William Nunn

The Life And Ministry Of William Nunn

The Sower 1895:

The Circumstances Surrounding His Conversion To Christ

Among the faithful men in the Church of England who have not shunned to declare the distinguishing doctrines of sovereign grace may well be mentioned the late Mr. William Nunn. He was one of that remarkable trio with which the town of Manchester was favoured in the early part of the present century viz., William Gadsby, William Nunn, and William Roby, men whose ministerial labours were greatly owned and blessed by the Lord. Though differing from each other in their communion, they were one in mind and heart upon those gracious verities which make for the everlasting peace of heaven-born souls. Mr. Nunn was born at Colchester, in Essex, on May 13th, 1786. For the first two or three years of his life he was so afflicted that it was frequently thought he was dead or dying; but as he grew older his constitution became stronger and more robust. He was brought up at his father’s home with three brothers and three sisters (the only survivors of a family of thirteen children) until he was nine years of age. For a time he was instructed, with an elder brother, in Latin, taking lessons of a French refugee; but after a twelvemonth’s trial he left his master, being too careless to make any progress. He then attended a day-school for several years, the latter part of his time there taking the charge during the master’s occasional absence. Leaving school entirely, he assisted his father, who was a wine and spirit merchant; this trade not being according to Mr. Nunn’s taste, he often wished to follow his desire to be with an uncle, a bookseller and publisher. [This Mr. Nunn carried on an extensive business in Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Field, London.] The uncle, however, requiring a premium, which his parents were unable to pay, he had to remain with his father for a time. The family were not allowed to imbibe idle habits; therefore, as his father’s business did not furnish employment for the whole of his time, he was often occupied in attending to the affairs of a small farm in the outskirts of the town, and working in his father’s garden; he also served as a volunteer in a regiment stationed in the town, and afterwards had an ensigncy in the local militia.

Mr. Nunn, with the rest of the family, was brought up with the greatest strictness. All were sent regularly to church twice on the Sabbath, and in the evening the whole seven were placed in a row, and made to repeat the Church Catechism and Pope’s Universal Prayer! Mr. Nunn (then in an unregenerate state) found Sunday a day of weariness to him. How anxious he was that the duties of the day might be speedily over, the services were so tiresome and irksome to him. He writes, years after, of that time, saying, “There seemed something desirable in the Gospel, but my carnal mind was averse to reflect upon what that something was. My heart neither could nor would receive the important truths I heard.” The set time was not come.

At the close of the year 1807, Mr. Nunn’s father died, after a severe illness. His eldest brother (John), then a curate at Shrewsbury, came over to the funeral, and, staying a few days, introduced family prayer among them; this was entirely new to all. Mr. Nunn says, “I saw the propriety of it, but I did not like it!” When his brother was leaving to return to Shrewsbury, the latter advised the continuance of this practice, and appointed his youngest brother, Preston (who had long been a seeking soul), to carry on this service; but William often took part with him. The brother at length leaving home to reside with an uncle, the whole service fell on Mr. Nunn. This service consisted in reading a chapter from the Bible and one of Jenk’s prayers. To the subject of this memoir it was weary work, and he loathed the service, yet dared not to omit it. Thus Mr. Nunn was brought up in a form of godliness without the power. He attended classes held at the church, and was confirmed by Bishop Porteus, The impression made by this service was, however, as “the morning cloud, and as the early dew when it passeth away.” He experienced at times some convictions, but all this time was as spiritually ignorant as though he had received no religious instruction whatever.

But the time came when God’s wonder-working hand was to be seen in bringing him to a knowledge of himself and his own ruined state before God. One day when actively employed in assisting his second brother in getting in the harvest, as they were taking their repast in the barn, William said, “Joshua, I intend taking a walk to Shrewsbury to see our brother John.” Joshua tried to dissuade him from his purpose, telling him that “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” but all to no avail. Mr. Nunn had been reading a book of travels in England and Wales, and was filled with a desire to see some of the places he had read of. The motive itself could not be considered of sufficient importance to induce such an undertaking. But he afterwards saw the wonder-working hand of God in leading him from home, and both causing and enabling him to accomplish on foot a journey of eight hundred miles. On that journey it pleased God to bring him to a knowledge of his lost and undone condition by nature, and afford him a blessed manifestation of acceptance into His favour, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having drawn out maps from Carey’s Atlas of the different counties through which he intended to pass, and fitted up a knapsack sufficiently large to carry his linen and other articles, he provided himself with a stout iron-heeled pair of shoes and a staff, and with sixteen guineas in his pocket, he commenced his excursion, at five o’clock on Wednesday morning, September 7th, 1808. It was his wish to have as a companion an old school- fellow, Martin Taylor, brother to the authoress of “Original Poems,” &c.; Taylor’s parents, however, Were unwilling he should go.

