Lyman Beecher Heads West to Train Evangelists

This is the day that … Lyman Beecher was born in Connecticut, in 1775.

He has been described as “the father of more brains than any other man in America”, a reference to his 13 children.  These included the famous preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  As a matter of fact, “all his sons were well known as preachers” (Concise Universal Biography, page 222).

But Rev. Lyman Beecher was a giant among giants himself. He was educated at Yale in the days when it was barely above a secondary school in its facilities. The students were of dubious character at times.

Beecher was appalled by the example of his peers, but found his ideal in Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale. It was Dwight who stirred Yale into a religious fervor that led to many revivals in the next twenty-five years. Lyman graduated in 1797 and spent the next year in Yale Divinity School under the tutelage of Dwight as his mentor.

Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1797, he pastored three large churches (Litchfield, Connecticut; Boston; and Cincinatti), was well known as a revivalist, an educator and a social reformer.  He brought revival but also controversy. His preaching on temperance was just one of the themes that offended his parishioners at times.

He was one of the founders of the American Bible Society and President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinatti.

Initially he opposed Charles Finney’s new revival techniques and theology, but a few years later he admitted his worth and even invited Finney to hold meetings in Boston.  Lyman Beecher found himself in ‘hot water’ with his Presbyterian brethren who had little time for the famous revivalist.  After all, Finney taught “man was able to repent in response to God’s grace” (Dictionary of American Biography, page 38).

As a result Beecher was actually tried for heresy … but acquitted.

He was already one of America’s best known preachers by the age of 50, when he moved to Boston, seeking better payment for his skills and status.

His next move, to Cincinatti, was motivated by his concern to sure up protestant preaching where the Catholics and Unitarians had already made inroads. His years there were controversial. He used his Presidency of Lane Theological Seminary to train ministers to win the West for Protestantism.

An inveterate opponent of Roman Catholicism and Unitarianism, it is said that one of his fiery sermons apparently helped incite a mob “that resulted in the burning of a convent”.

During those years he was charged with acts of heresy, slander and hypocrisy by opposing religious factions. He resigned from Lane in 1850 and went to live with his son, Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn, where he died on 10 January, 1863, after a long and stormy ministry.

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.

Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival

This is the day that …Evan Roberts was born in Wales in 1878.

Twenty-six years later God used this young Calvinistic-Methodist to ignite a revival fire across that land. With his “scorched Bible” (it had been damaged in a mine explosion), Evan Roberts prayed and preached. Sometimes he wept in the pulpit. Other times he simply talked in between songs and testimonies.

Converted in his teenage years, Roberts was faithful to Christian principles, church attendance, prayer and Bible study. He was known as an exemplary Christian young man. Leaving school at age 11, to work with his father in coal mines, he spent 12 years underground. Then for more than a year he was apprenticed to a blacksmith.

In the Spring of 1904 Evan experienced an increased sense of God’s presence. One night he woke from his sleep and was led into a deep communion with his Lord for hours. Every evening for the following months this experience was repeated.

Here is how Roberts described his experience to W.T. Stead in 1905: “For a long, long time I was much troubled in my soul and my heart by thinking over the failure of Christianity. Oh! it seemed such a failure—such a failure—and I prayed and prayed, but nothing seemed to give me any relief. But one night, after I had been in great distress praying about this, I went to sleep, and at one o’clock in the morning suddenly I was waked up out of my sleep, and I found myself with unspeakable joy and awe in the very presence of the Almighty God. And for the space of four hours I was privileged to speak face to face with Him as a man speaks face to face with a friend. At five o’clock it seemed to me as if I again returned to earth.”

Feeling a calling to win people for Christ, his only available option for training was for the Presbyterian ministry. He attended a Grammar school to prepare for theological studies. A few weeks after arriving at the school he attended a Convention at nearby Blaenanerch and there he experienced what he called his “Baptism in the Spirit”, as he responded to the prayer “Bend me oh Lord”.

This experienced radicalised his life and turned him into the Welsh Revivalist. His initial message was simply: Confess all known sin; Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life; Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly; and Confess Christ publicly.

As he took that message to the valleys of South Wales, the 1904 Welsh Revival saw “100,000 outsiders converted and added to the Churches” within a year, writes Colin Whittaker (Great Revivals, page 95).

And then, some two years later, Evan Roberts faced health challenges and went to stay with Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis, a wealthy English lady, and her husband. Together they published a magazine, The Overcomer (God’s Generals, by R. Liardon, page 99) and he co-authored with her the book, War on the Saints. This book drew from his revival experiences and taught saints how to do spiritual warfare. Watchman Nee credited Roberts with recovering the truth of Spiritual Warfare to the church.

Evan Roberts eventually left the Penn-Lewis home, lived alone in Sussex, and wrote booklets. He devoted himself to prayer for the kingdom of God to be established. He saw that his health challenges led him to a private ministry of reclusive prayer.

Later he moved back to Wales, and died there, in January, 1951, at the age of 72. The impact of his private years of prayer ministry may not be known until we reach heaven.

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.