By Bud Talbert
Frederick William Robertson (1816-1853) was born in London, the son of a captain in the Royal Artillery. He grew up admiring his father and longing for a military career himself. At the age of 18 he applied for a commission in the Third Dragoons which was then serving in India and prepared himself diligently for service. But when after almost two years his commission did not come, he applied to Oxford for study. Providentially, he received his commission just two weeks after beginning his schooling and so never entered military service.
While at Oxford Robertson carefully studied the Bible, committing, some said, the entire New Testament to memory. It was during this time at Oxford in his early 20s that Robertson was converted. He was a moderate Calvinist and earnest in his zeal to win souls to Christ. He was ordained into the Anglican ministry in 1840 and began working in Winchester, England. He two favorite models for ministry were David Brainard and Henry Martyn, both missionaries.
Though Robertson served ministries in Winchester (1840-1841) and Cheltenham (1842-1846), in August 1847 he moved to Brighton to the Holy Trinity Church where he took up that ministry for which he is best known. His closing years were filled with difficult opposition and disease. He preached his last sermon in June of 1853 and died two months later.
Robertson’s greatest contributions to subsequent preachers of the Bible are his six “Principles”. They all bear careful thought. First, establish positive truth instead of only destroying error. Second, since truth is made up of two opposite propositions, look for a doctrine large enough to include both. Third, preach suggestively, not exhaustively. Fourth, start with Christ’s humanity, then move to His deity. Fifth, truth works from the inward to the outward. Sixth, try to find the basis of truth even in error.
Robertson is one of the lesser known of the fifty biographical sketches in Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith. You probably won’t agree with Wiersbe’s assessment of the “giant” status of every individual in the book, but I have found it helpful to test my discernment against the author’s. This work is a goldmine of pastoral illustrations, but also an excellent introduction to Christian biography for the younger believer. The sketches are brief enough to read one each day, and yet thorough enough to have you returning to peruse its content repeatedly. I received an audio version some years ago and am working my way through it for the third time. It always refreshes, instructs and warns my spirit.