William Trotter Bio

William Trotter (1818-1865) was born again in 1830 under the gospel
preaching of Methodist preacher, Billy Dawson. In the book, Chief Men
Among the Brethren, Henry Pickering claims that Trotter had "done the
work of three lives" in his 47-year race through life. The statement
seems true enough. He did triple duty as evangelist, pastor, and

There in the north of England, he was saved during a spiritual
harvesttime. At the age of 14, he was already testifying and exhorting
in the Methodist class meetings, and when 19, Trotter was officially
recognized as a preacher in the Methodist New Connexion. The Methodists
had been quite strong in that part of England. We get an idea of the
scope of the work from Hudson Taylor's biography.

The Taylors lived not far from Trotter's hometown. Hudson Taylor was
a fourth generation Methodist from the town of Barnsley in Yorkshire.
Hudson's great grandfather was an early convert (he was privileged to
house John Wesley when he came to preach). When the older Taylor first
began preaching in that mining town, "drunkenness, licentiousness, and
gambling" were rife. William Bramwell said, "Scarcely any people raged
against the Methodists or persecuted them with such ferocity as the
people of Barnsley." Mrs. Geraldine Taylor tells us that the church
buildings were deserted and "the ale-houses overflowing, with what
results may be judged from notices such as . . . "Drunk--a penny:
dead-drunk--two-pence: clean straw for nothing."

But Yorkshire did not stay that way. The gospel came "in power, and
in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." Perhaps you can better
appreciate the force and vastness of the work of God in those days when
you realize that by the time of John Wesley's death in 1791, in
methodical fashion he had organized one hundred circuits in Great
Britain alone, which were traveled by three hundred itinerant preachers
and more than a thousand local "exhorters."

It was very likely that Wesley was in the Taylor home when he made
the entry in his journal, dated Friday, June 30, 1786: "I turned aside
to Barnsley, formerly famous for all manner of wickedness. They were
then ready to tear any Methodist preacher to pieces. Now, not a dog
wagged its tongue. I preached near the Market Place to a very large
congregation, and I believe the truth sank into many hearts. They
seemed to drink in every word. Surely God will have a people in this

Wesley's words were prophetic. But what he did not know is that
God's people would not always go under the banner of Methodism. After
Wesley's death, a leadership vacuum occurred, resulting in splinters
such as the New Connexion, Primitive Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists,
Free Methodists, Methodist Protestant Church, etc. Of course, these
factions did not occur all at once, and the movement was still quite
vigorous well into the 1800s. But an autocratic style was Wesley's
ghost to haunt the movement.

William Trotter was active in a revival at Halifax at the same time
when Hudson Taylor's father, James, was seeing remarkable fruit in the
nearby town of Barnsley. I do not have a record of it, but I imagine
that the two knew each other since they were both active itinerant
evangelists. This was one of the happiest periods of Trotter's career.
From Halifax, the young Trotter was assigned to work in metropolitan
York, an industrial center of that time. God was again at work
converting the lost. It was just at this time that Trotter's eyes were
opened to the mischief of being controlled by the New Connexion's
yearly conference. There he was surrounded by the eager young converts
in York in 1841, when he received the shocking news that the conference
had decided to transfer him south to work with a sickly congregation in
London, with, as Pickering put it, "the result that his mouth was
virtually closed in his ministry."

At this time, Trotter delivered two messages that were afterward
published, that demonstrate the man's personal devotedness and
willingness to stand by his convictions. As any worldling knows, "He
that pays the fiddler calls the tune." Trotter saw that to whatever
degree men of God entrust their welfare to financial institutions, to
that degree they will be tempted to allow their message to be trimmed,
clipped, and shaven. To pass from being the Lord's freeman to being
man's hireling is a step too easily taken. In a Lecture on the Use of
Money, he argued against hoarding resources, and in a second pamphlet
entitled The Foolishness of God Wiser than the Wisdom of Men, he
answered objections to the first pamphlet, and explained the positive
side of how our money should be used for the legitimate needs of our
family and to supply the needs of the saints and to help the poor. But
in this second pamphlet, he made forceful statements against benefit
societies and all other forms of insurance. It wasn't hard for his
fellow Methodists to see how his words applied to the Minister's
Benevolent Fund. Shortly thereafter, a brief report was issued saying
that Trotter had been "discontinued from the ministry."

