Benjamin Godwin Baptist Heroes

10 October 1785 – 20 February 1871

I have been surrounded by heroes for the last couple of months, anyone who is prepared to do a bit of DIY in the manse is a hero to my mind. Several people have really impressed me by their willingness to give time and use their talents to help in the renovation. Thankfully I have not had to turn anyone away or refuse their help, but I suspect that we would not have wanted Ben Godwin to help us. Baptist hero or not, he was hopeless at practical tasks!

Ben became a Baptist minister, so I hope that it does not mean that all Baptist ministers are hopeless at DIY - I think this needs to be disproved! However, Ben did have talent and commitment. During his lifetime he was a minister of several Baptist churches, he was active in his opposition of slavery and helped to establish a newspaper.

Ben was born into a poor family in Bath. His name was taken from the Bible because his 70 year old father was a keen Baptist. Ben was given a scholarship to attend the Blue Coat school that also provided his uniform. When he left school he became an apprentice shoemaker. He did not make much progress as a shoemaker and eventually ran away with a friend on a ship bound for the Mediterranean. It was on this journey that Ben became a christian. In Minorca he was press-ganged into the Navy when he was just sixteen. He served in the Navy during the Napoleonic War. He was discharged in July 1802.

Returning home he took a job as a builder, but it became clear that he was even less of a builder than a cobbler. He met and fell in love with Elizabeth Hall but she refused to marry him until he could support her. His one talent seems to have been his preaching and he was offered work as an evangelist in Gloucestershire, where he married Elizabeth and they set up home in a house provided for them. There was a great deal of opposition to his preaching and at times they were reduced to eating just potatoes. Ben was sure he wanted to be a minister and left Gloucester to pastor a congregation in Cornwall. They were so poor at one point that Elizabeth had to return home to Bath for a while, until Ben was able to earn some money as a teacher.

He became a minister in Dartmouth and here their situation improved, however some of his Calvinist congregation challenged his Particular beliefs, but it was during his time in Dartmouth that his evangelical convictions led him to support the work of the Baptist Missionary Society. While in Dartmouth their daughter died of whooping cough but they were later blessed with a son who they called John.

In 1822 Ben moved to Bradford where he was also able to work as a teacher of classics at Horton Academy. The academy trained Baptist ministers and he was given the post because the principle was so impressed by Ben’s first published sermon. In Bradford Ben achieved his real ambition of becoming the minister of Sion Chapel. He now turned his efforts into opposing slavery.

Ben gave a series of talks about slavery at Bradford Exchange buildings. Tickets were sold for one shilling (5p) and Ben employed a local artist to create a series of slides to illustrate his talk. Ben felt that the facts of slavery would speak for themselves. His talks attracted a great deal of attention and were reported in the press. Eventually Ben toured the country to give his talks which were also printed in a 170 page booklet both here in the UK and the USA. He arranged a petition in Yorkshire to promote the work of the anti-slavery movement, which led to the support of Henry Brougham a new parliamentary candidate. The book sold out with copies being given to members of parliament. Slavery was abolished in 1833 and Ben’s contribution was acknowledged with a testimonial dinner. He was presented with a tea set and a silver plate at the dinner that was also attended by members of both houses of parliament.

Ben was one of a handful of people responsible for forming the Bradford Observer newspaper because of their desire to see unbiased reporting. The newspaper was a success and was able to promote parliamentary reporting and the abolition of slavery.

Benjamin is a hero to me because of his determination to preach God’s word and to see people liberated physically as well as spiritually. It would be interesting to see what he would be doing if he was alive today. His life is a challenge to us and provokes us to ask what should we be doing to bring the love of Christ to our neighbours?