Samuel Davies Preaches His Own Funeral

Samuel Davies was born in Delaware, USA, on November 3, 1723.

His Welsh parents were deeply religious. Davies later said, ‘I am a son of prayer, like my namesake, Samuel the prophet, and my mother called me Samuel, because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord’.

Converted at the age of 12 he was admitted to the Presbyterian church at age 15.

When the Rev Samuel Blair opened his famous school at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, Samuel Davies was put under him and there completed his formal education. Rev Blair was an outstanding preacher and years later Davies, having heard preachers on the continent as well as in the USA he declared that none could compare with his old schoolmaster Blair.

He was ordained by the Presbyterians and became one of their outstanding evangelists. The year of his ordination, 1747, his wife of one year died. Bereaved and weak he thought he was going to die, so he determined to preach with as much effect as possible so he could have treasures in heaven.

One of Davies’ friends wrote of him, ‘’Finding himself upon the borders of the grave, and without any hopes of a recovery, he determined to spend the little remains of an almost exhausted life, as he apprehended it, in endeavouring to advance his Master’s glory in the good of souls; and as he told me — he preached in the day, and had his hectic by night and to such a degree as to be sometimes delirious’.

He did recover and a year after the death of his wife he married Jean Holt who bore him three sons and two daughters.

He took up a very effective pastorate in Hanover County, Virginia, where 150 families invited him to come. This placement proved to be very successful. At first he preached at five meeting houses, and then seven in six counties, and later as many as fourteen separate meeting places over which he had charge. Some of these were more than 30 miles from one another. Like Whitefield and Wesley, he read while riding on horseback from one charge to another, being all alone in that vast wilderness.

One preaching house accommodated 500 people, but at times the meetings had to be held outdoors to accommodate the crowds.

We are told “his ministerial dignity and solemn demeanour inspired awe. Numbers flocked to hear a man … who preached the solemn truths of the gospel in a style that arrested their attention and impressed their hearts” (Cyclopaedia of Religious Biographies, page 155).

He visited England with fellow preacher, Gilbert Tennent, and his preaching was so outstanding that King George II heard him preach by royal invitation.

He was one of the preachers used by God in the Great Awakening, which resulted in the conversion of multitudes. He led many negroes to faith, teaching them to read and giving them books which were sent to him by supporters in England. His effectiveness in winning souls was exemplary.

Back in America Samuel Davies followed Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of “The College of New Jersey”, later to become Princeton University.

Early the following year he preached on “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16). He preached to the Princeton students saying, ‘And it is not only possible, but highly probable, death may meet some of us within the compass of this year. Perhaps I may die this year’. One month later (4 February, 1761) he was called home, so he effectively preached his own funeral service. He was just 36 years old.

His great hymn is still sung today:
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace more Godlike and unrivalled shine:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?

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.

Absalom Backus Earle Preaches With Power From High

Absalom Backus Earle was “endued with power from on high” on November 2, in the year 1863.

Born in Charlton, New York, in 1812, converted at the age of 16, Absalom Earle began preaching two years later. And seemingly he never stopped. For the next 58 years “he preached more frequently than any other man living at the same time” (Deeper Experiences, by J.G. Lawson, page 214). It has been estimated that he held 39,330 services and led 160,000 souls to Christ. He influenced 400 men to enter the ministry.

“I have reason to believe,” he is quoted as saying, “that a single sermon I have preached on ‘The sin that hath never forgiveness’ has been the means of more than 20,000 conversions” (Hall of Fame, by E. Towns, page 111).

It was “on the second day of November, 1863”, he tells us, that a new dimension was added to his spiritual life. “For the first time in my life I had the rest which is more than peace … Jesus has been my all since then. There has not been one hour of conscious doubt or darkness since that time. A heaven of peace and rest fills my soul… My success in leading souls to Jesus has been much greater than before…”

Theologians have called this experience by various names – but the history of the Christian church has shown that many saints have experienced this “second blessing” or whatever name they called it.

