John Cennick was an early Methodist and Moravian evangelist and hymnwriter. He was born in Reading, Berkshire, England to an Anglican family and raised in the Church of England.
At age nine, he heard his dying aunt proclaim “Last night the Lord stood by me and invited me to drink of the fountain of life freely and I shall stand before the Lord as bold as a lion.” The words stayed with him for many years as the focus of his own fear of death and concern for his salvation.
Being from a family of humble means, John was compelled, at the age of 13, to leave school and seek an apprenticeship. He made eight trips to London looking for a position and, failing, became somewhat of a dissolute youth, spending what little money he had on plays and gambling, and engaged in lying and petty theft. Of this period in his life, he later said “I had forgot Jesus and everlasting ages, loving ungodliness more than goodness and to talk of lies more than righteousness.”
At the age of 17, he was suddenly oppressed by a heavy spirit, which he endured for two years, until relief came when he happened into a church. There he heard the words of Psalm 34:19,22b: “Great are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all! And he that putteth his trust in God shall not be desolate.” He later said that he heard the voice of Christ speaking to him.
My heart danced for joy and my dying soul revived. I heard the voice of Jesus saying, “I am thy salvation”. I no more groaned under the weight of sin. The fears of hell were taken away … Christ loved me and died for me, I rejoiced in God my Saviour. His religious conversion was experienced in 1737.
After meeting John Wesley, he joined the nascent Methodist movement. In 1740, he became a teacher at Kingswood, England, on Wesley’s recommendation. Like George Whitfield he differed from Wesley on particular redemption and unconditional election and was obliged to leave. He eventually allied with the Calvinistic Methodists.
Baptists visiting London heard him preach and invited him to Dublin in 1747. Around this time he was in the process of joining the Moravians. After differences with his Dublin hosts, he concentrated his attentions on Ulster, where he founded some 220 Moravian societies between 1747 and 1752 and helped to establish Evangelicalism in Ireland. A plaque on the wall of the Moravian church in Gracehill, County Antrim, commemorates the arrival in Ballymena on 9 August 1746, of John Cennick, the first Moravian evangelist in mid Antrim.
He spent much time as an itinerant evangelist in England and Ireland, enduring great and often violent opposition. By the time of his early death, he had established over 40 churches.
John Cennick died of a fever in London at only 36 years of age, leaving a wife and two children, and is buried at the Moravian cemetery (Sharon’s Garden) in Chelsea, England. John Julian wrote of Cennick: “Some of the stanzas of his hymns are very fine, but the hymns taken as a whole are most unequal. Some excellent centos might be compiled from his various works. “Some of Cennick’s hymns not published in his lifetime were included in the Moravian Hymn Book (1789), edited by his son-in-law, Johannes Swertner. A number of his hymns are preserved in the Sacred Harp.
- Born: 12 December 1718, Reading
- Died: 04 July 1755, London
- Family: Married and had two children