Richard Cecil (1748–1810) was born in London, England. He studied at Queens college, Oxford in 1773, he was ordained deacon in 1776, and he became priest in 1777. When he served three churches in Leicestershire, he found little real religion and he helped people to become believers. He then moved to be rector at Lewes. His longest ministry was in 1780 when he became minister at St. John’s Bedford Row. When in 1798 he became sick, he was unable to preach. But in 1800 he moved to Chobham and Bisley, where he found unbelieving people. Then in 1807 he became very sick and died 1810.
Richard Cecil booklist:
Favourite Passages in Modern Christian Biography
Friendly Visit to the House of Mourning
Memoir of John Bacon Esquire, a distinguished sculptor
Memoir of John Newton
Memoir of Rev. William Bromley Cadogan, Rector of St. Luke’s, Chelsea
Memoirs of Mrs. Hawkes, late of Islington (Catherine Cecil)
Original thoughts on various passages of Scripture; being the substance of sermons preached by the late Rev. Richard Cecil, A. M. (Catherine Cecil and Sarah Hawkes)
Extended Biography of Richard Cecil
Richard Cecil was born in London, November 8, 1748. His father was a respectable tradesman in the employment of the East India Company. His mother, who was a dissenter, appears to have been a person of marked religious character. The subject of the memoir was intended by his father for business, and accordingly placed in a mercantile house in the city. He was, however, wholly averse to trade, but devoted to literature and the arts. His predominant passion was painting, which he pursued insatiably, and so intent was he on the point, that he set out, unknown to his parents, on a ramble to France, from a desire to see the works of the great masters, and would have proceeded to Rome had not the means of travelling failed. He returned home and continued to live with his father; who, perceiving his ardor for painting did not abate, at length proposed his going to Rome, (where he had an acquaintance) as an artist. To this proposal Cecil agreed: but a circumstance took place which prevented it, and he remained still under the roof of his father,—sunk in the depths of sin, and hardening his conscience by reading books of infidelity, till he became a professed infidel himself. He endeavored to instill the same principles into others: with some he succeeded, whom afterwards he endeavored vainly to reclaim.
From this fearful condition he was, through the mercy of God, gradually aroused, and principally by means of the example of his mother. One night he began to pray, but he was soon damped in his attempt, by recollecting that much of his mother's comfort in religion, seemed to spring from her faith in Christ. "Now," thought he, "this Christ have I ridiculed: He stands much in my way, and can form no part of my prayers." In utter confusion of mind, therefore, he gave up, and laid himself down on his bed again. Next day, however, he continued to pray to the "Supreme Being:" he began to consult books, and to hear sermons, his difficulties were gradually removed, and his objections answered, and his course of life began to amend: light broke into his mind, and he at last became fully aware that Jesus Christ, so far from "standing in the way," is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life.
It was after the change of character, that Cecil's father proposed to him, that he should go to college, and study for the ministry. To this, after some consideration, he agreed, and accordingly entered Queen's College, Oxford. He was then twenty-five. He appears to have been very assiduous at the university, and indeed to have partially injured his health by his close application. He was ordained deacon in 1776, and priest the year following. His first curacy comprised the duty of three churches in Leicestershire, Thornton, Bagworth, and Markfield, which he served until the son of the deceased vicar was of age. Here, as in all his subsequent fields of labor, he appears to have been eminently successful. Two small livings which were given him, removed him to Lewes, in Sussex. Both the livings together were worth only £80 per annum, and in serving them, he contracted a rheumatic disorder in the head, which disabled him for duty for several months, and at length obliged him to leave Lewes. He removed to London, and lived at Islington for the recovery of his health.
This led to his settling in London. He officiated at different churches for many years, preaching four times every Sunday, and once or twice in the week besides. One lecture was at Lothbury at six o'clock on the Sunday morning, and another at Christ Church, Spitalfields, on Sunday evening, where he had a very large congregation. His most important sphere of duty, however, was St. John's Chapel, Bedford row, which, through the persuasion and pecuniary assistance of a lady of fortune, he was induced to become the lessee of. Though many proprietary churches have been, what are called, good speculations, this of Cecil's does not appear to have been peculiarly profitable, at least not in his time. At St. John's he continued to officiate for a period of eighteen years, at the end of which he was seized with a violent and dangerous disorder, from which, however, he so far recovered after a few months, as to be able to preach one sermon on the Sunday.
But this was only for a short time; he found the exertions too much for his broken health and spirit, and was convinced that God called him to retirement and repose. Such a dispensation to a mind like his, required no common measure of faith and patience. In February, 1808, an attack of paralysis totally disabled him for further exertions in public. He continued for about two years longer, suffering greatly in mind and body, and was at last released by apoplexy, August 15th, 1810.
Cecil was a man of uncommon talents, and after his conversion, of most devoted piety; his labors were excessive, especially in preaching; for his sermons, even when he delivered four in the day, were prepared with the greatest care and study. He had a remarkable decision of character, great firmness, a bold and striking imagination, unusual disinterestedness, and religious faith of the most devoted kind. His successor at St. John's Chapel, remarks of the last quality, that "it was in him like another sense. The things of time were as nothing. Every thing that came before him was referred to a spiritual standard. He went all lengths, and risked all consequences, on the word and promise of God."
