Category: Church History

Protestant Profiles #29: J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)

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Born: Baltimore, United States
Role: theologian, Princeton university scholar, pastor, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (America) & Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.
Emphases: historical, doctrinal/confessional Christianity; plenary inspiration/inerrancy of Scripture; reality of the supernatural elements of Christianity; full divinity & humanity of Christ; reality of sin; penal substitutionary atonement; exclusivity of salvation in Christ
Protested against: theological liberalism

J. Gresham Machen was schooled in the Westminster Catechism of his mother’s Presbyterian faith and grew up attending Presbyterian churches with his parents. In his early twenties, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary – the fortress of American Reformed academia and ministry training. He graduated in 1905 with dual degrees in theology and liberal arts and travelled to Germany to undertake further studies, while evaluating his future career paths.

Machen experienced personal difficulties as a result of being confronted with the theological liberalism that characterised the German theological environment. While wrestling with the incompatibility between the conservative, Bible-based Presbyterianism of his upbringing and the critical, modernistic, scholastic faith of those he was studying under – Machen eventually came down squarely on the side of theologically conservative,  confessional Presbyterianism.

Returning home to take up positions at Princeton and within the Presbyterian Church, Machen became perhaps the most prominent champion of reformed orthodoxy against the advent of theological liberalism in early 20th century America. As an academic he challenged the liberal scholars of biblical studies by refuting their theories about Paul’s theology departing from Jesus’ teachings. As a theological writer, he attacked liberalism as a different religion that claimed to be Christianity, but differed from it substantially. His best known work, Christianity and Liberalism, remains insightful as an exploration of the key differences between the two different kinds of faith that claim the name of Christianity even today.

The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy – over the relationship between Christianity’s core doctrines, Scriptures and creeds and the rationalistic mindset of modernism – was the major battle in American churches in the early 1900s. What at first appeared to be a contest concerning the public Christian ‘mind’ became a vicious war for the heart and soul of the church.

Liberals in almost every denomination perverted almost every key orthodox doctrine imaginable in order to ‘reconcile’ their ancient faith with the modern world. The miraculous and supernatural elements of Christianity were downplayed or even denied: Christ’s virgin birth could be explained away; the signs and wonders of the Old and New Testament were pre-modern, unscientific descriptions of natural, explainable phenomena; Scripture itself was not divinely inspired in the way it was commonly understood.

Most seriously, doctrines that pertained directly to salvation, such as the nature of Christ’s atonement and the historical reality of His resurrection were increasingly questioned by ministers and theologians who perceived these dogma as being out of step with modern sensibilities.

Machen pulled no punches in fighting against these pernicious reinterpretations of the Christian faith. But his attempts to keep liberalism from taking over the Presbyterian Church eventually resulted in his expulsion from it – putting him in that great line of rejected reformers who were forced to carry on their work outside of the church they sought to transform for the better.

In 1929, he had founded the Westminster Theological Seminary as an alternative to Princeton Seminary – which was increasingly tolerant of liberal theology and less committed to the robust Reformed theology of previous generations of faculty. A few years later he set up a rival Presbyterian mission sending-agency to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, due to dissatisfaction with the latter’s vetting of missionary candidates in line with orthodox theological standards. This was too much for his denomination, which took action against Machen, resulting in the suspension of his ordination in 1935.

Together with other ministers who were gravely concerned at the state of their denomination, Machen formed the Presbyterian Church of America (which was forced to change its name, for legal reasons to the ‘Orthodox Presbyterian Church,’ as it remains today). It was a denomination where the fundamentals of the faith and subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith would be treasured and guarded by all its ministers.

Machen died of pneumonia just 6 months after the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. While this meant that he would play little to no role in the development, growth and ongoing activity of the new denomination, his theology and outlook were profoundly imprinted upon the OPC and the other institutions he was instrumental in founding and thus he continued to have a considerable impact upon them long after his death.

