Rev Samuel Walker (1714-1761)
Evangelical Pastor and Preacher
Samuel Walker hardly ever went outside his district and although he died early, he is a rare example of a vicar who followed the tenets of the Bible and not those of the Church. He left behind him a host of people who were walking in the light of God. John Wesley travelled the country time and time again trying to wake up the people to the truths of the Bible, but Walker laboured in the field assigned to him; if only more pastors had worked so effectively.
Walker was born in Exeter on December 16th, 1714. He was educated at home until he was eight; then for the next ten years at Exeter Grammar School. At eighteen he went to Exeter College, Oxford, where he studied logic with much success. Later in life he attributed this to his clear and methodical thinking. He was in Oxford at the same time as John Wesley. His College is very close to Lincoln College where Wesley was; so it is likely that they knew each other.
Walker appears to have always walked a virtuous life and one of integrity. He was tall and good-looking and he seems to have had a presence about him that attracted people. He was ordained in 1737, but in his own words his attitude was not right. “The week before ordination I spent with the other candidates, as dissolute I fear as myself, in a very light, indecent manner; dining, supping, drinking and laughing together, when God knows we should have been all on our knees, and warning each other to fear for our souls in view of what we were about to put our hands to.”
His first curacy was at Doddiscombsleigh, near Exeter which he held until August 1738. He was diligent in his work, but the opportunity to travel outweighed the attraction of his curacy, so he accepted the invitation of Lord Rolle to tutor his youngest brother while they travelled through France. While he was away he cultivated his skills in music and dancing and he became very proficient.
Two years later he returned to become the curate to his friend Nicholas Kendall in Lanlivery, Cornwall. His friend died in the spring of 1740 and Walker took over as vicar, holding that position until his friend’s nephew reached his twenty-first birthday. He worked very hard. He reproved, exhorted and watched over his flock; he preached, catechised and visited those in need. Walker did all he could, but as he did not know Jesus at this time, he did little good in bringing his people to a relationship with Christ.
In 1746 his friend’s nephew attained his majority and took over the parish, so Walker was out of a job. In July he was offered the curacy of St Mary’s (now the cathedral), Truro. His friend, St John Eliot, was the absentee Rector, and so he needed someone to take over his duties for him. So long as he was paid half the income from the parish he allowed Walker to do whatever he wanted. Walker was glad to accept a post in this populous city, a centre of fashion for Cornwall and full of festivities and amusements. During his first year at Truro his only ambition seemed to be that he might be in demand for his gaiety, admired for his eloquence and be where he could show off his dancing skills. He was a very knowledgeable preacher which made him very popular as people did not realise the importance of the lack of Holy Spirit in his renditions.
The half of the parish income that Walker was allowed to keep was not nearly enough to cover his living expenses, so he had to go from house to house in his parish to get a public subscription. This must have been a humbling experience; he dreaded the time each year when he had to go and “beg” for money.
The first idea that there was anything wrong was in a conversation with some parishioners on justifying and saving faith. Mr George Conon, being a friend of Walker and the head of Truro Grammar School, was instrumental in this. Conon was the first person he met who had the mind of Christ. They first became acquainted when Conan wrote to Walker, asking him to pay some money which he enclosed, to the customs house. This was to pay for duty on some French wines he had used for his health. He knew that the wines had been smuggled into the county and that no duty had been paid. Walker sought to meet this godly man and a close friendship developed that led to Walker becoming “born again.” It was due to several conversations with Conon that his eyes were slowly opened to the truth about Christ and the Bible. It took him quite a time to realise that he was a sinful man, probably because he had fewer vices than most. He finally realised that he must change, so he gave up going about with his companions and tried to deal with his “fear of man” and need for the “esteem of the worlds.”
Slowly repentance, faith and new birth became the subjects of his sermons, bringing opposition from his congregation. He suffered “hatred as an enthusiast, derision as a madman and the vehement opposition as the destroyer of harmless joys.” Walker observed that it seemed that every man was trying to persuade his neighbour to get involved with unchristian practices. The situation was no worse in Cornwall at that time than it was in the rest of England where there was a dreadful state of immorality and drunkenness. Society had sunk to a very low level and there are many comparisons with our own society today in 2007. However, opposition declined when they saw the change in his own character and heard his powerful sermons.
His first convert was at the end of 1748; a young man who was awakened by one of his striking sermons. He called him his “first dear child.” The example of this young man brought others to the Lord and his death, eighteen months later, was the means of many conversions. Those touched by Holy Spirit were so numerous that he had to hire two rooms to talk with them in private. Walker noticed a change in the town due to the death of this young man.
