The Conversion of Grimshaw

The young Anglican curate William Grimshaw, a graduate of Cambridge, was unconverted, though in the ministry. Faith Cook, in William Grimshaw of Haworth narrates God’s gracious change of this man into a faithful servant of Christ (abridged here):

“…two incidents occurred at this time, both designed to lead the curate… out of his spiritual darkness. The first showed Grimshaw where his thinking was leading him astray. An itinerant preacher often passed that way and frequently rebuked Grimshaw for his legalistic views of salvation. ‘Mr. Grimshaw he would say, ‘you are a Jew. You are no believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are building on the sand.’ In vain Grimshaw tried to avoid the itinerant with his unwelcome message; but even if he succeeded the words rang again and again in his mind: ‘You are building on the sand, Mr. Grimshaw… you are building on the sand.’ Grimshaw became increasingly apprehensive of meeting the faithful man. …when Mr. Grimshaw attempted to shun his company he would in affectionate manner lay hold of him and drop some word of Scripture for his conviction.’

The second incident occurred early in 1751 as Grimshaw was visiting a friend. Lying on a table in his friend’s room was a book which attracted his attention and finding it was a theological work, he picked it up with quickened interest and crossed the room with it. He stood facing a small shelf of pewter dishes and there examined the book, which he discovered to be written by the Puritan divine, John Owen… Turning again to the volume he now held, he opened it at the title pace and read, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith… Owen’s preface quickly showed Grimshaw that the book was directed to those who were in the very distress he found himself. Even the contents page confirmed this conviction as Owen set forth the purpose of his treatise, pointing out the need of a ‘due sense of our apostasy from God, the depravation of our nature thereby, with the guilt and power of sin, and the holiness of the law necessary to a right understanding of the doctrine of justification.’ Grimshaw readily assented to all this, having learned these lessons in his own experience. As he read on he discovered that his experiences were not unique…

Light began to filter into his mind. He turned from section to section until he came to the crucial matter, possibly the crux of his problem. It was Owen’s teaching on the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ — a doctrine which was to form the bedrock of Grimshaw’s thinking for the rest of his life. With scriptural illustration from the Mosaic law concerning the ‘scapegoat’ which, bearing a man’s unrighteous deeds, was turned into the wilderness, backed up and elucidated by New Testament teaching, Owen showed that the justified man no longer seeks by his own efforts to please God but is counted by God as possessing the obedience and righteousness of Christ apart from any merit of his own.

Then Owen confronted his reader with a crucial question: ‘whether he will trust unto his own personal inherent righteousness or, in a full renunciation of it, betake himself unto the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ alone.’ The choice for Grimshaw was now obvious. ‘He saw his need of a Saviour and the freeness, fulness and suitableness of his grace and merits and embraced him in both his arms.’ Describing the spiritual transaction that took place at this time, Grimshaw told his friend Henry Venn nearly twenty years later:

I was now willing to renounce myself, every degree of fancied merit and ability, and to embrace Christ only for my all in all. O what light and comfort did I now enjoy in my own soul, and what a taste of the pardoning love of God!

Joy and relief swept over him like a flood — ‘heaven in the soul was his description of those days. The Bible became full of fresh meaning…”

Grimshaw’s life and ministry were radically transformed. To read more of this great story of God’s grace, check out Faith Cook’s William Grimshaw of Haworth.