Frederick William Robertson
Frederick William Robertson (3 February 1816 – 15 August 1853), known as Robertson of Brighton, was an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...


Born in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, the first five years of his life were passed at Leith Fort, where his father, a captain in the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

, was then resident. The military spirit entered into his blood, and throughout life he was characterized by the qualities of the ideal soldier. In 1821 Captain Robertson retired to Beverley, where the boy was educated. At the age of fourteen he spent a year at Tours
Tours is a city in central France, the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department.It is located on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Touraine, the region around Tours, is known for its wines, the alleged perfection of its local spoken French, and for the...

, from which he returned to Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

, and continued his education at the Edinburgh Academy and university.

In 1834 he was articled to a solicitor
Solicitors are lawyers who traditionally deal with any legal matter including conducting proceedings in courts. In the United Kingdom, a few Australian states and the Republic of Ireland, the legal profession is split between solicitors and barristers , and a lawyer will usually only hold one title...

 in Bury St Edmunds, but the uncongenial and sedentary employment soon broke down his health. He was anxious for, a military career, and his name was placed upon the list of the 3rd Dragoons, then serving in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

. For two years he worked hard in preparing for the army, but, by a singular conjunction of circumstances and at the sacrifice of his own natural bent to his father's wish, he matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford
Brasenose College, Oxford
Brasenose College, originally Brazen Nose College , is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. As of 2006, it has an estimated financial endowment of £98m...

, just two weeks before his commission was put into his hands.

He did not find Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 wholly congenial to his intensely earnest spirit, but he read hard, and, as he afterwards said, "Plato, Aristotle, Butler, Thucydides, Sterne, Jonathan Edwards; passed like the iron atoms of the blood into my mental constitution." At the same time he made a careful study of the Bible, committing to memory the entire New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 both in English and in Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

. The Tractarian movement had no attraction for him, although he admired some of its leaders.

He was at this time a moderate Calvinist in doctrine, and enthusiastically evangelical
Evangelism refers to the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others who do not hold those beliefs. The term is often used in reference to Christianity....

. Ordained in July 1840 by the bishop of Winchester
Bishop of Winchester
The Bishop of Winchester is the head of the Church of England diocese of Winchester, with his cathedra at Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire.The bishop is one of five Church of England bishops to be among the Lords Spiritual regardless of their length of service. His diocese is one of the oldest and...

, he at once entered on ministerial work in that city, and during his ministry there and under the influence of the missionaries
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 Henry Martyn
Henry Martyn
Henry Martyn was an Anglican priest and missionary to the peoples of India and Persia. Born in Truro, Cornwall, he was educated at Truro Grammar School and St John's College, Cambridge. A chance encounter with Charles Simeon led him to become a missionary...

 and David Brainerd
David Brainerd
David Brainerd was an American missionary to the Native Americans who had a particularly fruitful ministry among the Delaware Indians of New Jersey. During his short life he was beset by many difficulties...

, whose lives he studied, he carried devotional asceticism
Asceticism describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various sorts of worldly pleasures often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals...

 to an injurious length. In less than a year he was compelled to seek relaxation; and ‘going to Switzerland he there met and married Helen, third daughter of Sir George William Denys, Bart.

Early in 1842, after a few months' rest, he accepted a curacy in Cheltenham
Cheltenham , also known as Cheltenham Spa, is a large spa town and borough in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds in the South-West region of England. It is the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup, the main event of the Cheltenham Festival held...

, which he retained for upwards of four years. The questioning spirit was first aroused in him by the disappointing fruit of evangelical doctrine which he found in Cheltenham, as well as by intimacy with men of varied reading. But, if we are to judge from his own statement in a letter from Heidelberg
-Early history:Between 600,000 and 200,000 years ago, "Heidelberg Man" died at nearby Mauer. His jaw bone was discovered in 1907; with scientific dating, his remains were determined to be the earliest evidence of human life in Europe. In the 5th century BC, a Celtic fortress of refuge and place of...

 in 1846, the doubts which now actively assailed him had long been latent in his mind. The crisis of his mental conflict had just been passed in Tirol
Tyrol (state)
Tyrol is a state or Bundesland, located in the west of Austria. It comprises the Austrian part of the historical region of Tyrol.The state is split into two parts–called North Tyrol and East Tyrol–by a -wide strip of land where the state of Salzburg borders directly on the Italian province of...

, and he was now beginning to let his creed grow again from the one fixed point, which nothing had availed to shift:

"The one great certainty to which, in the midst of the darkest doubt, I never ceased to cling—the entire symmetry and loveliness and the unequalled nobleness of the humanity of the Son of Man."

After this mental revolution he felt unable to return to Cheltenham, but after doing duty for two months at St Ebbe's,Oxford, he entered in August 1847 on his famous ministry at Holy Trinity Church, Brighton
Holy Trinity Church, Brighton
The former Holy Trinity Church is a closed Anglican church in the centre of Brighton, part of the English city of Brighton and Hove. Established in the early 19th century by Thomas Read Kemp, an important figure in Brighton's early political and religious life, it was originally an independent...

. Here he stepped at once into the foremost rank as a preacher, and his church was thronged with thoughtful men of all classes in society and of all shades of religious belief. His fine appearance, his flexible and sympathetic voice, his manifest. sincerity, the perfect lucidity and artistic symmetry of his address, and the brilliance with which he illustrated his points would have attracted hearers even had he had little to say. But he had much to say. He was not, indeed, a scientific theologian; but his insight into the principles of the spiritual life was unrivalled. As his biographer says, thousands found in his sermons "a living source of impulse, a practical direction of thought, a key to many of the problems of theology, and above all a path to spiritual freedom." His closing years were full of sadness. His sensitive nature was subjected to extreme suffering, arising mainly from the opposition aroused by his sympathy with the revolutionary ideas of the 1848 epoch. Moreover, he was crippled by incipient disease of the brain, which at first inflicted unconquerable lassitude and depression, and latterly agonizing pain. On 5 June 1853 he preached for the last time, and on 15 August he died.

Robertson's published works include five volumes of sermons, two volumes of expository lectures, on Genesis and on the epistles to the Corinthians
First Epistle to the Corinthians
The first epistle of Paul the apostle to the Corinthians, often referred to as First Corinthians , is the seventh book of the New Testament of the Bible...

, a volume of miscellaneous addresses, and an Analysis of "In Memoriam." See Life and Letters by Stopford A Brooke (1865).

Further reading

  • Beardsley, Christina. Unutterable Love: The Passionate Life and Preaching of F.W. Robertson, The Lutterworth Press (2009), ISBN 9780718892104.
  • Robertson, F. W., & Brooke, S. A. (1906). Life and letters of Fred. W. Robertson, M.A.: Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trub̈ner.

External links

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