BIOGRAPHY - THE SECOND
George Vicesimus Wigram was born in 1805. He was the twentieth child of Sir Robert Wigram, a merchant and ship owner. Two of GVW's brothers gained worldly distinction: James as Vice-Chancellor in the Old Court of Chancery, and Joseph Cotton as Bishop of Rochester.
The following is GVW's own account of his conversion while a subaltern officer in the army.
Good instructions as to the contents of the Bible were mine at school, at seventeen, under a John the Baptist ministry; but I never knew the gospel till, at nineteen, I went abroad, full of the animal pleasures of the military life. I and my comrade spent out long and tiring day on the field of Waterloo in June, 1824. Arriving late at night at , I soon went to my bedroom. It struck me, 'I will say my prayers'. It was the habit of childhood, neglected in youth. I felt down by my bedside; but I found I had forgotten what to say. I looked up as if trying to remember, when suddenly there came on my soul a something I had never known before. It was as if some One, Infinite and Almighty, knowing everything, full of the deepest, and tenderest interest in myself, though utterly and entirely abhorring everything in, and connected with me, made known to me that He pitied and loved myself.
My eye saw no one; but I knew assuredly that the One whom I knew not, and never had met, had met me for the first time, and made me to know that we were together. There was a light, no sense or faculty my own human nature ever knew; there was a presence of what seemed infinite in greatness something altogether of a class that was apart and supreme, and yet at the same time making itself known to me in a way that I as a man thoroughly feel, and taste, and enjoy. The Light made all light, Himself withal; but it did not destroy, for it was love itself, and I was loved individually by Him. The exquisite tenderness and fulness of that love, the way it appropriated me myself for Him, in whom it all was, while the light from which it was inseparable in Him, discovered to me the contrast I had been to all that was light and love. I wept for a while on my knees, said nothing, then got into bed.
The next morning's thought was, 'Get a Bible'. I got one, and it was thenceforward my handbook. My clergyman companion noticed this, and also my entire change of life and thought. We journeyed on together to Geneva, where there was an active persecution of the faithful going on. He went to Italy, and I found my own company stayed with those who were suffering for Christ.
Leaving the army, in 1826 GVW entered Queen's College, Oxford, with the purpose of of taking holy orders in the Church of England.
J.N.D.'s FIRST IMPRESSION about 1827
"Such a saint as Miss F. brought in to take tea with us this afternoon! A Mr. Wigram, not more than 22, preparing for the ministry. Whilst his spirit and conversation have laid me in the dust, his weighty words and sentences I pray God I may never forget. So much is given hand of the Spirit, one help our Lord's sanctifying presence amongst us. He read to us during tea Psalms 67 and 23 with such a holy solemnity of voice and manner as if he felt every word was God's word. Our conversation took the following topics:
That we did not simplify prayers enough; that it is the lifting of of the heart all of a long that we may be assured walking with God as a friend telling Him everything;
That we lose much by not waiting on Him in following up petition, supposed the salvation of any friend to be ours, to turn the mind to that point during the day;
That we may be assured the closer we walk the more the light of His countenance we shall enjoy; the ejaculatory prayer, the lifting up of the eye and the realizing the eyes of God upon us, is the great secret of spirituality in social intercourse;
That the deeply spiritual mind cannot be a great talker, because such are watching and cherishing the visits of the Spirit ascending at intervals in all the secret acts of faith and love and praise;
That the expression of the eye tells these breaks off whilst others around them are taken up with present things.
You never find a spiritual Christian late in bed. Mr. Wigram sees such a want of spirituality in this in the interior state of things as to communion with busy active people the soul starving amidst the sense of duties. Mr. Wigram came and sat with me one and a half hours yesterday. I can give you no idea of his prayer.
Every word filled with realizing His presence before whom the angels cover their faces, so hallowed, so happy as if in the presence chamber. The savour of his two visits I feel at this moment and never can forget the messages the Lord commissioned him to speak to my soul. Oh! how much did he dwell on the privilege of cultivating the continual presence of Jesus, of living in the Spirit of prayer all the day long.
J. N. D.
HIS EARLY HISTORY
While at Queen's College he met a Mr. Jarratt. He also met James L. Harris and Benjamin Wills Newton, both of Exeter College. Around 1830, they were all active in the formation of a company of Christians at Plymouth, separated from the organised churches, and gathered to the Name alone of Jesus, in view of bearing a testimony to the unity of the church, and to its direction by the Holy Spirit alone, whilst awaiting the second coming of the Lord.
Mr. Wigram went from Plymouth to London where, through his labours, a gathering was formed at Rawstorne Street on the same basis as in Plymouth. By 1838 there were a number of gatherings in London and area and the need for some coordination in action was apparent.
