers on foot! When Mr. Philpot preached at Oakham it was the same storyÂ—fifty could not get in the doors to the preaching. He speaks at this period of encountering those who advocated speaking in unknown tongues, and were much taken up with miraculous cures and unfulfilled prophecy (the Pentecostals are no new thing!), and comments that such often forgot to think of what the Lord had done in the heart.
After this first memorable visit to Stamford in 1836, Mr. de Merveilleux returned by necessity to the reading of good sermons. He was probably coming to the same conclusion that Philpot voices, “It is very hard to carry a cause on, especially in its infancy, by reading.” Soon he was writing to invite Mr. Philpot to settle at Stamford as the regular minister. Feeling unable fully to support him, Mr. Philpot was invited to take 26 Sundays a year if Oakham would have him the rest. At length then, on 28th October 1838, he settled at Stamford, Oakham gladly acquiescing in the joint arrangement (and continuing with it through the next pastorate too.) Since no church was formed, what was the lead-
ing he felt? He says, “The minister looks to where he has the widest door set before himÂ—where he is most blessed himself, where the most evident blessing rests upon the word, and where he feels most unction and power present with him.”
And so 10 Rutland Terrace became his first home, later No. 15, and then No. 14, which he himself bought.
1838 was an eventful year for Mr. Philpot; he was married to one of Dr. Keal’s daughters at Oakham, and many were the good wishes of dear friends. Among the gifts was the tea-caddy (now in the possession of Mr. J. A. Hart of Lewes) given by Mr. John Gadsby, publisher of the Gospel Standard, carved in the shape of four volumes lying one on another, entitled the Gospel Standard, Huntington’s Works, Gadsby’s Works, and Philpot’s Works, surmounted by the smaller Hart’s Hymns, which formed the caddy lid.
Not till the year following his settlement were the first persons baptised at Stamford, and only in 1841 was the church formed. On the last day of 1843 the first two deacons were elected by the church: this was two months after the premature death of Mr. de Merveilleux, whose last little girl was only 20 months old. Baptisms during his pastorate were often administered by John Warburton, Frederick Tryon, Wiliam Tiptaft and G. S. B. Isbell. Members came not only from the town, but also from the surrounding villages as far afield as Duddington, Kings Cline, Thurlby, Witham, Toft, Swinstead, Corby Glen and Colsterworth Â—return journeys of up to twenty miles. Services were morning and afternoon, and horses from the traps were left in the paddock adjoiningÂ—now the Recreation Ground.
At Oakham too it was much the same account Â— the first baptisings, and the forming of the Church there by Mr. Philpot, were not until 1843, five years after he had become the minister of the congregation. The first deacons were elected there in 1844. In 1845 it is interesting to note that two men, not members, were visited, as their conduct was inconsistent with them ‘sitting among the singers.’
His conduct as a pastor was admirable: discipline, when necesary on those rare sad occasions, was faithfully administered;
church meetings presided over in wisdom and love; in church meetings he would often say with the greatest humility, “My dear friends, exercise your own judgment; I have only one voice among
The daily pattern of his life during those fruitful years of ministry was as followsÂ—to read for an hour after breakfast his Hebrew Bible, and from eight to nine o’clock in the evening his Greek Testament. The greater part of his mornings was devoted to editorial work, and the revision of his printed sermons; an hour before dinner he set apart for his daily walk. The afternoons he usually occupied in visiting, and his evenings in writing letters. Each day was commenced and ended with family prayer.
His one object was to see the Lord’s work furthered in the
hearts of His children. He saw all round him that “Dead Calvinism is the best weapon that Satan has to harden the hearts and sear the consciences of unhumbled professors. I find almost everywhere the same great mistakeÂ—Bible-religion substituted for soul-religion.”
Where he saw this soul-religion going forward, he was thankful before the Lord. He had a real interest in the surrounding areas, and in 1847 is at Billinghay preaching at the opening services of the new Bethel Chapel there. The Minute Book there records that Â—”The day after the opening of the chapel was the day appointed for a Public fast by the governors of this Realm for the whole Nation: on account of the great distress in many parts of the Kingdom, but more specially in Ireland. The potato crops had been destroyed to a very great extent for two years together, and hundreds died through starvation in Ireland. In England potatoes were from one shilling to two shillings per pack, and all provisions very dear. The two Ministers that opened the Chapel the day before (Mr. Joseph Charles Philpot and Mr. John Skipworth the pastor) Kept the fast day, with a very large congregation, crowded chapel both morning and afternoon. Two days never to be forgot by this congregation. The Lord was with us in deed and truth in His unctious power and anointings of the Holy Ghost. This was our idea of a fast, a total abstinence from food whatsoever, and not so much as drink a drop of water, until we came out of the Chapel in the afternoon about four of the clock, when we took our tea.