On the first part of the journey he was much fatigued; incessantly walking at the rate of thirty miles a-day, he found the journey a toil rather than a pleasure. The weather, too, was unfavourable, and the frequent rains had made it bad walking. It appears that on Sunday he heard two sermons, and in his journal he noted some of the impressions formed on those occasions, for he had a sort of veneration for the preaching of the Gospel. He was once forcibly impressed with a word he saw on a sign-post, “To You’lgreave,” which led to some serious reflections upon his sinnership; it seemed to indicate that he would one day know what repentance meant. His route lay through Cambridge and Derby. After seeing the caverns and traveling over the Peak of Derbyshire, he took the road by way of Buxton, and reached his brother’s lodgings in Shrewsbury on Saturday at noon, having walked about three hundred miles in ten days. On the following day he accompanied his brother into the country to the place where he preached. “It should be observed,” notes Mr. Nunn, “that I was at this time a moral young man, without any pretensions to the character of a religious person. Yet I held my brother’s preaching in high estimation, having heard him once or twice in our native town. On the present occasion I thought there was something peculiar in his dwelling so much in his sermon upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. I could not understand what he meant. On the following day after we had dined, I was led involuntarily to open my lips and ask my brother some questions on religious subjects; I was led on to unfold to him what I thought of myself, and our conversation became more important as we proceeded. What he said to me was, I firmly believe, the appointed means eternally designed by the Lord for bringing me unto Himself by the regenerating and enlightening operations of the Spirit on my soul. I have a distinct recollection of the effect which his answers to my questions produced upon me. Tears dropped from my eyes, and I, naturalJy hard in mind, was brought down under the conviction then wrought in me of the unmerited grace of God set forth in what my brother said to me. I was angry with myself that I wept, accounting it a weakness which the pride of my heart would have suppressed. From that hour I became a new creature. Happy period! The mercy then manifested must all be traced to the everlasting union of my soul to Him in ‘whom I was chosen before the foundation of the world to the possession of all spiritual blessings’ ” (Eph. 1:3-6).

Mr. Nunn remained with his brother about ten days ere he proceeded on his journey. From Shrewsbury, he bent his steps through North Wales. The season, however, was so far advanced and so much rain fell, that, what with clouds and fogs he was unable to distinguish Snowdon from the other hills; after traversing a distance of two hundred miles he reached Brecon on a Sunday; attended church, but thought that what he heard was not the Gospel. Returning home through the forest of Dean, he missed his road and wandered far out of his way. On the morning of that day he passed through the town of Coleford, where six years afterwards he preached his first sermon; and at a chapel on the forest, near where he missed his way, he preached many times during his first curacy; on this journey, too, he had passed the parish of Foleshill, which was his second curacy. Sheltering in a cottage on the forest during the rain, he took from his pocket a book which his brother had given him (“Mason’s Believer’s Pocket Companion”), and for the first time in his life read a religious book with interest and pleasure, and his heart was much refreshed with what he read. While passing through Wales he was favoured with much time for private meditation, for he met very few persons with whom he was able to converse. The same day he reached Gloucester, where he heard a sermon from Romans 13:11. So anxious was he to reach home, that although he had walked thirty-seven miles on the Saturday, yet on the following day, the last of his journey, he walked forty miles and attended divine service at Dunmow, and at Braintree. “In the morning,” he notes, “I heard a discourse upon the providence of God in landing the children of Israel safely over Jordan, and could but trace the appropriation of the subject to myself, the Lord having manifested His special kindness, not only in my preservation through the journey, but in bestowing a new and fervent desire to enjoy the blessings of His spiritual kingdom. In the afternoon, the sermon was upon the duties of ministers and hearers. Little did I then think that I should ever be called to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. The evening being fine, I reached home at nine o’clock by the light of a clear sky, brightened up by the soft and cheerful light of a full moon. Once more, after an absence of five weeks, I found myself in our family circle, happy, and almost insensible of any fatigue.”