A.B. Earle also authored many hymns, the most well known being that which expresses the passion of his heart:
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.

Earle’s evangelistic success is not due to special human skills. That power from on high made all the difference.

A British religious paper said of Mr. Earle: “His preaching was not eloquent. His delivery was not beyond the average. His voice had no special power. His large angular frame and passionless mouth were decidedly against him. His sermons seemed sometimes as though composed thirty years ago, before we so often heard, as now, the more clear and ringing utterances of free grace, and the name of Jesus in almost every sentence. He expressed his own emotions very simply, and did not often refer to them. His rhetoric was often at fault, and sometimes his grammar. Truly the enticing words of man’s wisdom were wanting in his case.”

Earle died at his home in Newton, Massachusetts, March 30, 1895, at the age of eighty-three.

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.

Horatio Gates Spafford Turns Tragedy into Song

This is the day that Horatio Gates Spafford was born in New York State, in 1828.

He was to become a well known Christian businessman in Chicago; professor of medical jurisprudence at Chicago Medical College; director of a Presbyterian theological seminary; and active in the YMCA. He was a close friend of Moody and Sankey.

The young lawyer moved to Chicago to start a legal business. In 1861 he married Anna Tuben Larssen and they established a prosperous home. Anna bore Spafford a son and four daughters. Horatio junior, however, died of scarlet fever in 1870, aged four. Apart from their business income Spafford had built up a sizable property portfolio.

The Great Chicago Fire swept through the city on 8-10 October 1871, killing 250 people and rendering 90,000 homeless, destroying about a third of the city. While the Spaffords sustained significant personal loss, Horatio and Anna worked tirelessly for two years to help the victims put their lives back together.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody based his worldwide ministry in Chicago and the Spaffords were good friends of Moody and his ministry. In 1873 they decided to travel to England to participate in the Moody/Sankey revival meetings there, before touring continental Europe.

The family of six travelled to New York to board their ship. Horatio was called back to Chicago by last-minute business obligations, but he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their travel, so he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could.

Anna Spafford, the couple’s four daughters, the children’s governess and two others in their party boarded the French steamship Ville du Havre on 22 November 1873, along with 307 other passengers and crew. At about 2 am on 22 November 1873, in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn, then sank in a mere 12 minutes. 226 people perished, including the four Spafford daughters. Survivors were taken to Cardiff, Wales, where Anna Spafford cabled her husband on 1 December 1873 with the following devastating message: “Saved alone. What shall I do.” Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his wife.

It was two years later that Horatio Spafford wrote one of our great gospel songs:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll –
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The daughters had all been converted in Moody-Sankey meetings shortly before their deaths.

Ira Sankey, who incorporated this gospel song into his Sacred Songs and Solos, writes: “In 1876, when we (Moody and Sankey) returned to Chicago, I was entertained in the home of Mr and Mrs Spafford for a number of weeks. During that time Mr Spafford wrote the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’, in commemoration of the deaths of his children. P.P. Bliss composed the music and sang it for the first time at Farwell Hall” (My Life …, by I. Sankey, page 191).

Once reunited, Horatio and Anna Spafford returned to Chicago, and by 1880, they had another daughter, Bertha, and another son, also called Horatio. This son, too, died in infancy of scarlet fever.

The Spaffords also had another daughter, Grace, born in Chicago in January 1881. When Grace was just seven months old, the Spaffords moved to the Holy Land in August 1881. They helped to found a group called the American Colony in Jerusalem, with the mission to serve the poor.

Sometime during the 1880s, in Jerusalem, Horatio Spafford suffered a mental illness that caused him to believe that he was the second Messiah.

There he died of malaria on 16 October, 1888, at the age of 60. He is buried in Jerusalem.

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.

Cleland Boyd McAfee Presbyterian Leader and Hymn Writer

This is the day that … Cleland Boyd McAfee was born in Montana, USA, in 1866.

The son of a minister, Cleland pursued ministry, as did his brothers and other relatives, and rose to the pinnacle of the American Presbyterian Church which he served. His life was spent in the pulpit, the class and the study. Four others in his generation with ministers as well.

