John Venn (1759–1813AD)

Rev. John Venn

Rector of Clapham from 1792–1813AD, Church of England.

Extract from the Preface of “Venn’s Sermons,” in 3 vols.,  3rd edition, 1818AD.

The Rev. JOHN VENN was born at Clapham, on the 9th of March, 1759. He was descended from a long line of clerical ancestors; some of whom were remarkable for independence of character, and some for patience in suffering. So far as any knowledge of them is preserved, they appear to have lived in the fear of God, and to have been elevated far above the fear of man. Their profession was sacred; their lines reflected credit upon their profession; and their respected descendant has added new lustre to their fair and honourable name.

His father was the Rev. Henry Venn, well known as a most zealous and indefatigable minister of the Church of England, and as the author of that very useful and popular work The Complete Duty of Man. At the time of his son’s birth he was curate of Clapham. He removed afterwards to Huddersfield in Yorkshire, where his labours were abundantly blessed; and he died vicar of Yelling, in Huntingdonshire, on the 24th of June, 1797. . . . . .

It would be a pleasing task to enter, at large, into the history of Mr. Venn’s labours, and to develop the full character of his elevated, discriminating, and pious mind: but, for the reason already assigned, the Editors will do little more than cite the testimony of two clergymen; of whom the one was the companion of his early life, and the other was intimately connected with him at a time when his mental powers were in their full action and energy, and when, to the zeal and piety which characterized his youth, was superadded the wisdom of maturer years.—“Mr. Venn,” says the first of these gentlemen, “I consider to have been the oldest friend I had among my equals. Long before either of us went to college we were intimate, being children of parents betwixt whom there existed the most cordial and Christian friendship. After a separation of some years, he came into residence, at college, a few months before I took my degree. But as I continued to reside in Cambridge, our intimacy was renewed and increased; and he then discovered that warmth of affection, and that soundness of judgment and principle, which gained him the esteem and love of all who knew him. Through his influence were first formed those little societies of religious young men, which proved, I believe, a help and comfort to many. At various times, after Mr. Venn’s institution to the living of Little Dunham, I visited him, and witnessed his able, affectionate, and zealous manner of addressing his people. In 1792, he established the Dunham Meeting of Clergy, which has continued to this time: it has proved a blessing to that district, and has led, I believe, to the establishment of another, on similar principles, in another part of Norfolk. At the period of his removal from Dunham, his modesty and disinterestedness were eminently conspicuous; and his friendship to me at that time I shall ever have cause to remember with lively gratitude.

“As a father of a family I have always admired Mr. Venn; and I hardly ever visited Clapham without being impressed with a conviction that the blessing of Heaven was upon him and his. Nowhere did religion appear in a more engaging form; and the impression which both his life and death must have made upon his children and all his friends, could not fail to convince them that ‘the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’”

Our second extract is from a sermon by the Rev. Hugh Pearson, M.A. of St. John’s College, Oxford, preached in the Parish Church of Clapham, on the occasion of Mr. Venn’s death.

“We are met,” says Mr. Pearson, “this day to deplore the loss of one of the best and greatest men, of one of the most eminent and useful ministers, whom we have ever known. The all-wise and gracious, though, as in many other instances, mysterious providence of God has been pleased to remove him from us; and painful and difficult as it may in some respects prove, it is our duty, and I trust it will be our endeavour, humbly to submit to the dispensation, and diligently to profit by the various lessons of instruction which it so loudly speaks to us. Known as your late excellent Pastor must be to most of you by the intercourse and experience of more than twenty years, you will still doubtless expect from me, on this mournful occasion, some notice of his cha­racter, some mention of his virtues. Yet if, in the performance of this grateful service, I should appear, in any measure, to violate that unaffected modesty, that deep humility, which distinguished and adorned his character, and which expressly and earnestly sought to prevent any adequate tribute to his merits, let it not be ascribed to any forgetfulness of this excellence, or to any opposition to his known wishes; but to the influence of emotions which cannot and ought not to be repressed, of claims which cannot be resisted, of obligations alike owing to the great and glorious Being who made him what he was, and to the grateful and affectionate people who esteemed and valued him as he deserved. In truth, 

It were profane

To quench a glory lighted at the skies,

And cast in shadows his illustrious close.

