Who was Joseph Ivimey?

Posted by: Chance Faulkner

by Chance Faulkner and Christopher Ellis Osterbrock

Early Life and Conversion

Joseph Ivimey was born on May 22, 1773, in Ringwood, Hampshire, to Charles and Sarah Ivimey. He was the oldest of eight children, and because his father had “expensive habits” he was not able to secure an education for them. Therefore, in order to support his family, Joseph was compelled into an early apprenticeship in his father’s profession as a tailor.

As a young man, Ivimey was well-built and muscular and he was known for his energy, vigour, and for flourishing in athletics.[1] His parents had little interest in spiritual things, so he did not receive a religious upbringing. His first religious impressions came from his aunt while he was apprenticing with his uncle to become a tailor. Shortly afterward, when Ivimey was eighteen, he became distraught over his sins when a Welsh Independent minister, Thomas Williams (1761–1844), shared the gospel with him. This conversation with Williams became instrumental in his conversion, for it caused much distress on his conscience and severe lamenting over his struggle with sins. In the winter of 1789/1790, Ivimey was reading the hymns of Isaac Watts and found relief from the lyrics of “Salvation in the cross.”[2] After reading stanza three and four, Ivimey saw the glories of the cross for the first time and the clouds of terror were lifted.[3]


Should worlds conspire to drive me thence,

Moveless and firm this heart should lie;

Resolved, (for that’s my last defence,)

If I must perish, there to die.

But speak, my Lord, and calm my fear;

Am I not safe beneath thy shade?

Thy vengeance will not strike me here,

Nor Satan dares my soul invade.

Shortly after his conversion, Ivimey began a friendship with two young men who were members of the Baptist church in Wimborn, Dorseshire (Dorset)—eight miles from Ringwood. Ivimey attended this church regularly, walking close to six hours each Lord’s day. After a short time, Ivimey became convicted of the necessity of believer’s baptism—through a sermon by Samuel Stennett (1727–1795)—and was baptized on September 16, 1790, by John Saffery (1763–1825).

In 1794 Ivimey moved to Portsea, where he continued his trade as a tailor. He quickly became known for his integrity and uprightness in his business, maintaining an “unblemished reputation.”[4] He married Sarah Bramble on July 7, 1795 and together they had four daughters and two sons. Sadly, only a son and daughter outlived him.

Call to the Ministry

The Senior pastor of Portsea, seeing Ivimey’s teaching ability along with his personal piety, first suggested that Ivimey consider the work of ministry and encouraged him to do village preaching. So, in 1803, after proving much usefulness, the church at Portsea publicly recognized Ivimey for a Christian minister’s work. Shortly after, in September 1803, Ivimey was called to be co-pastor with Robert Lovegrove (c. 1760–1813) at the Baptist church of Wallingford, Berkshire, which Lovegrove built himself in 1794. Ivimey sold his business and devoted himself to full-time work. Shortly after, the church in Eagle Street in London approached him to consider the minister’s position there. On May 22, 1804, a call was given and in July 1804, Ivimey and his family moved to London.

As typical of calling a minister at the time, Ivimey went through a probationary period from July to October 1804. On October 21, 1804, he was officially called by the church to be the pastor and ordained on January 16, 1805. His first year proved unusually fruitful, for fifty members were added to the church, and thirty-seven were baptized. Ivimey notes in his diary, “I feel increasing love to the work of ministry and for the people of my charge. I hope nothing will ever render me incapable of preaching the gospel, and if it be the will of God, I hope till my last breath to preach it at Eagle Street.” 

Though it was not long before he would have to taste the bitter cup of trial, when his wife, Sarah, died on January 11, 1807. Providentially, the Lord provided another companion—widow Anne Spence of Eagle Street—and they were married a year later on January 7, 1808.[5] Anne’s daughter, whom Ivimey saw as his own child, became the subject of a memoir written for the young women and Sunday school teachers of Eagle Street to exemplify the short but zealous life of Miss Ann Price who died in 1812, at the age of twenty-one.[6]

“To spend and be spent in my master’s service”

Following the marriage to his second wife, Ivimey entered a season of much labour. For the next two decades he lived out his prayer, “Gladly will I spend and be spent, in attempting to promote thy honour, and however thou art pleased to appoint.”[7] Though unflinching in professional ministry, God used Ivimey to give spiritual vigour to the Eagle Street congregation. By God’s grace, Ivimey saw eight hundred persons added during his pastorate, twenty men ordained to ministry, and four sent to missionary work,[8]along with the establishment of a thriving Sunday school ministry for adults and children,[9] Ivimey was also appointed in 1812 to the Baptist Missionary Society (finding a short but abiding bond with Andrew Fuller), where he helped establish the Baptist Irish Society (as secretary 1814–1833), and became editor of the Baptist Magazine.

