Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Berridge, John

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BERRIDGE, JOHN (1716–1793), an evangelical clergyman, was the eldest son of John Berridge, a wealthy farmer of Kingston, Nottinghamshire, and was born there 1 March 1716. He was entered at Clare Hall, Cambridge, 28 Oct. 1734, took the degree of B.A. in 1738, and that of M.A. in 1742. Whilst at the university he was a diligent student, and often worked for fifteen hours a day. For many years he remained a resident fellow of his college, and for the last six years of his residence at Cambridge (1749-55) he served the curacy of Stapleford. Cole, in an amusing passage quoted in Mr. Thompson Cooper's biographical dictionary, says that he was 'the head of a sect called Berridges in the neighbourhood of Cambridge,' a statement which is corroborated to some extent by George Dyer, who asserts that his sermons at St. Mary's gave great offence, but that he had many followers in town and country. On 7 July 1755 he was inducted to the college of Everton, Bedfordshire, where he remained until his death. In the year 1758 he became acquainted with Wesley and Whitefield; they preached in his parish church, and he preached in their London chapels. His first sermon out of doors was delivered 14 May 1759, after which date he regularly travelled on preaching tours through the neighbouring counties. 'One of the most simple as well as most sensible men' was John Wesley's description of Berridge, and all his contemporaries agreed in praising his kindly and simple disposition. Tall of stature, strong in voice, naturally witty, and of a cheerful disposition, his qualities attracted great crowds to listen to his sermons, and he laboured zealously whilst his health lasted. He died at Everton 22 Jan. 1793, and was buried in the churchyard 27 Jan., when Simeon preached his funeral sermon.

Although Berridge was a man of great knowledge, he in later life, to the regret of Wesley, rejected the aid of human learning for christianity. When at Cambridge he was an Arminian in creed, but afterwards he became a Calvinist, putting his faith in divine mediation and ‘free grace,’ whilst refraining as much as possible from controversy. His works were numerous:

  1. ‘A Collection of Divine Songs’ (1760), mostly from Wesley's hymns, a volume which he afterwards suppressed, substituting for it ‘Sion's Songs’ (1785, and 1815).
  2. ‘Justification by Faith alone,’ the substance of a letter to a clergyman (1762), reproduced in 1794 under the title of ‘A Short Account of the Life and Conversion of Rev. John Berridge,’ and in 1827 and 1836 as ‘The great Error detected, or Self-righteousness disclaimed.’
  3. ‘The Christian World unmasked, pray come and peep’ (1773), a plain and homely, but an effective, expression of his religious belief, which passed through many editions, and was answered by Fletcher of Madeley in the first and second parts of his ‘Fifth Check to Antinomianism.’
  4. ‘Chearful Piety, or Religion without Gloom’ (1792), 7th edition in 1813.
  5. ‘Last Farewell Sermon, preached at the Tabernacle 1 April 1792, with a short account of Mr. Berridge's death’ (1793 and 1834).

The Rev. Richard Whittingham, who had been Berridge's curate at Everton, added a short memoir of his life to a reprint of the ‘Christian World unmasked,’ about 1818. An enlarged biography by Mr. Whittingham, with a reprint of the same work and of ‘Sion's Songs,’ appeared in 1838; an appendix was published in 1844, and a second edition of the whole work in 1864. A sermon on his death by Rev. William Holland, and an anonymous elegy, were published in 1793; and so late as 1882 there appeared a volume of ‘Gospel Gems, a Collection of Notes from the Margins of the Bible of the Rev. J. Berridge. Numerous anecdotes, as well as letters from him, are contained in the ‘Life and Times of the Countess of Huntingdon,’ and in the ‘Congregational Magazine’ for 1841 and 1845.

[Tyerman's Whitefield, ii. 410, 441, 462; Tyerman's Wesley, ii. 309–70, 463, 491, iii. 2, 158; Tyerman's Fletcher, 51–3, 283–5, 294–8, 371; Gadsby's Hymn Writers, 14–35, 153; Dyer's Cambridge, i. 122–4.]

W. P. C.