John Frame summarised this impact with the following words:

J. Gresham Machen, a lifelong bachelor, left no biological children but many spiritual ones. The story of American conservative evangelical Reformed theology in the twentieth century is largely the story of those children.[1]

“Machen’s Warrior Children,” as Frame has described these theological descendants, have continued to contend for the truths their forefather stood for in the face of widespread liberalism and doctrinal infidelity. While by no means all of Westminster Theological Seminary’s graduates would appreciate that moniker, its breadth of notable alumni demonstrates something of Machen’s lasting impact upon reformed evangelicalism.

Popular pastors and preachers such as Tim Keller and Alistair Begg; theologians such as Wayne Grudem and Kevin Vanhoozer; apologists such as Francis Schaeffer and Robert Bowman; and seminary presidents like Edmund Clowney (of WTS itself) and Philip Ryken (of Wheaton College) are all graduates of the seminary. The current Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, Glenn Davies is also an alumnus of WTS.

Thus, Machen’s legacy has had a considerable impact on many of the shapers of contemporary, 21st century evangelicalism in America and internationally. 80 years after his death, there is still a great need for godly and faithful Christians to contend earnestly for the faith in their respective denominations and, indeed, form new institutions and even church networks where reform proves impossible. Machen should be a valued guide to any evangelical church leader who finds themselves in such a situation.

You can read an online copy of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism here.

Sources

[1] John Frame, “Machen’s Warrior Children” https://frame-poythress.org/machens-warrior-children/

P.C. Kemeny, “Machen, J.G.” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“John Gresham Machen” wikipedia

 

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Protestant Profiles #28: Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867 – 1951)

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Born: Millisle, Northern Ireland
Role: missionary, children’s shelter and rescue missions founder
Emphases: evangelism and love towards the outcasts, vulnerable and needy
Protested against: Hindu temple prostitution

Amy Carmichael was an irrepressible Irish girl who ended her life as an 84 year old invalid in India. The period in-between saw her impact countless lives in the U.K. and India and become one of the most well-known Christian women of the 20th century.

As a young woman she was heavily involved in ministry to girls who worked in factories in Belfast and later in Manchester. A Sunday school class for these young women grew into regular meetings at a Welcome hall, where Carmichael and others ministered to this group who were being neglected by many of the churches in the area.

In her mid-twenties, she had a strong sense that she should volunteer for missionary service in Asia. From one perspective, this decision appears questionable, as Carmichael suffered from neuralgia and was probably not physically up to the rigours of overseas, cross-cultural mission. She arrived in Japan in 1893 and began to reach out to people with the gospel, but was forced to leave due to illness after only a year.

After some time to recover, Carmichael sought to begin afresh in India, where it was hoped the climate would prove kinder to her health. She never left India again, until her death in 1951. Carmichael consistently sought to share Christ with people in India and display His love in the way she loved – but there were also grave social issues in the country which were difficult for a compassionate Christian to ignore.

Temple prostitution was a heinous practice of some local Hindus, which robbed many young girls of their dignity. Carmichael began to provide shelter to those who did not wish to persist in these circumstances and resisted efforts by locals to bring the children and youths back to the temple and force them to return to exploitative practices. She started a home for girls in 1901 and another one for boys in 1905.

The Donhnavur Fellowship, as Carmichael’s ministry came to be known, is still going today and their website recounts the growth of the community:

Baby nurseries led on to cottage homes, schools for all ages from toddlers to teenagers, a dairy farm, rice lands, fruit and vegetable gardens, tailoring departments, kitchens, laundries, workshops, and building offices with teams of builders, carpenters and electricians. From the small beginning of one obedient woman and one small child came a ‘model village’, complete with its own simple Indian facilities and even a hospital to serve the sick and in which to preach the Gospel to the thousands from the villages who flocked to it for help.[1]

During the past 113 years, about 1875 girls and 670 boys have been rescued from situations of moral and physical danger and brought into the safety and love of the Dohnavur Family.  There are hundreds of men and women, who grew up in Dohnavur, who are now serving  in many different professions and occupations throughout India, and overseas as well.[2]

Carmichael spent the last 20 years of her life basically bedridden, after a nasty accident in 1931. Despite this she continued to exercise spiritual leadership and organisational management of the activities in the Dohnavur community. She never married, but was in every sense a spiritual mother to hundreds of Indian children and adults, whom had come into her care.

