Walking with Isaac Ambrose


  • Warm woollen jumper
  • Denim jacket
  • Waterproof coat with hood
  • Fluffy neck warmer
  • Bobble hat
  • Leather gloves
  • Fluorescent body belt
  • Stout boots


  • Sony Walkman
  • Klarus XT1A Torch
  • Charger

I set off at 5.30pm to get to the mid-week service for 7.30pm, allowing a spare 20 minutes. (Yep, that’s right, it’s another walking-to-chapel post. Don’t worry, this source of content will soon dry up.) Well this time, it was in the dark. The views could not be enjoyed and the quaggy field paths were a no-go. One of the reasons I am still sane during this lockdown is my walking to church once or twice a week. The three-hour round trip renders my home a destination and a haven rather than a detention centre. Furthermore, the darkness offered a wonderful opportunity to listen to sermons. I’m too easily distracted at home; walking on a cold, dark night, there really is nothing else to do, but think, pray and listen.

I’d downloaded six pieces from Sermon Audio by Isaac Ambrose. The good gentleman died in 1664, so it wasn’t his voice I heard, regrettably, but various Americans sitting in creaking leather chairs. They occasionally slipped on the seventeenth century syntax which is both understandable and easily forgivable; their mispronunciation of words like marquis (“marquee”) and endure (“endor”) proved mildly jarring. I was blessed by his 99-minute sermon on self-denial, Looking unto Jesus in his Crucifixion, The Christian Warrior and The Ascension of Jesus Christ. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Hopeful enter Enchanted Ground, resolving to discuss the gospel to keep themselves alert:

Chr. "Now," then said CHRISTIAN, "to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse."

Hope. "With all my heart," said the other.

Chr. Where shall we begin?

Hope. Where God began with us. But do you begin, if you please.

Chr. I will sing you first this song.

"When saints do sleepy grow, let them come hither,

And hear how these two pilgrims talk together;

Yea, let them learn of them, in any wise,

Thus to keep ope their drowsy, slumbering eyes.

Saint's fellowship, if it be managed well,

Keeps them awake; and that in spite of hell."

Sadly, Rev Ambrose did not regale me with music and there was no opportunity for me join in and ask questions, but I was blessed, I was blessed indeed. Like Cleopas and his companion, it was pleasant strolling to the beat of the words of life.

Photo credit: Meet the Puritans

So who was my teacher and travelling companion? Isaac Ambrose was born at Ormskirk, Lancashire, in 1604. Although he probably came from a Roman Catholic family, he was ordained a Presbyterian, and served as curate at Castleton, Derbyshire, and was then the vicar of Clapham in North Yorkshire. He was then appointed to be vicar of Preston in 1639. He was a peaceable and gentle man; his friendship with the Hoghton family allowed him to spend his months of May walking around the woods of Houghton Tower, praying and meditating. The horrors of the civil war persuaded him to withdraw from the bustle of a large, urban parish. Twice he had been arrested and once he fled to Leeds after the massacre of puritans at Bolton. Right outside his parish church, now Preston Minister, there had been cavalry charges and much slaughter in 1648. A few years later, he accepted a ‘demotion’ to the quieter village of Garstang where he had once lived. There he preached, wrote and ministered, until, in 1662, he was one of the 2000 puritan ministers who were ejected from their livings for refusal to accept the re-imposed prayer book. Thereafter he lived quietly in Preston, before dying two years later. He was a famous author in his day, and when preaching able to communicate to gentry and mechanic with equal charm and skill. Although doctrinally a Calvinist, living in an age of theological clamour and disputation, he was a conciliatory, affectionate and warm-hearted man whose lost diaries are a blow to historian and disciple alike. I leave you below some titbits from his writings:

O Christian, never be proud of things that are so transient, injurious, and uncertain as the riches of this evil world! But set your heart on the true and durable riches of grace in Christ Jesus.

Oh! How should all hearts be taken with this Christ? Why stand ye gazing on the toys of this world, when such a Christ is offered to you in the Gospel? Can the world die for you?

Use Thy Duties, As Noah's Dove Did Her Wings, To Carry Thee To The Ark Of The Lord Jesus Christ, Where Only There Is Rest.

The Christian soul is content that God should rule everything, not only the eye, or hand, or tongue, but the whole man.

The flesh is a worse enemy than the devil himself.

I first felt an affinity for Ambrose back in 2018. Without planning it, I learned I had visited all of his churches: Castleton, Clapham, Preston and Garstang, as well as walking through Houghton's woods on a day out, where once he prayed and worshipped. 

After the meeting, a concerned church member bid me avoid ‘getting murdered’ on my walk home in the dark. I assured her I would, and consequently removed ‘being murdered’ from my return itinerary. In truth, walking four miles through dark Middop is probably safer than 500 yards of street-lit Manchester. While listening to The Christian Warrior, however, I was walking up Coal Pit Lane, which had become a stream in places, and a muddy slough in others. I shuddered a couple of times in that dark place, as Brother Ambrose described the devil waiting to ambush and catch the unsuspecting. The naked, leafless trees were silhouetted against the dark grey sky and the moon’s light was increasingly obscured by approaching rain clouds. A tree shook on my approach, as a fat barn owl was startled to flight. Still, I felt safe as I travelled with my puritan friend, and the great God whose service we shared.

Next week, I’ll invite William Bridge.

Above: Garstang Parish Church, which postdates Parson Ambrose, but an odd piece of its predecessor remains, below: