Thomas Charles Births a Bible Society

This is the day that Thomas Charles was born in Wales. It was 1756.

Despite a Christian upbringing, it was not until the age of 17, when he heard Daniel Rowlands expounding Hebrews 4:15, that “he was conscious of a real conversion of heart”. It was 20 January, 1773.

It is interesting to note that there seems to be a ‘time’ for certain things, as Solomon tells us. Thomas Charles lived at a ‘time’ of evangelism, Sunday Schools and the birth of Bible Societies.

Ordained as a Church of England curate (21 May, 1780), he soon fell foul of his parishioners for “giving free instruction to children after Vespers. His rector considered this to be such a shocking innovation that he was at once dismissed” (Sweet Singers of Wales, by H. Lewis, page 55). It is probably true to say that his evangelical preaching had something to do with the dismissal also!

He joined the Calvinistic Methodist and commenced ministering in the town of Bala. From henceforth he would be known as “Charles of Bala”.

He travelled extensively around Wales, giving birth to the first Sunday-Schools Wales had ever known. It was a time of extensive revival in Wales, but there was a shortage of Bibles. Rev Charles sold Welsh language Bibles to meet the need.

Rev Charles was visited by a 15 year-old lass who had walked 27 miles to obtain a Bible from him. Mary Jones had saved her own money to buy the Bible and then walked the miles to obtain it. Charles had just sold his last copy, but was so impressed with Mary’s diligence that he gave it to her anyway, telling her the other buyer would just have to wait.

Charles visited the Religious Tract Society in London in 1802 and pleaded with them for Scriptures. The Society had to turn him away. Providing bibles just was not in their job description. As the members discussed the request, the Rev. Joseph Hughes said, “a society might be formed for the purpose–and if for Wales, why not for the Kingdom; why not for the whole world?”

Mary Jones’ devotion to possess a copy of God’s Word prompted the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society on March 7, 1804, spearheaded by the Rev. Thomas Charles.

This was the first of many Bible Societies which took the Word of God to the nations. 69 other Bible organizations formed in just ten years. The British and Foreign Bible Society funded such diverse translation work as William Carey, Morrison’s Chinese Bible, Henry Martyn’s Persian translation, a Mohawk gospel of John and a translation for the Pacific islands of Rarotonga.

Rev Thomas Charles continued his evangelistic work. During one of his itinerant preaching tours he nearly lost his life in the intense cold. Frostbitten and racked with fever his life was in imminent danger. One old Christian – thinking apparently of Hezekiah – prayed that 15 years would be added to Brother Charles’ life (II Kings 20:6).

Remarkably, it was just 15 years later, on 5 October, 1814, that Thomas Charles said, “There is refuge,” and passed into his Saviour’s presence.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

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