Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bickersteth, Edward

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BICKERSTETH, EDWARD (1786–1850), evangelical divine, was the fourth son of Henry Bickersteth, surgeon, of Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland, author of 'Medical Hints for the Use of Clergymen' (London, 1829), and Elizabeth, daughter of John Batty. His third eldest brother was Henry, Lord Langdale [see Bickersteth, Henry, master of the rolls. After a few years at Kirkby Lonsdale grammar school he received at the age of fourteen an appointment in the General Post Office, and left his father's house to live in London. In 1803 he joined the Bloomsbury Volunteer Association. Becoming weary of the monotonous nature of his employment and the slender prospect of advancement, he engaged himself in 1806 to work in a solicitor's office, after his regular work for the day was done. His employer, Mr. Bleasdale, was struck by his industry, and the next year took him us an articled clerk on advantageous terms, In 1805 he was under strong religious impressions. He laid down exact rules for his conduct, and kent a weekly diary in which he noted any future in his observance of them, These impressions increased in strength, and on 1808 his correspondence was almost wholly on spiritual matters, and his diary was filled with religious meditations. At the same time he was diligent at the office, working from 9 a.m. till 9 p.m., and doing, his employer said, 'the work of three or four clerks.' With this work, however, he now combined an active part in the administration of the Widows' Friend and the Spitalfields Benevolent Societies. In 1812 he left Mr. Bleasdale's office, married Sarah, the daughter of Thomas Bignold, and entered into partnership with his brother-in-law, a solicitor at Norwich. During his residence at Norwich he took an active part in religious matters. At this time also he wrote his 'Help to Studying the Scriptures,' which passed through twenty-one editions. In 1815 he gave up the practice of law, was ordained deacon 10 Dec., and as he engaged himself to go out to Africa at once in the service of the Church Missionary Society, he received priest's orders 21 Dec. The object of his mission was to inspect and report on the work of the society in Africa, and on certain disputes between the missionaries. Leaving Portsmouth 24 Jan. 1816, he arrived at Sierra Leone on 7 March, He returned home by Barbadoes, and arrived in England 17 Aug. An account of his work in Africa will be Tound in the Church Missionary Society's sixteenth annual report. Immediately on his return he was engaged as one of the society's secretaries. During the next fourteen years he constantly travelled from place to place as a Church Missionary Society's 'deputation,' and on the few Sundays when he was at home acted as assistant minister of Wheler Episcopal Chapel, Spitalfields. Up to 1820 he lived in the Church Missionary Society's house in Salisbury Square, and in that year moved to another house belonging to the society in Barnbury Park, Islington. In spite of his constant journeys he wrote several religious books which had a large sale. In 1827 he was sent to Basel to inspect the working of the missionary institution there which was in connection with the English Church Missionary Society. Finding that his constant absence from home hindered him from paying sufficient attention to his family, to the congregation of Wheler Chapel, and even to his committee work, he pressed the society not to give him more than six Sundays' travelling in the year. His request was refused; he therefore gladly accepted the rectory of Watton, Hertfordshire, offered him by Mr. Abel Smith, and moved thither in November 1830.

Although Bickersteth resided his secretaryship on accepting the living of Watton, he continued all through his life to travel for the Church Missionary Society. He also frequently acted as 'a deputation' for the Society for the Conversion of the Jews, and for other religious associations. In 1832 he was much engaged in editing the 'Christian's Family Library,' a series of republications of various theological works. He was a strong protestant and 'Millenarian.' He opposed the action of the Bible Society in admitting unitarian ministers to a share in its management. While, however, he upheld the Trinitarian Bible Society which was established at this crisis, he did not separate himself from the older association. About this time Bickersteth compiled his 'Christian Psalmody,' a collection of over 700 hymns, to which he subsequently added about 200 more. This collection met with great popularity, and in about seven years after its first appearance reached its fifty-ninth edition. It long continued the most popular hymn-book of the evangelical party, and forms the basis of a collection compiled by Bickersteth's son, the Rev. E. H. Bickersteth, entitled the 'Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer.' In order to counteract the tendency of the 'Tracts for the Times,' Bickersteth, in 1836, edited the 'Testimony of the Reformers.' In the introduction to this work, afterwards republished in a separate form under the title of the 'Progress of Popery,' he made some strictures on the character of the publications of the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, which led some of the evangelical party to withdraw their support from the society, and caused considerable discussion in the religious world. With the same object he took part in 1840 in the formation of the Parker Society for republishing the works of the English reformers. An attack of paralysis in the next year incapacitated him for some months. He was active in promoting the 'Protest against Tractarianism ' of 1843, and in forwarding the formation of the Evangelical Alliance. In October 1845 he took a prominent part in the meeting held at Liverpool to settle the basis of the Alliance, and the next year answered the attack made on the meeting by the 'Christian Observer.' A severe accident befell him in February 1846. While on his way to an Alliance meeting, he was thrown out of his carriage and run over, the cart which passed over him, oddly enough, being engaged in hauling materials for the erection of a Roman catholic church. For a while his life was despaired of, and for two months he was unable to leave his room. The Maynooth grant strongly excited his indignation, and in 1847 he interested himself in the 'Special Appeal for Ireland' which the next year led to the establishment of the Irish Church Missions Society. He took part in the foundation of this society, and visited Ireland in order to promote it. Early in 1850 Bickersteth again suffered from paralysis, and died on 28 Feb. He left one son, Rev. E. H. Bickersteth, at present (1885) vicar of Christ Church, Hampstead (the author of 'Yesterday, To-day, and Forever,' a poem, and other works), and five daughters, of whom the eldest married Rev. T. R. Birks [q. v.], the author, among other books, of the life of his father-in-law. Bickersteth's works are numerous. A collective edition of the more important of them was published (London, 1853) in 16 vols. 8vo, including 'A Scripture Help,' 21st edition; 'A Treatise on Prayer,' 18th edition; 'A Treatise on the Lord's Supper, 13th edition; 'The Christian Hearer,' 5th edition; 'The Christian Student,' 2 vols., 5th edition; 'The Chief Concerns of Man,' a volume of sermons; 'A Guide to the Prophecies, embodying Practical Remarks on Prophecy,' also published separately, 8th edition; 'Christian Truth,' 4th edition; 'On Baptism,' 3rd edition; 'Restoration of the Jews,' 3rd edition; 'Family Prayers,' 18th thousand; 'The Promised Glory of the Church,' 3rd edition; 'Divine Warning,' 5th edition; 'Family Expositions,' 2nd edition; 'Signs of the Times in the East,' 2nd edition. To these must be added the 'Christian Psalmody,' 1833; a 'Harmony of the Gospels,' 1833; 'Domestic Portraiture,' 1833; 'The Testimony of the Reformers,' including the 'Progress of Popery,' also published separately, 1836; 'Letters on Christian Union,' 1845; 'Destruction of Babylon,' &c., 1848; 'Defence of Baptismal services,' 1850; together with much editorial work, prefaces, and introductions, as well as a large number of small publications, sermons, tracts, &c.

[Birks's Memoir of Rev. E. Bickersteth, 2 vols, 8vo: Memoir by Sir C. E. Eardley. Bart., 16mo, reprinted from Evangelical Christendom; Record newspaper, 1845-50; Christian Observer, 1846.]

W. H.