Trotter was not alone in his concerns. An estimated 29
congregations, with a total of more than 4,300 members, withdrew their
membership from the New Connexion. The unique feature of this exodus is
that the principle leaders had no intention and made no attempt to form
a new sect.

Once on the outside of the New Connexion, Trotter went back to
Halifax and joined fellowship with a congregation of saints there. He
also came into contact with J. N. Darby.

There were others, such as George Brealey and W. H. Dorman, who came
out of Methodism and were remarkably used of God at that time. Not far
from Halifax, in south Yorkshire, William and Thomas Neatby also left
their Methodist memberships, as did J. Hudson Taylor, and began to meet
in a more scriptural way. Sad, but so often true, that the very
movement that had carried the torch of testimony in a previous
generation, would become "the system" from which devoted souls would
have to separate.

For a few years, Trotter edited the paper, The Christian Brethren's
Journal and Investigator, which recorded the "little companies of
earnest men who began to meet in the early part of the nineteenth
century in various parts of the country, unknown to each other, and
under no human leadership . . . the inception of this movement arising
from a new illumination of the Personality of Jesus Christ, and of the
essential unity of all who believe in Him, under whatever name they
were differentiated."

His close friend, J. N. Darby, advised him that: "The secret of
peace within, and of power without, is to be occupied with good; ever
and always to be occupied with good." Trotter would quote Darby's
advice and claim that he had made this his aim. This is curious,
considering that the one who said it was so often engaged in critical
and controversial debate, and Trotter was also no stranger to literary

He wrote about the difficulty in 1848 between J. N. Darby and George
Mueller in The Whole Case of Plymouth and Bethesda. His account carried
considerable weight when it was published in 1849, but the pamphlet has
since been both scrutinized and castigated. For those aware of the
conflicts of that time, I can only submit that men like Darby and
Trotter had legitimate concerns. And by comparison to other
controversies (not that we are justified by comparing ourselves to
others) at least Darby did not murder his opponents, in the way the
Reformers had hunted down and persecuted the Anabaptists. All said,
this period was not Darby's or Trotter's finest hour.

But when we look at the whole of Trotter's writings, perhaps he had
found the secret of how to face off with an enemy and still keep his
eye on Christ. He did not become jaded. There is a freshness in his
writing that reflects a high level of intimacy with Christ. Eight
Lectures on Prophecy and Plain Papers on Prophetic Subjects dealt heavy
body blows to the post-millennialists. For sane, clear teaching on
prophecy, Trotter has never been excelled. And his Five Letters on
Worship and his paper called Heaven were the sort of cheering, other
worldly writing that disarmed his assailants. His opponents so admired
the man that their opposition sounded very hesitant. J. Grant wrote an
expose of the dangerous tendencies of those people called Plymouth
Brethren, and admitted that Trotter was, "one of the very ablest and
best in every respect." W. B. Neatby said he was "highly spoken of by
everyone who knew him." And again, when describing another eminent
saint--G. V. Wigram--Neatby says, "Perhaps no leading member of the
community left behind him a higher reputation for personal sanctity,
unless it were William Trotter."

One final note: Trotter could sing. Two of his hymns are in the
Little Flock Hymnal: "Behold the Lamb Whose Precious Blood," and
"Farewell to This World's Fleeting Joys," to which the following lines

Farewell to this world's fleeting joys,

Our home is not below;

There was no home for Jesus here,

And 'tis to Him we go.

And has this world a charm for us,

Where Jesus suffered thus?

No! we have died to all its charms

Through Jesus' wondrous cross.

Farewell, farewell, poor faithless world,

With all thy boasted store;

We'd not have joy where He had woe--

Be rich where He was poor.

His promotion to higher service came when he was only 47 years of
age. It was a heavy loss that the saints felt they could scarcely

Much of the material for this article was taken from:

Brethren: The Story of a Great Recovery; Beattie

Chief Men Among the Brethren; Hy. Pickering

Hudson Taylor In Early Years; Mrs. Howard Taylor

The Origins of the Brethren; H. H. Rowdon

A History of the Plymouth Brethren; W. B. Neatby

The History of the Brethren; N. Noel