Most people encounter William Gadsby through singing the small number of his hymns that are still in general use. In Strict Baptist circles his name continues to be held in high esteem for his work as a preacher, for his hymn book, and as founder of the Gospel Standardmagazine.
Although Gadsby is perhaps not so well known as many others of his time, Ian Shaw reveals him to be a unique but clear, earnest preacher who had the gospel at the centre of all he did. His ministry was shaped by his own poverty as a child, and he was able to touch people of all social backgrounds, preaching and ministering extensively to those both inside and outside the church. Yet his desire above all was to point people to Christ and he humbly did that, earning him the apt title of ‘The Apostle of the North’.
William Gadsby’s name is greeted with fear by some, indifference by many, veneration by a handful, and ignorance by most. 160 years after his death, when those churches who still love this theology and hymns are so few, it’s high time that the wider church learns the incredible story of this godly man, and learns the lessons of his Christ–exalting life. Ian Shaw knows his subject well (some will appreciate his excellent ‘High Calvinists in Action’, OUP, 2003). In under 150 small pages Shaw tells Gadsby’s story, from his poverty and conversion, through his attempts at learning to read and first sermons, then through the forty years’ ministry in Manchester. He was marked by a deep concern for the urban poor he served, and a fervent conviction that the Word of God must rule every area of life, including the rights of workers and the conscience of the nation. Whether preaching, visiting, assisting in church planting or speaking at political meetings, we meet Gadsby the man of action, whose faith and courage were equal to the tasks God gave Him. Most moving are the scenes we glimpse of Gadsby’s astonishing generosity, giving often beyond his needs to help others in crisis. And twenty five years of his ministry were conducted whilst nursing his wife who suffered with acute mental ill–health. Ian Shaw’s biography is alive to Gadsby’s imperfections, and an excellent chapter closes the book, assessing what can be learned and what left aside from this great man of God. Highly recommended.
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