To begin with Walker devoted a few evenings each week, taking the enquirers singly or in twos and threes to instruct them on salvation, the devices of the enemy to get them back into the world and how to deal with the persecution that would inevitably follow. From the first he encouraged them to talk and pray with one another; stepping back himself so that they would not be intimidated by his presence; a very wise move. Unfortunately many went back into the world. Those who remained formed groups to carry on encouraging one another and pray together; much like home groups of today. As time went by some became more experienced and were able to help Walker in dealing with the enquirers.
He used his logical mind to think through the process and he produced guidelines on how to instruct anyone who inquired about salvation. “The first step is that he be brought to some sense of his guilt and being liable to the wrath of God without any refuge in himself.” Then he must be made to understand about the sin that we are born with and that we are by nature, proud, carnal and filthy in flesh and spirit. We naturally love this present world because it is so suited to our natural inclination, but God tells us to love Him and not the world. Man is so selfish (self is a great idol), the heart is naturally full of all manner of evil and we sin in our thoughts, words and deeds. Secondly, ‘the sinner, being brought to a due sense of his guilt, danger and helplessness, is fitted to hear and receive the promises which are now to be opened to him.” Principally he must find out from the Bible, through Holy Spirit, that Christ is sufficient for him. Then, having been persuaded of Christ’s sufficiency, he must be assured of Christ’s willingness to be his Saviour and be encouraged to ask Him. He must then be made to see that this is the only way to salvation and that God will forgive him. Thirdly, after conviction and faith follows repentance. Conversion and sanctification are the immediate fruits of faith in Jesus Christ. Due to space constraints I cannot write more on this subject, but I thoroughly recommend that you read one of the books mentioned below as they both set out Walker’s two ‘schemes of Private Instruction” in detail.
Conversion for Walker wasn’t just a sinner accepting Jesus as his Saviour; it was to do with a complete turning away from sin that would change the life of the convert forever. Throughout his ‘schemes” he warns the instructors of things they should look out for to make sure that the conversion is genuine. Nobody was allowed to take part in the Lord’s Supper until there was evidence of the practical effects on the lives of the new converts. He wrote his ‘schemes” from his own experience of conversion; he could detect hypocrisy and he had a gift of bringing people to a place where they could see themselves for who they really were.
This new work brought much opposition; something that always happens when the work of Christ is being successfully propagated. Some influential people persuaded the vicar to go to his curate and give him notice to quit. On arrival he was so charmed by Walker’s dignity, bearing and manner of speech, that he could not bring himself to fulfil the purpose of his visit and left in confusion. He was persuaded to go a second time to carry out the dismissal, but again retreated before mentioning the subject. When pressed to go a third time he replied, “You go and dismiss him if you can, I cannot. I feel in his presence as if he were a being of a superior order and I am so abashed that I am uneasy until I retire.”
Soon after arriving in Truro the trustees of his friend Kendall had appointed him as vicar to the parish of Talland where he had received permission to be non-resident so that he could receive some income without having to do any work for it. Clergymen holding more than one appointment were quite common in those days and often necessary, because the income of vicars was so poor. However, Walker’s conscience began to get the better of him and after prayer he decided to resign his preferment. This action had a significant effect on his finances, resulting in him having to move to much more humble lodgings. He later had four more offers of parishes, all of which he turned down. He would not leave his flock and he would not receive money for work he did not do.
He had the opportunity to marry a beautiful, accomplished and wealthy woman, but he told a friend, “You spoke to me lately of Miss--. I certainly never saw a woman whom I thought comparable to her and I believe I should enjoy as much happiness in union with her as it is possible to enjoy in this world. I have reason also to think she would not reject my suit. Still, it must never be, what would the world say of me? Would not they imagine that the hope of obtaining such a prize influenced my profession of religion? It is easy, they would say, to preach self-denial and heavenly mindedness; but has not the preacher taken care to get as much of this world’s good as he could possible obtain? Sir, it must never be. I can never suffer any temporal happiness or advantage to be a hindrance to my usefulness.” So he gave up the chance of love and financial security to serve his Master.
His holiness was the fruit of a constant and deeply spiritual communion with God. He was a man of prayer and once remarked that he was sometimes favoured in prayer with such rapturous views of the excellency of divine things that he almost enjoyed a foretaste of heaven.
