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Thomas Risley (1630-1716)

A Learned Divine, Presbyterian, and Powerful Gospel Preacher
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“To curse (according to the general sense of the Hebrew and Greek) means to abandon, renounce, abdicate, and abhor as a detestable thing; to excommunicate and cast out a vile and profane person from God’s church and from his ordinances. Cursing not only signifies an absence of God’s blessing, but an infusion of judgment on wicked people and families, according to what they deserve for their sins, both in this life and in the life to come”

Thomas Risley

The Cursed Family, or the Evil of Neglecting Family Prayer – by Thomas Risley (1630–1716)

This work is a biblically helpful and pointed exhortation to church families to examine their household practices in light of Scriptural principles to serve God in the family. Check it out at Puritan Publications.

Biography of Thomas Risley:

               Thomas Risley (1630–1716) was an English Presbyterian minister, who was raised in a reputable and religious family. He was educated at Boteler Grammar School, Warrington, under Nathan Ashworth and, in 1649, went to Pembroke College, Oxford where his elder brother John had graduated before becoming a fellow of New College, Oxford. Edmund Calamy describes his life at the university, “he passed his time as a recluse… he aimed at acquiring useful knowledge and learning rather than fame.”

              After the restoration of Charles II of England in May 1660, Royal visitors were sent to the University to enquire into matters. Thomas Risley evidently satisfied the enquiry and was confirmed in his fellowship and the following instrument drawn up in his favor, “We, having received sufficient testimony of the honest life and conversation of Thomas Risley MA, as also of his diligence in his studies, his progress and sufficiency in learning of England, the government of this University, and the statutes of College wherein he lives, do by these presents, ratify, allow and confirm the said Mr. Risley in his fellowship with all rights, dues and prerequisites thereunto belonging, notwithstanding any nullities, irregularities or imperfections which in strict interpretation of the said statutes may be objected.” Dated June 20, 1661.

              Risley held his fellowship until August 24, 1662 when he was obliged to surrender because he would not comply with the Act of Uniformity. The college however, because of their respect for him, and because they were unwilling to lose such a valuable member, allowed him a year to consider his position. During this time, “he examined the terms of conformity with great diligence and impartiality, that he might be able to satisfy others as well as his own conscience and he was not carried away by the prejudices of education.”

              On November 10, 1662 he was ordained as a minister, by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr. Edward Reynolds, who in his certificate gave him a very honorable character. One of the provisions of the Act of Uniformity was that no-one could be a minister in the Church of England unless he had been ordained by a Bishop so, at this stage, he was clearly uncertain about his rejection of the act, although Reynolds, having himself been a Presbyterian, was clearly sympathetic to Risley’s views.

              Edmund Calamy wrote of Risley that, despite his long period of deliberation, “he could not, for any place, be satisfied to come up to the conditions prescribed by the Act. He retired, therefore, to his estate in the country, where, during the storm of persecution, he employed himself in preaching privately to such as scrupled conformity, and in visiting the sick, for whose sake he applied himself to the study of medicine; by the practice of which he more effectually engaged their attention when he administered to their spiritual advice.”[1]

              About four years after he left Oxford for Lancashire, the Vice-Chancellor of the University wrote to him, pressing him to return and offering preferment to encourage his conformity, but his conscience would not let him. The Royal Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 had allowed Protestant dissenters the right of public worship, but when it was later withdrawn and the Conventicle Act again imposed, a number of nonconformists were brought before the Bishop, and among them was Risley. “Thomas Risley, of Woolston-cum-Poulton, Gent. Fined £5. This gentleman is one that saith they will not desist.”

              With the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689, his neighbors, who had previously been his clandestine congregation, resolved themselves into a regular church society and “committed themselves to his pastoral conduct, and he was very useful among them by his ministerial performances and exemplary life and conversation.” He had a truly charitable and unifying spirit and was greatly respected by many of the established church. He corresponded with some of his old fellow-collegians as long as he lived, particularly with Dr. Hall Bishop of Bristol, who concluded one of his letters to him in 1709 in these words,


“I am very glad you have so much strength to do so much work for God. I wish your labors may have great success, and that you may have great comfort in them, and an abundant reward for them. I take great pleasure in conversing thus, with such an old acquaintance, whom I have not seen so many years; and am never likely to see again in this world. It is some comfort to think of another world, whither if we can get, we shall live together for ever with the Lord. The Lord prepare us for our removal thither.”


              The Toleration Act decreed the licensing of meeting houses, an arrangement which was accepted without complaint as it placed the building and congregation under the protection of the State. Property given for religious uses was secured by trust deed, and the “dissenting interest,” as it was then called, had legal recognition. Ministers, duly licensed and sworn, were made exempt from many services to which laymen were subject. A list of licensed “chapels” in South West Lancashire has survived and among them is Richard Jackson’s barn in Culcheth, for which Thomas Risley held the license. Local tradition has it that, prior to the license, “conventicles” were held in a field near to the site of the later chapel. It appears that at the time of the founding of the Risley Presbyterian Church there was a very strong Presbyterian influence in the Warrington area. With a growing congregation, and active participation in ecclesiastical life in Lancashire and northern Cheshire, the more settled state of the country after the turn of the century led Risley and his congregation to the decision to erect a permanent chapel.

              Risley died in 1716. at the age of 86, and was buried in Risley Chapel graveyard. His tombstone still exists, but the original inscription became destroyed by weathering. A later minister, the Reverend William Dunn, who took a great interest in preserving relics of the early history of the chapel, placed on the tombstone the following inscription:


Here interred the body of the Rev. Thomas Risley MA Oxford. He left the Church of England in 1662, and built Risley Chapel in 1707, where he officiated up to his death. He died in 1716, aged 86 years. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance,” (Psalm 112:6).


              Thomas Risley’s funeral sermon was preached by his friend Dr. Charles Owen of Warrington, from the text of 2 Kings 2:12. This was afterwards printed, together with brief, “Memoirs of his life.” Risley did not contribute much to church literature. The only work known to exist is this current volume, “The Cursed Family; a treatise on the evil of neglecting family prayer.”[2] The celebrated Rev. John Howe wrote the preface to it, in which he gave some account of the author. Risley left at least two sons, Thomas and John.[3]


[1] Calamy’s Nonconformist’s Memorial, 256.

[2] The Cursed Family, or, A Short Tract, Showing the Pernicious Influence of Wicked Prayerless Houses, on this Church and Kingdom. Humbly tendered by way of subservience to His Majesty’s royal proclamations, and Acts of Parliament, for preventing and punishing immorality and profaness. “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but he blesseth the habitation of the just,” (Prov. 3:33). “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name, for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate, (Jer. 10:25). By Thomas Risley Master of Arts, and sometime Fellow of Pembrook-College in Oxford. With a Prefatory Epistle by the Reverend Mr. John Howe. (London: Printed for John Lawrence at the Angel in the Poultry. 1700).

[3] At some point in his life Thomas Risley married a woman by the name of Catherine.


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