Book Review: Mercies of a Covenant God – By John Warburton

Mercies of a Covenant God, by John Warburton;

Hardback; 255 pages;

Published by Gospel Standard Trust Publications.

The subject of this remarkable autobiography needs no introduction or commendation from our feeble pen, for his name and this gracious account of the Lord’s dealings with him have become familiar with us and, we believe, exceedingly endeared to those who desire to know that same covenant God, and to experience in a little measure that teaching with which he was so wonderfully favoured.

Speaking for ourselves, this was the first book of a spiritual nature which we remember reading, and we hope never to lose the conviction it wrought, both of the existence of that God, and of the fact that He has a people with whom He condescends to have such gracious dealings as are recorded in this volume.

Old John Warburton lived in a time when the Lord was pleased to grant a remarkable reviving among the Particular Baptists, and this was effected, not through ministers trained in theological colleges, but by means of men brought up in extreme poverty and with very little natural education.

While we would not despise natural learning nor proper training where this is kept in due subservience to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, but rather often bemoan the lack of it in the ministry to-day, it may be that at the time we are considering, too much reliance had come to be placed upon natural learning, and the Lord would show that the Holy Spirit alone can make a true minister of the gospel; and this He did by enduing men of humble extraction with much of the Spirit, whereby they were led into the truth and granted those abilities which constituted them good ministers of Jesus Christ.

Among these at this time were William Gadsby, John Warburton, and John Kershaw, through whose ministry many were brought to a saving knowledge of the truth, and churches were established in several places on Strict Baptist principles.

Gadsby especially was honoured as an instrument in bringing about this revival, which has perhaps been much overlooked in the religious history of our land. Besides his ministry to his own flock at Manchester and to many surrounding Causes at Rochdale, Bolton, Oldham, Bury, etc., he made preaching tours in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Cheshire and was the means of establishing forty different chapels in these counties, so that Philpot calls him the “great apostle of the North”.

Warburton had been baptized by Gadsby and was at first settled as pastor at Rochdale; but his ministry was to be mainly exercised in the South, and the Lord removed him to Trowbridge, where he remained the Pastor at Zion Chapel for forty-two years.

In his Mercies of a Covenant God he describes in his own graphic, and yet simple and honest way, the wonderful dealings of God with him, both in providence and grace; for besides a deep law-work and a remarkable gospel deliverance, with the exercises of the ministry, he was the subject of much poverty and temporal affliction, which all go to make up the interesting record he has given us in this book.

The first edition was published in 1838. Apparently John Gadsby, then in the printing business, regarded the manuscript as likely to have a good circulation among the Lord’s people, and had persuaded Warburton to let him have it to print. He made a mistake however in handing it over to a schoolmaster to correct, who might have spoilt the book, had it not been passed on to Philpot to revise. The latter tells us what work he had to restore the original homely language in which it had been written.

He says:

“I find Warburton’s manuscript will cost me a great deal of labour. Mr. J. Gadsby put it into the hands of a schoolmaster to copy and correct the bad grammar, but he has sewed so much gold fringe upon John’s plain cloth, that my present employment is to rip it all off. He has altered John’s plain straightforward language and made him talk like a schoolmaster, so that my present tedious task is to compare the two copies line by line and word by word, and restore the original language.”
(The Seceders, Volume 1, page 324)

How long it was before the first edition was exhausted we do not know, but by 1859 we find a “Fourth Edition” being published (see The Seceders, Volume 1, page 110). Since then there have been many other editions published in the years 1878, 1896, 1925, and 1940 and onwards.

Who would have thought certainly not honest John himself, that his own plain and simple record would have run to eight editions, and still be in considerable demand over 100 years later?

The contents of the book are of a priceless nature, especially for the benefit of the younger generation, who will have little knowledge of John Warburton and his times beyond that contained within the covers of this wonderful book.

Adapated from a review written in the Gospel Standard magazine in 1965 – By S.F. Paul

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