Amy Carmichael is an excellent example of someone who “should never have become a missionary” and yet became one of the most significant servants of the gospel in the past century. The illness that brought an abrupt end to her service in Japan must have seemed like a dead-end at the time, and yet over half a century of fruitful ministry in India lay ahead of her. Likewise, her crippling injuries in her sixties would have caused many to give up or wind back their efforts for Jesus, but Carmichael somehow continued to press on and bless so many. Truly God’s strength was displayed through her weakness.

Carmichael was once asked about her experience of missionary life, to which she famously replied: “”Missionary life is simply a chance to die.” God alone knows how many thousands of lives have been impacted by this woman’s willingness to “die” for the sake of Christ and His love.

Sources

[1] http://dohnavurfellowship.org.in/early-growth/

[2] http://dohnavurfellowship.org.in/dohnavur-family/

L. Wilson, “Amy Carmichael,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. 

“Amy Carmichael” wikipedia.

Protestant Profiles #27: Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920)

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Born: Maasluis, Holland
Role: pastor, theologian, church leader, Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Emphases: Calvinism, divine sovereignty, political pluralism, “sphere sovereignty”/pillarisation of society, work of the Holy Spirit
Protested against: liberal/modernist theology; political revolutionarism, non-Christian ‘worldviews’

Abraham Kuyper, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister, followed his father’s footsteps to study theology and enter the ministry in 1863, at age 25. Throughout his studies and into the early years of his ministry, Kuyper’s faith was infected with a theological modernism that led him to filter the truths of the gospel through a rationalistic framework. He was a spiritual bankrupt whose job was supposed to be instructing others in a faith he did not personally possess in truth.

It was Pietje Balthus, a single woman in his first congregation, who God used to give Kuyper a good shake-up and cause him to reconsider the evangelical faith. Balthus reportedly turned the tables on Kuyper during his first pastoral visit to her and confronted him with spiritual realities concerning salvation and eternity. Kuyper repeatedly returned for conversations with her and the Holy Spirit worked to change his heart and renew his mind in the gospel.

A few years later, Kuyper was serving as a pastor in Amsterdam – the largest city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands – where he became one of the nation’s leading proponents of Reformed, evangelical orthodoxy. He acquired key newspapers to promote Reformed theology and Christian thinking in Dutch society and became increasingly active in various religious and political matters.

This mixture of a principled drive for religious and political reform led to Kuyper founding his own political party in 1879; a Reformed university in 1880; and a breakaway denomination, committed to the historical Reformed confessions, in 1886. These three endeavours encapsulated the multi-faceted significance of Kuyper as a political leader, church leader and internationally renowned theologian.

Kuyper was involved in Dutch politics from 1876 until his death in 1920. His Anti-Revolutionary Party was formed as a response to troubling, revolutionary manifestations of popular sovereignty in Europe, especially the French Revolution and the rise of Marxism. It sought to approach democratic politics from a uniquely Calvinistic/Protestant standpoint and build strategic alliances with Catholic political forces in order to withstand socialist and liberal movements within society that operated on assumptions that were antithetical to Christianity.

Kuyper’s great contributions to Christian political and social thought are “principled pluralism,” “pillarisation” and “sphere sovereignty.” Kuyper believed that when a nation like the Netherlands was apportioned into several major groupings with significantly different religious convictions (i.e. Reformed; Catholic; Socialist and ‘Liberal’) that each should have the freedom to operate as distinct society within one the nation-state and that the state should not preference or discriminate with respect to any single group, nor unnecessarily interfere with their self-expression of their religious identities.

