Call to Preach

The notion of preacher often invokes images of days gone by. Wesley, Finney and Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, are characters from a bygone era, doing something that fitted that generation, but which we do not see as so relevant today.

The idea of a preacher standing in an open field or marketplace, with thousands of people listening and being transformed by the message, as revival fire sweeps a nation, is not something we think of in today’s western church.

Of course we have preachers today. Christian TV channels are crammed with fancy speakers, each with their own style and emphasis. We also have some exemplary preachers in our modern world.

However, the value of a preacher is not so well recognised today as it was in previous generations. Yet I believe we are approaching a revival of Preaching and Preachers, because the day of Preachers has not passed.

The Place of Preaching

The New Testament church was built on preaching.  Jesus Christ commissioned His followers to preach.

“And he (Jesus) said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone.” Mark 16:15

“And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.” 1Corinthians 1:17

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” 2Timothy 4:2

The Apostle Paul recognised that God has given a special place to preaching as a tool to bring transformation.

“God, in His wisdom, determined that people would not find or know God by pursuing human wisdom, but God would use the ‘foolishness of preaching’ to save those people who believe.”

1Corinthians 1:21 (paraphrased)

Proclaiming the Truth

Preaching does not need a crowd or a pulpit.  What we call witnessing is the same a preaching.  Telling the truth of the gospel to a person is preaching.  We see this where what was said privately to one person is still said to be “preached” to them.

When God gave promise to Abraham, privately, God was preaching to him.

“And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the gospel to Abraham in time past, saying, In you all nations will be blessed.” Galatians 3:8

When Phillip the Evangelist had a private session with the Ethiopian eunuch he “preached” to him, even though we would call it explaining the gospel, or witnessing.

“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” Acts 8:35

Every time you proclaim the truth, to thousands, or privately and quietly to one person, you are preaching. And preaching is what we are called to do.

The Power of Preaching

We see in the New Testament that by Christians simply going out and telling others about Christ multitudes of lives and even whole cultures were transformed.  The Apostle Paul, one of the most active preachers, was hated by the Jewish religious leaders because he turned so many to Christ.  Even those who made idols to a heathen goddess in Ephesus attacked Paul because he was destroying their business.

The simple process of talking to people, individually and in groups, about the gospel released tremendous transforming power, called “Salvation”.

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (non-Jew).” Romans 1:16

Historic Role of Preaching

World history reveals that preaching is so significant that those who preach actually direct society.

The English king Charles 1 wrote about preaching back in 1646, recognising the influence held by the preachers from the pulpits.  He said, “people are governed by pulpits more than the sword in times of peace.”

For centuries English culture was shaped by the simple process of men standing up to preach the truth from God’s word.

A similar testimony comes from Herman Melville’s 1850 novel, Moby Dick, in chapter 8, titled The Pulpit.

“…the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favorable winds. Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

Too Many Voices

The significant place of the pulpit, celebrated for centuries, has now declined.  This is due in large part to the abandonment of Christianity and the decline in church attendance, where most people get to hear preaching.

Another influence is the sheer abundance of voices clamouring for our attention.  The influence of the Christian pulpit has been replaced with other voices that are not sympathetic to Bible truth.

Secular education provides a pulpit for every teacher to preach the approved social values into the hearts and minds of their captive congregation.  The press and printed material also preach the populist message.  Radio and television, songs and movies all capture our attention and preach their preferred values into our culture.

Instead of Bible truth and the gospel bringing transforming power into society and steering us to godly living and the blessings of Almighty God, we are now turned every which way, and left to languish in our confusion and defeat, without godly direction and God’s power.

Popular media has become the pulpit of modern day culture.

Preachers as Kingdom Technology

We now need a fresh release of preachers into our culture.  This is the main technology used in history to expand God’s kingdom, and it is still the principal Kingdom technology today.

The New Testament church thrived where ever preaching took place.  When the Jerusalem church was persecuted and believers were dispersed to other cities and nations the church grew wonderfully.

As Paul and others took the gospel to places, the church grew in those new locations.  History reveals that the Ethiopian eunuch, taking back what he learned from Phillip, prompted the growth of the church there.  And people in southern India can trace their church connection back to the arrival of the disciple Thomas almost two millennia ago.

John Wycliffe, a professor at Oxford, was the first to translate the Bible into English, way back in 1380.  But what gave his translation and life greater impact were the many people who read his translation and preached from it across the English countryside.  These Lollards opened the word of God to their generation.

Almost four centuries after Wycliffe, John and Charles Wesley, also based at Oxford, instigated a preaching program which came to be known as Methodism.  The heart of this movement was the circuit riding preacher.  These men were expected to preach multiple times on a Sunday, walking or riding on horseback around their circuit.

