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Richard Greenham And The Counselling Of Troubled S

Category Articles
Date December 27, 2001


Greenham was a pastoral counsellor of uncommon skill

The fifth lecture at the Westminster Conference 2001 was given by Stanley Jebb of Truro on “Richard Greenham and the Counselling of Troubled Souls.” We have learned about Greenham through J.I.Packer’s admiration for him. He has told us about him, and the facts were confirmed by Mr Jebb. Richard Greenham, a pastoral pioneer, was incumbent of Dry Drayton, seven miles from Cambridge, from 1570 to 1590. He worked extremely hard. He rose daily at four and each Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday preached a sermon at daybreak, to catch his flock before they dispersed into the fields; then on Sunday he preached twice, and in; addition catechised the children of the parish each Sunday evening and Thursday morning. Mornings he studied, afternoons he visited the sick or walked out into the fields ‘to confer with his Neighbours as they were at Plough’. In his preaching, Henry Holland his biographer tells us, ‘he was so earnest, and took such extraordinary pains, that his shirt would usually be as wet with sweating, as if it had been drenched with water, so that he was forced, as soon as he came out of the Pulpit to shift himself…’

Greenham was a pastoral counsellor of uncommon skill. ‘Having great Experience and an excellent Faculty to relieve and comfort distressed Consciences,’ writes Holland, ‘he was sought to, far and near, by such as groaned under spiritual Afflictions and temptations… the fame of this spiritual Physician so spread abroad that he was sent for to very many, and the Lord was pleased so far to bless his labours that by his knowledge and experience many were restored to joy and comfort.’ His friends hoped he would write a book on the art of counselling, but he never did; nonetheless, he passed on a great deal of his lore to others by word of mouth. In a letter to his bishop he described his ministry as ‘preaching Christ crucified unto my selfe and Country people’, and the contents of his posthumously published Works (a small folio of over 800 pages) bear this out. Yet, for all his godliness, insight, evangelical message and hard work, his ministry was virtually fruitless. Others outside his parish were blessed through him, but not his own people. ‘Greenham had pastures green, but flocks full lean’ was a little rhyme that went round among the godly. ‘I perceive noe good wrought by my ministry on any but one family’ was what, according to Holland, he said to his successor. In rural England in Greenham’s day, there was much fallow ground to be broken up; it was a time for sowing, but the reaping time was still in the future. (see J.I.Packer, Among God’s Giants, p.51).

All that preaching, to so little effect was done with a fiery energy, so that his shirt was wet with perspiration at the end of a service. Auricular confession had been criminalised, and so Greenham encouraged his Anglican parishioners to come to him with their needs. He encouraged them to go to God, but he also gave them biblical counsel. He visited them in their homes and urged them to be gentle in their counsel with compassion for their brothers and sisters.

Stanley Jebb ended his message quoting this hymn of Fanny Crosby:

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying, snatch them in pity from sin and the grave. Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen, tell them of Jesus, the Mighty to save.

Though they are slighting him still he is waiting, waiting the penitent child to receive. Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently; he will forgive if they only believe.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, feelings lie burdened that grace can restore; Touched by a loving hand, wakened by kindness, chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it; strength for thy labour the Lord will provide: Back to the narrow way patiently win them; tell the poor wanderer a Saviour has died.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.


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