Sarasvati Ramabai and Mukti Mission

Pundita Sarasvati Ramabai Dongre was born in the forests of Southwest India to Brahmin parents. It was April 23, 1858. By the age of 12 years she had committed to memory 18,000 verses from the Hindu scriptures (Famous Missionaries, Famous Missionaries, by J.C. Lawson, page 53).

When she was 16 famine struck and the family lived on water and leaves for 11 days. When both her parents died she was protected by her older brother, who later died, leaving her alone. Her education enabled her to gain respect and she married an educated Bengali who had also thrown off Hindu teaching. Nineteen months later her husband died and Ramabai was unprotected once again. She also had a baby daughter to care for. Such a situation is shameful in Indian culture and young widows are in a very vulnerable state.

Visiting Calcutta in 1878 the educational leaders bestowed upon her the title “Pandita”, meaning “Learned” (English pundit) – the first woman in the world to have received such an honour.

But further study of the Hindu writings – and the realisation that they held “little or no hope of salvation” for women – led her to turn her attention to investigate Christianity. Widowed, the mother of a small child, she visited England and was impressed by Anglican “Sisters of the Cross“, and their devoted Rescue Mission work. In 1883 Pandita Ramabai was baptised into the Church of England.

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Eight years later she chanced upon the book, From Death to Life by Rev. William Haslam – and to quote Pandita Ramabai: “I read the account of his conversion and work for Christ. Then I began to consider where I stood and what my actual need was…  I took the Bible and read.  One thing I knew by this time, that I needed Christ, not merely His religion” (Pandita Ramabai, by H. Dyer, page 35).

So this brilliant Indian lady came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. When she visited the USA she studied their education system and determined to return to India to educated widows, so they would not be at the mercy of those who would exploit them.

She returned to her native land and, in 1896, commenced the Mukti Mission. “Mukti” means “Salvation” (literally the escape from reincarnation’s horrible repeated cycle of life and death), and from that centre the old time gospel was faithfully proclaimed to thousands of women and children.

In 1905 “a Holy Ghost revival swept over Mukti and hundreds of girls and some boys were gloriously saved” (Herald of Hope, by John Ridley, December, 1959). Ramabai had heard of the revivals in Wales and elsewhere and was desperate to see the power of God. She organised the children to pray.

Thirty young women met for prayer every day. On the morning of June 29 a missionary working at the Mission “was awakened at 3.30, by one of the senior girls saying, ‘Come over and rejoice with us, J. has received the Holy Spirit. I saw the fire, ran across the room for a pail of water and was about to pour it on her, when I discovered that she was not on fire.’ When Miss Abrams arrived, all the girls of that compound were on their knees weeping, praying, and confessing their sins.”

The next evening, during a message on the adulterous woman “the Holy Spirit descended with power, and all the girls began to pray aloud so that she had to cease talking. Little children, middle-sized girls, and young women, wept bitterly and confessed their sins. Some few saw visions and experienced the power of God, and things that are too deep to be described. Two little girls had the spirit of prayer poured on them in such torrents that they continued to pray for hours. They were transformed with heavenly light shining on their faces.”

The girls called the revival “a baptism of fire. They say that when the Holy Spirit comes upon them it is almost unbearable-the burning within. Afterwards they are transformed, their faces light up with joy, their mouths are filled with praise.”

Ramabai also had inexplicable ecstatic experiences: “a consciousness of the Holy Spirit as a burning flame within her and times when, alone in prayer, she involuntarily uttered some sentences in Hebrew.” This Pentecostal revival was marked by confession of sins, prayers, much singing, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues, and sensations of being consumed by fire.

Before her death on 5 April, 1922, apart from impacting so many lives that would otherwise have been ruined, Pandita Ramabai had also translated the Bible into the Marathi language.

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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

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

John Hales Turns Arminian

John Hales was born in Bath, UK, on April 19, 1584. He was educated at Cambridge, and became a Greek lecturer before becoming a leading Church of England theologian, “one of the best Greek scholars of his day” … and a thorough going Calvinist. So much so, he was invited to share in the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), a gathering of Reformed (Calvinistic) theologians who opposed the Remonstrants (or Arminians … those who opposed some of Calvin’s distinctive teachings).

The differences were vigorously debated, and the Arminians were condemned as teachers of heretical doctrine.

But John Hales weighed the debate carefully in his mind. Had Christ accomplished salvation by His death only for the elect – or did He provide salvation for all mankind … if they chose to believe in Him?

And he who had come to the Synod a convinced Calvinist changed his mind – “as he says in one of his own vivid phrases, ‘I bade John Calvin goodnight‘.” (Arminianism. by A. Harrison, page 90).

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John Hales returned to England and was made Prebendary of Windsor by Archbishop Laud.  But when he refused to acknowledge the Commonwealth “he was deprived of his living, fell into poverty and had to sell his library!” (Dictionary of Literary Biographies, page 298).

Hales had spent his time among his books and in the company of literary men, among whom he was highly reputed for his common sense, his erudition and his genial charity. He was called “one of the clearest heads and best-prepared breasts in Christendom.” For all that he also loved solitude and was content to be one of those who possessed their souls in peace.

Hales was disturbed by the spirit of controversy which prevailed in his day. He saw that theological dispute was not the calling of the church. He dreamed of a common liturgy which omitted all the things about which men differed and argued.

While Hales’ writings are clear he was always reluctant to put pen to paper until it was necessary to do so. He did not believe that men should write indiscriminately, but purposefully and in great moderation.

John Hales died in Eton on May 19, 1656.

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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

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

Joseph Barber Lightfoot at Cambridge

Joseph Barber Lightfoot was born in Liverpool, England, on April 13, 1828.  He was to become one of Anglicanism’s most notable bishops – W. Robertson Nicoll describes him as “pre-eminently the scholar of the Church of England” (Princes of the Church, page 22).

The Dictionary of English Church History speaks of his “profound learning and matchless lucidity of exposition” (page 328), whilst Warren Wiersbe approvingly quotes The Times newspaper that stated, “He was at once one of the greatest theological scholars and an eminent bishop.  It is scarcely possible to estimate adequately as yet the influence of his life and work” (Listening to the Giants, page 52).

After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, he was ordained to the priesthood, and eventually became Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.  In 1879 he was appointed Bishop of Durham. He also had a continuing role as a professor at Cambridge, where he had great influence over the students who came under his care.

We are told that he was a gifted linguist – fluent in six languages and able to use six more.

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His ‘sons’ – men training for ordination – breakfasted with him regularly before listening to his lectures and advice for ministry.

His Commentaries on Galatians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon “ought to be in every minister’s library”, says Warren Wiersbe. These commentaries were noteworthy in that Lightfoot departed from the idea of using the text as a source of homilies, or to investigate previously held interpretations. Instead, he aimed to arm the reader with such insight as to come to his own conclusions, thus giving the text itself to the reader, not the beliefs of the commentator.

Lightfoot was also one of the scholars who translated the New Testament for the Revised Version (1870-1884).  (Spurgeon said that this translation was “strong in Greek but weak in English”.)

It is said of him, “His sermons were not remarkable for eloquence, but a certain solidity and balance of judgment, an absence of partisanship, a sobriety of expression combined with clearness and force of diction, attracted hearers and inspired them with confidence.” Four volumes of his sermons were published in 1890.

As a member of what was known as the Cambridge School, with fellow graduate Dr BF Westcott, he soundly rebutted the influence of German theologians and criticism, which were gaining some currency in England at that time.

Bishop JB Lightfoot never married, and his assiduous studies and diligence to his commitments robbed him of good health. He died in Bournemouth on 21 December, 1889, and his Bishopric passed to his life-long associate Dr Westcott.

[This Bishop Lightfoot is not to be confused with John Lightfoot, also an English divine – a member of the Westminster Assembly in the 17th century.]

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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

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

Thomas Bray Impacts the New World

Dr Thomas Bray died, on February 17, 1730 in England.

Born 74 years before in the Welsh border district, Bray had humble beginnings, and was admitted to Oxford as a “poor student”. He became a “country parson” at Sheldon, near Birmingham for 16 years, before moving on to St Botolph’s, Aldgate, London.

Bray had a high regard for religious education as a means of elevating people. He wrote a five-volume tract on the value of teaching people the Christian catechism. “Catechetical Lectures” became a best seller. This brought him to the attention of Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, who asked him to go as his commissary (representative) to Maryland, USA.