The great Wesleyan revival started the 1700’s continued long past the deaths of these men of God, because of the preaching system (method) they created.  At its heart, apart from the message of personal encounter with God and the truth of God’s word, the Methodist revival was based on preaching.

Preaching Through Opposition

Preachers are not usually welcome in a society that needs God.  Paul was opposed across the many nations and cities to which he took the gospel.  Revivalists through history have been at times violently opposed by angry audiences.

While we expect Christian preachers to be opposed in heathen lands, note that John Wesley was driven from many places when he started preaching in Christian England.  His Methodist preachers had to face rocks, roof tiles and mud, among other abuses.

Today’s new generation of preachers will also face opposition and trials.  While many will gain prominence and have popular ministries, others will have to struggle through opposition.

Releasing Preachers

In every generation and in every culture there is always primary place for preachers, great and small.  Each nation and culture needs more preachers, from those who quietly inform their small circle of friends, to those who draw vast crowds in stadiums, halls and fields.

I have always delighted in the role of preacher, but am all the more convinced today than ever that God is seeking a new generation of labourers in the harvest field, who preach the good news of Jesus Christ into their culture, whether the hearers are resistant or not.

Adam Clarke a Dedicated Life

Adam Clarke was married, April 17, 1788. Born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, about 1760, he was to become a powerful evangelist and a significant author. However his early years at school gave the impression he was an underachiever. When he was about 8 years old a jibe about his lack of intellect prompted Adam to apply himself and the results were astounding.

Clarke mastered twenty languages and inquired into almost every branch of learning. He became proficient in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldee and Syriac versions of the Scripture and learned in all the oriental languages and most of the languages of Europe.

In his late teens Clarke’s curiosity led him to Methodist meetings where he remained to pray, seeking salvation. He says of this quest, “I regarded nothing, not even life itself, in comparison with having my heart cleansed from all sin; and began to seek it with full purpose of heart. Soon after this, while earnestly wrestling with the Lord in prayer, and endeavouring self-desperately to believe, I found a change wrought in my soul, which I have endeavoured through grace to maintain amid the grievous temptations and accusations of the subtle foe.”

Once saved he soon began exhorting others. He then traveled to England, and handed himself over to John Wesley. Wesley said to him, “Do you wish to devote yourself entirely to the work of God?” “Sir, I wish to be and to do whatever God pleases.” “I think you had better go out into the work at large,” said Wesley. Wesley then laid hands young Adam and sent him to the Bradford circuit. Clarke had twenty-three appointments and did most of his travelling on foot, carrying most of his belongings on his back.

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In his first year this ‘boy’ preacher delivered 506 sermons “and a great number of public exhortations, which he did not class as sermons”. In 1786 he was sent to France (the Norman Isles), for he was skilled in the French language, and many, many others. There he and his companions were initially persecuted but proved successful.

Clarke lived with remarkable focus and was determined to harvest the time available to him. He rose early and worked diligently at all his tasks. His advice to youth was, “The grand secret is to save time. Spend none needlessly. Keep from all unnecessary company. Never be without a praying heart, and have as often as possible a book in your hand.”

Back in England he married Miss Mary Cooke – “through their lives they were supremely happy” – and six sons and six daughters were born.

Clarke saw salvation as the most powerful effect that mankind could ever experience, and he saw it as an ongoing work of grace with limitless capacity to continue transforming human lives. “As there is no end to the merits of Christ incarnate and crucified; no bounds to the mercy and love of God; no let or hindrance to the almighty energy and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit; no limits to the improvability or the human soul, so there can be no bounds to the saving influence which God will dispense to the heart of every true believer.”

Best remembered for his massive Bible Commentary – despite a few oddities of interpretation … e.g. Eve was tempted by an orangutan – Adam Clarke was one of John Wesley’s right hand men.

Commenced 27 years earlier, his Commentary, finally completed on 18 March, 1825, on his knees, entitles Adam Clarke to be ranked “among the chief of expositors, a prince among commentators”, said C.H. Spurgeon.

After John Wesley’s death Clarke was elected president of the Methodist Conference three times. He was so reluctant to accept the responsibility that the first time (1806) his brethren had to carry him bodily and place him in the chair: but once there, he performed his duties with grace and success.

Dr Clarke died during a cholera epidemic on 26 August, 1832. He was away from home when he contracted the disease but his wife and children were able to reach him before he died. Just weeks before his death he had written in his journal, “I feel a simple heart: the prayers of my childhood are yet precious to me, and the simple hymns I sang when a child, I sing now with unction and delight. Philippians 1:21. May I live to Thee, die in Thee, and be with Thee to all eternity. Amen. – Adam Clarke.”

