Young John Cennick Out of His Head with Fever

Dan Graves, MSL

Young John Cennick Out of His Head with Fever

John Cennick was punched in the nose, beaten until his shoulders were black and blue, dunked in a dirty pond, sprayed with ditch water and blackened with musket smoke when he preached. Hecklers tried to drown his voice by beating drums and pans. Or they set dogs barking by swinging a cat in a cage. They hurled dead dogs at him. In spite of this terrible opposition, he preached outdoor sermons in Wiltshire for five years. He wanted to win souls.

He knew the value of a soul, having lived in dread of death for years. At nine years of age, he heard his dying aunt exclaim "Last night the Lord stood by me and invited me to drink of the fountain of life freely and I shall stand before the Lord as bold as a lion."

For years John was unable to get those words out of his head. What a privilege to be able to stand before the Lord as bold as a lion! How he wished he could be sure of the same future. He prayed, fasted, hoped for it, but found himself unable to do good. He lied and cheated and frittered his hours in spite of his best resolutions to do otherwise.

At thirteen, he had to leave school to find work. But work was not to be found. Eight times he traveled to London in search of a job, returning empty-handed each time. With nothing to do, he gambled away his small income or spent it on plays.

One day, his heart became unbearably heavy. He entered a church to pray. As he knelt there, he seemed to hear Jesus say, "I am your salvation." The weight rolled off him. His desires changed. No longer did he want to fritter his time on cards. One day when he refused to play for the sake of his conscience, he was told that there was another "stupid religious fellow" like himself. The man turned out to be a Methodist who introduced John Cennick to John Wesley. Soon John Cennick was standing under a tree in Kingswood, preaching for the Methodists.

Born of Quaker parents, raised in the Anglican Church, he joined the Methodist movement. But after several years with the Wesleyan Methodists, he broke with John Wesley and joined George Whitefield's Calvinist Methodists. Later he left the Calvinist Methodists for the Moravian Brethren.

As a Moravian, John Cennick preached with great success in Dublin, Ireland--until he attacked the honor given to the Virgin Mary. Then he was mobbed by outraged Catholics. However, when he took the gospel to other cities, people ran out into the streets, offering him a drink of milk if he would just pray in their homes. When clergymen complained that their churches were empty because everyone had gone to hear John, Bishop Rider replied, "Preach Christ crucified and then the people will not have to go to Cennick to hear the Gospel."

John wrote several hymns. These included a popular prayer for children to sing at the table before eating.

Taken ill with a fever one day as he rode to London, he arrived in the city exhausted and delirious. Moravians nursed him for a week as his mind wandered. He died on this day, July 4, 1755, only 36 years old, leaving a wife and two children.

Bibliography:

  1. Brown, Theron and Butterworth, Hezekiah. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: George H. Doran Co., 1906.
  2. Cook, Faith. "John Cennick: Bold as a Lion." http://www.evangelical-times.org/ Articles/Apr02/apr02a11.htm
  3. Covert, William Chalmers and Laufer, Calvin Weiss. Handbook to the Hymnal. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1936.
  4. Harmon, Nolan, editor. "Cennick, John." Encyclopedia of World Methodism. United Methodist Publishing House, 1974.
  5. Hutton, James. "The Labors of John Cennick," in the History of the Moravian Church. http://www.everydaycounselor.com/hutton/ii11.htm
  6. Townsend, W. J. ; Workman, H. B. ; and Eayrs, George, editors. A New History of Methodism. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1909.
  7. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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