Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Orton, Job

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ORTON, JOB (1717–1783), dissenting minister, elder son of Job Orton (d. 18 Nov. 1741, aged 52), a grocer, was born at Shrewsbury on 4 Sept. 1717. His mother, Mary Perkins (d. 26 May 1762, aged 76), was descended from the elder brother of William Perkins [q. v.] the puritan. He was eight years at the Shrewsbury grammar school, and meanwhile was apprenticed to his father; but his inclination was for the ministry. In May 1733 he went for a year's preparation to Charles Owen, D.D. [q. v.], at Warrington; in June 1734 he was admitted to the communion by Thomas Colthurst (1697–1739), presbyterian minister at Whitchurch, Shropshire. In August 1734 he entered the academy of Philip Doddridge, D.D. [q. v.], at Northampton; he became assistant tutor in March 1739, and was shortly afterwards licensed. He preached his first sermon at Welford, Northamptonshire, on 15 April 1739. He had offers from congregations at Welford, Rothwell, Northamptonshire, and Market Harborough, Leicestershire, and was asked to preach as candidate at Salters' Hall, London. He preferred to stay with Doddridge, who had the highest opinion of him, writing of him (6 Dec. 1739) as ‘omni laude major,’ suggesting his appointment (26 Feb. 1740) as an ‘elder’ in his church, and even naming him in his original will (11 June 1741) as his successor both in academy and congregation. Immediately afterwards Orton, on receiving a call from his native place, made up his mind to leave Northampton; Doddridge writes in despair (18 July 1741) on hearing the news.

The presbyterian congregation at High Street Chapel, Shrewsbury, had been vacant since April 1741 by the death of Charles Berry [see Berry, Charles]. Orton succeeded him on 29 Sept. 1741. The small independent congregation at King's Head Chapel (of which his father was a member) was also vacant by the removal of John Dobson to Walsall. Its twenty-three members offered to join the High Street congregation, and it was the prospect of this union that was Orton's main inducement to leave Northampton (Letters to Dissenting Ministers, ii. 187). The King's Head congregants were admitted to fellowship on 5 Nov. 1741, it being ‘unanimously agreed that the old distinguishing names of presbyterian and independent should be entirely dropped and forgotten, and the sacred name Christian alone be used.’ The death of Orton's father a fortnight later affected his health, and the work at Shrewsbury was henceforth mainly carried on by his assistants, of whom the third in succession, Joseph Fownes (1715–1789), became his firm friend. On 18 Sept. 1745 Orton received presbyterian ordination in High Street Chapel at an assembly of thirty ministers, headed by Samuel Bourn the younger [q. v.] and Joseph Mottershead [q. v.] He declined in 1746 an invitation to be Bourn's colleague at Birmingham. Orton was pressed in March 1752 to succeed Doddridge as minister at Northampton; Caleb Ashworth, D.D. [q. v.], had already been elected to the academy, in terms of Doddridge's altered will. He hesitated some time, but eventually (27 April) declined. He refused a synchronous invitation to succeed Obadiah Hughes, D.D. [q. v.], at Prince's Street, Westminster; he had a prejudice against London, and never visited it in his life. After these refusals he went to Buxton to recruit his health.

Orton preached for the last time on 15 Sept. 1765, which he reckoned his birthday owing to the change of style. In 1766 he resigned. Disputes arose about the appointment of his successor, and on the election of Benjamin Stapp (1743–1767), an Arian, there was a large orthodox secession (12 Oct. 1766). Orton withdrew (26 Oct. 1766), intending to settle at Birmingham (where he had relatives), but could not find quarters. Chance took him to Kidderminster for the winter. He was there attended by James Johnstone, M.D. [q. v.], to whose skill he considered that he owed his life; he remained at Kidderminster and bought a house. He encouraged the Shrewsbury seceders in building a new chapel, and got Robert Gentleman [q. v.] to be their minister. At the same time he kept up his friendship with Fownes. In 1780 the Kidderminster presbyterian congregation was divided on the appointment of a minister. The seceders this time were more or less heterodox, but Orton again encouraged the formation of a new congregation, of which Gentleman ultimately became minister.

Orton's position in the dissenting world was peculiar, and is not easily understood. Both orthodox and heterodox dissenters have venerated him as a patriarch. Kippis thought him ‘one of the most striking preachers’ he ever heard; but his repute was not that of a preacher, and his period of greatest influence was that which he spent as a valetudinarian recluse at Kidderminster. He corresponded with dissenting ministers of all sections, and with many clergymen. His anecdotal letters are a mine of advice, often minute, always good-humoured, impressive from their quaint candour, and useful as the sage outcome of old-fashioned seriousness. His mind lacked freshness, and his plans were conventional, hence his steady aversion to ‘methodists and other disorderly people’ (Letters, ut supra, ii. 27). From the puritan divinity, in which he was deeply read, he extracted the strong evangelical kernel of his teaching. His doctrine of the Trinity was the Sabellian scheme propounded in the ‘Scripture-Trinity’ (1725) of Daniel Scott, LL.D. [q. v.], and the ‘Disquisition’ (1732) of Simon Browne [q. v.], works recommended by him to divinity students, and reprinted by his friends. The ‘rational’ dissenters repelled him by their laxity as regards the inspiration of scripture, yet he had a good word for the energetic zeal of Priestley, and viewed Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.], with whom he had scarcely an opinion in common, as ‘a glorious character’ (Letters, ut supra, i. 158, ii. 159). In spite of his connection with presbyterians, he always regarded himself as ‘quite an independent.’ A diploma of D.D. was sent him by New Jersey College in 1773, through Thomas Gibbons [q. v.] He declined it; but in 1781, when he presented to Shrewsbury school a copy of Kennicott's Hebrew bible, with a Latin inscription, he signed himself ‘Job Orton, S.T.P.’

