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Spencer Perceval, John Cennick, Frances Ridley Havergal, Thomas Charles

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
August 17, 2022

All history is inevitably selective. If it were not, every narrative would be glutted by a surfeit of information too voluminous to absorb. Local community history is one genre, perhaps, where an excess of bewildering detail is delivered to the reader. Salient facts have to be imparted with due stress on importance and significant consequences. It is a matter of reliable reportage and balanced treatment of repercussions.

No serious attempt at relating history can be entirely objective. Methods of historical enterprise vary from historian to historian as they steam and spit over their particular theory of lucidly recounting the facts and import of the enquiry into the past, criticizing rivals and each claiming that they hold the golden key to historical accuracy and orthodox interpretation. Reputation is the big reward in academic pursuit. Subjective bias cannot be avoided. In the course of professional debate pride may become pugnacious and deeply prejudiced.

In church history, as with everywhere else in viewing the past, it is the pre-eminent persons who attract the spotlight, and that, of course, is perfectly proper to a large degree. It is the grand movements in history that are chiefly "grandstanded" before an interested public. But there are less obvious figures, no less called and gifted by God, whose roles in the cause of Christ warrant our attention and appreciation. We cannot weigh the ultimate significance of any Christian life, for it is impossible for us to trace the line of beneficial influence from one person to another, or even many others. The office cleaner who reportedly nurtured Werner Von Braun to faith will never receive an earthly accolade. But she is crowned in heaven.

Humility is the garment of a useful historian. It is a quest for truth but not a tool for conceited self-display in creative embellishment and personally driven indoctrination. Playing with history for disingenuous ends is the craft of an errant mind. Christian biography has been littered with misrepresentation for the purpose of gain in the conduct of controversy. Good men have been vilified and evil rumors long survive. Refutation does not always succeed against evil insinuation.

Celebrity-ism features too much in religious circles, and we must always recognize that every advocate of Christian knowledge is a sinful wretch saved by sovereign grace alone - no merit considered or available.

Those who comprise the quartet to follow are by no means "non-entities" in the annals of history. By grace they are gifted and admirable servants of the Lord Jesus Christ to be loved and cherished among the successive generations of believers who become aware of them. It is not the case that they are forgotten, per se. Their lives have been recorded appreciatively, or else there could be no worthwhile comment about them, but it is salutary to remember them in the recognition of that which divine grace has wrought within them and through them. The saga of Mercy's flow through human lives can always be expanded, and what God can do in people of every kind and type is unfailingly encouraging.


The name Spencer Perceval pops out surprisingly to people's incomplete acquaintance with previous prime ministers of the British nations. His premiership was brief, very promising, performed intelligently, efficiently and with equal approval and opprobrium dependent on party allegiance.

Professionally, he had been a successful barrister who opted for a career in politics. He rose rapidly to the offices of Solicitor-General and Attorney-general. A skilled debater he caught the eye of Prime Minister William Pitt and when Pitt was to be involved in a duel, he singled out Perceval as his favored successor should such a substitute-person be necessary, the one best able to cope with Charles James Fox, spokesman and salty wit for the opposition in the parliamentary chamber.

Perceval was a devout and strong supporter of the Church of England as the constitutionally Established Church utterly necessary for the spiritual and moral wellbeing of the nation; a rampart against radicalism and religious decline. He was a pious and dedicated Anglican predominantly of the Evangelical wing and, at that time, adamantly opposed to Catholic Emancipation. Upright as a person, his family life was exemplary, happy and fruitful in a variety of ways (six sons and six daughters), and as husband and wife the Percevals were sincerely devoted.

As a believer Perceval maintained a profound interest in the prophecies of the Old Testament, and particularly those of the book of Daniel. He dutifully applied his studies of the prophets as guides to his own premiership and his particular understanding of providence in its course through history and even with possible relevance to his own time and policy decisions, a little too subjectively perhaps (see his publication To Point Out the Application of a Prophecy in the Eleventh Chapter of the Book of Daniel to the French Power, 1800, re Napoleon).

His Cambridge background possibly exposed him to the influence of leading Evangelicals such as Isaac Milner and Charles Simeon, but there is no definite evidence of this. He staunchly championed the wider propagation of the Church's Catechism and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion and adopted membership of the British and Foreign Bible Society with evangelistic and missionary intent wherein his principal concerns were for the knowledge of Scripture in Ireland and India. He ensured that military personnel and hospital patients should have access to a copy of the Holy Scriptures, he championed the education of the poor, and he strongly opposed the institution of slavery. It is noted that William Wilberforce, who new Perceval well as a gracious, godly and generous man of genuine prayer, was assured of the Prime Minister's salvation, indeed more so than any other person he knew.

His aims as Prime Minister and Christian spokesman were prematurely terminated by the deadly shot fired by a man accosting him in the lobby of parliament; John Bellingham, a distraught fanatic outraged, as he was, with the government over a personal issue of bankruptcy connected with national policy in Russia, assassinated the diligent national leader of great potential. It was a tragic incident for the good that Perceval might have performed for church and nation. Bishop Edward Stopford of Meath, thirty -two years after the senseless murder, wrote in 1844 to the Archbishop of Armagh, Lord John Beresford, commenting, "We never again can trust to any government manly to stand up for the Reformed Church in this country as Mr. Perceval did".

Our Prime Ministers since, excepting Gladstone, could never have conceivably entertained a similar solicitude in Britain's downward course of religious apathy, turning, as it was, to increasingly grave disobedience toward divine law. National leaders have uniformly contributed to the country's moral decline through unsavory and reckless policies in the dire abandonment of biblical wisdom, and some all but pressured the church to comply, especially in the sphere of sexual mores. Misgovernment is the story of modern Britain in a variety of ways. To ignore God is to be justly subjected to judicial blindness and folly.

To be continued....

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