“In delineating the character of our revered friend, it is far from my intention to attempt anything elaborate or complete; the pressure, no less of time than of feeling, forbids the one; my own real inability, and my regard to what would have been the wishes of him whom we lament, would prevent the other. My only aim will be, to offer such a brief sketch of a few of the most prominent and valuable features of his character, as may tend to excite our admiration of the graces which were vouchsafed to him, and our sense of responsibility for the long-continued exercise of them for our own benefit.

“The Christian Minister, whose premature removal (if the expression may be allowed as to any dispensation of Divine Providence) we are this day met to deplore, was adorned by nature with a sound and power­ful understanding, with a rich and fertile imagination, with a correct and discriminating judgment, with a temper uncommonly mild and gentle, with affections peculiarly benevolent and tender. Cultivated, enriched, and exalted as these natural endowments were by the stores of learning, observation, and science, and by ‘the wisdom’ and the grace which are ‘from above,’ they united in forming him to all that is most excellent and desirable in the Minister and the Man.

“As a MINISTER, need I in this place enumerate the principal qualities by which he was distinguished? If it be necessary to specify some of them, I would first mention that of which alone he would allow himself to be possessed; his fidelity in the interpretation and exposition of Scripture; his integrity in preaching that Word of God which had been committed to his trust, that Gospel of Christ of which he was a Minister. In the execution of this most important part of his ministerial duty he regarded no peculiar system, farther than as the great doctrines of Christianity are clearly and simply drawn from Scripture, and are embodied in the Articles and Liturgy of that Church to which he was so sincerely and zealously attached, and of which he was so distinguished an ornament. He was studious and careful, therefore, to set before you a complete and comprehensive view of the revealed will of God, giving a proportionate measure of attention to the truths and doctrines, the precepts and examples, the promises and threatenings of Scripture; being anxious that none of those committed to his care should err from want of direction, should fail for want of encouragement, should slumber from the neglect of warning and exhortation, should ‘perish for lack of knowledge.’ His doctrine distilled like the dew, and nourished and refreshed those on whom it descended. He fed his flock ‘with knowledge and understanding,’ and led them to the great and ‘good Shepherd,’ who laid down his life for the sheep, whom he uniformly represented as ‘the way, the truth, and the life;’ without whose atonement, righteousness, and intercession, we cannot be forgiven and accepted in the sight of God; without obedience to whose precepts as to the various duties which we owe both to God and man, the imbibing of whose spirit, the imitation of whose example, we cannot be his true disciples; without whose all-powerful grace we can become and can do nothing. In short, ‘by manifestation of the truth he commended himself,’ as a faithful minister of Christ, ‘to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.’

“In the discharge of this part of his ministerial office, shall I speak of the remarkable originality of your departed Pastor; of the rich and copious, and varied streams of piety, truth, and eloquence, which flowed from his lips; of that noble and sublime train of thought, which frequently elevated his hearers above the business, the cares, and the pleasures of this lower world; of that spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, which made him occasionally speak of heaven almost as if he had been there, and raised you for the moment, and I would hope, with respect to many, more permanently, to that eminence on which he was habitually seated! In these, and in many other qualities, he will readily be admitted, by all who knew him, to have been unequalled and unrivalled.

“Nor were these his only, if they were even his chief, claims to your admiration and regard. The Lent Lectures, which during so many years were exclusively devoted to the moral and religious improvement of the younger part of his flock, and which have been so remarkably blessed to their spiritual benefit; the Society for improving the temporal condition of the Poor in this Parish, and for providing in some measure for his own unavoidable but lamented deficiency in personally administering to their spiritual wants; the enlargement of the Parochial School; the share which he took in the establishment of a local Bible Society; the plan for the better accommodation of the increasing population of the parish, as to the public worship of Almighty God,—all proclaim his pastoral care and kindness, his practical wisdom, his unwearied and beneficial exertions for the temporal and eternal welfare of his flock.

“If from this brief and imperfect sketch of his ministerial character, we direct our attention to our departed friend, as a MAN, we shall be equally struck with the extra­ordinary value of the blessing which we have recently lost.—Humility, profound and unvarying humility, the foundation of all that is great and excellent and amiable in man, was remarkably conspicuous in him whom we are lamenting. Not only was he humble as a sinner before God, ever acknowledging his own unworthiness, and accepting the ‘faithful saying’ of the Gospel, as the chief of sinners; but humble in his inter­course with men; and with those amongst whom it is most difficult both to be and to appear so, with his associates and equals; not affectedly, however, obtrusively, or painfully humble; but manifesting upon all occasions the most marked yet unostentatious apprehension of his own inferiority; eagerly and cordially allowing and assigning to others a large share of the merit, or the praise, which everyone else perceived to be far more justly due to himself; frequently lamenting his imperfections and deficiencies in duty; thinking nothing of his eminent and various services; and willingly performing the least and lowest offices of kindness and love.