So many came to the Lord that he could no longer give them the personal attention they required, so he formed societies. Walker had the same excellent gift of administration that John Wesley had. He writes that by 1754 around 800 had come to him to see what they must do to be saved (there were 1,600 people in Truro at this time), but although far the greater part fell away; there were still eighty people who needed his attention. He would gather together the weaker people in his house once a week and teach them until they were ready to go into one of the societies. Like his ‘schemes” Walker set out regulations for the Religious Societies. These Societies were much like those of Wesley, but they were based on prayer societies that had sprung up in London at the end of the previous century and which had been written about by Josiah Woodward. These Societies were very successful and spread to other parts of Cornwall and England. The purposes of the Societies were to “Glorify God, to quicken and confirm ourselves in faith and holiness, and to render us more useful among our neighbours.” They helped to ensure that individuals kept close to God and grew in their faith and usefulness. The rules of these Societies can be seen in great detail in the books mentioned below.
Walker wanted to see his fellow clerics strengthened and blessed, so to this end he formed a ‘Parson’s Club’ in 1755. There were not many Evangelical parsons in Cornwall so the members were few; starting with seven, they increased later to eleven. They came together once a month and took it in turns to host the day which was from 10.00am to 6.00pm. The idea was, ‘to consult upon the business of their calling which was done all along with so much freedom, love and unanimity that I am even astonished at the remembrance of it.” The Club was of real benefit to the members; although it was not without opposition. Some people claimed that they were Methodists; but this was untrue as they all were strong Churchmen. The opposition was so great for two of the members that they left the group. In addition to this four died and two moved away to distant places. This club was not unique; Richard Baxter of Kidderminster had successfully brought the local clergy together a hundred years earlier. The success of the ‘Parson’s Club’ brought about similar clubs starting in other parts of England. Apart from Walker; Thomas Michell of Veryan and John Penrose of Penryn were known to be members. The remainder is unknown; but it is likely that Walker’s brother James, Samuel Cooper of Cubert and James Vowler and William Philip of St Agnes (both of whom died very young) were members.
An example of fruit from the meetings comes from Walker. ‘”The Lord is still with us and whatsoever we take in hand, He makes it prosper. Great things is He doing in a neighbouring town which I heartily praise Him for. Their worthy minister, a member of our club, speaks the truth boldly, nor is dismayed by the strife of tongues. Numbers flock together, as to hear him, so to converse and pray together in a house hired for that purpose. There is of them by this time a considerable number of names, and of such as hold forth the word of life in their conversion. Through much evil report we all gain ground; and I suppose there are not less than ten thousand to whom we preach the gospel, one and another of us.” With so few evangelicals in the area and with so much opposition, joining together in this way was necessary to encourage one another and to support each other.
Walker was a great advocate of catechizing the young people; that is instructing them by means of questions and answers. He was convinced that this was vital for the young people to grow up in the ways of the Lord and was distressed that the custom had been largely given up by the rest of the Church of England. He writes that this “more than by any other thing, the kingdom of darkness and sin was established in England.” The young people of Truro were divided into three classes; the under twelves, twelve to fifteen year olds and those between fifteen and twenty. They were taught in private and then catechised in the church, after the service, sometimes in front of five hundred people. Walker would then give them a short talk and dismiss them. In this way he made sure that the parents were instructed at the same time. He found this an extremely effective exercise.
Walker’s week was very full. In addition to his Sunday morning sermon he sometimes preached during the week, in summer he gave a lecture every Thursday, did prayers on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the winter quarter he spoke on the Sermon on the Mount each Sunday evening. He gave a lecture each Monday to the Societies; his rooms were open for private advice every day except Saturday, which was set aside for prayer and the preparation of his Sunday sermon. Add to this the many letters he wrote, visiting the sick, burials, baptisms and helping friends; he was not left with much free time and in time his health suffered because of it.
John Wesley by this time had visited the county many times. He was an Evangelical Church of England minister, the same as Walker, but he was an itinerant minister who wanted to stir up the church in England. Unfortunately, the vast majority of ministers were ignorant or antagonistic towards the teaching about salvation, so strongly opposed the teaching of Wesley. Whereas nobody could touch Walker because he was entitled to teach what he wanted in his own parish and he never taught outside the parish without the permission of the local vicar; Wesley was always preaching in other people’s parishes and normally the church was closed to him. In order to help people grow in the truths of the Gospel, he too formed societies; however, at the same time he encouraged people to keep going to the parish church regularly. Many years later, after Wesley’s death, these societies joined together to form the Methodist church and they split from the Church of England.