Principled pluralism was about being committed to religious freedom, power-sharing and mutual, civic respect between such groups, rather than a “winner-takes-it-all” or “revenge-cycle” approach to national politics. Pillarisation was the belief that each group would do best if they were allowed to form and operate their own institutions (churches, schools, media etc;) in line with their convictions. “Sphere sovereignty” denied the state unrestrained authority over each area of people’s lives, by insisting that different spheres of human life had legitimate authority to govern their own affairs (eg; churches, families and schools were not properly under the jurisdictional control of the state government).

Kuyper made an enormous contribution to Dutch and European politics through his promotion of these principles, the effect of which is still seen in some European countries and Christian Democratic Parties today. His political success saw him serve one term as Dutch Prime Minister from 1901-1905. Some of his most significant achievements during office were related to his vision for robust, independent religious schools throughout the Netherlands.

As a church leader, Kuyper led a Reformed resurgence in the Netherlands, which put him at loggerheads with proponents of the modernistic theology he himself had held to as a young man. Like Martin Luther’s attempt to reform the Catholic Church, Kuyper’s efforts at reform were repudiated by the hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church and he ended up on the outside. Kuyper’s followers and allies became known as the Doleantie – a Dutch term describing profound grief. They soon merged with an earlier breakaway denomination from the Dutch Reformed Church and established the “Reformed Churches in the Netherlands” in 1892, as a Reformed-orthodox alternative to the increasingly liberal state church.

As a theologian and academic scholar, Kuyper led the Free University in Amsterdam and ensured that students of the Reformed faith received a quality tertiary education that aligned with their religious convictions. He wrote and lectured in theology and socio-political issues, producing an Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, a serialisation of articles on the Work of the Holy Spirit and delivering his famous Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton University in the United States.

The impact of Kuyper’s legacy has been widespread in Reformed Christianity in the century since his life. There are a range of NeoCalvinist figures and institutions in the United States that are heavily indebted to Kuyper’s thought and a number of organisations seek to approach political and cultural issues in a manner that follows his example and implements his key principles. On the darker side, Kuyper’s concept of pillarisation was bastardised by Afrikaners to justify the racial discrimination of apartheid in South Africa for many years, while theonomists and Reconstructionists in the United States have also misappropriated his ideas to claim support for their vision of a nation rearranged under biblical laws.

Kuyper’s most famous quote: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'” summarises his significance as a Protestant figure. His belief in the absolute sovereignty of God led him to earnestly seek the reform of church and society so that God’s people could live in a way that declared the glory of their Heavenly King.

Kuyper did not possess all the answers in response to the challenges of modernism, nor can we expect him to provide a fully-formed response to the post-modern era we find ourselves in. But he is an invaluable, historical dialogue-partner for Christians in the West today who are seeking to live out their faith in ‘liberal,’ ‘secular’ ‘democracies’ and wrestling with how to do so in a way that is faithful to the breadth and depth of our evangelical convictions.

Sources

J.D. Bratt, “KUYPER, Abraham” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“Abraham Kuyper” wikipedia

P.H.A. van Krieken “Some third-hand information about Abraham Kuyper’s conversion” http://www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/Kuyper/LetterKuyperPietjeBaltus.pdf

Eric Miller, “How a Dutch Neo-Calvinist helped Birth an Intellectual Movement” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/april/father-abraham.html

 

Protestant Profiles #26: Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892)

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Born: Kelvedon, Essex, England
Role: influential Baptist preacher, pastor, author, tract-writer
Emphases: justification by grace through faith, sola Scriptura, penal substitutionary atonement, Calvinism, believer’s baptism
Protested against: Roman Catholicism; baptismal regeneration; theological liberalism/the downgrading of evangelical doctrine by fellow Baptists (and others)

Charles Spurgeon grew up in a thoroughly Christian environment, where classics like Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were part of his childhood diet. But he had a conversion experience at the age of fifteen when he heard a Methodist preaching from Isaiah 42.