Church of England churches in the New World were under the auspices of the Bishop of London and in those early days there were very few Church of England clergymen in America. Bray’s task was to assess the situation and see what needed to be done to attract more ministers to American parishes.

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So in 1700 Thomas Bray sailed to the New World – and “sold his own dearly loved library of books in order to pay for the voyage!” (Pioneers of the Kingdom, Volume 2, page 29).

In preparation for this venture he had also founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, an organisation devoted to opening libraries in colonial plantations. “Thousands of volumes were contributed to parochial collections” (Dictionary of American Religious Biography, page 63).

In America he founded the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), which played a major role in American missions. Bray drafted a Royal Charter for this work which was signed by the King.

In Maryland Bray organised schools, gave direction to the churches and created lending libraries to provide poor clergy with access to quality reading material.

In his two months in Maryland Bray managed to get settlement status for Church of England churches from the Quakers and Roman Catholics of Maryland. He returned and managed to enlist some 29 English clergy to go to America in the following three years.

Returning to England in 1706, he ministered at St Botolph Without, London, until his death.

However he also remained active in social causes. He persuaded General Oglethorpe to found the new American colony of Georgia, for the settlement of debtors, as an alternative to debtors’ prison.

He wrote on behalf of the enslaved Africans and the Indians who had been displaced from their lands. He argued for prison reform and for preaching missions to prisoners.

The Dictionary of English Church History states that Dr Bray “was a vigorous and humorous writer and a parish priest of exemplary devotion. He deserves an honoured place in the history of the Church of England for his efforts on behalf of education and of missions” (pages 66-7).

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

Richard Baxter Preaches with the Puritans

Richard Baxter was born on November 12, in 1615. The place was Shropshire, England.

Born to parents who had little regard for education, Baxter was largely self-educated, suffered with various bodily infirmities, and knew the reality of persecution in his lifetime … but nevertheless he was to become “one of the foremost Puritan spokesmen within the Church of England”.

Richard Baxter has been described as “one of the most successful preachers and pastors of the Christian church” (Who was Who in Church History, by E. Moyer).

During his education at a free school and then the royal court he became disgusted at the frivolity he saw around him. He left to study divinity and was ordained into the Church of England ministry at age 23. There he found common ground with the Puritans, who at that time were a faction within the church who opposed the church’s form of government. The Puritan movement was at that time splintering into factions.

Baxter did his best to avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and other denominations, promoting cooperation between local ministers where he could. He was fond of saying, “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity”.

However Baxter held strong personal convictions, even being opinionated in his theology.

Ordained by the Presbyterian Church, he served as minister at Kidderminster from 1641 until 1660. But “The Act of Uniformity” of 1662 put an end to his official ministry. This Act demanded that every clergyman must give “unfeigned consent and assent” to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and accept ordination by a bishop, among other issues.

Suffice to say Baxter – and something like 2000 others – refused to bow the knee to this attack on religious freedom and were ousted from their parishes. He stood for liberty of conscience in worship and church government. And it cost him his freedom. Twice, in 1685 and again in 1686, he was imprisoned for continuing to preach although ‘unlicensed’ to do so – this latter time for two years.

He penned over 160 books – many of them best sellers in his day, and some still being re-printed more than 400 years later … and he had 60 written against him! (Heroes of the Faith, by F. Ballard, page 24).

Because of his moderate stand he became a peacemaker during the English Civil Wars, believing in the monarchy but wanting their powers limited. He was chaplain to the Parliamentary army, but then helped to restore the King.

Several classics came from his pen. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest was one of the most widely read books of the century. A Call to the Unconverted later influenced the young Spurgeon, as he tells us in his autobiography. Reformed Liturgy was written in a mere two weeks in response to a question about what deviations should be permitted from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. His Christian Directory contains over one million words. The Reformed Pastor is his autobiography and his pastoral guide, and is still widely read today.

Theologically Baxter is described as, wait for it, Latitudinarian! He saw society as a large family under a loving father, and in his theology, he tried to balance the extremes. He eventually registered himself as “a mere Nonconformist“, which was a technical term for those who were “not Anglican”. He broke with the Church of England mainly due to disempowerment of parish clergy.

One of his most famous sayings bears repeating – “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man pleading with dying men.”

On 8 December, 1691, Richard Baxter went home to “the Saints’ Everlasting Rest”.

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.