George Williams Births the YMCA

This is the day that … George Williams was born in Somerset, England, in 1821.

He was the youngest of the eight sons of Amos & Elisabeth Williams, of Ashway Farm.

His farming days came to an end when he drove a horse and cart laden with hay into a ditch, overturning the lot, himself included. Father and brothers decided young George should move to the city and earn a living there.

In doing so he was part of the massive 19th century shift from rural life to the dominance of the burgeoning English cities.

“I entered Bridgewater,” wrote George at a later date, “a careless, thoughtless, godless, swearing young fellow.” But his employer, Mr Holmes, a draper, was a Christian. And it was expected that all his employees attend the non-conformist chapel each Sunday morning.

Thus it was, at the age of 16, he was saved. “I cannot describe to you,” he writes, “the joy and peace that flowed into my soul when I first saw that the Lord Jesus had died for my sins and that they were all forgiven.”

From that moment on, Williams’ motto became: ‘It is not how little but how much we can do for others’. This led him to both evangelical and social enterprises.

Concerned with the many young fellows similarly employed, but with no interest in the things of Christ, George gathered 10 believers around him in his bedroom – 6 June, 1844 – and formed an association “for the promotion of the spiritual welfare of young men engaged in the drapery and other trades.”

The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was brought to birth. In its early days the evangelical witness was foremost. Regular activities included Bible classes, Gospel meetings, street meetings and devotions before most activity programs.

He also became active in improving conditions for the 150,000 London shop assistants in 1841 whose lives were still little removed from that of a slave. They were kept in the unhealthy atmosphere of the shop from six or seven o’clock in the morning until ten or eleven o’clock at night. The early-closing movement owes much of its success to the support Williams gave and also to the example he later set as an employer.

As a successful businessman he gave away the greater portion of his income to assist those in need. “What is my duty in business?” he asked. Then answered, “To be righteous. To do right things between man and man. To buy honestly. Not to deceive or falsely represent or colour.”

Sir George Williams (he was knighted in 1894) never ceased to preach the gospel. His very last words, which he spoke while at the 1905 World YMCA Jubilee, were: “…if you wish to have a happy, useful, and profitable life, give your hearts to God while you are young.” He was then carried to his room and died.

George Williams was 84 when he died and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

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.

Benjamin Keach Punished for Preaching the Truth

This is the day that … Benjamin Keach was arrested for publishing a children’s book!

It was 1664, in Aylesbury, England. Keach was a 24 year-old non-conformist – that is, he refused to conform to the teachings of the state church. He was a Baptist.

In those days religious toleration was at a low ebb – non-existent might be a better word.

Such was the antagonism toward religious non-conformists that the judge tried to find a way to impose the death sentence. When the jury found Benjamin guilty only of misquoting a single verse of Scripture, Judge Hyde bullied the jurors into finding the defendant guilty of other charges.

Two years earlier 2000 ministers were ejected from their living because of their refusal – among other things – to submit to bishops and use the Prayer Book.

Parliament had passed a law (the Act of Uniformity) designed to bring all Christians under the banner of Anglicanism.

Benjamin Keach was actually preaching when the soldiers arrived … “violently laid hold of him, tied him and threw him to the ground. Then they declared their intention of killing him by riding their horses over him. As the men spurred their horses forward, an officer appeared and at the last moment saved the preacher from a horrible death” (B. Keach, by R. Dix, page 11).

He was charged with printing “a seditious and venomous book” entitled The Child’s Instructor – a book that taught doctrines contrary to the Book of Common Prayer.

Especially noted were his views on the baptism of believers (rather than infants), and that “it is the gift of God that makes a minister of the gospel and not learning from universities or human schools.”

Keach was sentenced to a fortnight in prison, two hours in the pillory, fined 20 pounds Sterling (a small fortune in those days) and his book was publicly burned.

While in the stocks in the public square he preached to the people and they looked upon him as a hero. Rather than pelt him with rotten vegetables they respected him. Keach’s preaching was so effective that the sheriff threatened to gag him. When a Church of England minister spoke out against Keach the crowd responded by scorning the minister for his godless life.

Like thousands of others, Benjamin Keach suffered – more than once – because of his faith in Jesus Christ and because he believed a man’s religion is not bound by the state – but by the Word of God (ibid, page 15). In this Keach was recognising the higher government of God over our lives than the governments imposed by men. Just as the early apostles declared that they must obey God and not man.

Sixty books came from his pen, he introduced hymn-singing into Baptist services, and for many years preached to large congregations … even up to 1000 people.

By the time of his death in 1704 (at the age of 64) he was one of the best-known Baptists in all 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. 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.