William Williams the Sweet Singer of Wales

William Williams, Welsh Hymn writer, died on January 11, 1791, having “trod the verge of Jordan and landed safe on Canaan’s side”.

William Williams stands foremost among Welsh hymn writers. But he was more than that.

Williams was born in 1717 and his father was a ruling elder in the Cefnarthen Independent church. His education at Llwyn-llwyd Academy was to prepare him to be a doctor. However, while he was there he heard Howel Harris preach in Talgarth churchyard and Williams was thus soundly converted.

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He joined the Established Church and was ordained deacon in 1740, then later became a friend of George Whitefield and the Calvinistic Methodists. The result was that the Bishop refused to ordain him to full ‘holy orders’.

So he became an itinerant preacher. All of Wales became his parish as he travelled “95,000 miles in the next 43 years” (Gospel in Hymns by A. Bailey, page 108).

In 1748 he married Mary Francis and went to live at his mother’s old home, Pantycelyn. Thus he came to be known as ‘Williams of Pantycelyn’.

Time and time again he was attacked by mobs. At Cardinganshire they beat him “within an inch of his life” … but Williams continued preaching and singing the Gospel.

Church historians refer to him as “the sweet singer of Wales” and of the 800 hymns he wrote many are still on the lips of worshippers to this day. Most well-known is:
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land …

Williams was the chief hymn-writer of the Methodist awakening in Wales and the popularity of his hymns accounts for much of the success of Welsh Methodism. His hymns not only impacted the nation’s religious life but they also made a valuable contribution to the literary culture of his day.

He was also a prolific writer and translator. From 1744-1791 Williams’ name appears on nearly 90 books and booklets. He wrote extensive poetry and prose and translated many English works into this native Welsh tongue. He was Wales’ first romantic poet and, as such, therefore exercised considerable influence on his contemporaries and successors.

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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

George Whitefield Preaches in the Open Air

George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England on December 16, 1714, the illegitimate son of an English barmaid.

Whitefield was converted through a Bishop who directed him to John 7:37 “Let the thirsty come to me”. To which Whitefield exclaimed aloud, “I thirst!” This admission of his own hopelessness led to an assurance of God’s grace for him.

His ordination message, at age 22, touched the hungry souls and irritated those hardened by religion. Two years later he was attracting huge crowds to his church in Bermondsey, during that time of Evangelical Awakening (1738) , but noted that more than a thousand people stood outside and the combined stink of the crowd was appalling.

Whitefield decided to begin “field preaching”, but his friend John Wesley thought it insane. It was also illegal to preach outdoor except at public hangings.

A hanging was to take place at the coalmining town of Kingswood, Bristol, where the population was totally illiterate and uncouth. When the accused committed suicide the miners dug up the corpse and partied.

Whitefield’s heart was broken for these people and he walked into their gathering and preached about the blessing on the poor in spirit. The people responded to his love for them. Whitefield wrote that as he preached he saw “the white gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks” (covered by coal dust).

Though Anglican pulpits were immediately shut to him, 10,000 people gathered at Kingswood the following Sunday. Whitefield was internationally famous from that day on.

Historians tell us that this man of God preached between 40 and 60 hours a week, a total of more than 18,000 sermons during 34 years of ministry. He crossed the Atlantic 13 times and ministered extensively in the New World American colonies.

Coupled to these amazing statistics are the sizes of the crowds which flocked to hear him. Preaching in the open air to crowds of 10,000–20,000 was not uncommon. “It has been estimated,” writes K. Hardman, in The Spiritual Awakeners, page 90, “to more than 100 million persons…”

Benjamin Franklin, who heard him preach many times in Pennsylvania, declared that he had a “voice like an organ”.

Whitefield and the Wesleys parted company in a controversy over predestination, but they were reunited in fellowship before Whitefield died. John Wesley preached at Whitefield’s memorial service in England.

George Whitefield, that prince among evangelists, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on 30 September, 1770, at the age of 56, and is buried beneath the pulpit of the Newburyport Presbyterian Church.

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

Catherine Booth one of the Army’s Best Men!

This is the day that … Catherine Booth died, in 1890.

Catherine Booth (nee Mumford), was born to a coachbuilder in Derbyshire, in 1829. She read the Bible eight times by the age of twelve, but was converted at the age of 15, when the words of a hymn led her to assurance of salvation.

At fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis. While ill in bed she began writing magazine articles against alcohol.

Catherine met William Booth, a Methodist minister in 1852. Catherine was impressed with both the sermon and the young preacher.

William believed ministers should be “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.” While keen on social reform, Catherine, an avowed feminist, disagreed with William’s views on women. She objected to William describing women as the “weaker sex” and she argued that women should preach, while William opposed the idea. Despite their disagreements about the role of women in the church, the couple married on 16th June 1855.

Catherine first preached in1860 when a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. The sermon so impressed William that he changed his mind about women preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. Lord Shaftesbury regarded William as the antichrist for his promotion of women preachers. Booth later wrote, “some of the best men in my Army are women”!

When William created the Salvation Army she took her place as the beloved mother of the movement. She particularly inspired young ladies to preach and evangelise, including her own daughters. She journeyed to Paris to help her daughter Catherine and a handful of other young ladies set up the Salvation Army there.

