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William Huntington S.S. (2 February 1745 – 1 July 1813) was an English eccentric preacher and coalheaver. He was known for preaching that the moral law was not important—a theological view known as Antinomianism. Huntington was a strict Calvinist who believed that some would be saved and some would not. He believed that on Judgment Day he would be identified as a true prophet. His eccentric, polemical preaching style and writings made him popular but brought him into conflict with other preachers throughout his life. He founded or opened chapels throughout England, many of which still survive.

Biography

William Huntington was born in 1745 near Cranbrookmarker in Kentmarker, and was given the name William Hunt at his baptism there five years later. It is said that his father was Barnabus Russel—his mother's husband's employer—despite his mother's marriage to William Hunt. He was the tenth child of Elizabeth Hunt and the only male to achieve maturity. He changed his surname to Huntington in 1769; his rationale was that the "ing" represented the present participle in words representing sinful activities, such as "lying" and "swearing"; and "ton" referred to his being "a vessel of the Lord".

He did attend a number of schools, but it was always as a result of charity. He said himself that he was frequently hungry. He was the son of a farm worker and he undertook work that was unskilled or semi-skilled, such as driving hearses and coaches, gardening and heaving coal. He also spent some time as a tramp. His change of name in 1769 was prompted by an unsuccessful romance with Susannah Fever, from which a child was born. He was not allowed to marry the woman, but was obliged to pay maintenance which he could not afford. He left the Kent area and changed his name. Now William Huntington he was free from his financial obligation, but not his conscience. Later that year, he married Mary Short, a servant; they moved to Mortlakemarker in Surreymarker and Huntington resumed his gardening work. Nevertheless, he was still very poor.

In 1773, Huntington and his wife moved to Sunbury-on-Thamesmarker in Middlesexmarker. Soon afterwards he reported that he had been contacted by Christ. The vision, which appeared as a bright light from which Christ's bloodied body emerged, told him that he was brought under the covenant love of God's elect. He became dissatisfied with his existing religious beliefs, and began to associate with Baptists, Methodists and Calvinists in various Surrey and Middlesex towns. He became known locally for his Biblical knowledge and preaching, and he established his first congregation at Thames Dittonmarker in Surreymarker, where he was a Baptist. He then had an independent group in Wokingmarker, also in Surrey. By the 1780s, Huntington preached at a large circuit of chapels across Surrey, Sussex and London; his ongoing poverty, exacerbated by the loss of his coalheaving job, forced him to walk long distances every week. He controversially claimed that Divine Providence alleviated his poverty at this time by occasionally supplying money, food and a horse.

In 1782, he received another message—prophesy upon the thick boughs—and moved to London, where he established a chapel on Titchfield Street. Providence Chapel was consecrated in 1783, and became very popular: hundreds or sometimes thousands of people attended his ministry, including Princess Amelia and members of the nobility—although Huntington himself preferred preaching to poorer people. His preaching style was evangelising, and he was known for preaching that the moral law was not important to believers (Antinomianism). Huntigton has been identified as the "most egregious" proponent of Antinomianism.

During his time in London, Huntington's reputation grew, and he opened chapels elsewhere. In 1805 he was invited to be the preacher at a new chapel in Lewesmarker in Sussex. Jireh Chapelmarker had been founded by Jenkin Jenkins, who had left his previous church in the town after a dispute with the congregation. Huntington, who had already added "S.S." to his own name to indicate that he was a sinner who was saved, added "W.A." to Jenkins' name, which he said stood for "Welsh Ambassador". Elsewhere, Huntington founded four chapels in the East Midlands in 1806, the Providence Chapel in Chichestermarker—whose interior was installed in 1809, and which is still extant as of 2009—and another chapel in Bristolmarker the following year.

Huntington and his wife lived in the Paddingtonmarker area of London at first, but as their wealth grew they were able to move to a large villa in nearby Cricklewoodmarker. Mary, with whom Huntington had 13 children, died on 9 December 1806. Huntington then married the former Lady Elizabeth Sanderson (widow of Sir James Sanderson bt a former Lord Mayor of London) in 1808; they had become romantically linked six years earlier, which had displeased some of his friends and members of his congregation. Lady Sanderson, who continued to use that name after marriage, died in 1817.

In 1810, the Providence Chapel in Titchfield Street burnt down. Huntington, who by this time was wealthy, raised about £10,000 (£ as of ) to built a new, larger chapel. St Bartholomew's church, or the New Providence Chapel, held its first service on 20 June 1811.

Huntington died in 1813, after which various preachers tried to take on St Bartholomew's. (The church was finally destroyed during the bombing of London in the Second World War.) Huntington was buried at the chapel in Lewes beside Jenkin Jenkins who had died in 1810. The inscription, which he composed only a few days before he died, read "Here lies the coalheaver who departed his life July 1st 1813 in the 69th year of his age, beloved of his God but abhorred of men. The omniscient Judge at the grand assize shall ratify and confirm this to the confusion of many thousands, for England and its metropolis will know that there has been a prophet amongst them."

Writings

Huntington was a prolific writer and publisher of religious tracts, polemics, sermons and other pieces. His works and letters continued to be published after his death.
  • The Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer (1784)
  • Epistles of Faith (Part 1) (1785)
  • God the Guardian of the Poor and the Bank of Faith (Part 1) (1785)
  • Living Testimonies (Part 1) (1794)
  • The Naked Bow, or, A Visible Display of the Judgments of God on the Enemies of Truth (1794)
  • Epistles of Faith (Part 2) (1797)
  • Correspondence between Noctua Aurita and Philomela (1799)
  • God the Guardian of the Poor and the Bank of Faith (Part 2) (1802)
  • Living Testimonies (Part 2) (1806)
  • The substance of the last or farewell sermon of the late Reverend William Huntington, SS (1813; posthumous)
  • The Sinner Saved: a memoir of the Rev. William Huntington (1813; posthumous)
  • Gleanings of the Vintage (1814; two volumes; posthumous)
  • Posthumous Letters (1815; three volumes; posthumous)
  • Posthumous Letters (1822; posthumous)


References


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