Henry Craik 1805-1866

Few, if any, readers of Church history, or secular history in relation to the care of the poor, would be unfamiliar with the name of George Muller of Bristol. What he accomplished on the basis of faith alone was remarkable, and a testimony to the God in whom Muller trusted. Yet, during that period, Muller wrote of his friend and fellow servant, ‘When it pleased the Lord from the beginning of 1839, and thenceforth, to condescend to bestow such abundant honour upon me, as He did in connection with the Orphan Houses … the temptation was the other way, especially when this work was more and more extended, and the blessing of God resting thereon greater and greater. Then my beloved friend, on his part, speaking after the manner of men, had cause for envy. But how was it in reality? There are few, if any, who more truly rejoiced in all the honour which the Lord condescended to put on me, than my friend did’1 That friend, of course, was Henry Craik.

Henry Craik was born at Prestonpans, East Lothian, on the 8th August, 1805, although his early childhood was spend in Kennoway, Fife, where his father was a schoolmaster. Indeed, his early education was in the Parochial School of Kennoway. From there he entered St. Andrews University at the beginning of the session 1820-21 and studied under Professor Alexander and Dr. Hunter, gaining distinction for his proficiency in Greek.2 However, although his own diary gives evidence of the extensive literary labours to which he devoted his great mental powers.3 Craik wrote, ‘though I read the scriptures, and kept up a kind of formal praying … my happiness consisted principally in companionship … I did not delight in the things of God’4

His ministry

It was not until 1826 that Craik was saved through ‘the conversation and society of his college companion, John Urquhar.5 At this point he consecrated his great abilities to the service of his Lord and Saviour.6 As Coad comments, ‘he set himself an exacting and meticulous programme of Bible study’,7 which involved a daily reading of the Psalms, the regular reading of the Old Testament, the historical portion of the New Testament, the study of the didactic parts of scripture, the inquiry into prophecy, a reading of the Epistles, and finishing with ‘exact knowledge and improvement in the Hebrew Bible and Greek Testament’.8

It was around this time that Craik moved to Edinburgh. Whilst he continued to enjoy the ministry of Dr. Chalmers, he became disenchanted with the Church of Scotland, after attending the General Assembly. As Rowdon comments, ‘In such a frame of mind, he became uncertain whether he should enter the ministry, and turned to thoughts of tutorial work’.9 Thus, in July of that same year Craik received and accepted a proposal to become tutor in the family of Anthony Norris Groves, then residing in Exeter. He took up his abode with the Groves family and remained there for two years. The time Craik spent with Groves was significant. Still at a relatively impressionable age, Craik’s admiration of Groves was very great. He wrote of him as ‘a most noble character’ whose chief features were ‘generosity, heavenly-mindedness, great talent, persuasive eloquence, gentleness, humility, learning’.10 Almost immediately upon his arrival in Exeter, Craik began to expound the scriptures in meetings held in school rooms in Heavitree and Poltimore.

It was Groves’ decision to go oversees as a missionary, and to take his family with him, that compelled Craik to seek alternative employment in 1828. Although Craik was invited to join the group accompanying Groves to Baghdad, his father was not in good health and he felt obliged to decline. Thus, in the summer of that year and through the spiritual connections of Groves, he was engaged by Mr John Synge of Buckridge House, Teignmouth, as a tutor for his two sons. This period in Craik’s life was equally productive, as he was enabled to continue his research into the Hebrew language and had his work privately published by Synge.11

Craik continued to preach and, through the influence of Synge, gravitated towards the Baptist denomination. This brought about the next step in Craik’s journey when, in April 1831, he took up his abode in Shaldon, Devon, and became pastor of the Baptist Church there. Of that responsibility he wrote: ‘My intention … is to remain for some little time quietly at home, giving my morning, till dinner, to prayer and study, and my afternoons and evenings to visiting, letter-writing, and preaching. If it please the Lord, after my health is restored, a wider field may open up for me’.12

It had been two years earlier, in July, 1829, that Craik first met George Müller in Teignmouth.13 Muller, who had been advised to go into the country to convalesce, came to Teignmouth, and, a few days after his arrival, attended the re-opening of Ebenezer Chapel. He met Craik and thus began the friendship which led on to their association in ministry, and which remained unbroken till death. Although Muller returned to London in September 1829, his studies had led to significant changes in his thinking. He had come to accept the supreme authority of scripture, the doctrine of election, particular redemption, the idea of a pre-millennial return of Christ, and the necessity for a higher standard of devotedness. Similarly, Craik had repudiated the practice of infant baptism and the concept of an established church when he took up his pastorate at Shaldon. But it was not just the similarities of their spiritual journeys that brought the two men together.