Less than 2 years later he was already pastoring a church, aged 17. Thus the man who would come to be widely known as “The Prince of Preachers” began his ministry as the “boy preacher.”

Spurgeon became pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (a prominent London Baptist church) in 1854, before he had turned 20. It was this pastorate that propelled him into great renown as a preacher in England. Seven years after taking on this role, the London Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the huge crowds who wished to hear Spurgeon’s weekly preaching. During Spurgeon’s ministry, the Tabernacle had the largest regular attendance of any congregation in the UK during the 19th century and became the largest Baptist church in the world.

Spurgeon impacted thousands upon thousands of lives through his powerful preaching and his other ministries, including the founding of orphanages,urban missions, a pastor’s training college and his numerous publications. He was able to present the gospel with great clarity and conviction and saw countless people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus through his sermons. He was by no means a fanciful or theoretical preacher – but had a heart for the ordinary man and woman. This is well displayed in his printed sermons, but particularly in his John Ploughman’s Talk, where he assumes the persona of a rustic, farming man and dispenses Christian wisdom to the people of the land.

Spurgeon’s notability lies chiefly in his gift for faithful preaching and he famously preached to the biggest indoor crowd on record in 1861 (more than 23 000 people) and to Britons from all sections of society (possibly even an incognito Queen Victoria on one occasion!). More than 3500 of his sermons have remained in print – a record which exceeds any other figure in Christian history. While there is no way of accurately determining how many people Spurgeon preached to during his ministry, it has been estimated at as many as ten million.

But Spurgeon’s significance as a Protestant figure is connected to his epitomisation of one branch of Protestantism (the Reformed Baptist movement) and his defense of the truths recovered at the Reformation against Catholicism and the emerging theological liberalism of his day.

Spurgeon was staunchly opposed to the doctrines of Catholicism which necessitated the Reformation, at a time when many of his contemporaries in the Anglican church were downplaying the differences between the different strands of Christianity and some were even embracing Rome as converts. In a tract from 1865, Spurgeon blasts the situation in the Anglican church as he saw it:

There seems to be an unlimited license for papistical persons to do as they please in the Anglican Establishment. How long are these abominations to be borne with, and how far are they yet to be carried? Protestant Dissenters, how can you so often truckle to a Church which is assuming the rags of the old harlot more and more openly every day? Alliance with true believers is one thing, but union with a Popish sect is quite another. Be not ye partakers with them. Protestantism owed much to you in past ages, will you not now raise your voice and show the ignorant and the priest-ridden the tendencies of all these mummeries, and the detestable errors of the Romish Church and of its Anglican sister.

In the same tract he urged evangelicals within the Church of England to recognise the seriousness of their predicament and leave the church (an issue which remains live more than 150 years later).

When Spurgeon’s own denomination, the Baptist Union began to compromise its own commitment to sound doctrine – through flirtation with textual criticism, theological liberalism and the Darwinistic theory of evolution – he showed that he was not only prepared to dispense this advice to others, but to follow through on it himself. In 1887, he withdrew himself and the Tabernacle from the British Baptist Union and remained separated from it for the remainder of his life and ministry. His supporters within the Union pushed for English Baptists to adopt an Evangelical statement of faith, but this did not eventuate – effectively demonstrating that Spurgeon’s concerns about the theological health of the denomination were valid.

Spurgeon died at his place of frequent vacation and recuperation in Mentone, France in 1892, aged 57. His life was widely celebrated in England in the wake of his passing into glory. Spurgeon was arguably the greatest ever figure in the Baptist movement (even more so if we look at the history of Reformed or Particular Baptists in the UK) and possibly the greatest English-speaking preacher in the history of the church.

