Robert William Dale at Carr’s Lane Birmingham

Robert William Dale was born in London, UK, on December 11, 1829. Bobbie’s father made hat trimmings and his mother was determined that he would be a preacher. In his mid teens he engaged in philosophical discussions, being an assistant school-master at age fourteen. He came to faith in Christ through reading James’s “Anxious Enquirer” on his knees, coming to a total confidence in Christ’s atoning work.

Dale began preaching at fifteen, showing the potential of a great preacher. During his preparation for ministry he learned literary style from Henry Rogers, who wrote for the Spectator. The brilliant Birmingham preacher, George Dawson, exemplified for Dale commitment to social ideals from the pulpit.

Dr John Angel James, pastor of Birmingham’s important Carr’s Lane Congregational Church for fifty years, saw Dale as a worthy replacement. When Dale achieved his MA from London University, Dale was made assistant pastor, then co-pastor with Dr. James. When James died in 1859 Dale was made sole pastor at Carr’s Lane, holding that position for 36 years.

During that time he became a major force in English Congregationalism – and through his writings his influence circled the globe.

He threw himself behind the Moody-Sankey revival in 1875. He encouraged a young Campbell Morgan. He wrote volumes on Bible doctrine, which made him a household name in the Christian world of his day. Many key figures were greatly influenced by Dale, including a young Andrew M. Fairbairn, the future principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, who went to Birmingham to meet the author of sermons that profoundly impacted him.

Dale was Birmingham’s greatest preacher and one of the world’s most influential voices in the pulpit. He blended the theism of his Puritan roots, with deep personal experience of God, from the revivalism of Wesley. He eloquently resisted the message of the Tractarian movement, which sought to elevate the authority of the church. Dale also resisted the moral view of the work of Christ, popularised in Bushnell’s Vicarious Sacrifice, which saw Christ’s work as to influence men, not to pay the penalty demanded by God.

Dales Theology, however, had some insufficient elements, for which he is criticised, including belief that sinners are annihilated, rather than punished eternally in hell. However, he came to his thoughts from a sincere attempt to be Biblical and to create a consistent theory of salvation. He was keen to see theory developed to support what we know to be Biblical fact.

Dale was also active in civic matters, leading to his involvement in politics as well. He also did much to promote education, along with his extensive writings, which were published around the world. He travelled to Australia, America and Palestine.

He died at the age of 76 (March 13, 1895) and all Birmingham and England mourned his passing. Thousands lined the streets and stood outside his funeral service to honour this man who had lived a life of amazing energy and versatility and a life of great achievement.

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:

Horatio Gates Spafford Turns Tragedy into Song

This is the day that Horatio Gates Spafford was born in New York State, in 1828.

He was to become a well known Christian businessman in Chicago; professor of medical jurisprudence at Chicago Medical College; director of a Presbyterian theological seminary; and active in the YMCA. He was a close friend of Moody and Sankey.

The young lawyer moved to Chicago to start a legal business. In 1861 he married Anna Tuben Larssen and they established a prosperous home. Anna bore Spafford a son and four daughters. Horatio junior, however, died of scarlet fever in 1870, aged four. Apart from their business income Spafford had built up a sizable property portfolio.

The Great Chicago Fire swept through the city on 8-10 October 1871, killing 250 people and rendering 90,000 homeless, destroying about a third of the city. While the Spaffords sustained significant personal loss, Horatio and Anna worked tirelessly for two years to help the victims put their lives back together.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody based his worldwide ministry in Chicago and the Spaffords were good friends of Moody and his ministry. In 1873 they decided to travel to England to participate in the Moody/Sankey revival meetings there, before touring continental Europe.

The family of six travelled to New York to board their ship. Horatio was called back to Chicago by last-minute business obligations, but he saw no reason for the entire family to delay their travel, so he sent his family on ahead, planning to join them as soon as he could.

Anna Spafford, the couple’s four daughters, the children’s governess and two others in their party boarded the French steamship Ville du Havre on 22 November 1873, along with 307 other passengers and crew. At about 2 am on 22 November 1873, in the eastern North Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with the British iron clipper Loch Earn, then sank in a mere 12 minutes. 226 people perished, including the four Spafford daughters. Survivors were taken to Cardiff, Wales, where Anna Spafford cabled her husband on 1 December 1873 with the following devastating message: “Saved alone. What shall I do.” Horatio Spafford took the next available ship to join his wife.

It was two years later that Horatio Spafford wrote one of our great gospel songs:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows, like sea billows, roll –
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The daughters had all been converted in Moody-Sankey meetings shortly before their deaths.