The Early Years As Pastor And Preacher 

When the time drew near for Mr. Nunn to leave Newland, he wrote to Mr. Gurney, of London, about a curacy. In a day or two Mr. Gurney replied, “The same postman who brought me your letter brought me also another from the Rev. Mr. Howlett, of Foleshill, near Coventry, inquiring after a curate. As the two letters came together, I think it is a token in providence that you should apply for his curacy.” Mr. Nunn did so, and was invited by the Vicar of Foleshill to come and see the place, or at once to agree with him and accept the situation. Mr. Nunn preferred the latter, and remained at Newland as long as he could, loath to lose the enjoyment of associating with many whose affectionate kindness had no small hold upon him. But at last, having preached a farewell sermon in each of the hamlets where he had officiated, he left, and taking the coach at Monmouth, crossed the Malvern Hills, and passed through Birmingham direct to Coventry, then walked on to Foleshill, a straggling village about two miles and a-half from that city. Here he found the Vicar, an old man nearly eighty-four, incapable of duty, a small church, and a population of nearly five thousand people. The Vicar had also another small living, about ten miles off, which he occasionally served. Mr. Nunn was, of course, to take all the duty of this populous parish, and a new order of proceedings, with extempore sermons, immediately took place. It was soon found that the church was not large enough, and the Sunday School began to increase greatly. He set to work therefore, and in three weeks had about three hundred subscribers to a fund for taking down one side of the church, so as to make it contain nine hundred people instead of five hundred. In nine months he collected £900, which was sufficient to pay for the improvement, leaving a surplus of nearly £200 for building a schoolroom. During the pulling down and rebuilding of the church, he procured the use of one or two churches in the neighbourhood for the congregation at Foleshill; a matter of no little difficulty, owing to the enmity of the clergymen against the preaching of the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace. Much good seemed to be going on in the parish at this time. A storm, however, was brewing. The Vicar’s wife, a bitter enemy to the truth, was exceedingly displeased at the change which had taken place, and used to tease her husband perpetually because he retained Mr. Nunn as his curate. Mr. Nunn heard of her hostility from the old Vicar himself, and dreaded the consequences. At length she succeeded so far, that she prevailed upon her husband to write to the Bishop, requesting him to withdraw Mr. Nunn’s licence. Mr. Nunn managed to obtain a sight of the bishop’s reply, which ran thus:—

“Rev. Sir,—It is not so easy to withdraw Mr. Nunn’s licence as you imagine. If you are dissatisfied with him you must take the duties yourself. I am,” &c.

After no small disquietude of mind respecting these matters, Mr. Nunn received a formal notice from the Vicar to leave at midsummer. The information came home to his heart very keenly, for he had begun to hope that he might settle down among the people who had flocked around him, and, by the blessing of God, enjoy the comforts of domestic life. Here he remarks, “How short-sighted we are, and must be, concerning the dispensations of the Lord!” Other curacies were now named to him; but some impediment or other prevented his obtaining them. The people still hoped he might remain. They drew up a petition, and with two hundred signatures presented it to the Vicar, requesting him to allow Mr. Nunn to remain. They also offered to raise £40 a-year towards his salary. He went with two or three of the parishioners and talked the matter over with the Vicar; the interview lasted more than three hours, but the latter would not comply with the petition. It seems the principal objection he had against Mr. Nunn arose through the erroneous notions which he entertained of that Gospel which Mr. Nunn preached, ascribing it to everything that was bad.

Again Mr. Nunn remarks, “During all these proceedings, and the agitation of mind at the determination of the Vicar to remove me, I was not a little tried, yet in a great measure upheld. The Lord seemed to say to me, ‘Mind what you have to do for Me, I will think of you by-and-by.’ We shall find, of no providence can it be said, this comes too soon, or that too late. The road we sometimes have to travel may appear wrong because we never travelled it before; we have only to proceed further on, and the way will prove the right one. I believed it needful that the furnace be heated, and am upheld by the consideration, that heated more than enough it could not be.”

