Land of the Free

One of my sons noted to me recently that when an American puts his hand on his heart and says, “I’m American”, he means something different to the rest of us speaking of our nationality.

When any of the rest of us declare, “I’m an Aussie”, “I’m South African”, “I’m Mexican”, or whatever, we are talking about the place we were born and call home. But for an American (meaning USA citizen) the declaration “I’m American” means much more than that.

America has been for centuries the “Land of the Free”. The Pilgrim Fathers went to the Americas to escape tyranny and to enjoy their freedoms. Since that time oppressed people from all around the world have made a bee-line for America. Beyond anything the nation stands for geographically is what it stands for philosophically.

So when an American says “I’m American” he may well be meaning something like, “I’m from that one land on the planet that people look to when they want freedom upheld.” They may well be giving tribute to an ideal that America has stood for over centuries.

Why Do They Hate Us?

Some years ago a dear American friend asked me, with a pained voice, “Why do they hate us? Who else is going to fight for them, if not America?”

While there are many who are contemptuous of American military might and how it is used, there is no doubt that America stands alone as the one force that can tame tyrants.

I heard an Aussie lady sharing some years ago about how she and her Christian associates in Afghanistan were illegally imprisoned as part of the Taliban opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each day as they endured terrible hardship their prayer was that God would send America to remove the evil Taliban regime. There was no other power on the planet that would have taken an interest and had the power to do something. When America did intervene each of these western Christians was released and repatriated home to recover.

Who Else?

So, let’s answer the question. Who else is going to do it if America does not?

Do you have an answer? There are world powers vying for prominence, politically, economically, or socially. Are those other powers committed to the same things we looked to America for in past generations?

Oh! I think I hear some of you distracted with your doubts about American power.

We have all been influenced by the Anti-American tide, haven’t we? We’ve heard the accusations that the wars are only about oil or something else. We’ve imbibed to some degree the idea that Americans are too blessed, too smug or whatever. Aussies tend to like to see the “tall poppy” cut down, so there is a hint of satisfaction when the great Americans find they are not the only people on the planet.

But, despite any and all of those considerations, who is going to be the champion of the oppressed if America does not do it?

Do I hear a cheer for the United Nations? What about China, the emerging super-power? What about Europe? Is there any puff left in dear old England? Are the oil rich Arab nations going to use their petrodollars to save the oppressed?

Freedom in Decline

Let us assume that there is no immediate replacement for the good old US of A. Let us assume that there is no other world power philosophically attuned to the notions of freedom which were sown on American soil centuries ago. Let us assume that, for the rest of our lives, America will have to remain at its post, stepping in to help protect those who would otherwise suffer.

So, let’s now take a look at the Land of the Free. And there we see Freedom in decline. In the glorious land of the Free freedom itself is on the wane. America as a super-power is on the wane.

Ever since the Vietnam War, which America withdrew from without a victory, we have seen America’s global influence in decline. We have seen an increase in attacks against America and Americans. We have seen America buy into fights for people’s freedom, and then become embroiled in an endless and thankless struggle.

The glories of D Day and Midway have receded into distant memory, replaced by the mire of political debate about who started what and why. American intervention is more likely to bring up snide remarks about elusive weapons of mass destruction, than a cheer that someone finally stepped in to do something.

The Doctor is Ill

If the Doctor gets sick, we’re in big trouble. And at this point in time, the world’s most effective resource for maintaining freedom is not doing so well.

America is facing opposition like never before. The new administration is leaving people wondering where America is headed. Its battles have become sticky and its allies are looking for excuses to abandon her. Back home her people are under increased internal troubles.

Add to that the oil spill in the gulf, the growing global contempt for things American and the failing dollar and there is cause for questions about the future of the land of the free.

Any Takers?

Maybe freedom is about to go out the window. Maybe the world is sliding into the next Dark Ages.

Or maybe this is just part of the ebb and flow of civilisation.

But maybe, just maybe, it is time for a new definition of freedom. Maybe America has lost the plot and there needs to be a new force of human conscience that stands for what is right.

Maybe America has past its use-by date and needs to be replaced with a new band of god-fearing men and women who will put all on the line to do what is right.

Any Takers?

William Tennent Jnr Back from Dead

William Tennent Jnr died on March 8, 1777. He had been born 71 years earlier, on June 3, 1705; the second son of William Tennent Snr, in the county of Armagh, in Ireland. When William had just turned 13 he arrived with his family in America.