Ira Sankey, who incorporated this gospel song into his Sacred Songs and Solos, writes: “In 1876, when we (Moody and Sankey) returned to Chicago, I was entertained in the home of Mr and Mrs Spafford for a number of weeks. During that time Mr Spafford wrote the hymn ‘It is well with my soul’, in commemoration of the deaths of his children. P.P. Bliss composed the music and sang it for the first time at Farwell Hall” (My Life …, by I. Sankey, page 191).

Once reunited, Horatio and Anna Spafford returned to Chicago, and by 1880, they had another daughter, Bertha, and another son, also called Horatio. This son, too, died in infancy of scarlet fever.

The Spaffords also had another daughter, Grace, born in Chicago in January 1881. When Grace was just seven months old, the Spaffords moved to the Holy Land in August 1881. They helped to found a group called the American Colony in Jerusalem, with the mission to serve the poor.

Sometime during the 1880s, in Jerusalem, Horatio Spafford suffered a mental illness that caused him to believe that he was the second Messiah.

There he died of malaria on 16 October, 1888, at the age of 60. He is buried in Jerusalem.

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 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.

The Sunbeam, Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane

This is the day that … Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1830. She was the delicate, retiring one of three sisters whose example impacted their community.

“Gentle and retiring in disposition, and generous to a degree, she was known as ‘The Sunbeam’ among the poor and suffering in Melrose”, the village in which she lived, and made famous in Walter Scott’s novels (including The Abbot and the Monastery).

Elizabeth and her sisters belonged to the Free Church of Scotland where Rev. James Irwin later ministered. “There still remains,” he wrote, “a treasured memory of their wholehearted devotion to the church … their generosity was a constant joy to my predecessor and the church treasurer!” (The Romance of Sacred Song, by D. Beattie, page 55).

The sisters gave away everything they did not require for their daily needs, so they might meet the needs of the poor. Elizabeth gave herself to Bible Study and poetry writing. Many of her poems were published anonymously.

Her poem … “There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold” …was found in a newspaper by Ira Sankey and spontaneously set to music as he sang and played the organ with only the words before him! (My Life Story, by Ira Sankey, page 307). It was 1874, in Glasgow, Scotland. “A short time afterwards I received, at Dundee, a letter from a lady who had been present at the meeting thanking me for having sung her deceased sister’s words” wrote Sankey (ibid.).

Elizabeth Clephane’s other well-known poem was also published posthumously, and set to music three years later …
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand!

The hymn is testimony to her ardent Bible study, as it is replete with Biblical references and allusions. The reference to “the mighty Rock” is taken from Isaiah 32:2. The reference to “the weary land” is taken from Psalm 63:1. The reference to “home within the wilderness” is taken from Jeremiah 9:2. The reference to “rest upon the way” is taken from Isaiah 28:12. The reference to “noontide heat” is taken from Isaiah 4:6. The reference to “burden of the day” is taken from Matthew 11:30.

Miss Clephane died at the age of 38.

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

Ira D Sankey – hymn writer

This is the day that … a weekly newspaper, The Christian Age, dated 13 May, 1874, printed a poem, which fell into the hands of Mr Ira D. Sankey.

With his friend, D.L. Moody, beside him, the two American evangelists sat in a railway carriage travelling towards Edinburgh. Moody had just completed the Glasgow campaign.

In that newspaper Sankey found a poem and read it to Moody, “only to discover that he had not heard a word, so absorbed was he in a letter.” However, Sankey kept the poem – “I cut it out and placed it in my musical scrap-book.”

At the second meeting of the Edinburgh campaign Moody preached on “The Good Shepherd”, and whilst the chairman (Dr Bonar) made some closing remarks, Moody asked Sankey to sing something appropriate to close the meeting. Sankey tells us in his autobiography that singing the 23rd Psalm crossed his mind, but … let Sankey tell the story … “At that moment I seemed to hear a voice saying: ‘Sing the hymn you found on the train.’ But I thought this impossible, as no music had ever been written for it! Nevertheless the inner conviction persisted.

“Placing the little newspaper slip on the organ in front of me, I lifted my heart in prayer, asking God to help me … I struck the chord of A flat and began to sing. Note by note the tune was given which has not been changed from that day to this” (pages 306-307). After the service Moody asked his friend, “… where did you get that hymn?” to which Sankey replied: “Mr Moody, that’s the hymn I read to you yesterday on the train, which you did not even hear…”

The hymn was written by Elizabeth Clephane (who also penned Beneath the Cross of Jesus).

And the hymn? …
There were ninety and nine that safely lay
in the shelter of the fold,
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare,
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

But none of the ransomed ever knew
how deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
’ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry –
Sick and helpless, and ready to die.
(From My Life Story and the Story of the Gospel Hymns, by I.D. Sankey, page 304).