Daniel Wilson: keeping his Bishop busy

Posted in Blog, Christianity

One evening, when Daniel Wilson rose from prayer after reading his bible, he said to a lady, ‘Oh! my dear child, if we could live much more in the spirit of Ephesians 4, we should be much happier. I am quite overwhelmed when I think of what the true tendency of the gospel is, and of what we ought to be.’

The son of a wealthy silk merchant, whom he was expected to succeed in business, Daniel Wilson was ordained in 1801. In 1807 he became Vide-Principal of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and in 1824 he was appointed Vicar of Islington. He began a Sunday evening service, abolished pew rents and made all the seats free. He mapped his whole parish into districts and enrolled house-to-house visitors. He opened fifteen Sunday schools.

His energy was phenomenal. As a young man he translated or retranslated all of Cicero’s letters in order acquire a good Latin style. He kept a journal and corresponded for years in Latin with familiar friends for the same reason.  At his first confirmation service as Vicar of Islington in north London, Wilson presented to the Bishop 780 candidates! He built three new churches to seat more than five thousand people. In 1832, at the age of fifty-four, he was appointed Bishop of Calcutta. ‘We may err in administering the diocese,’ he used to say in Calcutta, ‘but we cannot err in preaching the gospel. I have made ten thousand mistakes, but I have preached five thousand sermons.’ At the age of seventy-eight he entered Burma, lived in houses made of mats and founded churches. He wearied others, but rarely himself.

There were those who said that Wilson was ambitious and loved power. But if so, this was surely a means to a noble end. He was a man of prayer. He referred every event to God. If you met him on business, he began the conversation with prayer and prayed after a decision had been made. If you called on him when he was ill, he would say, ‘My dear friend, please pray with me.’

Towards the end of his life, he would spend half days in prayer. He prayed in St Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta (built under his direction), in his private rooms, at the altar, with sick people, with friends in confidence, when the sun was setting and when it was time for bed. Towards the end of his life, when he was unable to kneel down, he prayed with folded hands and eyes lifted up to heaven.

‘See what a poor creature I am,’ he said on entering his breakfast room one morning, ‘and pity me. I fell asleep last night at my prayers.’

He read the whole Bible through every year. ‘Tell me how much time you give to the Bible,’ he used to say, ‘and I will tell you what you are as a Christian. The more we read the Bible, the more we may. It is certain that we shall never exhaust it.’

He had immense missionary zeal and wanted every clergyman in India to be a missionary. He worked hard at Bengali, Hindustani and Sanskrit to improve his own effectiveness at the task.

The theme of Wilson’s preaching and teaching was always Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus was in every sermon he preached and every prayer he prayed.