Philip Doddridge Part I – Birth to Boyhood

by Marcelo A. Tolopilo

Doddridge’s Great Influence

It is said that the great evangelical revival of England’s 18th century – often anachronistically attributed to Whitefield, Wesley, or both – was in truth largely the result of Philip Doddridge’s influence. God blew the winds of revival into the sails of the Nonconformists (non-Anglican denominations, Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists) through the uncompromising biblical preaching of Doddridge at Castle Hill Church, and his training of young men at the Academy of Northampton. His appointment as Pastor of Castle Hill Church and Director of the Academy in Northampton in 1729 took place 6 years before George Whitefield’s conversion and a full 9 years before Wesley’s. A. Victor Murray has accurately written “the history of Nonconformity (and revival among them) in the middle years of the 18th century is the history of Doddridge and his influence.”

God revived His church and stirred an entire nation through the pious ministry of this faithful shepherd. Even more, long after his death God used his words to shape and direct the lives of some of the most influential Christians of the last 250 years. This pillar of the evangelical church came into this world in a rather fragile way.

Difficult Beginnings

Little Philip was born in London in 1702 to godly parents, Daniel and Monica Doddridge. His mother Monica Doddridge was especially influential in Philip’s life, and her domestic years were forged by difficulty. Monica Doddridge longed to be a mother and God used this desire to shape her character through suffering. Philip you see was her 20th child; (that is not a typo!) however young Philip was only one of two children who survived the first tenuous months of life. Monica Doddridge lost 18 of her previous children in infancy before Philip was born. Philip’s lone surviving sibling was his older sister Elizabeth.

When Philip was born it seemed that Monica Doddridge’s heart-breaking history as a mother was about to repeat itself. The midwife assisting in the birth quickly realized – to her horror – that the child she gently coaxed into this world was stillborn. Mournfully she received into her hands the lifeless, grey form of Monica’s baby and discretely made haste to take the child away from the sight of his grief stricken mother. Once again the promise of the light of life was transformed into the icy shadow of death.

As the midwife hurried away with the child in her arms, to her utter amazement, suddenly she observed a gentle heaving in the child’s bosom – little Philip was alive! The tiny infant was brought to his mother’s breast where she nurtured the dimming wick of vitality into the full flame of life. It was in his mother’s arms where young Philip found boyhood solace, and on whose knee he would learn to love the God of his fathers.

The Power of Parental Instruction

In those early years Philip was raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. He inherited a wonderful Christian legacy from his grandfathers who were both dissenting (2) and scholarly ministers. Philip’s paternal grandfather, John Doddridge, was an evangelical minister of high reputation, and his maternal grandfather, John Bauman, was a Hussite protestant scholar who was forced from his native Bohemia because of severe persecution from the Roman Catholic Church. Most important in the early developmental years of young Philip, however, was the biblical training he received at home from his God fearing mother.

In many respects during the 18th century the fireplace was central to the home. The often damp, cold and grey English countryside provided the family ample motivation to gather around the welcome ardor of the fireplace. Before the warmth of its inviting glow days were recounted, news shared, stories told amidst much laughter and sometimes tears. But also, in the case of the godly Christian home, the hearth was frequently the holy classroom where God’s truth was passed on in the comforting amber light of its coals. Here young hearts were set ablaze with love for God and His light giving revelation, the Bible.

In the Doddridge home surrounding the hearth, in typical Puritan style, was the history of the Bible depicted on Dutch tiles. It was before the warmth of this fireplace that Monica Doddridge spent many hours with her little Philip upon her knee relating to him the great dealings of God with His people. It was during these years that the Lord began to do a mighty work of grace in the heart of Philip Doddridge, a work that would carry Philip for a lifetime.

From a tender age Philip Doddridge would have to learn to depend on the Lord to sustain him through this life. At the vulnerable age of 8 Philip lost his beloved mother, and by the age of thirteen his father Daniel Doddridge died leaving Philip an orphan. Although he came under the care of a godly dissenting minister by the name of Daniel Mayo, young Philip learned to lean on the Father who could never be taken away from him. In his boyhood diary this young orphan confessed “God is an immortal Father, my soul rejoices in Him; He hath hitherto helped me and provided for me; may it be my study to approve myself a more affectionate, grateful, and dutiful child.” And thus the heart of a young man of God was forged. In our next article we will explore the ministry and influence of Philip Doddridge on the church of his day.

Footnote (2) “dissenting … ministers” independent ministers from the official sate church, the Church of England, or Anglican Church, the US branch came to be known as the Episcopal Church.

Lessons from the early years of Philip Doddridge  …

1.) Don’t underestimate a young child’s ability to learn and own deep theological truths. Philip Doddridge learned much about the God he trusted for a lifetime in the first eight years of his life. I realize the trend in recent history has been to segregate children from adults in church because of an underlying assumption that biblical preaching and teaching is “over their head.” That is a dangerous assumption that I have found unsustainable as a father, as a preacher, and I might add, as a student of the Bible – nowhere in the biblical text is this practice prescribed. Children are capable of understanding the great truths of the Bible and their spiritual health demands that they wrestle with and embrace the essential doctrines God has given to us for our salvation and good. Why would we want to hold back words of life from our children? If you have the blessing of having a faithful preacher in the pulpit I encourage you to keep your kids (or grandkids) with you during the preaching of God’s Word.

Then, talk to them about what was said, quiz them, probe them, stimulate them to interact with the truth and answer their questions even if you have to tell them “Ah, let me get back to you on that because I’m not sure what the answer is.” It’s OK not to know the answer, it’s not OK to remain in ignorance. Search the Scriptures, find the answer and teach them the counsel of the Lord. I guarantee you our children are capable of understanding the deep things of God and they will help us learn as well. The biblical give-and-take with our children will prove to be for our family’s spiritual good and development. Remember the words of Moses to the heads of households . . .

Deut. 6:20 When your son asks you in time to come, saying, “What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?” . . . (The explanation of this question follows in Deut. 6:21-23 and ends with this admonition from father to son) . . .Deut. 6:24 So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. The explanation of biblical truth from parent to child would result in the salvation of subsequent generations and the spiritual vitality and perpetuity of God’s people. Don’t hold back God’s words of life from your children.

2.) Take the time to personally instruct your children in the Scriptures. Don’t rely solely on the church, and the professional to instruct your kids. Church is only one place where we can effectively teach our progeny God’s ways – the other five or six days of the week are full of opportunities to teach them in the warp and woof of life. But remember also, church staff are not the primary teachers of our children. They can come along side and help, however, the main responsibility falls to us, moms and dads, therefore we can’t neglect to take the time to personally teach them God’s truth. A great way to approach this is to simply read the Bible(3) to them . . . in front of the fireplace, at bedside, around the table after a meal, etc. Make the time to work your way around the “tiles of biblical history” as Monica Doddridge did! Your child’s spiritual wellbeing depends on it.

Footnote (3) For young ones we have found the Kathryn Voss Bible (a paraphrased narration) to be a great asset in communicating the Bible’s story line to our children. For older kids the Narrated Bible has also proven very effective.

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