William Grimshaw’s “Principles of Christianity Vindicated”
In 1846, William Grimshaw published the 4th edition of his Principles of Christianity Vindicated1, which consists of a Preface, six chapters, and an appendix. The main themes of the text are expositions of some of the central tenets of the Christian faith. The book’s preface describes William’s spiritual journey through Deism, including a brush with atheism, to the discovery of salvation in Christianity through the Society of Friends. The appendix is a collection of extracts from works by other Christian authors that Mr. Grimshaw apparently held in high esteem. A note of the gift of a copy of the book by the author to Elihu Burrit is found in the copy reviewed for this webpage and is shown above.
The title page of William Grimshaw’s publication is shown in Figure 1. The main themes of the work are indicated by the annotated table of contents. The topics of exposition of the chapters are: 1) an address of sincere seekers after truth, showing some efficacy in the preaching of the Gospel; 2) on following nature and reason; 3) on following Scripture (two chapters); 4) on following Christ; and 5) conclusion. The Contents pages are shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Title Page of William Grimshaw’s Book
Figure 2. The Contents of Principles of Christianity Vindicated
William Grimshaw’s journey to salvation in Christianity as a Quaker is recorded in the Preface, which is shown below.
(INCLUDING A SHORT NARRATIVE,)
From a conviction of the truth of the Christian religion, I have for some time past been desirous to write a short vindication of its principles, having experienced their efficacy in my own mind: and having afore-time suffered my mind to be drawn into, and been active in disseminating, the principles of unbelief, I feel it a duty to endeavour to convince those whom I have left behind in error, and feel also a sympathy for such, as well as for all who are suffering their minds to be warped aside from the blessed principles of the Gospel of truth.
Soon after the commencement of the French revolution, my mind became prepared by means of the political and other influences to which I was at that time exposed, to receive the impressions which the various infidel publications then in circulation were calculated to produce. I was then actively engaged as a Delegate to one of the Divisions of that well-known Political Association, the “LONDON CORRESPONDING SOCIETY;” and, after the BILL for imposing restrictions on assembling for such purposes as that Society had in view, passed into a law, I was for some time a Member of its Central Committee. In the meetings I then attended, religious subjects were frequently canvassed, as well as political; and the Members were soon led to consider the Church and State as so united, that whatever existed in the one, would always be countenanced by the other; and thus seeing as they believed, priestcraft in religion, they were soon brought to the erroneous conclusion, that all religion was priestcraft.
This, in fact, was nearly the state of my mind when the “Age of Reason” first came out; so that, on reading this production, whatever remaining respect I had for religion, or fear as to rejecting it, was entirely dissipated: I no longer considered religion as a good, but as an evil and an imposture. Under such impressions I thought it meritorious to expose it in whatever way I could, which was chiefly attempted by debates on Scripture questions, and by writing small pieces, songs, &c., for the political periodical papers of the day; some of which were introduced into a work published by T. Spence, author of the “System for the equalization of Landed Property,” now called after his name “Spencean.”
I afterwards endeavoured to form a body or Association of Deists; and, in order thereto, consulted with a few Members of the “London Corresponding Society,” of the same sentiments as myself, and also with two others of its Members, Hodgson, and Hunt, generally styled, Dr. Hodgson, and Dr. Hunt, who had both been in prison for two years, on account of seditious words spoken at the London Tavern; and who were in consequence held by us in double estimation. By them, the plan was eagerly entered into, though the former had, during his imprisonment, employed himself in translating the Atheistical work of Mirabaud, and was known to avow, in common with Hunt, opinions of the same stamp. This may appear to some an inconsistency – Deists uniting with Atheists; but Deists know, with me, that however inconsistent, it is a circumstance very common and little regarded.
To return, the plan being approved, a Committee of nine persons was chosen to draw up certain rules and regulations for the government of the intended Society, which was to be called together under the appellation of “Moral Friends.”
In debating the Articles, we had much to guard against; first; the Act of Parliament before mentioned, which prohibited meetings on political subjects if consisting of more than twenty persons; next, what we considered, the public prejudice against preaching open Deism.
Other obstacles at the time presented themselves, and to steer clear of all, it was determined that no politics should be introduced, and but little should be said upon religion.
