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.

Charles Simeon The Rejected Preacher Who Prevailed

This is the day that … Charles Simeon was born in 1759.

The place was Reading, England, and the aristocratic home in which young Charles was reared was one of ‘affluence’.

It was during his education at Kings College, Cambridge that he was wonderfully converted through the reading of a sermon on the subject of the scapegoat (Leviticus 16).

As he read about propitiatory sacrifice in the Old Testament, he thought, “What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lie my sins on his head?” He immediately laid his sins “upon the sacred head of Jesus.”

Despite the fact that “he found no Christian fellowship at the university” young Simeon’s Bible became his constant companion. Three years later, in 1782, he was ordained as a Church of England deacon and appointed minister of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge the following year.

And there it was he ministered over the next 50 years.

“Highly unpopular at first on account of his message and manner, scorned and abused for many years, he carried on regardless of men’s opinions, until in the end he became perhaps the best known and best respected name in Cambridge” (C. Simeon, by H.E. Hopkins).

Opposition there certainly was!

“The pew holders locked the doors of their pews to prevent visitors from using them. So Simeon placed benches in the aisles, but the church officers threw the benches into the church yard. Simeon started a Sunday evening service to reach needy sinners, but the officers locked the church doors!” (Victorious Christians, by W. Wiersbe, page 62).

“When I was an object of much contempt and derision in the university,” he later wrote, “I strolled forth one day, buffeted and afflicted, with my little Testament in my hand … The first text which caught my eye was this: ‘They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.'”

He invited students to his home on Sundays and Friday evenings for “conversation parties” to teach them how to preach. By the time he died, it is estimated that one-third of all the Anglican ministers in the country had sat under his teaching at one time or another.

One Anglican historian writes that Charles Simeon introduced the singing of hymns into Anglican services … for which the Prayer Book makes no provision (apart from Psalms, Canticles and Veni Creator). “In singing hymns evangelicals (like Simeon) were no doubt acting illegally, as, it would seem, we all are today” (Through the Ages, by F.E. Barker, page 277).

Before his death on 13 November, 1836, he also played a major role in establishing the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, and the London Jews Society. He has been described as “the most famous evangelical clergyman” the Church of England ever produced (Who’s Who in Christian History, page 625).

He remained a bachelor his whole life, and his entire ministry was at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge—even today a focal point of evangelicalism in England.

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.

Joseph Medlicott Scriven Unsuspecting Hymnwriter

This is the day that … Joseph Medlicott Scriven was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1819.

He entered Trinity College, Dublin, intent on following a career in the army – like his father.

Poor health prevented this.

He fell for a lovely young woman, but on the eve of their wedding she accidentally drowned. He never recovered from the shock. The Irishman began to wander, hoping to forget his sorrow. At age 25, he finally settled in Canada, where he worked as a school teacher.

As a committed Christian connected with the Plymouth Brethren his faith led him to do menial tasks for poor widows and the sick. He often worked for no wages and was regarded by the people of the community as a kind man, albeit a bit odd.

He later fell in love again and planned to marry a wonderful Canadian woman. But again, tragedy struck. His new fiancée, Eliza Roche, died after contracting pneumonia.

“With failing health and meagre income … he became greatly depressed” (Companion to Baptist Hymnal, by W. Reynolds, page 422).

In 1855, a friend visited an ill Scriven and discovered a poem he had written for his ailing mother in faraway Ireland. Scriven didn’t have the money to visit her, but he sent her the poem as an encouragement. He called it “Pray Without Ceasing.” When the friend inquired about the poem’s origins, Scriven reportedly answered, “The Lord and I did it between us.”

Scriven never intended for the poem to be published, but it made its rounds, and was set to music in 1868 by musician Charles Converse, who titled it “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It has since become one of our greatest hymns.

And at the age of 67 Scriven was found drowned … “whether suicidal or accidental” no-one knows (10 August, 1886).

A monument is erected to his memory in Port Hope, where he lived and wrote his immortal hymn
What a Friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer …

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.

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

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.