At the age of thirty-five, whilst pastoring the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, he wrote a hymn, words and music. He received news that two nieces had died from diphtheria. Grieving from the loss, he turned to the words of the Psalmist. As he read the scriptures, he was inspired to write the words and the tune to “Near to the Heart of God.” “the choir learned it on the Saturday night,” his daughter later recorded – and they went to the McAfee home and sang it under the stars outside the quarantined house …”

And the hymn?

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God…

The first public performance of the hymn was at the girls’ funeral. The hymn became popular immediately and spread quickly.

McAfee married Canadian born Harriet and together they produced three daughters, Ruth, Catherine and Mildred. Thus his desire to have the family name continued was defeated.

Cleland B. McAfee is described as “an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, author of numerous books, and honoured by his denomination to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly … yet today, Dr McAfee is best remembered for this one simple, unassuming, devotional hymn” (101 More Hymn Stories, by K. Osbeck).

McAfee lived on the Seminary Campus and maintained a genuine pastoral rapport with his students. As moderator he had a keen sense of when to lower the boom on the fundamentalist controversy.

His books are freely available as e-books from many sites on the internet, revealing a studious mind and an excellent communicator.

Dr McAfee died on 4 February, 1944.

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.

Charlotte Elliott the Devotional Invalid

This is the day that … Charlotte Elliott died in 1871.

Born in Clapham, England (18 March, 1789), she achieved some fame as the writer of frivolous verse and a portrait artist. But by the age of 30 she was a bed-ridden invalid.

The visit of Swiss evangelist Cesar Malan led her to a knowledge of sins forgiven. And from that turning point in her life came the hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea” – although it was not written until 14 years after her conversion experience.

This account of her conversion explains her focus on the now famous words. One evening, as they sat conversing, the servant of God (Malan) turned the subject to our personal relation with God, and asked Charlotte if she knew herself to be really a Christian. She was in poor health and often harassed with severe pain, which tended to make her irritable. A severe illness had left her a permanent invalid.

She resented the question thus pointedly put, and petulantly answered that religion was a matter she did not wish to discuss. Dr. Malan replied in his usual kind manner, that he would not pursue a subject that displeased her, but would pray that she might give her heart to Christ, and employ in His service the talents with which He had gifted her.

It seems that the Holy Spirit used her abrupt and almost rude conduct towards God’s servant to show her what depths of pride and alienation from God were in her heart. After several days of spiritual misery, she apologised for her unbecoming conduct, and confessed that his question had troubled her greatly. “I am miserable” she said, “I want to be saved. I want to come to Jesus; but I don’t know how”. “Why not come just as you are?“, answered Malan. “You have only to come to Him just as you are”. Little did Malan think that his simple reply would be repeated in song by the whole Christian world!

Charlotte kept much of her writings for private use, expressing to the Lord her deep devotion to Him and not intending the texts to be used by others. At times people took her notes and spread them on her behalf, much to her displeasure.

In time, however, she became accustomed to others benefiting from her personal lines and in 1836 she became the editor of Yearly Remembrancer, in which she inserted some of her works, without identifying herself as the author.

One lady printed copies of “Just As I Am” as a leaflet and sent them out to towns and cities in England. A doctor took a copy and offered it to his aging patient saying it had been helpful to him and thought it might bless her. It did indeed, since it was Charlotte herself who was his patient.

Charlotte Elliott died at the age of 82 and is still regarded as “one of the finest of all English women hymn writers”. She wrote about 150 hymns. Her verse is characterised by tenderness of feeling, plaintive simplicity, deep devotion and perfect rhythm.

The testimony of Miss Elliott’s brother, (the Rev. H.V. Elliott, editor of Psalms and Hymns, 1835) to the great results arising from just one of his sister’s hymns (Just As I Am) is very touching. He says, “In the course of a long ministry I hope I have been permitted to see some fruit for my labours; but I feel far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s”.

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.