Cecil's views of his office may be gathered from the following remarks:—"A minister is a Levite. In general, he has, and he is to have, no inheritance among his brethren. Other men are not Levites. They must recur to means from which a minister has no right to expect anything. Their affairs are all the little transactions of this world. But a minister is called and set apart for a high and sublime business. His transactions are to be between the living and the dead—between heaven and earth; and he must stand as with wings on his shoulders." Again; "I never choose to forget that I am a Priest, because I would not deprive myself of the right to dictate in my ministerial capacity."
As a preacher, Cecil had the power of exciting and preserving attention above most men; and he had, in an unusual degree, the talent of adapting his ministry to his congregation. While he was, for instance, preaching on the same day at Lothbury, at St. John's, morning and afternoon, and at Spitalfields in the evening—he found four congregations at these places, in many respects, quite distinct from one another; and yet he adapted his preaching, with admirable skill, to meet their habits of thinking. It may be added that his power of illustration was great and versatile, and his style easy and natural. The following is an instance of the former, as displayed in familiar conversation. A friend told him he should esteem it a favor, if he would tell him of any thing which he might in future see in his conduct which he thought improper. “Well, Sir,” he said, “many a man has told the watch man to call him early in the morning, and has then appeared very anxious for his coming early; but the watchman has come before he has been ready for him! I have seen many people very desirous of being told their faults; but I have seen very few who were pleased when they received the information.” Another instance of his strikingly effective manner of conveying truth to the mind may be added, as narrated himself; “I imprinted on my daughter the idea of faith, at a very early age. She was playing one day with a few beads, which seemed to delight her wonderfully. Her whole soul was absorbed in her beads. I said—‘My dear, you have some pretty beads there.’—‘Yes, papa!’—‘And you seem to be vastly pleased with them.’—‘Yes, papa!’—‘Well now, throw them behind the fire.’ The tears started into her eyes. She looked earnestly at me, as though she ought to have a reason for such a cruel sacrifice. ‘Well, my dear, do as you please; but you know I never told you to do any thing, which I did not think would be good for you.’ She looked at me a few moments longer, and then—summoning all her fortitude—her breast heaving with the effort—she dashed them into the fire. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘there let them lie; you shall hear more about them another time; but say no more about them now.’ Some days after, I bought her a box full of large beads, and toys of the same kind. When I returned home, I opened the treasure and set it before her; she burst into tears with ecstacy. ‘These, my child,’ said I, ‘are yours; because you believed me, when I told you it would be better for you to throw those two or three paltry beads behind the fire. Now that has brought you this treasure. But now, my dear, remember, as long as you live, what Faith is. I did all this to teach you the meaning of faith. You threw your beads away when I bid you, because you had faith in me that I never advised you but for your good. Put the same confidence in God. Believe every thing He says in His word whether you understand it or not; have faith in Him that He means your good.’”
Cecil was aware more than most men of the difficulty of bringing down the truth to the comprehension of the mass of hearers. Speaking of a young friend about to take orders, he says: “I advised him, since he was so near his entrance to the ministry, to lay aside all other studies for the present, but the one I should now recommend to him. I would have him select some very poor and uninformed persons, and pay them a visit. His object should be to explain to them and demonstrate to them the truth of the solar system. He should first of all set himself to make that system perfectly intelligible to them, and then he should demonstrate it to their full conviction, against all that the followers of Tycho Brahe or any one else could say against it. He would tell me it was impossible: they would not understand a single term. Impossible to make them astronomers! And shall it be thought an easy matter to make them understand redemption?” “I set out,” he says, “with levity in the pulpit. It was above two years before I could get the victory over it, though I strove under sharp piercings of conscience. My plan was wrong. I had bad counsellors. I thought preaching was only entering the pulpit and letting off a sermon. I really imagined this was trusting to God, and doing the thing cleverly. I talked with a wise and pious man on the subject. ‘There is nothing,’ said he, ‘like appealing to facts.’ We sat down, and named names. We found men in my habit disreputable. This first set my mind right. I saw such a man might sometimes succeed; but I saw, at the same time, that whoever would succeed in his general interpretations of Scripture, and would have his ministry that of a workman which needeth not to be ashamed—must be a laborious man. What can be produced by men who refuse this labor?—a few raw notions, harmless perhaps in themselves, but false as stated by them. What then should a young minister do?—His office says, ‘Go to your books. Go to retirement. Go to prayer.’ ‘No!’ says the enthusiast, ‘Go to preach! Go and be a witness!’ A witness!—of what?—He doesn’t know!”
The result of a contrary course to that which Cecil thus condemns, was, that in his own case, he became one of the first preachers of his time.
He was sincerely attached to the Church of England, both by principle and feeling—to her order and decorum. He entered into the spirit of those obligations, which lay on him as a clergyman; and looking at general consequences, would never break through the order and discipline of the Church, to obtain any partial, local, or temporary ends.—Cecil's Works, with Memoir prefixed.
Source: Hook, Walter Farquhar. An Ecclesiastical Biography, Containing the Lives of Ancient Fathers and Modern Divines, Vol 3. London: F. and J. Rivington, 1847.