During the excitement at the prospect of the Vicar sending him away, Mr. Nunn preached a pacific discourse from Rom. 12:19. On Tuesday evening, June I0th, he preached a farewell sermon from Acts 20:32. The church was filled to excess, and he had scarcely commenced preaching when the whole congregation were in tears. Of this circumstance he remarks, “Much as my feelings were entirely cut up by this expression of regard on the part of the people, they had been very powerfully wrought on a few days before, although in a different manner; for I received the very handsome sum of £80, presented with a very kind letter, signed on behalf of the donors, expressing their thanks for my services, and deep regret at my being obliged to leave them.”

After Mr. Nunn’s engagements were ended, he stayed a day or two in Foleshill, and one evening ere his final departure, met and drank tea at a cottage with the twenty-seven members he had formed into a little Church, and had been accustomed to meet separately from the congregation. The evening was spent in singing, expounding, and prayer. It was, it appears, a season of refreshment, but saddened by the reflection that it was the last they should have together during their earthly pilgrimage.

Another Sphere Of Pastoral Ministry 

We now come to a remarkable period in Mr. Nunn’s history. He was one day at the house of a friend in Coventry, and there saw in the Christian Observer for June, a singular advertisement; it ran thus, ”Two churches to be sold in Manchester, and if not sold, a curate wanted. Address, post paid, the Rev. E. Smyth, Chorlton Hall, Manchester.” Mr. Nunn wrote Mr. Smyth, and before he left Foleshill received the following reply:—

“Rev. Sir,—Your letter promises well, but I assure you, that if you are a Calvinist, you will neither suit me, nor the Bishop, nor my people. But you had better come and see the place yourself; and there being no one to take the duty at one of the churches (St. Luke’s) on the 15th, you may as well come for that.”

The commencement of the letter made Mr. Nunn smile. “Well,” he thought, ‘that is the place to which I would go; the people want surely what they have never had, truth unmixed with Arminian error.”

On the Friday after he had preached his farewell sermon he set off for Manchester. The following day he waited upon Mr. Smyth, who gave him full particulars of his two churches. For St. Clement’s; built in 1793, he wanted £1,000, and for St. Luke’s, a smaller church, built in 1804, he wanted £2,000; the difference consisting in the mode of letting and the value of the pew rents, and in certain proprietary rights. Mr. Nunn’s attention was directed to St. Clement’s, but even if he had thought it right in the sight of God to purchase the church for himself, he had litte more than the £80 presented to him by his kind friends at Foleshill. Perceiving Mr. Smyth to be a rigid Arminian, he looked therefore upon his journey to Manchester as a fruitless one; the more so as he felt himself ill-qualified for so large a place as Manchester. But the ways of God are mysterious. The day he preached at St. Luke’s he dined with Mr. Smyth and his family. In the afternoon, after service, he was introduced to Mr. William Townend, a great promoter of Sunday Schools, who invited him to his house, where he slept that night. Wishing to leave Manchester as soon as he could, he rose early the following morning, Mr. Townend did the same, and before they parted, they had a great deal of conversation respecting St. Clement’s, which ended in Mr. Townend suggesting Mr. Nunn’s return to Manchester, and trying whether subscriptions could be raised for purchasing the church from Mr. Smyth and vesting it in the hands of trustees. This suggestion surprised Mr. Nunn, he did not believe it ever could be realized, but eventually it was.

During his last visit to Foleshill, a lady presented Mr. Nunn with a £20 note, in order that he might go to Cambridge and take his M.A. degree, which he readily undertook. He then went home to see his relatives, and from thence paid a visit to the old clergyman at Debenham. The latter would have him preach there twice. He returned to Colchester, where he found a letter from Mr. Smyth, urging the expediency of his return to Manchester; and to Manchester he returned. Subscriptions were raised, and he was formally accepted as the minister of St. Clement’s. Then he had to procure a licence from the Bishop, a matter in which for a long time he was unsuccessful. In a letter, dated September 26th, he wrote: “The short account you sent me of yourself and my old friends was exceedingly welcome. Of my enemies I would say but little. May some who would cut me off from the list of our Master’s servants see, ere it be too late, whether they have any proper evidence of their belonging to ‘the household of faith.’ God, in His gracious providence, appears to be paving the way for my continuance here. May our Immanuel establish a camp among us. I very much fear that there are immense quantities of human rubbish blocking up the fair path of the Gospel among us. May the chariot wheels of our Immanuel grind their legal rights to powder, and the breath of the Spirit drive the dust of the same to the pit from whence they originated.”

