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The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn:
A Review Article

by George M. Ella
Courtesy of New Focus, Go Publications

 

The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn, Vol. 1, Particular Baptist Press, Springfield, MO, USA, hb. 530 pp, $24.50, ISBN 1-888514-00-0.

        As soon as this volume reached my hands, I read it with delight and with edification. I found in it a wealth of instruction and just cause to thank the Lord for such a faithful 18th century Baptist witness. The lives of the great Anglicans of by-gone years such as Hervey, Toplady, Whitefield and Venn are well-documented and researched but there is a dire lack of information on their Dissenting brethren. This book will certainly help to fill this breach as Joseph Kinghorn (1766-1832) was a workman who had no cause to be ashamed. The fine way he was used by God as a preacher and writer of note has secured an important place for him in history. Nor is Kinghorn any less significant because of the information he supplies regarding the day-to-day activities of individuals, families, nations and churches in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Kinghorn must enthuse any historian with joy by his detailed reports of the times he lived in. Through his eyes, we see unusual scenes in nature such as the fall of a meteorite or water freezing in a basin whilst the writer is washing his face. We are given a candid view of the political situation of the times, an insight into the best-selling books of the period, pen-portraits of a host of public figures, church dignitaries and faithful labourers in God's vineyard and receive an insider's presentation of the controversies going on within the churches.
        Though a Dissenter and one who might have felt he had an axe to grind, Kinghorn was not a man of controversy, himself, though he was quite capable of holding his ground in any debate as his discussions with Robert Hall on open communion show. He had a surprisingly open mind for the times and had an equally open ear for the problems of the unsaved. This sometimes challenged the narrow orthodoxy of Kinghorn's brethren who felt his genuine queries into the nature of God's ways with the world in general and His people in particular smacked of the 'infidel'. This book more than justifies Kinghorn's method's of enquiry concerning God's righteousness which rather shocked his more 'moderate' Calvinistic, but over-censorious, fellow-Baptist ministers. Nor were such ministers flattered by Kinghorn's basic philosophy of life, i.e. "Pride is the great sin of human nature, and as much defiles the minds of ministers as any other class of persons whatever." Indeed, such convictions moved Kinghorn to seek fellowship amongst all true believers, realising that no one denomination held a monopoly of truth and right testimony. Though Kinghorn was a Baptist through and through and was most blunt in his criticism of the Anglican system, he nevertheless gave Anglican Evangelicals the right hand of fellowship and was particularly fond of Edward Bickersteth (1786-1850). Kinghorn was drawn to Bickersteth because of the latter's strong evangelistic and missionary convictions and the fine doctrinal stand expressed in his A Help to the Study of the Scriptures.
        Two interesting aspects of Kinghorn's balanced nature were his attitude to Hugo Grotius' politics as reflected in his de jure belli et pacis and his views of the duty-faith controversy. Concerning the former, instead of incorporating Grotius' political manifesto into his theological system as many of his contemporaries did, he accepted the political common sense in it concerning pacifism and left it at that. Concerning the latter, which was not unconnected, he felt moved to tell his parents, "I feel with a great deal of force the truth of the apostle's words, 'We know in part,'" and said of the contenders for and against the subject, "they neither of them know anything."
        A very captivating characteristic of Kinghorn's personality was his ability to be all things to all men within the bounds of Christian decorum and gospel-honouring behaviour. He could write letters to learned men on the Talmuds, Josephus or Tertullian, revealing a profound knowledge of history and the ancient languages besides the works of Continental theologians, politicians and historians. He would then write a most devoted letter to his father expressing his filial love and thankfulness for being nurtured by him in heavenly things. He could then turn to a rich man and encourage him to live a life in company with the Giver of every good and perfect gift and use his wealth in Christ's service. We find Kinghorn expressing his concern that a certain Christian writer may have embellished the simple testimony of a young dairy maid to gain a more spectacular effect and we see with what care and concern he encouraged the ordinary man to become out of the ordinary and be crucified with Christ. All this is done with such humility, fondness and reflection of a great depth of spiritual wisdom and experience that the reader becomes convinced that Kinghorn was a pastor after the Lord's own heart. The insights given into the character, writings and poetry of Kinghorn's father who pastored a church at Bishop Burton makes the reader long to find out more about this saintly family.
        This book is a mine of information and a feast of good spiritual fare and can be recommended to all types of readers. The one will find comfort for his soul, the other great encouragement in fighting the good fight. Others who may scoff at Kinghorn's gracious testimony will still find good writing reminiscent of William Cowper, a great deal of food for thought and an earnest display of sincerity which no sensible man could possibly scorn. My appetite is more than whetted for the further volumes on Kinghorn planned and I am thrilled with the prospect that the Particular Baptist Press is not neglecting the American saints and a biography of John Gano (1727-1804), well-known for his pastoral care of George Washington, will be published shortly. Fellow readers - we are in for a great treat!