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Olivers, Thomas
1725-1799; e.m. 1753

Early itinerant from Tregynon, Montgomeryshire, where he was baptized on 8 September 1725. He lost his parents at an early age, was brought up by an uncle and other members of the family, and went through a period of wild and unbridled beahviour in his youth. Apprenticed to a cobbler, he left home after a scandal and found his way to Bristol. There he was converted by a sermon by George Whitefield on 'a brand plucked from the burning' and joined the Methodist society at Bradford on Avon.. He became one of John Wesley's preachers in 1753 and spent 46 years in the itinerant ministry in England, Ireland and Scotland. Of a literary and theological bent of mind, he showed himself to be a doubty polemicist, actively supporting Wesley in the disputes with Calvinism and being described by Rowland Hill as 'Wesley's Bully in Chief'. His Defence of Methodism, originating in a debate in 1785, was not published until 1818.He was less successful when in charge of Wesley's printing projects, including the Arminian Magazine, and was removed by Wesley for his lack of editorial skills. In a letter to Christopher Hopper, Wesley asserted that 'There is good in him, though he is a rough stick of wood.' A talented poet, he is best remembered for his hymn, 'The God of Abraham praise' (HP 452 ; SF 91, based on the Hebrew 'Yigdal' which he is said to have heard sung in the Great Synagogue in Duke's Place, Aldgate. The ascription of the tune 'Helmsley' (HP 241; SF 177) to him remains debatable, though it had the support of James Everett. Among his other poems was an Elegy on the Death of John Wesley. He died in Hoxton, London on 7 March 1799 and was buried in Wesley's tomb at City Road Chapel, London.

Quotations

'The man who wrote "the God of Abraham praise" must have had the finest ear imaginable; for on account of the peculiarity of the measure, none but a person of equal musical and poetical taste couild have produced the harmony perceptible in the verse.'

James Montgomery, in John Holland and James Everett, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of James Montgomery(7 vols, 1854-1856), vol. 6 p.17

Sources

  • Lives of the Early Methodist Preachers 2 pp.48-106
  • Charles Atmore, Methodist Memorial (1801) pp.302-306
  • G.T. Hughes (ed.), Thomas Olivers of Tregynon (Tregynon, 1979)
  • G.T. Hughes in Montgomery Collections 91 (2003) pp.71-87
  • Oxford DNB

Entry written by: HMG
Category: Person

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