Book Review: “A Spirit Taught Shoemaker” – Memoir and Letters of James Abbott

A Spirit-taught Shoemaker: Memoir and Letters of James Abbott –
Edited by Henry Sant;

Hardback book with dust jacket;

391 pages;

Price £19.95 plus postage; Published by The Huntingtonian Press, and obtainable from 72A Upper Northam Road, Hedge End, Southampton, SO30 4EB.

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James Abbott was one of the godly hearers of William Huntington who, on the death of their pastor in 1813, met for worship at Eshcol Chapel, Great Titchfield Street, London under the pastorate of Joseph Burrell. James Abbott acted as clerk, both giving out the hymns and leading the singing.

By trade he was a shoemaker, and though without the advantages of education, yet he was favoured with the gracious teaching of the Holy Spirit, and his writings show him as a humble, deeply-taught disciple of the Lord Jesus. Extracts from some of his letters have occasionally been published in magazines, but an extensive manuscript book of his writings, and especially his letters, has never previously been published, and it is from this manuscript, now in the Gospel Standard Library, that most of the material in this book has come.

If one were to judge this book in the normal way, it would not rate very highly. There is very little detail known about the life of James Abbott and nothing of consequence which would excite interest. Of his spiritual experience, what is known is patchy and with very little of his earlier life and call by grace. Indeed, the book is a collection of often unconnected pieces. Yet in these there are some most gracious writings of James Abbott which reveal how God is often pleased to use the weak things of the world to confound the wise. His comments on “Brotherly Love” and the right use of the law are particularly good and well-balanced. But it seems he was graciously helped in being a spiritual interpreter to others deeply perplexed and sorrowful under the mysterious dealings of God with them, perhaps especially to Henrietta and Bernard Gilpin at Hertford and others associated with them. Though in the class distinction so evident in Victorian society they were very different, yet they were bound together in love, and James Abbott was highly esteemed for his godly simplicity and the gravity of his writings, and especially his letters. Indeed, the way his letters were treasured and copied is evidence of the blessing which attended them. Sometimes he felt his correspondents looked up to him too much, but he was ever faithful in pointing them to the only place where they would find rest – in Christ alone. One scripture seemed to us to describe the bond between James Abbott and those who so highly esteemed him: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).

There are many among those who profess the truth who would find little to attract them in this book. We trust also there will be a few who will know and value the truth that James Abbott contended for and find the same blessing of the Lord in his writings that his correspondents did.

John A. Kingham, Luton

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