Faithfulness Throughout the Generations

I’ve heard the name of Henry Venn before, but the specifics of his ministry had not remained with me. Reading this account from the Christian History daily e-mail showcased his faithfulness through various trials. However, the one thing that stood out the most was how his influence affected his children and then continued on through his children and great-grandchildren. There are too few examples of this kind of faithfulness throughout the generations in a family.

If Beethoven is the poster child for unexpected results, Henry Venn could stand for the predictable. His great-great grandfather William Venn became a Protestant clergyman during the Reformation. William’s son Richard was dispossessed of his church position by Parliament because he favored the king during the English civil war. Richard’s son Dennis and grandson Richard (father of Henry Venn) were both pastors in the Church of England. 

Henry Venn was born at Barnes in Surrey on this day 2 March 1724. Even as a boy, he was passionate about Christianity, refusing the friendly overtures of a minister who was reputed to deny the divinity of Christ, saying, “I will not come near you! for you are an Arian.” 

Not surprisingly, he followed in family tradition and entered the ministry. Whereas the ministry was merely a living for many clergymen who frittered their time in gaming and fox hunting, Venn’s strong sense of duty caused him to even give up cricket, which he loved. He became one of the pioneering evangelical preachers of England around the same time that Whitefield and Wesley began to preach. However, fellow clergymen attacked him vehemently. 

When he was thirty-five, Venn left an appointment at Clapham, where he was experiencing little success, to accept a position at Huddersfield—a position with much greater duties for the same pay. His wife balked at the move initially but changed her mind when she saw a throng of souls saved in the new parish. The Huddersfield church, almost empty before Venn began work, soon could not hold the crowds who came to hear his exhortations. He exerted himself so strenuously that his health failed completely. In part this was because, after the death of his wife, he had to rear his five children alone. 

Spitting blood and expecting to die soon, Venn resigned from his pulpit twelve years after coming to Huddersfield and became a rector at the small country parish of Yelling. There his health rebounded. He was able to write books and many letters and to share the gospel in friendly pulpits on the side. He also counseled young men who were attending college at Cambridge. 

Venn educated his children at home. Their lessons could be unusual. For example, after promising to show his children one of the most interesting sights in the world, he led them to a squalid hut where a young man was dying in poverty and misery. The young man’s face and voice were aglow with joy, however, at the near prospect of meeting Christ face to face. 

The family tradition of ministry continued long after Henry Venn died. Remembering the unique lessons of his father, John Venn became a prominent evangelical in the Church of England. Henry Venn’s grandson, also named Henry, became a missionary-statesman in the Church of England, who argued for giving native converts leadership of their own churches. A great-grandson, Charles John Elliot, also became an evangelical clergyman. Charlotte Elliot, author of the hymn “Just As I Am,” was Venn’s granddaughter.

May we be inspired today by the heritage of a faithful family such as this.