William Grimshaw was born in the village of Brindle, England, on September 3, 1708. He was ordained in 1731, although he had not yet been born again.
Grimshaw spent some years as curate at Todmorden, where he was careless of his duties and spent much of his time hunting and playing cards with the local gentry. Called to console a young couple whose baby had died, the unconverted Grimshaw was helpless to give them any comfort from God’s Word. Finally, he told them to: “Put away those gloomy thoughts, go into merry company, divert yourselves, and all will be well at last.” He later realized how blind he himself had been. (Years later, after trusting Christ, he told the couple, “What a blind leader of the blind I was when I came to take off thy burden, by exhorting thee to live in pleasure and to follow the vain amusements of the world! But God has in His mercy pardoned and blessed us all three. Blessed be His great name.”) Eventually, he decided to reform and began praying four times a day. Trying to live a righteous life, he fasted regularly and for seven years he kept a daily spiritual “account book” in which he listed a debit column of sins and attempted to at least balance them by good works recorded in the credit column. When Grimshaw, knowing nothing of God’s grace, preached, one hearer said: “He took us to hell and left us there.” Sensing his distance from God, he confessed one day while preaching, “My friends, we are all in a damnable state, and I scarcely know how we are to get out of it!”
Sometime later Grimshaw borrowed a book by the Puritan author, John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; explained, confirmed, and vindicated. This book changed his life. Grimshaw grasped the great truth of justification by faith in Christ. He wrote, “I was now willing to renounce myself, every degree of fancied merit and ability, and to embrace Christ only for my all in all. Oh what light and comfort did I now enjoy in my own soul, and what a taste of the pardoning love of God!”
In 1742, Grimshaw moved to Haworth and God began to work mightily. At the time, his congregations numbered barely a dozen regular attendees. Within a year, the number was close to a thousand. Sometimes he preached for two hours to those who were anxious to hear the gospel. Such was the dramatic effect of his preaching on the community that one visitor, eating at the local inn, noted that although 100 customers were there, all the conversation around him was about the gospel.
For the rest of his life he preached the gospel throughout the north of England. The man whose preaching was once all about commandments, and who knew nothing about the cross, had this text written plainly on his pulpit, “I was determined not to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Justification by faith in Christ was the great truth that changed William Grimshaw’s life. Only God can justify a guilty person. Earthly courts can justify an innocent person; they can pardon or parole a guilty person. But only God can “justify the ungodly” (Rom 4:5). It is an evidence of incredible grace that He is willing to do this. Consequently, Paul wrote, “Being justified freely by His grace ….” How can God righteously justify (clear of all charges) a guilty person? The answer is in the rest of that verse: “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Only Calvary enables the holy God of heaven to justify sinners. On the cross, Christ endured the penalty for sin. Although Pilate had an inscription nailed above the Savior’s head (This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews) Grimshaw realized it was as though the record of his sins was nailed there by God. And for those sins Jesus suffered and Jesus died. The death of Christ on the cross enables God to justify ungodly sinners who trust the Lord Jesus.
How does a sinner obtain this greatest of all blessings? The Scriptures supply the answer to this vital question: “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Only faith in Christ – not religious rituals or sacraments – can bring a soul into the enjoyment of this blessing and of peace with God.