William Bramwell

Itinerant Methodist Preacher

"He fasted, watched, and prayed, in season and out of season, both day and night."

Brief Biography

"William Bramwell was the most significant revivalist and holiness evangelist in Methodism. From his leadership of the great revival that broke out in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire in 1792 until his untimely death in 1818, Bramwell’s ministry was marked by fervent prayer, powerful preaching, unremitting pastoral care of converts and a clear and uncompromising emphasis on what John Wesley called Scriptural holiness. At a time when revival preaching was under scrutiny among John Wesley’s preachers, and when there was likewise some uncertainty about the doctrine of entire sanctification, Bramwell’s ministry was a model of faithfulness to Wesley’s own practice and convictions."—Herbert McGonigle

Describing Times of Blessings

"Mr Bramwell came to us full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. His powerful preaching and fervent prayers were so mighty, through faith, that the stoutest hearted sinners trembled under him. Before that time we had a partial outpouring; but a mighty shower then descended and the truth and power of God wonderfully prevailed. My class soon increased to sixty members, and all ranks and degrees of men began to attend the preaching. Every place of worship in the neighbourhood was crowded. Young persons only ten years of age, were clearly awakened and savingly convinced; this had such an effect upon their parents that many of them were also awakened and brought to God."—J Baxter, ‘The Great Yorkshire Revival,’ A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain 7 (1974), p. 52.

"There is a revival in most places, and in some of them it is a great one. I preached here last night in a new chapel, for the first time, when five persons received the blessing of sanctification, and one rich man found mercy. Congregations are uncommonly large in almost every place. This revival, if attended to and cherished, crowds our chapels and houses wherever it takes place.... The last time I preached in Sheffield, I had the happiness of seeing the large chapel much crowded, and was told hundreds could not enter."—J. Sigston, Memoir of the Life and Ministry of Mr William Bramwell (1846), p. 68.

Describing God's Sanctifying Work in His Life

"Being now convinced of my error, I sought it by faith only.... When in the house of a friend at Liverpool.... with my mind engaged in various meditations concerning my present affairs and future prospects, my heart now and then lifted up to God.... heaven came down to earth; it came to my soul. The Lord, for whom I had waited, came suddenly to the temple of my heart; and I had an immediate evidence that this was the blessing I had for some time been seeking. My soul was then all wonder, love and praise. It is now about twenty-six years ago; I have walked in this liberty ever since."—Sigston, p. 36

Later that same evening the following experience took place:

"I walked fifteen miles that night and at every step I trod the temptation was repeated, ‘Do not profess sanctification, for thou wilt lose it.’ But in preaching the temptation was removed, and my soul was again filled with glory and with God. I then declared to the people what God had done for my soul; and I have done so on every proper occasion since that time, believing it to be a duty incumbent upon me. For God does not impart blessings to his children to be concealed in their own bosoms; but to be made known to all who fear him and desire the enjoyment of the same privileges. I think such a blessing cannot be retained, without professing it at every fit opportunity; for thus we glorify God, and ‘with the mouth make confession unto salvation.’"—Sigston, p. 37

Some Important Quotes

"Pray, O pray, my brother! never, never quit your hold of the fullness of God; for time is nearly over, and if this fullness be lost it will be lost forever. I am astonished that we do not pray more, yea, that we do not live every moment as on the brink of the eternal world, and in the blessed expectation of that glorious country."

"I grieve that my love is no stronger, and that I am no more like Him. I wonder at His glory, and sink before Him with shame. How is it that the soul being of such value, and God so great, eternity so near and yet we are so little moved?"—Sigston, p. 206

"This is the time for your improvement. Give yourself entirely to the work. Rise early. Continue in prayer, in earnest prayer. Keep all your life, all your zeal, yet never be wild…Go on your way. Speak evil of none. Never debate about the work. ‘Be a lamb dumb, open not your mouth.’ Live in entire sanctification – all your heart God’s throne. Never grieve Him, or cause Him to depart from you. Take care how you act toward won: keep your eyes, your heart, from wandering. Determine, if you need it, upon fasting. Keep your body under. Be a man of God."—Sigston, p. 201.

"Where Christian perfection is not strongly and explicitly preached there is seldom any remarkable blessing from God and consequently little addition to the Society and little life in the members of it. …Till you press the believers to expect full salvation now, you must not look for any revival." (This comes from John Wesley—Letters (1931) 4:321, but Bramwell believed this with all his heart).

Regarding Prayer

"He would spend two, three, four, five and sometimes six hours in prayer and reflection. He often entered his room at nine o'clock in the morning and did not leave till three in the afternoon."

"There is something perfectly dumfounding about Bramwell’s praying.... Bramwell’s daily prayers occupied several hours. Under special circumstances, such as finding the circuit to which he had been appointed in a low spiritual condition he made colossal exertions in prayer. When in Leeds he used to go now and then to Harewood, staying with Mr Richard Leak. There was a wood adjoining Mr Leak’s house, and there Bramwell would bury himself in prayer, becoming entirely oblivious of the flight of time. Often he would pray on, in a loud voice, for four hours."—C W Andrews, William Bramwell Revivalist (1909), pp. 47-52.