In person Orton was tall, erect, and spare; fond of horse exercise, simple and methodical in his habits, and employing his ample means for charitable uses. An early attachment was broken off at the wish of his mother, and he did not marry. His housekeeper was a sister of Philip Holland [q. v.] Latterly he suffered from aphasia. He died at Kidderminster on 19 July 1783, and was buried near the altar of St. Chad's, Shrewsbury, in the grave of John Bryan (d. 1699) [see under Bryan, John, D.D.]. There is a monument to him at St. Chad's; the vicar, Thomas Stedman [q. v.], was his intimate friend. Funeral sermons were preached by Fownes at High Street Chapel, and by Samuel Lucas at Swan Hill independent chapel. His portrait has been engraved.

He published, in addition to separate sermons (1751–6): 1. ‘Three Discourses on Eternity,’ &c., Salop, 1764, 8vo (translated into Welsh and German). 2. ‘Memoirs of … Doddridge,’ &c., Salop, 1766, 8vo (often reprinted; translated into German by Linder, a Lutheran divine). 3. ‘Religious Exercises Recommended,’ &c., Salop, 1769, 8vo. 4. ‘Diotrephes Admonished,’ &c., Salop, 1770, 8vo (anon.) 5. ‘Diotrephes Re-admonished,’ &c., Salop, 1770, 8vo (anon.; this and the foregoing are in defence of William Adams (1706–1789) [q. v.]). 6. ‘Discourses to the Aged,’ &c., 1771, 12mo. 7. ‘Christian Zeal,’ &c., Shrewsbury, 1774, 12mo. 8. ‘Christian Worship,’ &c., 1775, 12mo (translated into Welsh). 9. ‘Discourses,’ &c., 1776, 12mo, 2 vols. 10. ‘A Serious Dissuasive from … the Playhouse,’ &c., Shrewsbury, 1776, 12mo. 11. ‘Sacramental Meditations,’ &c., Shrewsbury, 1777, 12mo. Posthumous were: 12. ‘A Short and Plain Exposition of the Old Testament,’ &c., 1788–1791, 8vo, 6 vols. (compiled from his papers by Gentleman); 2nd edition, 1822, 8vo, 6 vols. 13. ‘Letters to a Young Clergyman,’ &c., 1791, 12mo, edited by Stedman; reprinted, with additions, in ‘Letters from … Orton and … Stonhouse … to … Stedman,’ &c., 1800, 8vo, 2 vols.; 2nd edition, 1805. 14. ‘Letters to Dissenting Ministers,’ &c., 1806, 12mo, 2 vols.; edited by Samuel Palmer (1741–1813) [q. v.] His ‘Practical Works, collected,’ were published in 1842, 8vo, 2 vols., with letters and memoir. He revised, with an introduction, Bourn's catechisms (1738) as a ‘Summary of Doctrinal and Practical Religion,’ 1749, 12mo; edited Doddridge's ‘Hymns,’ Salop, 1755, 12mo, and the conclusion of Doddridge's ‘Family Expositor,’ 1756, 4to; issued an edition of the ‘Life of Philip Henry,’ 1764, 12mo; and reprinted in 1779 Nathaniel Neal's ‘Free and Serious Remonstrance,’ &c., 1746. At Orton's suggestion, Palmer abridged from Calamy the ‘Nonconformist's Memorial,’ 1775.

[Funeral Sermon by Fownes, 1783; Biogr. Brit. (Kippis), 1793, v. 308 sq.; Protestant Dissenters' Mag. 1794, pp. 177 sq. (memoirs, by Palmer), 1799 p. 202; Palmer's Memoirs, prefixed to Letters to Dissenting Ministers, 1806; Monthly Repository, 1809 p. 337, 1815 p. 686, 1826 pp. 382, 467, 530 sq.; Hazlitt's Plain Speaker, 1826, ii. 291 sq. (a sorry caricature); Humphrey's Correspondence of Doddridge, 1830, iv. 49 sq.; Astley's Hist. Presb. Meeting House, Shrewsbury, 1847, p. 15 sq.; Williams's Church Memorial of Swan Hill Chapel, 1852; Guardian, 22 Nov. 1893, p. 1867; extracts from church book, High Street, Shrewsbury, per the Rev. E. Myers.]

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