Lewis Way (1772–1840) was an English barrister and churchman, noted for his work to with the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews (CMJ), in which he played a pioneering role. He also petitioned the Czar for the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
He was the second son of Benjamin Way of Denham, and grandson of Lewis Way FRS (d. 1771), director of the South Sea Company. Lewis Way graduated with an M.A. in 1796 from Merton College, Oxford, and in 1797 was called to the bar by the Society of the Inner Temple. He was ordained in 1817. A stranger of the same name, John Way, met him by accident and left him a large fortune, which he devoted to rescuing the financially struggling London Society.
While staying in Nice he donated funds for the construction of the Promenade des Anglais there. He later lived in Paris and founded an Anglican chapel near the Champs-Élysées, where his preaching attracted a fashionable congregation. His country estate in Stansted housed the Jewish Missionary training college, and the chapel windows with their use of Jewish symbols inspired the poet Keats to write “The Eve of Saint Agnes.”
Gidney’s flowery prose records (pp. 416-7):
One more death, even more disastrous to the Society than that of [Charles] Simeon has to be recorded within the Period, namely that of the Rev. Lewis Way, which occurred on January 23rd, 1840.
He was the best earthly friend, out of many good friends, whom Almighty God has vouchsafed to the Society during its hundred years. One cannot doubt that he was a special deliverer raised up to extricate it from an unsatisfactory impasse and to establish it upon a sound and permanent basis. Through him the Jewish missionary cause was confided to members of the Church of England. By his means the Bishops of Salisbury, and Lichfield and Coventry, accepted the office of Patrons. At his summons it was that Sir Thomas Baring came forward, in a time of peril and difficulty, to place himself at the helm. The Society’s chapel and schools were, as long as they stood, a monument of his liberality.
Gidney then recounts the well-known but apocryphal story of how Lewis Way became involved with the London Society:
The providential circumstances under which Lewis Way was led to take an interest in the Society were of a strange and romantic character, and the following account of them was furnished by a member of his family. Two friends, himself and another, were riding one day, in the winter of 1811, from Exmouth to Exeter, when their attention was called to a group of oaks.
They were told that a Miss Jane Parminter, who had lately died, was so deeply interested in the welfare of the Jews that she left a clause in her will that those trees should not be cut down until the Jews had returned to their own land. This striking story about the “Oaks of la Ronde,” as they were called, so impressed Way, that an interest and spiritual concern for the salvation of Israel at once sprang up in his heart.
He made enquiries whether any Christians had ever done anything in this direction, heard of the London Jews Society, which was then struggling along, and at once came to its rescue in the princely way already recorded. The fact, which transpired many years later, that no such clause as that to which Way’s notice was called existed in Jane Parminter’s will, does not invalidate the other fact, that his love for the Jews was the result of what he heard, even though it was but a pious fiction. His death very naturally formed a leading topic at the next annual meeting, when Dr. Marsh spoke of the brilliancy of his imagination, the soundness of his learning, his retentive memory, his sincerity in religion, the fervency of his zeal in this particular cause, and his general benevolence. Elliott, of Brighton, said that Way, “with the Rev. Charles Simeon, was the greatest friend the Society had ever had.”
Prayer; Thank you Lord for this astonishing figure, and his story. You use all types of people in all types of circumstances, and through the life, work and generosity of Lewis Way you prospered the work of CMJ in the 19th century. Is it too much to ask that you would do the same today? It is so easy to see the limitations, eccentricities even, of those in the past. Yet you used them despite their imperfections and limitations, and you can use us today. Please give us the passion, commitment, resources and depth of vision you gave to people like Lewis Way, and help us to serve you faithfully in our generation. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
The Ways of Yesterday: being the chronicles of the Way family from 1307 to 1885, Anna Maria Wilhelmina Stirling, 1930
Now it so happened that in the winter of 1811, shortly after the death of Miss Jane Parminter, Lewis Way was staying with some of his wife’s relations in Devonshire, when one day he rode with a friend along the road which leads from Exmouth to Exeter. Two miles from the former town he was suddenly struck by the sight of A la Ronde, and in some amazement begged his companion to tell him to whom belonged this strange dwelling which looked more like a residence for South Sea Islanders than an ordinary country house. His friend gave him full particulars ; adding that Miss Jane Parminter had recently died and — according to local gossip — in fulfilment of her wishes had been buried with her coffin standing upright in the little Chapel of Point in View, while her will, or a codicil to her will, contained a singular clause. In reference to a group of oaks in the grounds of the house she had decreed as follows;
These oaks shall remain standing and the hand of man shall not be lifted up against them till Israel returns and is restored to the land of promise.
– The Ways of Yesterday: being the chronicles of the Way family from 1307 to 1885, Anna Maria Wilhelmina Stirling, 1930