by John Gadsby, from Memoirs of the Principal Hymnwriters and Compilers, 1855
John Stevens was born at Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, June 8th 1776. During his early years he resided with his grandfather, but subsequently went to his father’s, and learnt his business of a shoemaker. His father and family were all church people, and John, of course, attended church with them. When about 16, he went to London, with a view of improving himself in his business; and there; it is believed, commenced his connection with dissenters. Referring to this period and writing on the 8th of June, 1832, Mr. S. says, “This day I have been 56 years in this sinful world. I have been the subject of serious thoughts and desires more, than 40 years.” In a little time after his arrival in London, he attended the ministry of Mr. Richard Burnham, Grafton Street, Soho, and was subsequently baptized by him. Not long afterwards, and when only 19, he “received the full sanction of the church, and was sent forth to preach the gospel as the Lord in his, providence might open a door for him.” Nevertheless, from some cause or other, Mr. Burnham never would suffer him to preach in his pulpit.
In about three years, Stevens returned to his native village, and there and in the neighborbood regularly preached. Dr. Haweis made proposals to procure his admission into the University; but Stevens, would not consent, as his Principles as a Baptist were fixed. In 1797 be accepted a call to settle over a people at Oundle. There he continued for two years, and then removed to St. Neot’s. Here he remained about five years, and during the tune, wrote the first part of his work against Fuller, entitled “Help for the True Disciples of Immanuel,” a work good as far as it goes into the subject of particular redemption, so good indeed that no Fullerite can ever answer it, yet by no means to be compared with one upon the same subject by the late William Rushton, of Liverpool. In 1805, Mr. S. removed to Boston, and remained there until 1811, when he accepted a call from the church in Grafton Street, London, Mr. Bumham being then deceased, to become their pastor. No less than 80 members, being nearly half the whole number, withdrew on Mr. S’s settling amongst them; but, nevertheless, in little more than two years the place was found to be too small, and the people removed to York Street, SL James’s. In Dec. 1822 the church was broken up, the causes of which it would be uncharitable, to mention and many members left; but the next month it was re-formed. In 1824 a new chapel was erected in Meard’s Court, at a cost of £4000; and in this Mr. S. continued to his death, there being at the time of that event, 400 members.
In 1823 Mr. S. published a work in favor of the doctrine of purchased blessings and the sinner’s legal right to them. He was also an unflinching advocate of the Pre-Existerian heresy, which tenet he seems to have held partly, if not principally, because he could not see how the human nature of Christ could be holy unless it were in existence before Adam fell, just as the Pagans of old could not worship a god which they could not see, and just as the Papists now-a-days believe that, the Virgin Mary must have been immaculate, or Christ would have been contaminated with sin. Hence he says, (Memoir, page 75) “If Adam did not come into existence until after the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not contaminate him; and their being no sin among mankind but what originated in Adam, the conclusion is inevitable, that the human nature of Jesus was perfectly holy.” A biographer ought not, perhaps, to give an opinion, but I cannot refrain from saying that this is a fair sample of the Pre-Existerian logic. What a mercy it is to be able to cast such sophistry to the moles and to the baits, and to walk by faith and not by sight; for the argument is certainly at least one step up the atheistical pyramid.
Mr. S.’s last sermon was preached Sept. 19th 1847. On the follow Saturday, being very unwell, a friend called to see him, to whom he said. I have no clothes of my own to appear in before God, but the garment of his righteousness, and have nothing to plead but the blood of, his heart. I could wish the Lord would either give me strength for my work or take me home to see his face in glory.” Little more is recorded of his last sayings; but his end is described as being ” prayerful, calm, and peaceful” “not a word of distrust or doubt escaping him. He died Oct. 6th 1847