Arthur Middleton on William Jones of Nayland (1726–1800)

On the cover of Jones’s treatise, The Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity, Bishop Lightfoot described William Jones as ‘one of the faithful ones who kept alive the Truth of Christ’s Church during the dark days of the Eighteenth century’. He also wrote on the cover, ‘It is comforting to us now to know that the ‘vain things’ imagined by unbelievers today are not worse than those which vexed the Church 100 years ago.’


Jones was born in 1726. His father was a descendant of Cromwell’s brother-in-law, which embarrassed him. He was educated at Charterhouse and University College, Oxford, where men of his own and of more senior standing influenced his studies and opinions. Bishop Horne of Norwich made Jones his chaplain in 1792.

Ordained deacon in 1749 and priest in 1751 to a curacy of Finedon, in Northamptonshire, he was influenced by Sir John Dolben, a man of great piety and devotion, whose excellent library Jones was able to use. In 1764, Archbishop Secker appointed him successively to the livings of Bethersden in 1764 and Pluckley in 1765 in Kent, as a reward for his championing of Christian orthodoxy. In 1775 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and after twelve years in Pluckley he accepted the perpetual curacy of Nayland and thereafter became known as ‘Jones of Nayland’. He formed a short-lived Society for the Reformation of principles by appropriate literature, out of which came the publication The British Critic and a number of tracts entitled ‘The Scholar Armed against the Errors of the Time’. Nayland’s Vicarage became the centre of that circle known as the ‘High Church Party’. The death of his wife in 1799 hit him hard and he died in January 1800.

Antidote to heathenism

Jones believed that fascination with heathenism would banish Christianity from Christendom. He wanted to prevent this catastrophe. He compiled some ‘Reflections on the Growth of Heathenism among Modern Christians,’ in a letter to a friend, recommending it to all those who were entrusted with the education of youth. Jones deplored the irreverence of his own time towards the furniture and ornaments of churches. Such furnishings demonstrated that Christianity was the religion of the country, and the sacred history of their use establishes them as being worthy to be offered for admiration and recommended by all the efforts of human ingenuity.

He contrasts this spirit with the influence of the taste for heathen learning. Heathenism debases Christianity. The parish church is a witness to remind people to reverence God as an antidote to the irreverence of heathenism.

The parish priest

His literary occupations did not interfere with pastoral duties. His parish gave him much leisure for useful theological studies which illustrate his diligence in parochial duties. A Visitation sermon abounds with advice on the duties of a priest that no one without the experience could have given. He recommended Bishop Andrewes’ Manual for the Sick as the best work extant upon its subject, and with the zeal of one who had obviously used it. His sermons at Nayland demonstrate as much care and thoughtfulness as his publications.

He noticed that the Catechism of the Church of England, though a most excellent summary of Christian doctrine, is deficient on the constitution of the Church of Christ, the knowledge of which is necessary to the preservation of that charity which is the end of the commandment. The lack of it is what drives so many away from the Church, who would certainly have remained had they known what it is. So he compiled the ‘Churchman’s Catechism,’ an Instruction on the Nature and Constitution of the Christian Church, intended for Sunday-schools, and adults.

Great care was taken with the celebration of the public services of the Church, which in one of his parishes he made an effort to solemnize daily with music as an important ingredient, especially the sacred music of the Church. Knowing how psalmody enkindled the devotion of the faithful worshipper, he was anxious to introduce it into his church.

He told his people, ‘Your minister can do little without your kind encouragement and assistance, but with it he may do much; and your church, which is praise in your neighbourhood, may possibly become an example to a considerable part of this kingdom. It is therefore your duty, as members of the Church, to act for the good of the Church, as citizens and subjects, to act for the preservation of peace; as Christians, to act for the praise and glory of God. ND