It was, on these grounds, concluded to give our Society the above name; and it was determined that our lectures should be all written, and submitted to the Committee for inspection previously to their being publicly delivered. This being settled, it was suggested by one of the Committee, that, as it would take much study and time to prepare lectures, there should be an allowance of at least half a guinea per lecture; but the proposal was overruled, as introducing a new form of priestcraft. We at length finished our code of laws: and the next thing to be considered was a suitable place for holding our meetings. Two other persons with myself, were appointed to procure such an one and report. We soon found what appeared well adapted to our purpose, – a long room in Whitecross Street, formerly an Assembly Room, but the house having lost its license, have been used afterwards for auctions. This room was hired at twenty-four pounds per annum, for two days, or rather evenings, in the week; one for the sittings of the Committee, the other (on the “Sunday”) for the lectures.
As I had been a promoter of the Society, it was suggested that I also should deliver the first lecture; and being young, and an enthusiast in the cause, I readily complied. The subject of the lecture was “Toleration,” a theme deemed well fitted for the occasion, but the lecture being rather too short for the entertainment of the evening, to make up the deficiency, the two doctors, Hodgson and Hunt, alternately harangued the meeting, which was pretty numerously attended. We had a device drawn (intended for a card), which was framed, and hung in front of the pulpit or reading desk: it represented “Truth” in a beautiful female form, holding out a mirror, with its rays of light darted upon a monstrous figure in human shape under her feet, meant to represent superstition, with sceptre, mitre, cross and beads; broken and scattered. This picture became the object of attention to a constable, who had introduced himself for the purpose of watching our proceedings, and he soon began to show his authority by ordering all to disperse, or (he said), he would take us into custody. He interrupted the meeting for some time, till at length, some one in the room exclaimed, “turn the fellow out!” which was soon done by our “moral friends;” and one or two umbrellas were broken in the scuffle; but he so far succeeded, as to get two persons to the watch-house. These were bailed out till morning, when they appeared to answer the charge made against them before the magistrate, Patrick Colquhoun, at the Police-office in Worship Street.
The constable represented the meeting as seditious; that we were preaching sedition, and that we had a picture, representing a “Jacobin” tramp1ing on the king and constitution. The device was hereupon handed up to the magistrate, with our rules and regulations; and an explanation took place, which soon showed that the constable had overstepped his duty. The tables were now turned; the prisoners were immediately dismissed from the bar, and the constable was rebuked for interfering where he had no business; he was informed that he should have come to the magistrate, to have apprized him of anything which appeared wrong, and he wou1d have been instructed in his duty; his improper conduct on the occasion fully justified the meeting in turning him out; but, said the worthy magistrate, (addressing himself to us), “I perceive the drift and intention of your meetings ; you are of the principles of’ Thomas Paine’ (or words to that effect), but I would have you be cautious how you proceed; Government has an eye on all your meetings, and when you get beyond certain bounds, we shall then lay our hands on you.”
The affair thus concluded, was quite a triumph for our Society: we afterwards met, as we conceived, under the sanction of magistracy; and, indeed, were never more interrupted: but our union did not continue long; writing lectures, for which nothing was to be obtained but empty praise, became a tedious performance; our meetings ceased to be a novelty, and as our visitors diminished, of course our zeal abated, and the thing was given up.
It was in this Society I learnt to appreciate the unsoundness of Deism, by the characters of many of its Members over whom, at this time, I shall draw a veil; but I began to think with the American, Franklin, (who, when young and inclined to that system, had experienced somewhat of the same effects in his associate) ‘that the doctrine of Deism, though it might be true, was not very useful;’ indeed, I could not, from what I knew of the practices of many of its members, but draw such a conclusion.
About the time when our Association was discontinued, an advertisement appeared in the newspapers, of a meeting for religious worship, to take place at a room in Fleet Street, near the end of Fetter Lane, The singularity of the advertisement, of which I forget the particulars, struck my attention; and, as I was somewhat like the Athenians of old, ever seeking after some new thing, I was determined to attend at the time appointed.
The meeting was convened by two persons, one of whom had been of the Society of Friends, but had seceded from it, under the impression that the Society did not sufficiently publish its own principles; the other had never been in that connexion, but was of similar sentiments with the first. The meeting was pretty numerously attended.