Due to his preaching outside the church buildings and teaching things that the local ministers did not agree with; Wesley was forever accused of schism, something that Walker was very concerned about. Walker was a much respected minister whose views were noted in church circles and he had some very definite views about Wesley and Methodism (as his teaching became known). There was no question that many people had been converted in Cornwall through the teaching of Wesley and his leaders and many continued to live useful Christian lives as a result. However, there were three main problems that concerned him; some erroneous doctrines, the desire of some leaders to get Wesley to separate from the Church of England and the existence of Methodist lay preachers. Walker could not agree with Wesley “on the definition of faith and way of coming at assurance which follows from it …they have thought believing to be feeling and faith by them hath been placed in the affections instead of in the heart.” Walker also disagreed with Wesley on Sanctification, believing it to be an ongoing work rather than an act of faith that immediately cleansed the soul from all sin.
Separation from the Established Church was a real issue at this time with Wesley being pressed by some of his leaders to make the break. Walker was in regular correspondence with Wesley on this matter, setting out clearly, with his usual thoroughness, the matters that were in question. Wesley seems to have respected and appreciated the correspondence with Walker. He finally came to the same view as Walker that there would be more harm than good in separation and it was not until after his death that the break finally came.
Walker also did not like the itinerant preachers who went around Cornwall preaching in any parish they saw fit. As mentioned already ministers did not like people invading their parishes, it was a breach of Church order. Walker wanted “As many of your preachers as are fit for it might be ordained and that the others might be fixed to certain societies and that in my judgement, as inspectors and readers, rather than preachers.” He saw the itinerant preachers as being a church within a church and therefore unacceptable. He was also concerned that many of them were not knowledgeable enough for the work they were trying to do. Walker was particularly concerned about Methodist Societies being in Evangelical parishes; he wanted these societies to be handed over to the vicar. Wesley never set foot in Walker’s parish as he knew Walker was doing a fine job, but there was interference in other parishes run by good evangelical ministers. Wesley never agreed to Walker’s suggestions on itinerant preachers. It is understandable that Wesley wanted to hold on to his preachers as the quality of vicars was so poor. He needed good people to look after the new converts, but it was inevitable that they would cause a rift in the Church. He also did not accept Walker’s suggestion that “Methodist societies formed in Evangelical parishes should be handed over to the care of these enlightened incumbents.” We do not seem to know why Wesley did not accept this suggestion, but it is my belief that Wesley knew very well that an enlightened incumbent today could be dead or move away tomorrow and what would become of his people then? (These three points are dealt with fully in the books mentioned below)
From this point Walker and Wesley agreed to disagree and went off in their separate directions, while still retaining respect for one another. Wesley said “Gladly could I embrace my dear brother…but I am content to let him work. I will pray for him wherever I go, and for the success of that work the Lord is making him an instrument to carry on.”
As mentioned above, virtually every minute of Walker’s day was taken up with some ministerial duty. As early as October 1755 he was writing to his friend Thomas Adam that, “What I go through seems evidently to be hastening my end, though there be no immediate danger.” This is a common problem with successful ministers, even these days. There can be no greater joy than seeing fruit from one’s ministry and seeing the power of God manifest in the people you are responsible for. One definitely gets a “buzz” and one tends to be driven forward, but is this godly? Today one could criticise him for not training people to take over his work; delegation being the hallmark of a good leader. In the eighteenth century the vicar was considered to be all knowing and all powerful (in some places he still is); it would have been fairly difficult to hand work over to a non- ordained person. Unfortunately, due to his financial position, he could not afford to employ a curate to help him. With hindsight, it would have been better if he had gone off somewhere for a considerable rest; he could have come back refreshed and then he might not have died at such an early age. Again in hindsight this would have been much better for his congregation, as his successor managed to undo most of the good work he had done.
In November a new challenge arrived; three companies of soldiers were posted to Truro for the winter. Walker prepared special services for them, but at first few came because, although they were brought to church by their officers, most of them sloped off without entering the building. However, members of the congregation waited for them outside and persuaded some to come in. Within three weeks one hundred came to Walker’s house asking how they should be saved. Nearly all of them were touched in a powerful way, many openly crying and admitting their sinfulness. Although many never carried it through, there was a marked change in the band of men as swearing and military punishments declined noticeably. He formed a special Soldiers Society for the twenty who pressed on, and he noted that thirteen of the twenty had no knowledge of Christian matters at all; a dreadful reflection of the state of the nation at that time. The captain forbade any soldier from going to Walker for private instruction, but over time 250 disobeyed the order. On their leaving, the officers thanked him for the reformation he had produced in their behaviour. Their leaving was a very emotional event and many were thankful to God for having them posted to Truro for those few weeks. Another group arrived on the day the first group left and Walker laboured with them as well during the three months of their stay. All this work only made his health worse.
