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: www.donaldprout.com

Matthew Henry Gives Us His Grand Commentary

This is the day that Matthew Henry was born in a Welsh farmhouse in Shropshire, England, close to the border of England and Wales, in 1662.

His father, Philip, had been ejected from his church for refusing to ‘bow the knee’ to the king’s demands. His non-conformist views would not allow him to recognize the king as “Head of the Church” nor be compelled to use the Prayer Book. Submitting to ordination by a bishop was also anathema to him.

Along with nearly two thousand other ministers, Philip Henry had refused to submit to the Act of Uniformity, which had come into effect on 24 August 1662 and was radically opposed to all that Puritans like Henry stood for.

So young Matthew grew up in a godly home where Christian principles and conscience were adhered to – regardless of the consequences.

Matthew apparently suffered from a weak constitution during his childhood. But what he lacked in physical health he made up for in spiritual vigour. There is credible evidence that he could read the Scriptures when only three years old. His conversion took place before he turned eleven. Ion Henry’s words, one of his father’s sermons ‘melted’ him and caused him to ‘enquire after Christ’.

Taught at first by his father, an excellent educator, Matthew gained further education from nonconformist schools and at one time studied law. But he kept his focus on the ministry calling, taking occasion to preach where ever he could. The dissenters of Chester liked what they heard and invited him to be their minister.

Henry began his ministry with Presbyterian ordination on 9 May, 1687. Over the course of the next two decades his Chester congregation increased to more than 350 members. Not surprisingly, his success as a pastor caused other churches to seek him as their minister.

His first wife died in childbirth, in 1689. The following year he wed Mary Warburton – and all three children born to them died in infancy.

For 25 years he ministered at Chester. After rejecting many calls by other churches he finally chose to pastor a dissenting church in Hackney, London, so he could be closer to printers, in view of the large commentary he was composing.

Ill health plagued him. He suffered from diabetes and repeated attacks of kidney stones.

In June, 1714, while on a preaching tour of Cheshire, he was thrown from his horse and taken to the house of a nearby parson, where he died the following morning, 22 June, 1714, aged 52.

While Henry wrote a number of worthy works, his memory lives on in his monumental Commentary, The Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. Henry had begun this massive work in November 1704. By the time of his death ten years later, the project had got as far as the end of the book of Acts. It would be finished by a number of ministers after his death.

The commentary is quintessentially Puritan. It focuses on biblical spirituality and is alert to the need to glorify God in the whole of life. It is also chock-full of the terse and piquant aphorisms that the Puritans delighted to use to penetrate the hearts of their hearers and readers. Here are a few examples:
‘God’s grace can save souls without preaching, but our preaching cannot save them without God’s grace, and that grace must be sought by prayer’ (on Ezekiel 37:1-14).

‘Ministers may be serving Christ, and promoting the great ends of their ministry, by writing good letters, as well as by preaching good sermons’ (on Acts 18:7-11).

‘It is easier to build temples than to be temples to God’ (on 2 Chronicles 24:1-14).

‘The pleasures of sense are puddle-water; spiritual delights are rock water, so pure, so clear, so refreshing — rivers of pleasure’ (on Exodus 17:1-7).

‘The beauty of holiness is that which the grave, that consumes all other beauty, cannot touch, or do any damage to’ (on Psalm 49:6-14).

George Whitefield, we are told, read Henry’s commentary through four times … on his knees!

Spurgeon speaks of Matthew Henry’s Commentary as “first among the mighty” – and recommends that every minister of the gospel should read it through “once at least”.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was so moved by Henry’s comments on Leviticus 8:35 that he based one of his most famous hymns on them. Henry had written: ‘we have every one of us a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, needful duty to be done, our generation to serve; and it must be our daily duty to keep this charge, for it is the charge of the Lord our Master, who will shortly call us to an account about it’. Gripped by this comment, Wesley sat down to write “A charge to keep I have”.

One does not have to agree with everything this great Puritan said to be blessed indeed by his Scriptural reflections.

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.

Rowland Hill with Scandalous Style

This is the day that … Rowland Hill was born in 1744, in Shropshire, England, son of Sir Rowland Hill, a baronet. He was afforded education at the best schools, but he chose to relate most with the common man. He scandalised his superiors by undertaking open air preaching and visitation before he was ordained.

This colourful character, whom Spurgeon described as being full of fun in the pulpit (and meant it as a compliment), was one of the outstanding evangelicals of his day.

Hill was converted at the age of 18 and entered the Church of England ministry. But reproved by the bishop for his desire to preach everywhere – “in season and out of season” – he finally opened his own “Surrey Chapel” in London in 1783, which he built with his own funds. At the opening service on 8 June, he took as his text: “We preach Christ crucified” (I Corinthians 1:23). (In later years this same pulpit was occupied by the great F.B. Meyer.)

Holding strong Calvinistic views, Hill joined with Augustus Toplady in the controversy against the Wesleys. As an open air preacher, due to the influence of his friend George Whitefield, Hill often preached to 20,000 at a time. He loved to use personal anecdotes and attention catching comments, but was deemed to go too far at times.

“The Countess of Huntingdon”, we are told, “rejoiced in the success of his labours … but the name of Mr Hill is mentioned in her ladyship’s will as one of the men who was not to be permitted to preach in one of her chapels!” Perhaps his quaint wit, of which anecdotes abound, and his eccentricities would have been too much for her ladyship’s genteel congregations!

He was one of the founders of the London Missionary Society and the Religious Tract Society. And this latter movement gave birth to the British and Foreign Bible Society, of which he was also an ardent supporter.

Rowland Hill died on 11 April, 1833, and was buried in front of the pulpit from which he had dispensed the Word of God for 50 years. His last words had been: “I have no rapturous joys, but peace – a good hope through grace – all through grace.”

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.

The Spirit Came

History accounts many instances when God’s Holy Spirit fell on people and changed their world forever. From the Day of Pentecost and Cornelius’ house in New Testament times to the Cane Ridge Revival, the home of Jonathan Edwards, the life of Wesley, the ministry of Sister Etter, the Welsh Revival, Azusa Street, George Mueller’s orphanage, and a multitude of other times and places, the Holy Spirit has fallen with amazing impact.

Since the days of the Pentecostal outpourings, over this past century, through the Charismatic Renewal Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s and the more recent visitations, people in churches, homes and meeting rooms have experienced times of awesome visitation by the Living God.

The poem I have just penned is my limited attempt to encapsulate those experiences and touch a chord with those who resonate with this wonderful grace. If this is not your experience then I encourage you to press in for the chance to be part of such a time and place as the manifested presence of God.

The Spirit Came

They stumbled and they fell, undone like drunken men!
Laughing to their knees to weep gratitude again.
Lost in adoration and found before His throne
These worshippers of Most High God found heaven as their own.

Enthralled by deepest senses of things too grand to share
They swooned and laughed and chortled, hands stretched to the air.
Singing inspiration in word and tongue and cry,
Heaven’s sweetness drugged them as happy hours slipped by.

The tempest passed, and crumpled lives hung on the ebbing breeze.
No mortal joy compared with that which brought them to their knees.
Stillness held command where silent tears did spill
And foreign words from trembling lips tumbled headlong still.

Exhausted and enthralled each held their heaving chest;
They had met with Daddy God and tasted of His best.
Transfixed in transformation they dared not stir this place
For each felt wonder undescribed now showing on their face.

And in the coming days, they’ll thrill to still recall
The sweeping of the Spirit and how it hit them all.
They’ll shed a tear of gratitude and feel a bond with men
Who joined them at God’s footstool
there, and long to go again.

Thank You, Lord for the privilege of being there.