In another, dated October 23rd, “I have had an interview with the Bishop. He is doubtless sincere, but what is sincerity unless it arises from spiritual union with Him who alone can give solid principles, and ability to act upon them! May I be enabled to speak becomingly, and leave the event with God. ‘See,’ said a friend the other day, ‘see what your Calvinism costs you!’ ‘Be it so!’ said I; the precious mysteries of God’s especial and eternal love are, when rightly understood, of more value than ten thousand worlds; and the anxieties and trials they have occasioned me are sweet, compared to that legal bondage under which neutralized professors and lofty Gospel-mongers are doomed to labour.’”

On the 24th October, the Bishop again replied to Mr. Nunn, refusing his licence. The following Sunday Mr. Nunn thought it best not to do duty at St. Clement’s, so he preached at St. Luke’s instead. When the cause of the change was ascertained, there was no small stir among the congregation. Desirous to show that he was determined not to proceed in the duties of St. Clement’s without a regular licence, he left the town, went to Halifax, and preached there on November 2nd, St. Clement’s being closed on that day! This decided action seems to have wrought a change in the mind of the Bishop, for on November 7th the latter wrote Mr. Nunn, “…I am ready to license you at St. Clement’s for a year, from a hope and belief that if you have offended, you will offend no more. [The only charge was that Mr. Nunn preached a man might get to heaven without any regard to his moral character, which he wholly disavowed!]…I wish, however, to see you at Chester, in order to have your assurance that you will preach no doctrines during the year but such as are agreeable to the Word of God and the Articles of our Church.” At the desired interview, a singular and animated conversation took place between the Bishop and Mr. Nunn. It is too long for these pages, but the following is a sample:—

BISHOP:—“Do you believe, sir, that any may be said absolutely to be saved?”

Mr. NUNN:—“Yes, my lord, and the evidence of that salvation is their keeping the commandments of God.”

B:—“And do you believe, sir, that it is impossible for a person to lose salvation after once being brought into a state of salvation?” 

N:—“I believe, my lord, that such persons will persevere to the end, but the belief of their salvation can only be enjoyed as they are seeking and serving God.”

B:—“Well, sir, but about this sentence, ‘Who were before of old, &c.'”

N:—“My lord, I hardly know whether it becomes me to answer your lordship upon the passage. The persons spoken of had resisted the Gospel and were judicially hardened and left to the commission of iniquity.”

B:—“Well, sir, but do you not see the words that follow, ‘Ungodly men’? Certainly they were first ungodly and then ordained to this condemnation.” [The ungodliness was foreknown, and they were given up to it; sin is the alone cause of the curse (Rom 6:23).]

N:—“Excuse me, my lord, read the words, and you will find the ordination comes first and the ungodliness afterwards.”

B:—“But before I have done with you sir, let me urge you to be on your guard. I do not want to advert to the nick-names of Calvinism, &c., but to your poor and illiterate congregation some truths are as well omitted.”

N:—“Pardon me, my lord, the congregation at St. Clement’s is now a very respectable one indeed.”

B:—“Well, but, mean the people in the aisles; and how is it, sir, you burn all your sermons? I can’t tell what you do preach.” 

N:—” My lord, I have no sermons to burn. I assure your lordship, that however some persons may have misrepresented some detached sentences of my preaching, that no person dare say that any of my sermons, considered as a whole, can be objectionable in any way whatsoever as to doctrine. Am I to be made an offender for a word?”

B:—“Well, sir, it may be so…But I have now heard you explain yourself, and hope I shall have no occasion to alter my mind towards you. I was rather surprised at Mr. Smyth recommending you for St. Clement’s.”

N:—“But, my lord, Mr. Smyth will receive £1,000 by my appointment to St. Clement’s; he may well recommend me.”

B:—“Well, sir, of what college were you?”

N:—“St. John’s, Cambridge, my lord.”

B:—“Well, sir, I will grant you the licence, and hope matters will go on comfortably.”