While some will balk at what they perceive to be dogmatism and divisiveness in his approach to Catholicism and theological liberalism, to dismiss his example of biblical faithfulness on such a basis would be foolish and even perilous. Given that our own times are filled with all too many convictionless, theological cowards and dithering denominations, Spurgeon’s uncompromising stance for clear, evangelical truth challenges us to ask a key question in this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Do we own these truths as our own (and even suffer for them) – or let unfaithful Christians and false teachers muddy the waters?

Sources

“Charles Spurgeon” wikipedia

J. Armstrong, “SPURGEON, Charles” Dictionary of Evangelical Biography

Mark Hopkins “Downgrade Controversy

Spurgeon, Sword and Trowel No. 16 “Tract against Romish Anglicanism

Patricia Kruppa, “The Life and Times of Charles H. Spurgeon

Protestant Profiles #24: Fanny J. Crosby

Fanny J. Crosby (1820 – 1915)

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Born: Putnam County, New York
Role: hymn-writer; evangelist; mercy missions activist
Emphases: closeness to Christ; mercy of Christ; blood of Christ; heaven/beatific vision
Protested against: slavery; intemperance;

Most of this profile is adapted from a biographical sermon on Crosby’s life, as it related to Psalm 71. As a result, it is longer and more detailed than most of the other installments in this series. 

Frances Jane Crosby or “Fanny” as she was known, was born in 1820, in New York State, America. At six weeks old, she was permanently and completely blinded by a botched medical procedure to treat an infection in her eyes. Before her first birthday, she also lost her father who succumbed to an illness.

Her mother and grandmother, raised her well – going to great lengths to vividly describe the visual world, so that Fanny could picture in her mind what she could not see with her eyes. She was well instructed in poetry and the Bible. In fact she’s said to have memorised the first five books of the Bible, all four Gospels, Proverbs, Song of Songs and most of the Psalms.

Importantly, she didn’t let her blindness make her bitter or dejected, or hold her back in life. At age eight, she wrote her first poem, expressing her attitude towards blindness and life itself:

Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
CONTENTED I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, nor I won’t.

This content attitude didn’t mean Fanny lacked aspirations in life. Her eager prayers for an education were answered when she was enrolled in the New York Institute for the Blind, where she earned a reputation as the resident-poetess and worked hard to become a teacher there after her studies. She often read poetry to important people, including Presidents, when they visited the Institute and in 1844 she became the first poet to address the U.S. Congress and arguably the first woman to speak to Congress.

These things make Fanny a remarkable and noteworthy woman – but not really a hero. We get an early glimpse of her heroic potential when cholera swept through New York and several of her students at the Blind Institute were affected. Fanny worked diligently to prepare medicines and risked her life nursing sick pupils and volunteering at the local hospital. She herself had a brush with death, when she began to display early symptoms of the disease.


In God’s kindness she survived, but this event dramatically changed her life. Fanny was challenged by the question – if she had died from cholera – would she have been ready to come before God? She’d had a belief in God her whole life – but she was troubled by the thought that she might not have truly lived for Him and she was unsure of her spiritual state. She needed peace –
a Blessed Assurance as her famous hymn would later describe it. 

One night as she prayed at a local church service during the hymn “Alas and did my Saviour Bleed?” the line “Here Lord I give myself away” resonated deeply with her spiritually and she had something of an epiphany. In her words: “I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.”

She experienced the conversion or spiritual awakening that she needed, to know she had peace with God. The trajectory of her life was altered, as she sought to live to the glory & praise of her God & Saviour.

Fanny was easily the most prolific hymnist in Christian history. Her life was so devoted to praising God and encouraging others to do so that she wrote anywhere between 6000 and 12000 hymns during her lifetime.