2 Samuel 12. 16, 23. Esther 4. 16. Daniel 9. 3. 19. Joel 2. 12, 20. Jonah 3. 5. Acts 13. 2, 3. I Cor. 7. 5. Acts 10. 30.
This we believe to be a Bible fast, in the letter and also to afflict the flesh and so to keep it in subjection (to the Spirit) through the Spirit.”
He was the preacher too at the opening services of Eden Chapel, Cambridge, and doubtless of others too.
At the new Cave Adullam Chapel at Deeping St. James, it is related that it was Mr. Philpot’s suggestion to put in the small extra balcony now called Nicodemus’ Gallery, so that every comer might be accommodated.
In other parts of the land, numbers of ministers permitted the establishment of little chapels not only in the towns but in almost every other village. In such cases these have sometimes survived as a witness to the truth today, even when the parent cause has lapsed. In this area, however, circumstances did not permit it, people journeying to these larger central chapels from miles around: with the result that in days of decline, such causes, now often small in numerical strength, are set widely apart from one another.
His pen was employed very early in upholding the truth, and speaking of the pure and proper conduct of the worship of the living God. In 1838 he became joint-editor together with Gadsby and MacKenzie of the Gospel Standard. In 1840 his views on
strict communion were already being published there. Gadsby died in 1844, and MacKenzie in 1849, and Mr. Philpot was subsequently the sole editor until his death twenty years later. In 1841 the circulation was 7,400; by 1847 it was 9,000; eventually under Mr. Philpot’s hand it reached 17,000 copies a month.
Nine of his first sermons were published in 1840, and, together with scores of subsequent ones, are yet again being printed by the Gospel Standard Baptist Trust.
His interest in the singing of God’s praise in public worship is constantly seen. In 1842 Hart’s Hymns were republished; the same year he writes a long preface to the republication of Berridge’s Hymns; and it was Mr. Philpot who selected the choice hymns for the Second Supplement of Gadsby’s Selection.
During his ministry and editorship of the Gospel Standard he had many fruitful contacts with Holland, over a hundred sermons of his being translated into Dutch during the 19th century. Though the Dutch friends were not Baptists, this did not prevent him from being continually gladdened by the friendship of those who knew the work of sovereign grace within the heart. Still today there are probably more in Holland who have a value for the truths he preached, than in England. His sermons are read regularly by congregations (some numbering thousands) on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1968 Mr. J. A. Saarberg brought out a
Life of Mr. J. C. Philpot in Dutch, which is well through its second edition already.
Philpot’s Reviews, originally appearing in the Gospel Standard, are eminently readable, and display his grasp of the history of the church, and the tendency of differing doctrines and systems of church government. He shows a real understanding of a child’s mind as he reviews the first issue of the Little Gleaner. Always there is a balanced view of the subjectÂ—as, for example, in his remarks on the use of commentaries, proper and improper.
His long and honoured ministry passed by. In 1859 the articles of faith printed by Mr. J. Gadsby were adopted by his churches;
we cannot but think they were a mature expression of his estimate as to what articles of faith should be. Like all articles, circumstances arise that call for further expansion and definition, and we feel e.g. that the full verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the scriptures needs to be made perfectly clear; again, when denying, for example, that the law is a rule of life for the believer (terms we believe perfectly scriptural) it would be well to make also a positive declaration of what is the believer’s standardÂ—Jesus, the alone Head of the church, and the believer’s all in all.
In the early 1860s it was necessary for him clearly to establish the Trusts by Deed, of both the Stamford and Oakham chapels;
their terms are practically identical, and the wording of their provisions exceptionally clear. At Stamford in 1863, Mr. Philpot as one of Mr. de Merveilleux’s executors, arranged the sale of the Chapel to nine trustees (of whom he himself was one) for Â£400.
In the autumn of 1864 he was compelled by failing health to
resign the pastorate; at one of the farewell meetings he described Ephesians 2.8. as the key note of his pastorate. On leaving one dear friend at Stamford, she said to him, “What shall I do without you?” His answer was, “You have your Bible; read it, and pray over it.” He felt able almost immediately however to yield up his charge to Mr. J. P. Knill, who was initially invited at the Oakham cause, which also requested his residence there; he was paid Â£75 a year, with four free Lord’s Days, providing Mr. Knill paid the supplies and entertained them; the same provisions were made at Stamford too for their 26 Sundays.
Mr. Philpot retired to Broad Green, Thornton Heath, Croydon, sitting under the pithy ministry of Mr. F. Covell at West Street Chapel there; and passed away peacefully on December 9th 1869.
We close with a passage from the Trust Deeds of Stamford and Oakham, in which Mr. Philpot puts his hand to these words regarding the doctrines of graceÂ—”We advocate and contend, for (them), not as a mere creed or dry system, but as inseparably connected with vital godliness and pure undefiled religion. We contend therefore for the operations of grace on the heart, under the Divine teachings of the Holy Ghost, for the power of truth on the conscience; for the fear of God in the soul, for the work of faith and labour of love and the patience of hope, and for whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report, as outward evidences before the church and the world.”