Secrets of His Success

1. His Prayers: "Throughout his entire ministry Bramwell’s prayer life, both private and public, was regular and impassioned. He encouraged his colleagues in prayer, he normally called for a season of prayer following the preaching where penitents were welcomed to confess their needs openly, and in every circuit he served he organized early morning prayer meetings and at other times as he believed the situation demanded."

2. Pastoral Visitation: "In all the circuits he served Bramwell set an example of diligent house-to-house ministry. These were never allowed to become occasions merely for social pleasantries, but in every home Bramwell encouraged the family to seek the Lord and always concluded with prayer."

3. Evangelistic Preaching: "First and foremost, William Bramwell was a preacher and it was not accidental that his only major publication was a translation of a French work on preaching which he entitled, The Salvation Preacher. He did not preach merely to confirm Christian doctrine or inform his hearers - he preached always for a verdict. Not only did he put much prayer into his sermon preparation, he also put in careful study of the Scriptures and related subjects where appropriate. With hard labour he acquired a very good working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek but seldom quoted other than the English text in the pulpit. His sentences were generally short, the exposition and the appeal were direct and forceful and his hearers were left in no doubt about their soul’s salvation."

4. Daily Personal Discipline for Himself and Others: "He believed that the careless should be warned, the disobedient should be disciplined and that all Society members needed constant reminders to walk humbly with the Lord. Bramwell dealt very faithfully, lovingly and strictly with all those under his pastoral care. He made it clear that he believed this life is a preparation for eternity and that chastisement is necessary to enable Christians to be holy."

5. His Emphasis on Entire Sanctification: "On Bramwell’s arrival in a new circuit, he first enquired how many members professed the blessing of Christian holiness. He came to the conclusion that where this privilege was not constantly and strongly preached and encouraged, the whole work of God tended to fall into spiritual apathy."—From Dr Herbert McGonigle's excellent article.

Bramwell's Preaching and Other Ministry

“His preaching abilities were of the uncommon kind. His texts were wisely chosen, and his subjects well arranged. It never was any part of his consideration, ‘in which of my discourses do I appear to the greatest advantage?’ But the inquiry in his closet was, ‘What do these people need?’ His grand maxim was to adapt his sermons to the condition of his hearers and this is one reason why his ministry was so successful. His discourses were plain, pointed, and experimental. There were generally accompanied with the demonstration and power of the Hoy Ghost. I heard nearly all the sermons which he preached in the town of Nottingham, and do not recollect having once had a barren season, except at one time when he was lame, and could not stand to preach. I have often seen a congregation of two thousand people so affected under his preaching as to be unable to restrain their feelings, till tears have afforded some relief. It was impossible that any one could sit under him without being benefited. Ingenious and clear in his ideas, he had always something new, and never preached two sermons alike.”

“I attribute the greater portion of his success in the ministry, to his diligence in prayer. It seemed as though, when he was closeted with the King of kings, he had the varied states of the people unveiled to him in a manner the most remarkable. Thus was he qualified to direct ‘a word in season’ to each of his hearers. He entered most minutely into their experience. In his preaching he could dissect the mind and feelings of all his congregation and disclose his or her actual condition to every individual.

“He never would address a lazy, insensible company. He would neither allow children to cry during the time of divine service, nor anyone to look around at the door and gaze on passing objects. If they did not appear inclined to give him their undivided attention, he would instantly desist, accounting it no personal mark of disrespect to himself, but a sort of contumely poured on the Gospel. It was his expressed determination not to preach to a people who trifle with the word of God.

“He labored to promote the sanctification of his hearers, both by his addresses in the pulpit, and his faithful instructions in private. To accomplish this great object, he fasted, watched, and prayed, in season and out of season, both day and night. The fervency of his prayers, and the greatness of his zeal were unparalleled. While he was with us at Nottingham, it was his regular practice to rise at four o’clock in the morning during the summer months, and at five in the winter. The first of his waking hours were devoted to earnest intercessions in behalf of his family and friends, the church, and the world, and for a blessing on his own ministry. The next hour he attended the Morning Prayer Meeting; but if it was a day on which there was none, he would remain in his study, reading the Scriptures, and studying for the edification of his flock. In this manner he spent the forenoon of every day, seasoning all his exercises with much prayer. The whole of the afternoon was generally appropriated to visiting the sick and poor of the society. Into whatever house he went, it was a point of conscience with him not to leave it without praying. It appeared as though he could scarcely bear to live unless he was made useful. He often entreated the Lord, that he might be delivered from that bitter cup—a useless life. Indeed, his feelings were such as cannot be described. I have frequently heard him declare in meetings, that he could almost wish 'himself accursed from Christ' if souls might but be saved.

"How often have we heard him, as in an agony, wrestle with God for the distressed! And when they have obtained deliverance, how has he been filled 'unutterably full of glory and of God!' At such seasons, his countenance has shone as with a heavenly radiance, his eyes have sparkled like flames of fire, his whole frame has been full of animation, and I have heard him say that he felt as though he could then lift up ' all the apostate race of man' to God.”—Taken from Memoir of the Life and Ministry of Mr. William Bramwell: Lately an Itinerant Methodist Preacher, by James Sigston, (New York: Lane and Scott, 1852), p. 159-162

Learn More

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Read Sigston's Biography