Some said that Catherine’s sermons were as good as her husband’s. Certainly many were converted under her ministry.

For 30 years she and her husband waged war on sin and reached out a loving hand to England’s poor and needy.

She also took social action including the Food For A Million Shops, where poor could buy an inexpensive three-course meal. She was angered by the sweated labour that many women were subjected to, working 14 hours a day for a pittance. Bryant and May matches also used yellow phosphorous that poisoned the women working with it. She began a campaign that her husband completed after her death, to end the use of yellow phosphorous.

Eventually she found herself on the banks of ‘chilly Jordan’. She writes from her deathbed – to the 20,000 gathered in the Crystal Palace:

“My dear Children and Friends, My place is empty but my heart is with you. You are my joy and my crown. Your battles, sufferings and victories have been the chief interest of my life these 25 years. They are still. Go forward … live holy lives … love and seek the lost; bring them to the blood … I am dying under the Army flag; it is yours to live and fight under. God is my salvation and refuge in the storm. I send you my love and blessing. Catherine Booth.”

On Saturday, 4 October, 1890, the old General and his family gathered around Catherine’s bed. They prayed. They sang. Such grand old hymns as:
Calvary’s stream is flowing so free,
Flowing for you and for me.

“Go on,” Catherine said … and they sang some more –
Jesus, my Saviour, has died on the tree,
Died on the tree for me! Hallelujah!

Eventually, unable to speak, Catherine Booth pointed to the text hanging upon the wall, which read, “My Grace is sufficient for thee”. “That”, writes her biographer, “was her last testimony to God’s faithfulness.”

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.

Mary Bosanquet early Methodist Woman Preacher

This is the day that … Mary Bosanquet Fletcher was born in Leytonstone, in Essex England in 1739. (Some writers give the date of her birth as 12 September).

Her interest in the Christian faith began when she was only six years of age, through a Methodist maid employed by her parents. She took seriously Wesley’s preaching to “give all you can” using her own financial resources and her time to provide for persons in need. She became a class leader and then a preacher.

In 1763, she and Sarah Ryan took charge of a large house in Leytonstone, her birthplace, which became a sanctuary for the most destitute and friendless people in London. The house became a school, orphanage, hospital, and half-way house all-in-one. Thus she became one of John Wesley’s most faithful co-workers.

“People threw dirt at our People as they left on Sundays,” she wrote, “and they would put their face to the window and howl like wild beasts …”

But the work continued to grow. She travelled “far afield to speak at meetings, in the open air or more usually to meet classes.”

On 12 November, 1781, she married the godly Rev. John Fletcher, a Church of England clergyman who was very much in sympathy with the Methodist movement and who was John Wesley’s designated successor. John died four years later, leaving Mary to outlive him by almost 30 years.

Mary struggled with the calling to be a preacher, as did other Methodist women preachers. Wesley encouraged them, seeing the great effectiveness they had in their work. Wesley wrote to Mary, saying she had “an extraordinary call” to be a lay-preacher.

Maldwyn Edwards, Methodist minister and historian, writes that Mary Fletcher’s life was a “pattern of complete devotion to God in which she never withheld either her time or money or energy. Her incessant work for others, ranging from her care of children to her visitation of those in greatest need, and her undiminished zeal in communication “the glad tidings of salvation” may possibly have been paralleled in early Methodism, but never exceeded.”

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.

Ira David Sankey Singing Revivalist

This is the day that … Ira David Sankey was born in Pennsylvania, in 1840. His father was a prominent man, a state senator, banker and editor. He was under appointment by Abraham Lincoln to collect internal revenue.

Young David displayed a fondness for music and developed an excellent singing voice.

In his early years he attended the Methodist Episcopal Church, became Sunday-School superintendent, led the YMCA and led the choir.

During the Civil War he was one of the first to enlist with the Union Army.

Three years later, on 9 September, 1863, Sankey married a member of his choir, Fanny Edwards. “She has been a blessing and a helpmate to me throughout my life and in all my work,” he wrote in his autobiography (page 17).

Sankey was in constant demand as a singer for all kinds of religious gatherings.

In 1870 he met D.L. Moody at a 6.00 a.m. YMCA prayer meeting, and after hearing him sing, Moody challenged him to become his partner in an evangelistic ministry. Before long Sankey was leading the singing and contributing some gospel solos at Moody’s meetings in Chicago.

Sankey and Moody travelled to the UK in June 1873, and there Sankey’s singing gave him an international reputation. His wonderful compass of voice, clear enunciation and evident sincerity made a deep impression throughout Great Britain, so much so that before he returned to America the names of “Moody and Sankey” had become household words throughout Europe. (wholesomewords.org)

Many converts testified to the impact made by Sankey’s singing as well as the preaching of the evangelist.

Sankey’s Hymn Book is reputed to have sold 80 million copies in the first 50 years (1873-1923).

Among the well-known tunes Sankey composed are those to which we sing these words: There were ninety and nine…; Simply trusting every day…; Encamped along the hills of light…; The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide…; Under His wings…; Oh! Safe to the Rock that is higher than I…

On 13 August, 1908, Sankey joined the Heavenly choir.

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.