John Sharp

John Sharp (1723-1792) was born into an eminent ecclesiastical family. He matriculated in 1740 as a pensioner at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated in 1744, passed his M.A. in 1747, was admitted to the priesthood in 1749, and promptly presented with the living of Hartburn, thus beginning what was to be a forty-three year ministry in the diocese of Durham. After his father’s death in 1758, John Sharp was raised to the archdeaconry of Northumberland, in which he was to remain for thirty years. Furthermore, when his younger brother Thomas died in 1772, John Sharp, now known as Dr. Sharp since he had taken his D.D. in 1759, took personal charge of Bamburgh Castle as a trustee of Lord Crewe’s charity.

He is best remembered for the seemingly indefatigable energy with which he set up several philanthropic establishments in the North-East.

That did not stop him from joining in the family’s music parties, which his brother William, surgeon to George III, organised on the river Thames.

On his death, the balance of Dr. Sharp’s personal estate, which amounted to “about £2,550,” was equally divided between his widow and his unmarried daughter Jemima, born in 1762.

The key to John Sharp’s personality lies in a collection of approximately forty-five manuscript sermons, composed from 1748 to 1761, that he kept re-using and amending. In particular, the sermon that he composed against methodism provides evidence that, over the years, he was sensitive to the changing patterns of Wesleyan organisation and adjusted his response accordingly.

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Nor do others follow Christ in a better manner who reject all Ministry and Ordinances, and would turn some of the plainest facts related in the New Testament into figure and allusion. Which is the case with a particular Sect among us [The People called Quakers] , who whenever they fancy themselves to be moved with the spirit undertake indiscriminately and without distinction of Quality or Sex To preach the kingdom of God without any Commission from Our Saviour. Acting thus, is something like coming to the marriage feast without a wedding garment.

If this be the case with all who assume a function they have no right to, will not others be also blameable who exceed the commission that is given them? The Methodist Teachers do this, who though several of them may have been regularly ordained, and of consequence have authority to preach the kingdom of God yet who depart from the Scriptures to follow their own Enthusiasm, who pretend to extraordinary Effusions of Grace, and teach that all men are in a state of Damnation who dissent from them. who arrogantly apply to themselves several phrases and passages of Scripture (as may be seen in some of their journals) which are only applicable to Christ and his Apostles; who talk of Bondage Regeneration Freedom and Grace in a Sense which they never learn’d from the Gospel, and enjoin Severities which were not commanded by Christ; who by preaching in fields and highways lead a credulous Multitude into a thousand absurdities and too often drive several of them to the height of Madness and Despair.

Thus many well meaning but unfortunate persons have been lost for want of considering how vain and idle at this time of day must be all pretences to an extraordinary Inspiration when we know that such gifts have ceased for many hundred years, because Christianity being once established needed them not. I don’t deny that several persons who embrace the above mentioned opinions are of sober serious and exemplary lives. Their Virtues therefore let us follow as much as we will; Their Errors let us pity and avoid. Whatever is good in them is conformable to the Gospel; but we just separate Good from the Bad, And not the appearance of the one seduce us to imbibe the other.

John Sharp (1723-92) manuscript sermon n°36 preached at least 51 times between 1753 and 1791 “abrig’d abt Methodists” from 1759 onwards.

by kind permission of the Dean & Chapter of Durham Cathedral

Click on the crossed-off line of the transcription to see the manuscript.


The manuscript reveals that, over the years, John Sharp was sensitive to the changing patterns of Wesleyan organisation and adjusted his response accordingly. First he qualified his acknowledgment of the Methodist ministers’ claim to authority with an interlineation suggesting that not all Methodist preachers had been formally ordained. Later, he crossed out the statement altogether, as if the revival movement had become more respectable.