A theme in many of her hymns was Fanny’s yearning for heaven and coming to see Jesus. The connection between her heavenly hope and earthly blindness is beautifully expressed in her comment to a man who remarked it was a pity God had not granted her physical sight.

“Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour” 

God also used Fanny’s praises to Him, to transform the lives of others. Her friend Ira Sankey recalls how a young man testified that he became a Christian upon hearing her hymn “Pass me not O Gentle Saviour,” as it resounded from a nearby chapel. He was deeply troubled by the thought of Jesus passing him by and cried out “O Lord, do not pass me by!” The young man confessed that Jesus indeed did not pass him by that day and he was saved.

Another powerful story is that during the Finnish Civil War, seven soldiers had been captured and were sentenced to execution. One of them not long before the execution began singing “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” He had learned it only three weeks earlier from the Salvation Army. Pondering his imminent death had led him to come to the Saviour he had been told of from a young age, but up to then rejected. His co-condemned comrades were all executed after singing the hymn together. One of their captors was so touched by the comfort and peace these men had in facing death that he himself was personally challenged to come to Jesus for salvation.

Fanny Crosby is not a heroic Christian example simply because she lived an inspirational life of great achievements and wrote more hymns than anyone before or since. She’s exemplary because she used her talents, her profile, her connections, her life to reach people for Jesus. And she was active in these endeavours well into her nineties.

Even in her old age, Fanny yearned to tell others of God’s saving power and righteous help and to proclaim His greatness to the next generation. She worked with one of the greatest evangelists of her time, D.L. Moody and his music team to produce songs that could complement the preaching of the gospel. This legacy continued well past the Moody era, with her hymns later accompanying many Billy Graham crusades and other evangelistic meetings.

But it didn’t stop there. Fanny spoke evangelistically at countless meetings and personally encouraged many people to come to Christ for salvation. She became heavily involved with America’s first urban rescue missions – set up in New York and elsewhere to provide aid and the hope of Jesus to the homeless, destitute and impoverished people of the inner-city. She was known as “Aunty Fanny” to many of these men, women and children to whom she gave so much of her time, money and love, while also sharing with them the greatest thing she had – access to a loving Father through the good news of Jesus Christ.

Fanny had moved to a rough part of the city when she was sixty and was still speaking and seeking the lost when she reached her nineties. It’s been reported that her goal was to reach one million people for Christ. Her dedication to this work is well reflected in what I regard as one of her greatest songs “Rescue the Perishing, care for the dying. Snatch them in pity from sin & the grave. Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen. Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. Rescue the perishing care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

When Fanny Crosby died at almost 95, she had praised God many days and touched lives in many ways. She praised Him with music and song from a redeemed soul and she spoke and sang to innumerable people of the righteous help God had given her and would give to any who came to Him in faith. God’s work of salvation was the subject of her praise and God’s work of salvation was what she longed to see in the lives of others.

 

If you use the music streaming service Spotify, you can listen to some of Fanny J. Crosby’s best known hymns, including Blessed AssuranceTo God be the GloryPass Me Not O Gentle Saviour and Rescue the Perishing here.

Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1815-1900) Born: Macclesfield, Cheshire, England Role: Bishop of Liverpool; church revitaliser; pastor; preacher; tract-writer; author Emphases: sola Scriptura; total depravity; justification by faith; Jesus as sole mediator; regeneration; holiness Protested against: high church ritualism and sacramentalism; Catholic idolatry; “higher life” spirituality; modernism; episcopal … Continue reading Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

Protestant Profiles #18: George Whitefield

George Whitefield (1714 – 1770)

George Whitefield

Born: Gloucester, England
Role: Itinerant Preacher; significant (Calvinistic) Methodist figure; chaplain
Emphases: Divine Sovereignty; need for spiritual regeneration; open-air preaching; working across boundaries
Protested against: Anglican unfaithfulness to the gospel; Roman Catholicism

George Whitefield was closely associated with the subjects of our last two profiles (John Wesley and the Countess of Huntingdon), but he himself is a giant in the history of preaching, evangelism and religious revival; a key figure in Methodism and in American and English religious history.