William Snr was a fiery evangelist who trained his sons to be men of God. He founded the famous “Log College“, the first Presbyterian theological institution in America.  (It was later to develop into Princeton University).

Here William Jnr and his three brothers were trained for the ministry, despite official opposition. Oldest brother, Gilbert, led his younger siblings to faith and they each became famous for their preaching. Brother John endured a near-death experience that crystallized his conversion and gave great zeal to his evangelistic efforts at Freehold, New Jersey. Under John’s passionate preaching, people would fall to their knees pleading for God’s mercy or sob uncontrollably. Some were carried from John’s meetings in a dead faint.

At the time of John’s conversion William Jnr was also very ill. William had been so intent on passing the requisite examinations by the Presbytery that his health suffered. He became like a living skeleton. One morning, while talking with his brother Gilbert, William died. He was checked for signs of life and finally laid out for burial.

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When the young doctor friend who had been attending William arrived to find him dead the young doctor was sure that there were the faintest signs of life, but no-one else could detect them. Thus it was that an argument ensued between Gilbert and the doctor that delayed the burial for three days. Just when the doctor had stalled as long as he could and William was about to be interred the “dead” man opened his eyes and groaned before falling back into a dead sleep again. His body was cold and hard, his lips discoloured and eyes sunken. But plans to bury him were put aside.

In due course William recovered, but it was a long process. He had no memory of anything prior to his “death” and could no longer read or write, or speak Latin, which he had used fluently before. Gradually his memories returned and he regained his full recollection and prior learning.

However, he also admitted to a glorious ‘after-death‘ experience. “I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld at a distance an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind it is impossible to communicate to mortal man. I immediately reflected on my happy change, and thought, Well, blessed be God! …  I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship; but I did not see any bodily shape or representation in the glorious appearance. I heard things unutterable. I heard their songs and hallelujahs of thanksgiving and praise, with unspeakable rapture. I felt joy unutterable and full of glory.”

William was told he had to return to life, which greatly disappointed him. He woke to hear Gilbert and the doctor arguing and fainted with sorrow at missing the glories of heaven. Heaven’s sounds stayed with him every waking moment for more than three years.

When he took up preaching for John’s Freehold revival, then leading it after John’s death in 1732, he had great effect as a preacher. His near-death experience fired the imagination of his audiences and gave great authority to his words.

Visions and wonderful encounters with God and His Word occurred several times in William’s life. He had a vision of Christ while praying the woods and was carried back to the night meeting by the church elders, where he preached powerfully. Another time he had revelation of the scriptures and saw God’s divinity as he had never seen it before. Thirty souls were converted when next he preached.

One of the strangest experiences is when he awoke in the middle of the night “to discover that several toes of his foot had been cut off as if by some sharp instrument…” The missing digits were nowhere to be found.  William Jnr was convinced that the devil himself was responsible.  Others have suggested rats … or even an accident during sleepwalking.

William and Gilbert had profound impact on the Presbyterian churches in their Philadelphia Synod, promoting pursuit of sound conversion, strong faith and effective ministry. In the revival meetings which they were devoted to they avoided anything that was not soundly in line with Biblical doctrine, while allowing for visions, trances and revelations as long as they affirmed the truth, and did not draw one away from it.

And as we common in Presbyterian revivals, as seen in the Cambuslang Revival in Scotland, people would gather for Sacramental gatherings which ran for several days and which sought to affirm a person’s conviction of salvation, which was then celebrated by the taking of the Communion. In 1744 William used Sacramental gatherings in Hopewell and Maidenhead, in order to create a new church. Another biographical note regarding William is that he was a friend of the poor.

Rev William Tennent Jnr died in New Jersey at the age of 72.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist

Amanda Jane Berry Smith died, on February 24, 1915. She was born into slavery on a farm in Long Green in Maryland, USA on January 23, 1837. She was the oldest daughter in a family of thirteen children. Her father was able to buy his freedom, with funds raised by selling products he made in his spare time. He then continued raising funds until he had purchased his wife and his five children born in slavery.

Amanda was an enterprising young lady. She taught herself to read by cutting out large letters from her father’s newspapers then asking her mother to make words for her to read. “I shall never forget how delighted I was when I first read: ‘The house, the tree, the dog, the cow.’ I thought I knew it all.”