During his time in fellowship with the elders of the Baptist Missionary Society, Ivimey tasted the richness of both researching and recording history. Herein his usefulness found focused purpose. Through the flourishing relationships within the Particular Baptist community of London, he grew more eager to join this fellowship’s gospel impact.His prayers held fast, “It is my ardent desire to spend and be spent in my masters service.”[10] By 1810, Ivimey projected to write an encyclopaedic account of his English Baptist forbears through a four-volume work—a work that would take him over twenty years to write, completing the task just prior to his death. Along the way he continued to chronicle the contemporary pursuits of those around him, including collecting and editing the Serampore missionary work,[11] writing articles for the Baptist Magazine, reprinting pamphlets and tracts from his companions, and chronicling the Baptist mission to the Irish.[12]

As his historical research continued and his volumes of A History of the English Baptists met with success, he endeavoured to write biographies of famous Baptists, Protestant Dissenters, and repeatedly contended for the historical Baptist position of strict communion. His concern for Eagle Street, and the wider church, was that “No genuine Protestant [should] allow that anything claims his obedience, which owes its origin to human invention, and which can urge no higher authority than ancient tradition.”[13] His pen was almost entirely spent upon the necessity of the dissenting church and God’s providence in its continuing labour for New Testament practices. He notes, “the English Baptists were the first persons who understood the important doctrine of Christian liberty, and who zealously opposed all persecution for the sake of conscience.”[14] What was not spent in Christian history was surely spent all the more in the gospel faithfully preached to his blessed and dissenting congregation.

“To speak of the mercies of the Lord forever”

As he put to print the last volumes of A History of the English Baptists, Ivimey once again became a widower. In Anne Spence he had found one “devoted to promote his comfort and usefulness both in his private and public character.”[15] However, such tragedy was again matched by the Lord’s sovereign blessing. On September 21, 1830, he was married to Elizabeth Gratwick, who was equally devoted to the work of ministry in Eagle Street and the world.[16]

Entering into 1833, Ivimey was aware of his diminished health—he realized he lacked the stamina to do all he felt necessary for Eagle Street. The church hired an assistant minister, today’s equivalent of an associate pastor, and sought for pastoral succession if necessary. Robert W. Overbury (d. 1868) was brought on in May. Ivimey was joyful in Overbury, as well in his own ability to prepare for retirement.[17] Though his pastoral ministry was slowing down, he saw more time to consolidate his writing projects and finish those he once had little time for. Weakened in the temporal world, Ivimey spent his last year writing—compelled to share the values of Protestant Dissenterism. A word from one of Ivimey’s sermons bears the hope evidenced in his trials: “Let us rather continue in the wilderness with the presence and company of our God, than go into the land of Canaan without it. It is as a God of grace he dwells with and accompanies his people.”[18] By October of 1833, Ivimey completely relinquished the pastorate to Overbury, and he resigned from the Baptist Irish Society.[19]

On February 8, 1834, after his prolonged health struggles, Ivimey passed into the arms of his Saviour wherein he may “speak of the mercies of the Lord forever.”[20] “As a defender of the truth he was fearless, and won many souls to Christ,” Thomas Armitage records, “his name is fragrant in all English churches.”[21] Though his writing may not be eloquent and is often muddled, his thoughts, passion, and intention was always meant to “promote the general interests of piety, plainness, seriousness, and fervour” in the unity of the church.[22]

Excerpt taken from A Brief History of the Dissenters by Joseph Ivimey | Edited by Chance Faulkner & Christopher Ellis Osterbrock

[1] George Pritchard, Memoir of the Life and Writings of the Rev. Joseph Ivimey: Late Pastor of the Church in Eagle Street, London; and Twenty Years Gratuitous Secretary to the Baptist Irish Society (London: George Wightman, 1835), 6.

[2] Also called “Here at thy cross, my dying God.”

[3] Pritchard, Memoir,12.

[4] Pritchard, Memoir,39.

[5] Pritchard, Memoir, 67.

[6] This memoir is introduced and edited by Ivimey but comprised of the letters and personal writings of the young vibrant woman. Joseph Ivimey, A Brief Memoir of Miss Ann Price, who died in London, June 16, 1812 in the twenty-first year of her age (London: the Author, 1812).

[7] Pritchard, Memoir, 63.

[8] Pritchard, Memoir, 314.

[9] Pritchard, Memoir, 68. At one point the “Dorcas Society” hosted upwards of 70 regularly attending children.

[10] Pritchard, Memoir,80.

[11] Francis Augustus Cox, History of the Baptist Missionary Society, from 1792 to 1842, vol. 1 (London: T. Ward & Co. and G & J. Dyer, 1842), 273, 280. Ivimey was an original member of the Serampore sub-committee of BMS during the short controversy surrounding the relationship between the leadership of BMS and the missionaries in India as the sub-committee was forming, but Ivimey is notably absent from the role upon the sub-committee’s eventual confirmation, yet privy to all the correspondences (293).

[12] Ivimey published a pamphlet, Triumph of the Bible in Ireland (1831), celebrating the flourishing work of the Irish Society’s 91 weekday schools (16 of which female) “containing more than ten-thousand poor children,” 25 evening schools, and six itinerant ministers. See The Baptist Magazine for 1832, vol. 24 (London: George Wightman, 1832),244.

[13] Joseph Ivimey, “Preface,” in John Chamberlain, The Constitution, Order, And Discipline of a New Testament Church (London: J. Barfield, 1820), xvii.

[14] Joseph Ivimey, A History of the English Baptists, vol. 1 (London: 1811), vi.

[15] Pritchard, Memoir, 227.

[16] Pritchard, Memoir, 236.

[17] Pritchard, Memoir, 269.

[18] Pritchard, Memoir, 343.

[19] Pritchard, Memoir, 281–284.

[20] Pritchard, Memoir, 296.

[21] Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists; Traced by their Vital Principles and Practices, from the Time of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Year 1886 (New York: Bryan Taylor & Co, 1887), 587.

[22] Pritchard, Memoir, 315.

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