John Warburton was born in a village near Manchester on October 28th 1776. His parents were poor and probably weavers. Little is known of his childhood, although he did learn to read and write.
When he was about 20 years old he came under deep conviction of sin, from which he found deliverance through a sermon preached by the Revd. William Roby, minister of Cannon Street Congregational Church in Manchester. Warburton was baptised in 1804 by William Gadsby in the chapel in Back Lane, Manchester. ‘Before baptising me’, he later wrote, ‘Dear Mr Gadsby offered up a short petition to God begging him to raise me up as an instrument in his hands for his own glory’. Before long he felt the call to preach, and by 1810 had accepted an invitation to become the pastor of the newly formed Church at Hope Chapel, Rochdale. He soon become known to churches in the South and in 1815 was given invitations to become the pastor at Maidstone in Kent, and at Trowbridge in Wiltshire. He felt drawn to Maidstone, but through the words in Acts 18, ‘Abide in this city for I have much people here’, he accepted the invitation from Trowbridge. He moved to the town in 1815, with his wife Lydia and their growing family of eight.
John Warburton pastored the Zion Strict Baptist Church, Trowbridge for 42 years, with considerable growth through his ministry. Zion Chapel was built in 1816, accommodating the enormous congregations of around 1000 who came to hear him. In the early days baptisms, sometimes numbering as many as 20 or more at a time, took place in a Mill Pond or the canal, (until a baptistry was built in the chapel in 1826)at these services the crowds who came to watch would hear the gospel proclaimed in a plain and uncompromising way. These were days of blessing.
There were also days of trial and sorrow. Warburton for many years had financial problems himself. There was a time when he obtained a smallholding where he grow potatoes that rotted in the ground he kept a herd of 15 pigs for which he borrowed £20 to buy. They often escaped got into the garden and ate his apples and potatoes. The venture was a failure. Warburton now realized he live by the gospel. Church leadership also caused Warburton many trials . There was a time in 1825/26 when a group left Zion and formed a new church. In the later years many members caused problems and as a magazine recorded-‘There is a people in Trowbridge, who will not or cannot settle down comfortably under parson John. They are like children who have been spoiled and nobody can manage them.’
During his later years he began to suffer ill health and by the end of 1856 was unable to preach. He desired to resign his pastorate but such was the affection of his people for their pastor that they would not hear of it. The end came during the evening of April 2 1857, 42 years to the day of preaching his first sermon as pastor. He passed away with the word ‘Hallelujah’ on his lips. The funeral on Good Friday was a day long remembered, with thousands of people on the streets. Zion Chapel was packed for a service conducted by three ministers, William Hatton from Wolverhampton, Robert Roff of Stow-on-the-Wold, and William Mortimer from Chippenham. The cortège to the cemetery was followed by 230 members of the church and congregation, and the interment was conducted by George Gorton of Milton-under-Wychwood.
Warburton is best known for his autobiography, Mercies of a Covenant God. This was written in two parts: part one covering his life from 1776 – 1815 was published in 1838, and the second part 1815 – 1838 in 1839.
For further reading:
Warburton, John, Mercies of a Covenant God, many editions
Gospel of a Covenant God – Sermons of John Warburton, with Preface by K W H Howard, 1976
Broome, John R., John Warburton, Servant of a Covenant God, 1996