Surrey beat All England at cricket.
match, one of the members of the winning team threw down his bat, exclaiming:
“Whoever wants a bat which has done me good service, may take that; as I have
no further occasion for it.”
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said Henry Venn, “I am to be ordained on Sunday, and I will never have it said
of me, ‘Well struck, Parson!’”
generation might have regretted that a future parson felt it necessary to give
up his cricket, but this was the 18th, not the 19th, century; sport, whether on
the cricket pitch or the croquet lawn, did not then sit easily with serious
Even so, it
would be wrong to think that Venn was a dull fellow. He was known at
as “a never failing fund of high spirits and natural
engaging smile lay a consciousness of sin and a thirst for salvation. A reading
of William Law’s classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
convinced him of his need for a rule of life.
He kept set
times of prayer and meditation; read the Bible daily; kept a diary to record
his spiritual progress; and he fasted. Every evening as the clock struck nine,
he made a solitary perambulation of the great court at Trinity, using the
chimes to recall thoughts of death and judgement, heaven and hell.
Yet he felt
there was something missing. His search for personal holiness brought him no
joy, only remorse at his failure. Then he experienced a second conversion. He
saw that it was only Christ’s mercy that could liberate him, not his own
endeavour. By the time he went to
Huddersfield, his preaching was all of
“the unsearchable riches of Christ”.
later, when his grandson — also called Henry — revisited
searched out those who could remember. “He was such a preacher as I never heard
before or since,” said one old man. “He struck upon the passions like no other
man.” No one who heard him was unaffected. “They fell, like slaked lime, in a
It was not
by any means all hell-fire and damnation. “He had a stern look that would make
you tremble,” said another old man; “then he would turn off to offers of grace,
and begin to smile, and go on entreating till his eyes filled with tears.”
became known that he was retiring from
Huddersfield, people flocked from the
surrounding villages to get a last glimpse of their parson. Mothers held up
their children to look and to remember: “There is the man who has been our
faithful minister and our best friend,” they said.
As a young
curate in Surrey
, Venn had been accused of “enthusiasm” by some of the local
clergy. One of them — a hard-drinking hunting parson — had come to his defence.
“Hush! I feel a great respect for men as Venn, and wish there were more of the
kind. They are the salt of our order, and keep it from putrefaction. . . A few
of these pious ones redeem our credit, and save for us our livings.”
The Revd Adrian Leak is Hon. Assistant Curate of Worplesdon.
Henry Venn 1725-97