After one of these persons explained a little the nature of the meeting, they sat a considerable time silent, after the manner of Friends, when one of them rose and spoke rather at length, on the nature of spiritual worship, and of the abominable wickedness of the times, arising from false principles; explaining ythe principles of Christianity somewhat according to the views of Friends. Afterwards, his companion said a few words, I think in as solemn a manner as I ever heard. I was struck with both the manner and matter of the discourse so much, that I began to apprehend (particularly after the experience I had had of my former associates), there was something more important in the doctrines of Christianity, than as yet I had been led to believe. I attended at this meeting several times, and became acquainted with persons who had been the means of calling it together, and borrowed some books of them, chiefly the writings of William Law; one of which was his “Appeal to all who doubt or disbelieve the truths of the Gospel.”
It was this book, with some others of the same author’s writings, which quite confirmed me in the truths of Christianity, and showed to me, that the principles of Deism were wrong, even on rational grounds; and that the state of man required something more to collect the depravity which is everywhere so conspicuous, than anything that Deism could offer.
After this meeting was given up, I attended one afternoon, on the first day of the week, a meeting of the Society of Friends, in Houndsditch, at which was present a Minister of theirs from America, then on a religious visit to this country, by name, Thomas Scattergood ; a man esteemed not only in that Society, but also by many out of it, as eminently qualified for the service in which he was engaged. His discourse, after a space of silence, was upon Zaccheus’ being called down from the sycamore tree, on which he had climbed to see Christ pass by, On this subject he dwelt very forcibly for some time, on people’s exalting themselves to find out religion, getting into high imaginations and high reasonings, rambling on barren mountains; but the call, he observed, was “Zaccheus, make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house:” that our Lord was still calling down those that were elevated; that religion did not consist in high notions and refined speculations, but in humility and obedience to the Divine principle, [the Spirit of Truth]; and that with the humble and lowly mind, Christ takes up his abode.
From this time, I attended regularly the meetings of the Friends; and about two years after, was acknowledged by them as a member of their religious Society”
This is upwards of twenty years since, and I am more than ever convinced of the excellence of Gospel truth; and, having a family of ten children, I consider it an inestimable blessing that they are receiving the benefit of a Christim1 education, pointing out the path which leads safely through life, and conducts to a well-grounded hope in death*
What operated much in bringing me to the conclusion of uniting with the Society of Friends, in addition to the circumstance of my lot haying been cast amongst them in the manner above described, was their having no stipendiary ministers amongst them, and acknowledging no head in their Church but Christ, agreeable to the injunction, “Be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.”
It is proper to remark, that the following pages arc designed to set forth those generally-acknowledged principles of Christianity itself, which, in my view, are necessary for all to be acquainted with, let their name to religion be what it may; and in doing this, I may add, that I would combat no man’s opinion with any other weapons than those of persuasion and argument. I am still a warm friend to civil and religious liberty, and wish everyone to be fully satisfied in his own mind.
As a plain man, I shall endeavour at plain truths, and such truths I hope as will not be unworthy of regard. All I desire is, that they may be read with a serious and unprejudiced mind, that judgeth not superficially, or by parts only; nor with a mere disposition to criticise thereon; but that their inward sense and meaning may be regarded. If to seek after truth for its own sake were more generally attended to by many who call themselves Christians, as well as by Deists, it would prevent much of the misunderstanding and altercation which are at present so prevalent among mankind.
A weighty writer, in his introduction to a late tract offered to the consideration of Christians and Deists, has these words: – “I should reckon it a matter of great importance if I knew how to bespeak the serious attention of the reader to one of the greatest articles of the Christian religion, and of the greatest concern to himself.” This writer’s fear of inattention in his readers arose from the extreme levity of those whom he addressed: and I must confess that a like fear hath impressed my mind, because of that hardness of heart and lightness of mind which I have discovered in too many.
I shall, probably, be classed by sceptics and infidels among their lists of fools and fanatics for attempting to vindicate truths which, however they may be contemned by them, are not only important and essential in themselves, but will certainly, at some future period, be known even by them to be such. I have addressed this to all who profess to believe in a God, because the belief of an eternal God and the immortality of the soul, (two important truths generally admitted by Deists, and truths which cannot be easily separated from the mind,) are a sufficient foundation upon which to build this treatise.