Mr. Nunn waited upon the Registrar for the licence, and returned to Manchester the following day. Mr. Smyth received his £1,000, and in March, 1818, the whole property was assigned over to the trustees. A meeting was held, the nomination was freely given to Mr. Nunn, and the church was thronged every Sabbath Day. But he did not continue long without experiencing the ill effects of the envy and jealousy of some of the local clergy, and his mind was frequently agitated respecting his continuance at Manchester. It was evident he had some of the Bishop’s spies about him, and further unpleasant correspondence took place between him and his lordship. Eventually, however, St. Clement’s was duly consecrated. 

The Sunday School 

In June, 1819, Mr. Nunn married Miss Vaughan, to whom he was first introduced when at Newland. Having taken a new house, he opened his parlour every Friday evening for a prayer-meeting. In addition to his duties at church on the Sabbath and Wednesday evenings, there was a Sunday School of about two thousand children connected with St. Clement’s. The trustees of the school having commenced building a new one, at a cost of £2,000, requested Mr. Nunn to become secretary to their building fund. This found him much occupation in keeping the accounts, besides visiting the school every Sabbath. The school, however, was conducted by persons of Arminian principles; and, unknown to himself, from the commencement of his coming among them, there was a hidden dislike to him, because of the doctrines he was accustomed to preach, concerning the peculiar electing love of God to the chosen in Christ. Thus matters went on for some years; his visits to the school became less and less acceptable; at last a plot was laid. A special general meeting of the committee and subscribers was called, at which the following resolution was carried by a large majority: “That the Bennett Street Sunday School be separated from St. Clement’s Church forthwith, on account of certain differences existing between the Rev. William Nunn and the active trustees of the said school, and that it be attached to some other church.” Mr. Nunn was present, but seeing it would be in vain to oppose the tide of opinion rolling against him, he merely alluded to the groundless dissatisfaction existing against his own movements. To be deprived at once of a Sunday School of 2,000 children, and that through the overbearing hatred of man against the Word of God, was no small trial to Mr. Nunn and some of the teachers, who had, through the blessing of God, received the knowledge of truth under his labours. ”Specially grievous it was,” says Mr. Nunn, “in that by a diligent endeavour on my part during the seven years I had been in the school, I had materially assisted in raising £1,800 towards its erection. But they were now nearly out of debt; and so, needing the pilot no longer, they threw him overboard.”

No time however was lost. Mr. Nunn and his friends commenced raising subscriptions for the building of another school immediately. While the building was erecting, a room was hired for the new school; about one hundred scholars, and several teachers who were attached to his ministry, followed him from Bennett Street School. Concerning this trial he wrote: “This event occurred in July, 1824, a few weeks previous to the birth of our third child, Joshua. Happy in domestic enjoyment, our Church members increasing, and our new school prospering, the grief I endured by the recent conduct of my opposers gradually subsided. The new school being very much nearer to our residence, and the Lord blessing my labours in it, I had eventually great cause for thankfulness. The event tended to humble me; I began to ascertain more clearly who were and who were not advocates for the truth. It also gave me a clearer insight into the hollow profession of men, who, while professing to believe the whole counsel of God, were nevertheless in heart opposed to the revelation of eternal truth.”

Mr. Nunn’s biographer also thus wrote: “While Mr. Nunn was gifted by his God with a commanding natural eloquence, and attractive manner in the pulpit; while his deep insight into the glorious mysteries of the Gospel, his full, bold, energetic, and perspicuous declaration of them fitted him, as the ambassador of Christ, for preaching His Gospel to a large and experienced congregation ; he was no less fitted by his heavenly Master for gaining the attention, winning the affections, and conveying scriptural instruction to the minds of the children of a Sunday School.” Many whose faces God turned Zionward have borne similar testimony. One of these says, “He frequently exhorted the children to punctuality in their attendance upon the means of grace, either at the school or church.” But on such ocassions of addressing himself to the children, no Arminian exhortations ever escaped his lips; he would commence such an exhortation by calling out, “Boys, I want you to answer me a question; it is this: Suppose two boys were sitting on one side of a great river, and were desirous of crossing over to the other, when there was no bridge. One says to the other, ‘I shall get up and go on by the river side, for I might as well be walking on as sitting still here; perhaps I may come to a bridge.’ ‘I shall stay where I am,’ says the other; ‘for if we are to go over we shall.’ Which do you think was the wiser of these two boys?” “The boy that walked on,” replied the scholars. “Well then,” said Mr. Nunn, “do you follow the example of the boy that walked on. Persevere to go to the house of God, and it may be that you may find the bridge that God has made for all the ransomed of the Lord to pass over. Never pay heed to the persons who tell you that if you are elected you are sure to go to heaven, whether you attend church or not. You must not be like the lazy boy who sat still by the river side, but like the one that walked on.”