Amanda’s parents were devout and the father read the Bible to his family each day. Amanda was converted at the age of 13, during a revival at a Methodist Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania.

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Her own words were that she was “a poor coloured servant girl sitting away back by the door” when a young white women entreated her with tears to accept Christ. “I was the only coloured girl there, but I went. She knelt beside me with her arms around me and prayed for me…”
She felt the Lord’s touch at her conversion. “I went to get up, but found I could not stand. They took hold of me and stood me on my feet. My strength seemed to come to me, but I was frightened. I was afraid to step. I seemed to be so light. In my heart was peace, but I did not know how to exercise faith as I should. I went home and resolved I would be the Lord’s and live for him. All the days were happy and bright.”

She married at the age of 17, but her husband, although ‘religious’, turned out to be a drunkard. He joined the Union Army during the Civil War and never returned. She later married James Smith, a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who also became indifferent to things spiritual. But Amanda’s faith kept growing.

A sermon on holiness by a Presbyterian evangelist, John S Inskip, was indeed a “second blessing” to her. Gone were her fears of ‘white people’. “I would rather be black and fully saved than white and not saved”, she said.

She began to preach. Invitations came from across the United States – and even England. “In 1876 she was invited to speak at a Keswick Conference”, then to Scotland, India and Burma. She was not, emphasises one biographer, a feminist or an agitator for women’s ordination. “The thought of ordination never once entered my mind, for I had received my ordination from Him who said, ‘Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you …”

Smith became a legendary personality in her own time. This was achieved by her published works, mostly as letters to such periodicals as Wesleyan/Holiness, Methodist Episcopal, and African-American Methodist, from the 1870s until her death. Her book “An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist: Containing an Account of Her Life Work of Faith, and Her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa as an Independent Missionary” was published in 1893 and sold widely.

Amanda Smith died in 1915 in a suburb of Chicago, where she had spent her last years heading up an orphanage for black children. She was 78 years of age.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Adoniram Judson Gordon the Baptist Fundamentalist

Adoniram Judson Gordon died on February 2, 1895, at the age of 58, having been born in New Hampshire on April 13, 1836. He was a leader of early Baptist fundamentalism.

Gordon’s parents were devout Calvinist Christians. His father was named after John Calvin and Gordon was named after the famous American Baptist missionary to Burma. The family’s devotion prompted their son, at the age of 15 to seek salvation for his soul. A year later he told his church that he desired to become a minister.

Entering Brown University in 1856 and Newton Theological Seminary in 1860, he pursued his calling and on graduating became pastor at Jamaica Plain, near Boston. He enjoyed six successful years there before becoming pastor of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church in Boston, where he remained for 25 years and from which pulpit he became a famous preacher.

Gordon was challenged by an unbelieving community and an unmotivated congregation. He met those challenges with the simple truth of the gospel, ultimately transforming his church into a spiritual powerhouse.

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Dr Gordon, as he was known, lived a saintly life and wrote much about the Spirit-filled life.

Gordon spoke at the Niagara Bible Conference of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario virtually every year from 1877 until his death in 1895, and he was D L Moody’s right-hand man at the Northfield Conventions, even being privileged to host the event in 1892 while Moody was in Europe. Gordon was a regular speaker at Northfield.

Gordon’s presence in these conferences is significant, as very few Baptists were part of the fundamentalist Convention movement in the late nineteenth century. Most of the speakers and organisers were Presbyterian and Congregationalist.

Gordon’s ministry embraced a strong missionary emphasis, he wrote prolifically on the Second Coming of Christ, and he advocated ‘faith healing’. He was personal friend to A. B. Simpson, who had a faith healing ministry.

He believed in the premillennial return of Christ and preached on this, among other things, in the convention meetings. He penned The Ministry of Women in 1894, defending women’s right to preach.

One book that is regarded as possibly his finest work, Ministry of the Spirit, defines the three aspects of the Spirit’s work as: sealing; filling; and anointing.

This contemporary fundamentalist also put pen to paper to compose the melody of one of Christendom’s loveliest hymns, the tune Gordon, which is used to William Featherston’s words, My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine.

On the morning of February 2, 1895, Dr. Gordon, with “victory” as the last clearly audible word on his lips, fell asleep in Jesus.

