H W Soltau is best known today for his writings on the Tabernacle (Ed)
Henry William Soltau, the second son of George Soltau, a merchant of Plymouth, was born on 11th July,1805. His father was a godly man, of great energy and foresight, and was one of the founders of the Plymouth Free School, which grew to be one of the largest schools in England. The Bible was taught daily, but no child was compelled to attend the Scripture lessons against the wishes of the parents. He died at the age of forty-four. His mother was a woman of strong character and great piety, and Henry was devoted to her.
When preparing to go to Cambridge, he was taught by a private tutor in Kent, having as companions Samuel Wilberforce and his brother. Entering Trinity College in 1825 he took his degree in 1827, and then proceeded to study at Lincolns Inn, and was in due time called to the Chancery Bar. He was greatly interested in natural history and in science generally, and was widely read in many branches. He studied Hebrew in order to understand the Old Testament, and was at one time an earnest seeker after the truth, longing for rest in his soul. He said he never remembered hearing a clear gospel preached, though he listened to leading evangelicals when at Cambridge; it always seemed to him that "faith in the merits of Christ and doing ones duty" were inseparably mixed. He endeavoured to do what was right, observed the forms of religion, gave away to charities, and read the Bible etc, but he had no peace. He settled in London, and was soon carried away by the attractions of worldly society. A great lover of music, he went often to the opera. His attractive manner, sparkling wit, keen intellect, and extensive literary acquirements made him a favourite in society. But God was preparing him for better things.
In January, 1837, he was weary of his round of pleasure but sever himself from his surroundings he could not. A letter from home spoke of his mother being unwell, and when a second letter came Mr. Soltau resolved to go down at once. Though there was nothing alarming in what was said, he had the conviction that he should never see his mother alive, and when the weary coach journey was ended and he reached the last stage out of Plymouth, his uncle met him with the news that all was over. Falling down on his knees by the coffin of his beloved mother that night, he prayed his first true prayer: "Lord, if Thou dost not save me, I am lost for ever". It was the cry of his wounded spirit, weary of the hollowness of life, and face to face with sore bereavement. Shortly after, he heard an address by Captain Hall on 2 Kings 7, and was led into the light. All things became new, and he rejoiced in the freeness of salvation, so much so that a relative said to him, "You are like the man in Acts chapter 3, walking, and leaping, and praising God".
Returning to London, he wondered how his many friends would receive him with his new found salvation. He found the question soon settled, for in a very short time they left him severely alone, not relishing his "peculiar opinions". Soon after his conversion he gave up his practice at the Bar, and went to live in Plymouth with his sisters, drawn by the goodly company of the Lords people there, gathered in so wonderful a way in Christian fellowship. In leaving the Church of England and casting in his lot with the assembly, Mr. Soltau was cut off from most of his family. It was a step which involved much for him, but he esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt". He set himself to the study of the Scriptures and to the service of the Lord in preaching and teaching, and he was soon fully occupied in the many efforts made to take the gospel to the villages and hamlets of the west of England. Great was the blessing in those days as multitudes were saved, and gathered around the Word of God. Schools were opened, and the Word of God had free course and was glorified. Mr. Soltau and Mr Clulow opened a tract shop in Plymouth, and by its means great quantities of literature were distributed.
In 1841 Mr. Soltau was united in marriage to Miss Lucy Tate Smith, a Yorkshire lady, whose experiences had been very similar to those of her husband. She, too, had tasted of the pleasures of the world, but had been led to Christ through the preaching of a godly clergyman. Like so many others, she was drawn to Plymouth and found her delight among the people of God. It was a union of singular beauty and happiness - one in heart and purpose, they walked the way of life together for thirty-four years.
Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Soltau moved to Exmouth, where they lived three years, and in 1851 went to Northam, near Bideford, where ten happy years passed, before moving to Exeter in 1861. Mr. Soltau had become widely known through his writings, his books on the Tabernacle being greatly appreciated. The little book, The Soul and its Difficulties: a Word to the Anxious, had a very large circulation, and was much used of God. It rejoiced the authors heart that, when no longer able to minister, his little book was constantly being blessed. But a great affliction had overtaken him in the failure of his sight. In 1860 it seemed as if total blindness was before him, but he recovered it in measure, and was able to travel alone and to read the largest type Bible. But his extensive correspondence, the writing of tracts and books, and all preparations had to be conducted by memory and dictation. The unwearied care and efficient help of his wife enabled him to accomplish his work.
Those were busy years; Mr. Soltau visited many parts, including London, where his addresses were so appreciated, Glasgow, Birmingham, Hereford, and many places in the west; also Dublin, where he was specially welcomed, and where his ministry was valued as nowhere else. He seemed to take the warm-hearted Christians by storm, and they never forgot his visits.
His teaching was distinguished by its clearness and simplicity of style, by its deep knowledge of the Word of God, and also of the human heart. He was stern in his denunciations of sin, and unsparing of those who treated the Word of God with lightness or irreverence. But his was a singularly tender and sympathetic nature, and he was always ready to go to those in sorrow or trouble of any kind and help them. The poor loved him, and trusted him. He was constantly sent for where there was trouble in any gathering; his clear mind, sound judgment, and prayerful influence being sought after by his brethren. But only those living in closest intimacy with him knew what these matters cost him, and of the way he took to heart any failure in Christian life, or any dishonour to the Name of the Lord.
In 1867, his health, never robust, was evidently failing. He paid a short visit to London in the autumn, and on the last Sunday spoke six times. At one of these meetings in the open air, in Soho Square, he referred to the days when as a young man of fashion he lived near by; he spoke of his conversion, and of the life of happy service for God he had been given. Shortly after he was laid low by paralysis, and he never again spoke in public. Gradually his powers failed, but he never murmured. His peace and calm were unbroken. He delighted to hear of the Lords work in all parts of the world, especially of that in which his children were engaged.
In 1870 he moved to Barnstaple to end his days near his beloved friend, Mr. R. C. Chapman. When the end came, on 1st July, 1875, he had been unconscious for several weeks, but at the last he suddenly lifted his head, which had sunk on his breast, his eyes opened, and a heavenly smile lit up his face as without a sigh he breathed his last.
His life was one of great simplicity, and of unyielding uprightness. His one desire was to exalt the Name of the Lord Jesus, and to serve Him in serving His people. He never looked back; he had counted the cost and kept his eye fixed on the goal. He had the joy of seeing all his nine children early converted, and, as they grew up, giving themselves to the Lords service.