Sitting Under The Gospel Ministry Of Other Preachers 

While at Cambridge, Mr. Nunn had occasional journeys to and through London; his greatest pleasure was to go and hear sermons wherever he could. Once he heard Dr. Hawker, of Plymouth, from Jude, 21. Mr. Nunn says, “That sermon was particularly blest to me, it was accompanied with such a sweet unction of the Spirit from on high, that the impression wrought upon my heart remained for a long time.” Shortly after, Mr. Nunn opened up a correspondence with the doctor, and invited him to Manchester. To which the doctor replied, “However much it would gratify me to see you at Manchester, I do not think this will ever take place; the distance is so great, and my age so advanced, it would not be thought advisable, perhaps, to be so far away from home, for Charles Church hath many endearments to me.” Mr. Nunn, however, in June, 1825, went to see the doctor at Plymouth. “Never before or since had I,” says Mr. Nunn, “such an exchange of mutual fellowship and communion with any one of the Lord’s family.”

The Closing Years Of Gospel Labours 

For twenty-three years Mr. Nunn laboured with zeal and fidelity in the Sunday School, church, and congregation of St. Clement’s, Manchester. In his memoirs, more than one hundred octavo pages are devoted to a most interesting account of his labours in that place, as well as to a review of his spiritual and experimental correspondence with his numerous friends. The above account concludes with several gracious testimonies to the special blessing which attended his labours. To the Sunday School he was ever particularly attached; and as a parent he was exceedingly fond of his nine children. It was therefore in a most sensitive spot that the Lord touched him, when He took away from him, without any previous notice or warning, his eldest son, at the time a most promising youth, in the full vigour of perfect health, and just growing up into manhood. This melancholy event occurred in the summer of 1838. St. Clement’s church being closed for a few Sundays for repairs, Mr. Nunn went with Mrs. Nunn and their children to sojourn by the seaside at Rhyl, near St. Asaph. On the morning of the 17th July, the dear youth, when bathing in the sea, was seized (it is supposed) with cramp and a determination of blood to the head, when he sank to rise no more. In a letter penned three days afterwards Mr. Nunn writes: “We have not long returned from depositing the remains of our dear William in the quiet and sequestered spot of Rhydland churchyard; and have consigned them in humble trust that He who has often heard our prayers on the behalf of the heritage and gift of the children lent unto us—for what have we but as a loan?—has answered them on his behalf. I have no doubt the prayers of our Church have been answered to our own souls. Could I explain to you the height of our fond expectations, often indulged respecting him, and the measure of consolation we have had in the spirit of resignation we have experienced under the afflictive stroke, you could enter into our feelings, even as ourselves. But how true the expression, ‘The heart knoweth its own bitterness.'”

Mr. Nunn’s health had been in a declining state for at least three years previous to this sad affliction, under which his outward frame sank very much. So incessant had been his labours day by day, year after year, from six o’clock in the morning to ten at night, and that in a situation inseparable from incessant mental anxiety and constant spiritual warfare, that it was no surprise to see the human frame of a once stout and hale man giving way ere he had attained to the age of fifty. Doubtless, too, his constitution suffered from those long journeys on foot which he took in his early days, and from which, when occasion presented, he never desisted till his health began to decline. That which first excited the fears and anxieties of his loving people was a most distressing asthma, which came upon him annually as the winter months approached, and everything that could be done for his ease and comfort they did. They proposed that he should exchange his residence for one in a more airy situation, to which he replied, “Oh! the smoke will never kill me; I have got used to it, and I should not feel happy in a fine house if my people were put to any further charge on that account. No; I must be conveniently situated for my church and people—especially the poor—so as to be able to attend upon all the means of grace with you.” His people also spoke to him of the necessity of his having a curate. His reply was, “Where am I to get a curate in these days that will so preach God’s truth as to feed the souls of my people?”