Gordon’s life and his generation represented the shift in America from the doctrinal preoccupation of the Calvinists, to the practical missiology that dominated American evangelicalism since then. His emphasis was on practical theology and effective evangelistic ministry, saying, “We believe we ought to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints, but in doing this we should seek to be like the saints once delivered to the faith.”

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

John Hyde becomes Praying Hyde

John Hyde was born in Illinois, USA, on November 9, 1865.

His father, Dr Smith Hyde, was a Presbyterian minister, and in that manse the power of prayer became a reality to young John. In later years John would be known to his fellow missionaries as “Praying” Hyde. Smith and his godly wife prayed fervently that God would send labourers into the harvest field and, in time, three of their six children heeded that call.

In his senior year at McCormack Theological Seminary John heard the call to be a missionary and he became a mission enthusiast, pleading with fellow students to also commit to missions.

On 15 October, 1892, he and five other Presbyterian missionaries sailed for India. John found in his cabin a letter from a dear minister friend of his father who loved John dearly. It said, “I shall not cease praying for you, dear John, until you are filled with the Spirit.” This greatly insulted John and he went up on deck in a rage. However, as he reflected on the saintliness of the man who wrote the letter he softened, returned to his room, found the letter which he had crumpled and re-read it many times.

Being filled with the Spirit became his passion and before arriving in India he had concluded that he would not seek to succeed by prowess in language, as he had previously planned, but by the power of the Spirit.

Once in India he came under conviction concerning a besetting sin. He determined to press in to God for complete freedom and it came to him through revelation of 1John 1:9. Deciding that God was faithful he committed himself to God and immediately sensed God’s assurance of freedom.

This transformed him and his friends noticed a glow about him as he told of his experience. This glow was to become a hallmark of his life.

The early years in India were not remarkable as John journeyed from place to place, often sleeping in a tent which he took with him. Unmarried he had no place to call home and later recommended that provision be made for single missionaries to have a home of their own.

He was slow of speech and slow to learn the languages, and was thus threatened with being sent back to the US. He preferred Bible study over his language lessons and protested that he should be a man of the Word. The local people also came to his aid saying, “If he never speaks the language of our lips, he speaks the language of our hearts.”

In his third year in India he received a prayer burden for revival and he interceded continuously for ten years to see it fully come to pass. He saw himself as a Jacob wrestling with God for the blessing.

He loved the Indian people and lived among them. Despite opposition for assisting the low caste people he reached out to them and enjoyed ministry to them. When converts backslid or fell into troubles he would call them to pray with him, then spend up to three hours on his knees with them.

In 1899 John pushed past his physical weakness to spend whole nights in prayer. He would work through the day and pray through the night, confident that revival would come.

During the 1908 Convention God led him to claim one soul per day. By the end of the year he had seen four hundred won to Christ. At the 1909 Convention John challenged the people to not have their own broken hearts but to carry God’s broken heart revealed in them. He pressed for death of the old man, so the new creature could live in Christ. He agonised in prayer for days until he felt God’s assurance that he would win two souls per day to Christ. That year more than eight hundred were won to Christ and baptised.

By the 1910 Convention Hyde was assured that he would lead four people each day to faith. If ever that number was not met on a given John realised that he had fallen behind in praising the Lord. He would step up his praises and the results would come.

“I remember John telling me if on any day four souls were not brought into the fold … at night he could not sleep … (Praying Hyde, by F. McGaw, Moody Press, page 49).

India’s most ardent personal soul winner John was always active in seeking to win people to Christ and baptise them. Often on a train journey he would not get off at his destination if he was engaged in winning a soul. He would then catch a return train after he had baptised his convert. On one occasion he missed his own stop four times, completely missing the event he was intending to attend, but having won four souls through those journeys.

In 1911 John became seriously ill and a Calcutta doctor found his heart had completely moved from the left to the right side of his body. On March 11 he sailed for England and then home to America. While in Wales, staying with a missionary friend on furlough, he prayed with evangelist Dr J Wilbur Chapman, former Moody co-worker, who had preached for fifty years but now found little response. Hyde prayed for a blessing on Chapman’s ministry and that night the hall was packed and fifty men made decisions for Christ.

Back in America he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. An operation was attempted by could not be completed. Cancer spread through his body. Then on 17 February, 1912, his face lit up as it had often done before and he cried – in the Indian dialect with which he was so familiar – “Bol, Yisu Nasih, Ki Jai!” which means, “Shout the victory of Jesus Christ!” They were his dying words.

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.