According to W. B. Neatby (Brethren historian) "Wigram addressed (evidently to J.N. Darby) the following letter" on October 6, 1838:
My dear friend and brother,
There is a matter exercising the minds of some of us at this present time in which you may be (and in some sense certainly are) concerned. The question I refer to is, How are meetings for communion of saints in these parts to be regulated? Would it be for the glory of the Lord and the increase of testimony to have one central meeting, the common responsibility of all within reach, and as many meetings subordinate to it as grace might vouchsafe? or to hold it to be better to allow the meetings to grow up as they may without connexion and dependent upon the energy of individuals only? truly, provided there be in London some place where the wanderer can find rest and communion, my desire is met; though the glory of the Lord will of course be still to be cared for.
I am, dear brother, yours in Jesus, G. V. W.
Neatby says, "This is particularly interesting as containing the first proposal for a federation of the little meetings of the Brethren". As might be supposed, Mr. Wigram's inquiry has to the present day been completely misunderstood by those on independent ground, who have no idea of the Scriptural concept of the unity of the assembly in a city. What Mr. Wigram was referring to took form in that year as the London Saturday- evening administrative 'central meeting', attended by representatives of all the London meetings. As means of travel improved this type of meeting was attended by all the brothers in a city and was often mistakenly called the 'brothers' meeting'. Such a monthly city-wide meeting including the sisters since 1951 has been more properly known as the 'care meeting', as the purpose was to care for the Lord's interests as they might be known.
Wigram married Catherine Parnell on 18 August 1835 he had been married before, to Frances Bligh on 23 March 1830 daughter of Thomas Cherburgh Bligh of Brittas, Co. Meath. Frances Bligh's aunts were married Catherine to Hon. Hugh Howard, Lady Powerscourt's father, and Frances Theodosia to the 2nd Earl of Roden.
The Present Testimony
The Christian Witness issued quarterly from January 1834 to January 1841 was the earliest of the many periodicals presenting the ministry of the brethren. Articles were anonymous, but Mr. J. N. Darby is thought to have written the preface to the premier issue of January 1834. Mr. James L. Harris (1793-1877) quickly succeeded its initial editor Mr. Henry Borlase (1806-35), following his early illness and death. When it ceased publication, its place was taken by the Present Testimony which Mr. Wigram edited for many years. In addition to ministry by other brothers it contained Mr. Wigram's own studies on the Psalms, in which he distinguished the Divine Names in the text.
The Englishman's Concordances
The Englishman´s Greek and English Concordance to the New Testament was published in 1839; the Englishman´s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance to the Old Testament in 1843. It is only hinted at in the account, but it is understood that GVW financed the whole project. In this day of online computer Bibles, multiple translations and integrated Greek and Hebrew lexicons, such works may seem obsolete and mere curiosities. However, in their time those two concordances were a real boon to students of the Scriptures.
Here is Mr. Wigram's own account of the Englishman´s Greek and English Concordance:
"A detailed acccount of the formation, etc., of the Englishmans' Greek Concordance, has been the desire of several. This I shall now endeavour to meet. The task is rather an arduous one; because, whilst the credit of exhibiting in English the exemplifications of each Greek word in the New testament is due to another on myself are supposed to meet the offices of Corrector, Enlarger, Improver and Editor. Simplicity, however, will pass through all difficulties, howsoever great they may seem.
I would only state (as bespeaking a more favourable hearing) that my narrative will shew that the supposition, referring to myself, is without foundation. I am not Corrector, not Enlarger, not Improver, not Editor. Proprietor of the copyright, through the gift of another, I am; and mine, too, is that sort of place which belongs to one who, having the right to direct, may have chance upon some good suggestions for the workmen. As the book is a dry concordance I would crave the liberty to be as free as I can in my narrative.
It was in the year 1827 ot 1828, that I began to prepare some Essays explanatory and illustrative of the 'Terms conventional to the Scriptures'; e.g. Righteousness, Sanctification, Justification, etc. One of these I thought much of; and I may give the course pursued in the preparation of it as an explanation of my general plan.
1st. After making a list of the places (books, chapters, verses) in which the words occurred, I carefully examined all the passages in the Greek testament in which the word dike or any kindred term occurred, endeavouring to seize on the abstract thought common to all the places in which it was found.
2ndly. I considered how many English words it would be necessary to use in order to express the varieties of shades of meaning.
And, 3rdly. I wroted down after each citation, either the word which would do for the translation in that place, or (where it had occurred before) some sign for it. This when arranged, formed the skeleton of the explanation, and the object of illustration.
"Full of these Essays, I spoke of them to many. In September, 1830, I went to Ireland, still labouring therein. Between that montth and March, 1831, Mr. W. Burgh, till that time a perfect stranger to me, came to stay a few days at Powerscourt. In the course of a walk with him, I spoke of part of the subject then interesting me; and he, I think, in reply refeered to the advantage he had found in doing much the same thing himself; only his preparation was better and far more simple than mine. His plan was to arrange the passages in which the word occurred, according to the order of the books in the English Bible, from Taylor's Hebrew and Schmid's Greek concordances, and then write after each, a quotation from the English Bible, to present the word to the eye. The design was so novel to me, and so admirable, that it delighted me much; and I urged his devoting all his time to the accomplishment of such a work.
If he would have allowed me, I should gladly have supported him while so doing; but this he positively declined. With his usual ingenuity, however, he kindly devised a manner of meeting my wishes, by offering to engage lads to do the mechanical part of the writing under him. How singular it is to look back upon the past scenes of life! My going to Ireland had been quite unexpected his being asked to the house at that special time our lighting, in a walk as perfect strangers, upon that which had occupied our minds, "how to elucidate Scripture" and the free blending together which followed in an effort to accomplish this object after the manner propsed by Mr. B. : and how different the motives which may operate! Mr. B.'s object I know not my joy in the project was the opening of a door for me, by which the plan of my Essays might be acted upon in Hebrew as well as in Greek.
Though Mr. B. had commenced, he says, Articles of the Greek previous to this, it was the Hebrew which, as the more difficult task, held the place of pre-eminence in his mind, and the one which he first mentioned to me. The Hebrew was arranged for between us first; (for the further account of it see that Concordance). Knowing a little of Greek (though then nothing of Hebrew), and being still labouring at my 'Essays', I asked Mr. W. Burgh, whether he would permit me to adopt his plan for the Greek. Though not systematically from the beginning, yet small portions had been writen out, according to his own need, perhaps, previously.
To this he consented, and further agreed to endeavour to get as much of it written for me (at so many pence per page, of so may lines) as he could. About 800 pages in MS. of this was beautifully executed under his care, i.e., about 200 pages in letterpress of the 900 pages seen in this volume. Finding difficulty in proceeding with the making of the MS. further, he handed ot over to me, to be continued or not, as I liked.
As he had most distinctly warned me at the outset, he would not undertake to have more done than might be quite convenient to him, I of course only felt thankful for this aid, superadded to the gift of leave to do the work. For whilst he charged it only like blank paper, what it cost by the foot, to me is was the acquisition of so much 'painting', for it was most accurately and beautifully done; so that is is now, though soiled by having passed throught the press, MS. in a very good state of order. The remaining 1800 pages of MS. were made by various hands; some a gift, some purchased between 1831 and 1839."
"At Plymouth, in 1831, I gave away all that was done to a friend, in the hopes that he would correct and finish it; and from him I received it back as a present. While a lady at the same place was writing part of it for me, she complained that it would be of no use to her, unless I gave 'a key' to it, 'English and Greek'. This remark, repeated by several, decided me to try and make the design and plan of "A Greek and English Concordance" as opened out and given to me by Mr. Burgh, subservient to another design, as expressed by the present title, 'The Englishman's Greek Concordance'; by which I mean a Greek Concordance, such as one who can read English, and English only the mere English reader could consult. For great as the aid, to one who could read Greek from Mr. W.B.'s Greek and English Concordance would have been, the mere English reader could not, by himself, have benefited much by it, from his want of knowing Greek
The only originality, then, in this work, is the primary design of Mr. Burgh, by a Greek and English Concordance, to enable the tyro in Greek to consult a Greek Concordance with ease; and a secondary design (which is really the reverse of this) the subordinating it by means of an English and Greek key to the use of the mere English reader. And this is just what the title for it 'The Englishman's Greek Concordance', was meant to designate. My relation to it then is just marked by the terms Proprietor and Nursing Father. Honour or thanks I desire none. Indeed when I think of the origin of this book; of the progress of its development; of the innumerable difficulties which again and again threatened its destruction; and above all, of its tendency (as contrasted with the now prevailing increase of Romanism); I cannot but bow my head before the God of Providence, and be ashamed at His having vouchsafed any connection with it to one so unworthy as
George V. Wigram
London, March, 1844.
In his later years he paid visits to Demerara (now Guyana), Barbados, Jamaica in the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand, etc., where his ministry seems to have been much appreciated.
Mr. Wigram took an active part in support of the truth in the Plymouth and Bethesda conflicts in 1845-48. Later, in 1866, when Mr. Darby was under attack because of his teaching on the sufferings of Christ, Mr. Wigram stood by him.
The Lord took His servant to Himself on January 1, 1879, at the age of 73. The burial took place on January 7, 1879, at the Paddington Cemetery, Willesden Lane, London, England. Despite the earlier rain, several hundred brethren including many sisters were present so that there was not room for all in the cemetery chapel.
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