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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

William Grimshaw the Unprofitable

William Grimshaw died on April 7, 1763, in Yorkshire, England. He had been born, in Brindle, near Chorley, in Lancashire, England on September 14, 1708.

At the age of 18 he had entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, and taken ‘holy orders’ to become a Church of England clergyman. For the first two years of study he applied himself, but then took up bad friendships and decided to become a minister just for the living.

During his first pastorate – “where he amused himself with rural sports … jolly, careless and ready for a game or a match or a day with the dogs (hunting)” – William Grimshaw preached a “barren orthodoxy”.

Grimshaw decided to better his financial prospects by marrying into a prosperous family. But after four years of marriage his wife died and he was led to think of things eternal. Another incident that impacted him was the loss of a baby by a couple in his parish. He was unable to give them spiritual help and could only suggest that they go out and have fun to forget their sorrow.

For seven years Grimshaw struggled with an empty religion. On one occasion he shouted at his congregation, “We are in a damnable state and I know not how to get out of it”.

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Grimshaw tells of a curious vision that he saw whilst officiating in his church. He saw God the Father and God the Son “in a heated dispute” as to what to do with the godless vicar.  The Father said he should be damned but the Son “thrust His hands and feet through the ceiling” of the church and Grimshaw saw the “nail prints and from them poured fresh blood” (The Evangelical Renewal, by S. Baring-Gould, page 268; John Wesley, by C Vulliamy, page 191).

Thus it was, at the age of 28, Grimshaw became an evangelical preacher of the old-time gospel. He married again, but his second wife died five years later.

When Grimshaw moved to the west Yorkshire village of Haworth, in the Pennines of Northern England, there were only 12 communicants among these hardened people. The high mortality led to an average life span of only 26 years and the people were hardened by the austere living conditions.

Here Grimshaw attacked the sin of the inhabitants like a modern-day John the Baptist.  Before the Sunday service he would go out and round up shirkers with a riding crop (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 438).  Sometimes he would “prowl around his parish disguised as an old woman to detect evil doers” (S Baring-Gould, page 268). During his ministry “sin was checked. Sabbath-breaking became unfashionable, immorality was greatly restrained. Multitudes were converted. Oftentimes over 1,200 communicants observed the Lord’s Supper” (Biblical Evangelist, February, 1983, page 5).

This stern and physical approach to his ministry was motivated by genuine concern for the people. He dearly sought their conversion for their own good. He also preached beyond the borders of his parish, much to the chagrin of neighbouring ministers. And here he met the Methodist evangelists and befriended John Wesley and George Whitefield. These three became the three greatest preachers of their time. Grimshaw attracted crowds as big as any other.

“A tough evangelist of the stirring, manly sort, thinking it shameful to keep silence while so many had never heard, or never felt, the Word of God.  He is one of the monuments of Methodism,” says C Vulliamy, page 293.

Grimshaw often preached for 2 hours and he journeyed from place to place on foot, until the distances forced him to ride his white horse. He set up meetings for poor folk in his own barn, since they could not attend the church. While remaining an Anglican all his life he even set up the first Methodist church in Haworth. He preached as many as 30 times in a week.

He also faced physical abuse, being pushed from his horse, roughed up and even opposed by a minister who despised him.

“A faithful minister of Christ”, wrote Charles Wesley, in October, 1746.  And Wesley had such a high opinion of him that he was appointed leader of the great Methodist movement if the Wesley brothers preceded him in death. But it was not to be. On 7 April, 1763, William Grimshaw passed to his Heavenly Home.

On his deathbed William Grimshaw spoke to a fellow clergyman:  “My last enemy is come!  The signs of death are upon me.  But I am not afraid.  No!  No!  Blessed be God, my hope is sure and I am in His hands” (Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, by Bishop J C Ryle, page 130).  His last words were: “Here goes an unprofitable servant“.

Grimshaw was only 55 years old. He had caught a “putrid fever” while visiting the sick during an epidemic.

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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 Berridge of Everton

John Berridge was born in Kingston, Nottinghamshire, England, on March 1, 1716, the eldest son of a wealthy farmer and grazier.

Berridge’s father wanted him to learn to run to farm, but the boy was much more inclined to his studies and so the father sent him to Cambridge to prepare for ministry.

It was not until his early teens that he had an encounter with the things of God.  When he was coming home from school one day a boy invited young Berridge into his house “that he might read to him out of the Bible”.  The seed was sown, although for nearly 30 years the devil snatched it away or covered it with thorns.

