William Henry Bennet (1843-1920)
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
The life of William Bennet is a good illustration of how God equips a dedicated soul to serve Him in ways that the individual might originally be unaware of. William Bennet eventually became one of the Men of Bath, the third editor of the Echoes of Service missionary magazine, and in doing so became so very helpful to the Lord’s servants serving overseas. His own experiences in various aspects of Christian service, even without any of the advantages of a higher education, enabled him to do so from personal knowledge.
Bennet was born in 1843 into an Anglican family in Ashford, Kent. His father was a confectioner, making and marketing cakes and the like. Young Bennet was saved at an early age, and always thereafter had a keen interest in serving the Lord. His first employment was in finance, having passed the examination necessary to work in a Railway Clearing House, where the many railway companies running trains over the same routes worked out what they owed each other. This early involvement in business was to prove useful, initially for the family business to which he eventually returned. Outside his work life, he started distributing gospel tracts and holding gospel meetings in homes, being very concerned about the spiritual state of the town.
Then, in 1862, at the age of nineteen, having become a diligent student of the Bible, he came to realize the errors of ‘baptismal regeneration’ and other errors connected with the state church. As a result, he was baptized as a believer, severed his connection with the church, and became associated with a local assembly in the town.
At this time, he came into contact with truly spiritual men, and was particularly helped by the ministry of William Soltau (whose lectures on ‘The Tabernacle and Priesthood’ he attended), and James Harris, author of Law and Grace, Being Notes of Lectures on the Epistle to the Galatians.
The next stage in his spiritual development was to spend some time helping an evangelist called Robert Gribble, originally from Barnstaple, and a friend of Robert Chapman, who was working in and around the village of Merriot in Somerset. Mr. Gribble had been preaching in the Barnstable district of North Devon for seven years, and would similarly preach in and around Merriot for eight years.
During a three-month stay in Merriot in 1862, W. H. Bennet looked to the Lord in faith for his material needs. Then, after consulting with Robert Chapman of Barnstable and Henry Soltau, he moved to the village of Bow in Devon, helping in a school there and serving the Lord in the district around. Back in 1839, Robert Gribble had preached for some time in Bow and an assembly had been formed there.
In 1863, Bennet first visited Yeovil in south Somerset, and he finally settled there in 1869. In the spring of 1871, he married Martha Amelia Softley, who was a true spiritual helpmeet for him until her death in 1919, aged 89. In 1863, the famous Yeovil Conference was commenced, and for forty-nine years Bennet guided these profitable gatherings for ministry and missionary reports.
Bennet became the co-editor of The Golden Lamp, which had supplied valuable ministry for twenty-one years. In 1872, Henry Groves and Dr. J. L. Maclean had first published The Missionary Echo, which they renamed Echoes of Service in 1885. When The Golden Lamp ceased publication in 1890, they invited Bennet to join them as their co-editor: Groves died the following year. The purpose of the magazine then (and now) was: to act as a conduit for money from assemblies and individuals at home to missionaries abroad; to publish information about work in the field; and to exercise what was referred to as a caring (not controlling) ministry for those abroad. Then, for thirty years, he took an active part in this ever-growing work, continuing to reside in Yeovil, but spending a part of each week in Bath.
In 1894, R. E. Sparks of Belfast, resigned his position as solicitor to the Ulster Bank to join the editors. Then, W. E. Vine joined them in 1909, and served as an editor for 40 years.
As a ‘ministering brother’, Bennet was known in most parts of the British Isles and in some parts of the Continent. The leading article in Echoes of Service often bore his initials ‘W.H.B.’, and he contributed many papers to The Witness, and the Believer’s Magazine. In 1902 Pickering and Inglis published his much-appreciated biography of Robert Chapman of Barnstable.
William Bennet, in December 1920, ‘after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep’, Acts 13. 36.
Henry Pickering, Chief Men among the Brethren, Pickering and Inglis.
A. Pulleng et al (Ed.), Turning the World Upside Down: A Century of Missionary Endeavour: A Record, Echoes of Service.