Mr. Nunn ended his labour in the Sunday School the first Sunday in March, 1840, and on the following Wednesday evening in St. Clement’s Church he preached his last sermon, from Hebrews 10:15, and that apparently with much pleasure and spiritual enjoyment. The following morning he was taken violently ill and seized with excruciating pain. It was agreed by his three medical advisers that there was no hope of relieving their patient or of preserving his life under his complaint (an internal rupture) but by having recourse to an operation. The fortitude bestowed during the trying ordeal was equal to the extreme need. The result was comparative ease; but he sank, however, more and more, under the exhaustion. His sufferings during the few remaining days of his life were so severe and incessant, that little escaped his lips beyond expressions of pain, but not once was he heard to murmur. It being said to him, “There is but a step between you and death,” he replied, “Oh, I shall recover yet, but whichever way it turns, I am resigned, either for life or death. From the first my only feeling has been to be ruled; I would have no wish but the will of God in all things. I can trace His hand in all His dealings.” Once he was heard to say with peculiar emphasis, ”Sweet mercy! sweetest mercy!” It being said, “You mean the mercy of God,” he rejoined, “I know of no other mercy.” At intervals he also spoke sweetly of the preciousness of Christ, the rich consolations with which he was favoured, and the delightful prospect of the glory that awaited him. When the change came his weeping family surrounded the bed in sorrowing suspense waiting for the parting breath. Not a pang, not a struggle interrupted the departure of his redeemed soul from its way-worn tenement. The bereaved wife repeated a stanza expressive of adoring participation in the happiness of her dying husband. The weeping children exclaimed, “Oh, who can grieve? Look how happy he is!” At a quarter past eleven in the evening of March 9th, after a slight movement and smile, that seemed to say to attendant angels, “I am coming!” the happy spirit was released. Among the concluding remarks in his memoirs are the following: “How great is the goodness of God to His Church, when He raises up such instruments as these from out of the ruins of His fallen people; calls, endows, and sends them forth with His presence, in strength needful to their day—wisdom suited to their calling—His counsel directing, His arm upholding, and His Spirit influencing them; so that by the grace of God they are what they are. How great is the goodness of God in all this! Let us, then, praise God for our dear brother, as a very remarkable instance of the power and effect of divine grace.”

Thus a mourning widow and eight children were left to deplore their loss, and the congregation at St. Clement’s were bereft of their beloved minister. His remains were followed by sixteen of the local clergy, the congregation and Sunday School at St Clement’s, and an immense concourse of the citizens, to their resting-place in the graveyard of All Saints’, Manchester. On the following Sunday evening, Mr. Alfred Hewlett preached a funeral sermon at St. Clement’s, from 1 Corinthians 15:10. Immediately after Mr. Nunn’s removal, a marble tablet was placed in St. Clement’s church, commemorative of his energetic and faithful labours in the ministry, which were owned and blessed of God with such extraordinary success. In response to an appeal to the congregation of St. Clement’s, and many others, made on behalf of the bereaved family, upwards of £2,700 was raised and invested for their benefit. And in sending forth the memoirs of Mr. Nunn to the Church of God, it was distinctly enjoined of his biographer—the late Robert Pym, Rector of Elmley, near Wakefield—by Mrs. Nunn and the family, that such memoirs should contain a distinct record and acknowledgment of this the great goodness of the Lord.

It is a remarkable fact, that on the first Sunday in March, 1840—the last Sunday on which Mr. Nunn preached at St. Clement’s—another Boanerges (Mr. William Parkes) preached his first sermon at Openshaw, two and a-half miles only from Manchester. Mr. Nunn laboured at St. Clement’s, Manchester, for twenty-three years; Mr. Parkes at Openshaw for twenty-four. Mr. Nunn was called home at the age of fifty-four; Mr. Parkes when nearly fifty-eight. Mr. Parkes was a well-taught, deeply experimental divine. His “Notes of Sermons,” A Treatise upon the Five Cardinal Points of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace, and several other works, are still read and valued by large numbers of the household of faith. 

William Nunn (1786-1840) was a High-Calvinist Anglican preacher. He served for twenty-two years as minister of St. Clement’s Church, Manchester.