American historian Thomas Kidd summarises Whitefield’s significance:

1. “Whitefield was the most influential Anglo-American evangelical leader of the eighteenth century.”
2. “He also indelibly marked the character of evangelical Christianity.”
3. He “was the first internationally famous itinerant preacher and the first modern transatlantic celebrity of any kind.”
4. “Perhaps he was the greatest evangelical preacher that the world has ever seen.” [1]

Whitefield was one of the earliest Methodists – joining the Wesleys’ ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford around 1729/30. After having a conversion-experience as a result of reading the 17th century Presbyterian Henry Scougal‘s work The Life of God in the Soul of Man, Whitefield promptly dedicated himself to gospel preaching. He was ordained as a deacon within the Anglican church, but continued to be actively involved with the earliest Methodists.

In early 1739, he preached to a very large open-air crowd in Kingswood, near Bristol in England. Whitefield gave the following account of his outdoor-evangelistic debut:

‘At four I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about ten thousand people … All was hush when I began: the sun shone bright, and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power, and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me…About nine I came home, rejoicing at the great things God had done for my soul [2]   

Later that year, he invited John Wesley to begin open-air preaching and continue the work he had begun in the area, as he prepared to head for Georgia in North America (where Wesley himself had gone a few years earlier, only to return to England after a terrible ‘false start’ to his ministry).

It is estimated that Whitefield preached to crowds of up to 50 000 people at a time during this first year he spent touring the American colonies. He started an orphanage in Georgia, which he tirelessly raised funds for while going about his evangelistic preaching ministry on both sides of the Atlantic. A friend began advertising Whitefield’s upcoming preaching dates in local newspapers to publicise the events and attract as many people as possible – which contributed enormously to his popularity and reach.

His theological differences with Wesley – one of the most famous Calvinist-Arminian conflicts in church history – led to a natural alliance with the similarly minded Countess of Huntingdon within the growing Methodist movement. The two became the lead figures among the Calvinistic Methodists and had a somewhat strained relationship with the Wesleys and other Arminian Methodists over the years. The Countess made Whitefield her chaplain and funded many of his evangelistic tours in England and America.

Like Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield’s preaching in North America was one of the major means through which God worked to bring about the spiritual revival known as the (First) Great Awakening. Whereas in our day it is not uncommon to meet Christians in their autumn years who were converted after attending a Billy Graham crusade, an enormous multitude had profound spiritual experiences under Whitefield’s earnest, dramatic and powerful preaching. And, also not unlike Graham, there was division among Christians and churches across the country as to whether Whitefield’s ministry and the revivals that seemed to be occurring were a positive thing or not.

It is of course difficult to gauge how many people who had a spiritual experience during the revival went on to bear the ongoing fruit that evidenced a true conversion. But there can be no denying that God used Whitefield’s preaching to draw many souls to Himself and bring them to salvation through the gospel of Christ. Reportedly 80% of America’s population at the time heard him preach at one time or another. And biographies of his life testify to his tireless work – day in day out, all year round – for the advance of God’s Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel.

Whitefield died in his mid-fifties and the Countess of Huntingdon took care of his orphanage in Georgia after his death, along with the estates he bequeathed to her. He had laboured in the gospel for 33 years and touched countless lives. Mass evangelism has continued as a medium long after his death – made easier by the construction of stadiums and arenas, along with the advent of new technology. And yet there has never been another figure quite like Whitefield in the years since.

He remains an inspiration to evangelists, Calvinists, Wesleyans and many other Christians the world over.

You can read more about Whitefield’s life and ministry here.

 

Sources

[1] Thomas Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father, pp. 260 & 263.
[2] George Whitefield’s Journals137.

F. Lambert, “Whitefield, George” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.
“George Whitefield” wikipedia.