There is a character to whom I have but little hope that anything that might be addressed to him will be of any avail he who has endeavoured to destroy in himself the groundwork of every serious thought and the foundation of religion-I mean the Atheist, whether avowed or disguised: nevertheless, believing that God, whose love is extended over all his works, is still striving inwardly with many who have denied him outwardly, I earnestly desire that such would no longer shut their hearts against him, but that they may be open for the reception of those secret convictions which may from time to time be impressed on their minds. “To-day, to-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” It is dangerous to trifle with Omnipotence. Deists, I admit, are not without some plea or excuse in their dissent from that which they call Christianity. Separated as they are from the different sects, they have seen the narrow principles of some, and the inconsistencies of others, as well as of those wars which stain the name of Christianity. But the causes of offence belong not to Christ or his religion; they originate in those lusts which he came to redeem us from; and however such as occasion them may assume his name, it is certain they are not yet come into the unity of that faith which enables us to overcome the world in all its deceptive and hurtful presentations. The time, I hope, will arrive when not only the contentions, envy, and intolerance which disgrace the profession of Christianity shall give place to the true spirit of the Gospel, which breathes peace on earth and good-will to men, but when it likewise shall be divested of those redundant and superstitious observances with which interested men, who make a gain of godliness, have encumbered it.
But in this little treatise my view is not so much to oppose or pull down error as to set up truth; not so much to oppose the Deist and his manner of reasoning as to point out and vindicate the truth of the Christian religion; by showing, with reference to the state of man, the importance and the necessity of the aid which it reveals, Yet, after all have said upon this subject, it must be considered but as an imperfect sketch: well assured I am, if the doctrine of Christianity could be fully displayed in all its bearings to the mind of the Deist, it would operate on his principles as light doth on darkness, It is not my intention to advance anything new, but, as said the Apostle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life ;”** that alone do I seek to establish a doctrine which may be felt and experienced within, as well as that it is written and declared of without, in the Scriptures of truth,
I am aware of one objection being made by the Deistical reader; he may say, “Why draw proofs from Scripture, which we do not admit? First prove the Scriptures to be the word of truth,”
I answer, I have adopted those Scripture expressions, which are in this work, from a conviction of their truth and importance and to reject them merely because they are Scripture would argue a narrow and prejudiced mind, I only wish them to bear their due weight. I appeal not so much to Scripture with regard to the Deist as to the evidence for truth in his own mind: if he will but, in an humble manner, search his own heart, I trust he will not only be convinced of the truth of what I have written, but also find a testimony for the truth of those Scriptures which he now so finch opposes; neither are they quoted so much for proof as for illustration of my subject; yet not without a hope that the force of these illustrations may tend to conviction. At the same time let it be observed, that I am not writing to Deists only, but also to those who may be considered as greater enemies to Christianity than even Deists themselves, being like Judas, who kissed, while he betrayed, his Lord I mean those nominal Christians who profess to believe, yea, venerate the Scriptures, but whose lives are in direct contrariety to the doctrines and precepts thereof.
*It is now more than twenty-five years since the foregoing narrative was penned, and the writer has lived long enough to see in measure those principles tested in part of his own family: the Almighty, in the ordering of his providence, having removed by death two of the above number, a daughter and a son, of whom a short but an interesting account has been given in two Articles of the Annual Monitor, published by Friends, for 1835 and 1838,
**1 John i.1
The identity of William, which Grimshaw line he descended from, where he lived, and other facts of his life are unknown. No biographical information is provided in the book, so the author remains a mystery.
At the end of the Preface of the copy of Principles reviewed for this webpage is the following handwritten notation, apparently by the author, on the number of copies printed in each edition. One is tempted to speculate if William intended to give away this “marked up” copy to his friend, Elihu Burrit!
1st Ed — printed 1803 | Total
2nd — D — 1815 | 6500
3rd — Do — 1820 |
4th present improved — very satisfactory sale
1Grimshaw, William, 1846, The Principles of Christianity Vindicated; by One Who Has Travelled the Labyrinths of Deism, and Could Not Find a Resting Place Therein, with a Brief Personal Narrative Prefixed, and an Appendix; Consisting Chiefly of Extracts from the Works of Eminent Writers on Religious Subjects: London, Charles Gilpin, 4th edition, enlarged, 207 p.
Webpage first posted November 2002, finalized June 2003