In the summer of 1831 Craik was married to Miss Mary Anderson, the sister of a fellow worker in Devon. Craik wrote of his happiness, and his ‘unfeigned gratitude [for] the mercies of my dear Lord’. Amongst those mercies, he listed, ‘a loving, praying wife – dear, gentle, frugal, diligent’.14 Sadly, but a short time after their marriage, Craik’s wife began to show signs of the onset of tuberculosis, known then as consumption. Muller joined his friend in fervent prayer but, seemingly, to no avail as Mary died on the 1st February 1832.

Although Craik felt the loss of his wife most keenly, it was only one month later that he finally accepted a pressing invitation to preach in Gideon Chapel, Bristol. He stipulated that he would visit the church for a month, but his coming caused considerable interest. Crowds flocked to hear him, and on the following Sundays the chapel was packed. However, Craik had already decided that he would not accept a call to Bristol unless Muller agreed to join him – this arising from the pair’s conviction that a one-man ministry was unscriptural. Coad mentions the stipulations that Craik and Muller put in their letter to the company at Bristol: ‘consider us only as ministering among them, but not in any fixed pastoral relationship, so that we preach as we consider it to be according to the mind of God, without reference to any rules among them: that the pew rents should be done away with; and that we should go on, respecting the supply of our temporal wants as in Devonshire’.15

Thus began a work that the Lord summarily blessed. The ministry began at Gideon but was afterwards transferred to Bethesda Chapel, and a little later Salem Chapel was also rented. It should be noted that the early stages of the work in Bethesda took place against the background of a cholera outbreak that struck the city, lasting three months and taking many lives. Starting with a small company of seven, Muller recorded in his diary that one year later the congregation numbered sixty. At the Gideon Chapel there had been added forty-nine. Equally remarkable is to read of Craik’s personal visitation during the plague. He wrote: ‘At breakfast, called for to visit a brother in Union place, dying from cholera. Found him near his end, but resting on the Lord … After being with him, called to a poor woman ill; then to Sister Bright’s mother; then got home, and thence to Brother Rampler, with whom spent some time. Then to Brother Chapman, then to Sister Weston, and then to Brother Downs, who was attacked by something resembling cholera, but not as yet cholera. So that since 6 o’clock this morning we had not had twenty minutes alone … Hitherto hath the Lord kept us’.16

In these buildings, over many years, the assemblies continued to multiply, and others become drawn into the work.

The man

Clearly, as Pickering notes, ‘Craik was a man of true humility, self-forgetful to a fault, and exceedingly affectionate and approachable’.17 One of the features that marked his pastoral ministry was his readiness to enter into the difficulties of the saints, whether they were physical, as in the cholera epidemic, or spiritual, as he exchanged correspondence with any seeking help in the understanding of the word of God.

Though rugged and what some would describe as ‘careless in appearance’, he spoke with eloquence and the glowing fervour. But he was a man not unfamiliar with illness and tragedy. After coming to Bristol, Craik was married a second time, to a Miss Sarah Howland. Although a longer marriage than his first, Craik lost four children below the age of five. Finally, cared for by his wife and daughter, Craik died from stomach cancer, at the comparatively early age of sixty-one years. The significance of his death was evidenced by what Pickering calls ‘the immense concourse at his funeral’.18



W. Elfe Tayler, Passages from the diary and letters of Henry Craik of Bristol, J. F. Shaw, 1866, pg. xiv. Foreword written by George Muller.


Craik’s friend Urquhart wrote of one such occasion: ‘Then amidst the breathless silence of the assembly, he opened the sealed paper containing the name of the successful competitor, and read out the name of Henry Craik. The fortunate student was then called upon to receive the prize, and, walking up through the crowd of spectators, bore away the silver medal’; ibid., pg. 11.


Ibid. Pages 17, and 80-81 are good examples of such extensive reading and study.


Ibid., pg. 9.


Henry Pickering, Chief men among the Brethren, Pickering and Inglis, 1968, pg. 33.


Craik wrote in his diary: ‘I henceforth resolved to devote myself more earnestly to the duty of examining the Scriptures, and endeavouring, by earnest prayer and diligent study to become “mighty in the Word of God"’, W. Elfe Tayler, pg. 83.


F. Roy Coad, A History of the Brethren Movement, Paternoster Press, 1968, pg. 39.


Ibid, pg. 40.


H. H. Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren 1825-1850, Pickering and Inglis, 1967, pg. 112.


W. Elfe Tayler, pg. 81.


The title of the work was Principia Hebraica; or an easy introduction to the Hebrew language.


W. Elfe Tayler, pg. 125.


Teignmouth is just across the river from Shaldon.


F. Roy Coad, pg. 39, insertion mine.


Ibid., pg. 42.


W. Elfe Tayler, pg. 156.


Henry Pickering, pg. 35.


Ibid., pg. 35.


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