Having been raised in a Christian home Berridge learned to pray and hold faith in God, but during his studies he “lost much of his early religious impressions” and almost entirely gave up “secret prayer for ten years”.

During those wasted years, Berridge had excelled as a scholar at Clare Hall, Cambridge and entered the Church of England ministry as curate to the parish of Stapleford, near Cambridge in 1749.  Not until he was in his second parish, at Everton, at the age of 42, did he come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus.  When he did, his preaching came alive.  “As soon as I preached Jesus Christ and faith in His blood, then believers were added to the church continually; then people flocked from all parts to hear the glorious sound of the Gospel …”
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Not only did the Vicar of Everton preach to his own people, but he often rode 100 miles and preached 12 times a week … which brought him into conflict with the bishop, who told him that it was against ‘the canons of the church’.  “My lord,” replied Berridge, “I only preach in two seasons.”   “Which are they, Mr Berridge?”  “In season, and out of season, my lord.”

Berridge remained the Vicar of Everton until his death, totally 37 years in that pulpit. Yet his wider ministry is captured by one historian describing “Berridge preaching from a horse-block at Potton, mingling smiles and tears, and the quaintest humour with the deepest pathos”.

Berridge sympathized with and aided the Methodist revival. John Wesley esteemed Berridge highly and looked on his as a co-worker. Berridge is alluded to often in Wesley’s writings.

It is true that Berridge used many a quaint saying in his pulpit ministry, causing some to label him ‘a buffoon'; and it is true that strange physical effects were often evidenced under his preaching.  Loud cries and convulsions and trance-like states would sometimes occur among his listeners.  But he never encouraged these demonstrations.  And as for his quaint sayings, he acknowledged that ‘he was born with a fool’s cap on, and a fool’s cap was not so easily put off as a night cap.’ This remark was clearly one of self-deprecation since he was an excellent scholar.

As Bishop Ryle comments, “Better a thousand times for men to smile and be converted than to look stiff and grave and sleepy in their pews, and remain dead in trespasses and sins.”

Berridge never married and in 1785 he published a volume of hymns titled Zion’s Songs. Of the three hundred and forty-two hymns he composed very few remain in use. His ‘wedding hymn’, “Since Jesus Freely Did Appear“, which is a prayer in song for the divine blessing on the bridal couple, is one of the few that can be found in hymn books today.

Many of Berridge’s hymns were first published in the Gospel Magazine, under the pseudonym “Old Everton“. His biographer says that the hymns were written during Berridge’s “long and trying illness”, although the nature of the physical condition is not explained.

Berridge’s hymns and preaching reflect the abject worthlessness of man and the supreme blessing of Christ’s salvation. His hymns give us such lines as: “Self-condemned and abhorred, How shall I approach the Lord”; and “I drop my vile heart in the dust.”

John Berridge died at Everton on 22 January, 1793.

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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

Hester Ann Rogers Inspires Women to Holiness

Hester Ann Rogers was born on January 31, 1756, in Cheshire, England.

Her father was a Church of England clergyman who died when she was nine years of age.

Confirmed – but not converted – four years later, young Hester continued in spiritual rebellion until Mr Simpson, the new curate, appeared at their local church. He was – horrors! – a ‘Methodist’! And when he preached on John 6:44 Hester “wept aloud … ran home … went upstairs” and there, upon her knees, commenced her pilgrimage to the cross. She attended Methodist meetings – much to her mother’s disgust – and was soon truly converted.

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On 19 August, 1784, she married James Rogers – a Methodist preacher – and became a class-leader and personal worker herself. James was Wesley’s resident assistant and Hester was Wesley’s housekeeper toward the end of his life.

Her Memoirs and Letters became ‘best sellers’ in early Methodist circles. Her emphasis on ‘entire sanctification’ did much to popularise that particular doctrine. The Methodist notion of holiness involved an experience, subsequent to conversion, where a person’s commitment to holy living is accentuated by a touch from God. Hester claimed this experience and called it the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”. The term did not have any of the Pentecostal connotations which would become prevalent a century later, but spoke of a cleansing of thought and deed, leading to ‘full salvation’.

Because of the influence of her writings, Hester is counted as one of the leading women of the early Methodist movement.

When John Wesley died, Hester and James were at his bedside. “We have come to rejoice with you,” she – or her husband – said, “you are going to receive your crown.”

Three years later – on 10 October, 1794, aged 39 – shortly after giving birth to a son, she too, went to receive her Heavenly reward.

Hester’s testimony was widely circulated and impacted many women in the following century, who were inspired by her devotion to the Lord and depth of personal encounter with Him.

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