Although there was a lot of fruit in his ministry, Walker was still discouraged by the quarter of the town that never came to church and for the many that did not take matters seriously. He needed a break, so he travelled up north to see his friend and confident Thomas Adam. He left in October 1757, was away for about seven weeks and came back somewhat refreshed.
In July 1758 James Vowler, Walker’s friend and fellow evangelical, died. He was curate at St Agnes; Walker was with him as he died and gave the address at the funeral which was attended by many as Vowler was much loved. It would not be very long before Walker followed his friend. His heavy workload was wearing his body out. He considered taking a rest, but some encouraged him to keep going. On April 27th, 1760 Walker preached his last sermon to the people he loved. His final words were to the unsaved, telling them how worried he was for them when it came time for them to stand before the Judgement seat. He warned them of what they were facing if they did not come to Christ. This was a fitting end to his ministry; expressing concern for the people he loved. Soon after this he was attacked by a violent fever and did not go out for several weeks. Lord Dartmouth in a letter to a friend of Walker’s expressed great concern for ‘that holy man of God, our valuable friend.” By August he was advised to go to Bristol’s hot wells. He realised that he would have to leave his flock in order to regain his strength, because while in Truro he could not refrain from working for them.
The letter he wrote to his congregation from Bristol in September expresses his feelings for them. “What a blessing, comfort and refreshment the thought of you has been to my soul…you are so near to my heart, my comfort and happiness having so much dependence upon you, it is impossible that I should either forget you or forbear to pray and praise God for you.” Wesley visited him while he was in Bristol and wrote in his diary “I had the pleasure of spending a little time with that venerable man, Mr Walker of Truro. I fear his physicians do not understand his case. If he recovers, it must be through an almighty Physician.” Because he was not really getting any better, he was advised to go to London for the drier air. So in December he went to stay with Lord Dartmouth in Blackheath. The best doctors attended him there and he got a little better, but was unable to eat very much. He was suffering from Pulmonary Consumption, a disease that attacked the lungs. He received wonderful care from his host and hostess and the doctors refused to take any money for their services. All who visited him were struck by his dignity and peaceful resignation.
By the summer of 1761 it was clear that Walker was not going to recover from his sickness. On July 19th at the age of 47, he died and was buried in the churchyard in Lewisham, Kent. Lord Dartmouth wrote to a friend “As his suffering increased, his faith and patience increased also. Indeed, as the outward man decayed, the inward man appeared to be renewed and strengthened day by day.” A good friend, George Burnett said ‘thus was this faithful servant of Christ to the full as eminent and remarkable in death, as he had been in his life – a witness of truth and faithfulness of the Lord our God.”
As can be the way in the Church of England, Walker’s successor at Truro having nothing in common with him, largely destroyed the wonderful work of his predecessor. This new man said “My pulpit so stinks of Calvinism that not a century will purge it.” After several years of putting up with inferior teaching, about forty of Walker’s congregation set up their own church in 1769. The remainder of his congregation continued to meet as a society, but they would not leave the Church of England. Eventually, they moved to the Truro theatre that had been bought by Lady Huntingdon and turned into a chapel. The creation of two independent churches by his beloved congregation would have deeply saddened Walker; but perhaps his view of the Church of England of that time was a little rose coloured. On reflection, I hope he would have realised that it was better for his dear people to have spiritual life in an independent church than spiritual death under his successor.
Walker was a wonderful example of what a Church of England minister could be, but sadly there were very few like him in Eighteenth century England. He was intelligent, well read, a man of great presence, a very good teacher and preacher, a man who constantly sought a closer relationship with God, he loved and cared for his flock, he had considerable wisdom and was much respected by his peers. He was a humble man, a man of prayer - he was a good man.
The great majority of what I have written above comes from ‘the Life and Ministry of the Rev Samuel Walker B.A.” by Edwin Sidney, published in 1838. I have made a few small quotes from “A Cornish Revival, the life and times of Samuel Walker of Truro” by Tim Shenton, published by the Evangelical Press 2003. This book is itself largely drawn from Sidney’s work but has some additional information as well.