“Universal benevolence, and uncommon tenderness, were other striking features in the character we are considering.—His love of man was indeed inferior only to his love of God. It was the element in which he moved in his intercourse with others; and the kindness which warmed his heart, beamed forth in his countenance, and was manifest in all his words and actions. This truly Christian temper was steady and invariable, and prompted him to a thousand nameless expressions of it, which diffused an air of peace and harmony, of benevolence and happiness, over all around him.

“Disinterestedness, a greatness and magnanimity which overlooked all that was envious, little, or selfish, was another admirable quality which distinguished your late excellent Minister, and which could not escape the notice of the most superficial observer of his conduct.

“I might mention the remarkable soundness of his judgment, which rendered him so wise and able a counsellor; the singular sobriety of his views, possessed as he was of such genius and talent; and the equanimity and well-balanced proportion of his whole character. But enough has been already said, and much more will readily occur to those who have been so long and so intimately acquainted with his excellence, to prove the value of what was once enjoyed, and the greatness of our present loss.




volume 1 of 3

Preface (177k) pdf (105k) docx (35k)

1. The Importance and Difficulties of the Christian Ministry. (72k) on 1 Corinthians. 2:3. pdf (59k) docx (23k)

2. On Preaching the Gospel. (83k) on Mark 16:15. pdf (45k) docx (31k)

3. The Glory of God. (76k) on Exodus 33:18. pdf (45k) docx (29k)

4. On Good Works. (73k) on James 2:24. pdf (37k) docx (28k)

5.The Prayer of St. Paul for the Ephesians. (75k) Ephesians 3:14-19. pdf (55k) docx (30k)

6. Saints Above Contrasted to Former Condition Below. (80k) Revelation 7:9-17. pdf (45k) docx (29k)

7. The Great Mystery of Godliness. (118k) 1 Timothy 3:14-16 pdf (43k) docx (29k)

8. On the Doctrine of the Trinity. (184k) Matthew 28:19. pdf (34k) docx (31k)

9. How Abraham Saw the Day of Christ. (95k) John 8:56. pdf (35k) docx (26k)

10. Difference Between the Patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian Dispensations. (114k) Luke 10:23-24. pdf (40k) docx (29k)

11. On the Communion of Saints. (82k) 1 John 1:3-4. pdf (31k) docx (26k)

12. On the Communion of the Angels. (109k) Hebrews 12:22. pdf (35k) docx (30k)

13. On the Effect of Seeing God as He is. (110k) 1 John 3:2. pdf (36k) docx (29k)

14. Undue Regard to Reputation a Source of Unbelief. (96k) on John 5:44. pdf (34k) docx (28k)

15. On the Causes of Unthankfulness. (90k) on Romans 1:21. pdf (30k) docx (26k)

16. The Tares and the Wheat. (89k) on Matthew 13:28-30. pdf (36k) docx (25k)

17. On Indecision in Religion. (76k) on 1 Kings 18:21. pdf (72k) docx (27k)

18. The Fall and Punishment of David Illustrated. (95k) on 2 Samuel 12:7. pdf (32k) docx (29k)

19. On the Gradual Progress of Evil. (86k) on James 3:5. pdf (61k) docx (27k)

20. The Nature and Value of Human Life. (83k) on Psalm 89:47. pdf (38k) docx (28k)

21. The Christian's State of Pilgrimage on Earth. (103k) on Hebrews 11:13. pdf (22k) docx (32k)

22. On Fasting. (107k) on 2 Chronicles 20:3. pdf (43k) docx (32k)


volume 2 of 3

1. On the Condescension and Goodness of God to Man. (122k) on Psalm 8:4. pdf (55k) docx (32k)

2. Jacob and Esau. (99k) on Genesis 27:35. pdf (34k) docx (30k)

3. On Divine Grace and Human Agency. (106k) on Philippians 2:12, 13. pdf (41k) docx (32k)