By Mallory Bierig and Rachel Rose
Today we introduce four more faithful believers in part two of “Those Who Walked Before Us.” If you missed part one, you can read it here. We are praying you will continue to be encouraged as you learn how the Lord has been at work in days past through the lives of believers.
Puritan- John Owen (1616-1683)
One might summarize John Owen’s life by stating that he lived in England from 1616-1683, spending his days as a husband, father, pastor of churches, military chaplain, chancellor of a college, and writer. If left to Owen, this simple biographical articulation very well might have been all we know of his life! Thankfully historians have been able to gather information about his life from other sources. Owen was one of four children raised in a Puritan preacher-pastor’s home. At the age of twelve, he began his study at Queen’s College, and he graduated with his master’s degree by eighteen! In 1642, he went to hear the great preacher Edmund Calamy, but upon arrival at the church, he discovered the pulpit was to be filled by another unknown preacher. That unknown preacher became the means through which God chose to convert John Owen.
Owen took his first pastorate in 1644 and was married to his first wife, Mary Rooker a short time after. We know very little of Owen’s marriage, but we have gathered the horrifying fact that Mary bore eleven children, ten of whom died in infancy or childhood. Mary and John had one daughter who lived to adulthood, but she died of consumption in her twenties. Owen’s theological writings, preaching, and ministry came from a man who knew great suffering. Over the course of his life, God used him to preach faithfully to thousands, share the Gospel faithfully to and influence Parliament (where he was asked to preach repeatedly), minister to soldiers, save Oxford College from ruin as Vice Chancellor, and write 21 volumes of theologically astute volumes!
Pastor and Missionary- George Lisle (1750-1828)
George Lisle (Liele) was a slave during the time of the American Revolutionary War. He was born into slavery in Virginia and sold to slave owner, Henry Sharp, in Georgia. In 1773, at the age of 23, Lisle was saved after hearing the Gospel preached at Buckhead Creek Baptist Church, the church of his slave owner. After his salvation, Lisle began to comfort and minister to his fellow slaves, so much so that Buckhead Creek Baptist Church took notice of his gifting and licensed him to preach. He became the first licensed black Baptist preacher in America. Sharp, his slave owner, granted Lisle freedom so he could serve the Lord more freely. Lisle spent the next few years sharing the Gospel and ministering to slaves in Georgia. He formed what is believed to be the first black church in America in Savannah, GA.
After the American Revolutionary War, Lisle, as a free man, intentionally became an indentured servant so he could go to Jamaica. He quickly began sharing the Gospel in the streets and would eventually form a Baptist church. In the next seven years of faithful ministry, Lisle would baptize 500 confessing Christians! Despite a Jamaican law that forbid evangelizing slaves and heavy persecution, Lisle never stopped preaching the Good News. Projections estimate that Lisle had baptized 8000 converts by 1814! Lisle would stay in Jamaica faithfully preaching the Word until his death in 1828.
Social Reformer- William Wilberforce (1616-1683)
Eric Metaxas, in his book Amazing Grace, says this about William Wilberforce: “[He] was one of the brightest, wittiest, best connected, and generally talented men of his day, someone who might well have become prime minister of Great Britain if he had, in the words of one historian, ‘preferred party to mankind.’” William Wilberforce was not someone expected by his family or society to give his life to serving the Lord. He was born into a wealthy family during a time in which “living it up” and experiencing the things of the world was applauded. Wilberforce’s first encounter with the Gospel was during time spent with his extended family. When his grandfather heard about this exposure, he threatened to cut him out of the will if he became a Methodist! Although he enjoyed his time with his extended family and learned the Gospel, he would not believe and repent until later in his life.
When Wilberforce did come to know the Lord, he had a Christian life crisis. He was in the throes of a rising and extremely successful political career. He was convinced, for a time, he would need to leave politics behind; however, that is exactly where the Lord intended to use him. Wilberforce fought for the abolition of the slave trade most of his life. He was convinced by Scripture that slaves were image bearers and that the horrors of the slave trade must end. He fought what felt like an impossible battle at the time and, in the Lord’s kindness, the battle was won. Though ending the slave trade was the biggest battle he fought, he accomplished social reform at every level. He truly was a man of God marked by perseverance, selflessness, and great obedience.
Martyr – Karen Watson (1965-2004)
Karen Watson was a Christian from the United States who sold all her belongings and took a leave of absence from her career at a county jail in order to pursue full time missionary and relief work in Mosul, Iraq. She and two other U.S. relief workers, sent by the Southern Baptist Convention, were working on a mobile water purification project when all three were killed in a targeted drive by shooting. Her attitude of ultimate dedication to God’s call on her life was apparent to all who knew her and is displayed in the letter she left to her pastors back home labeled, “Open in case of death.”
Dear Pastor Phil and Pastor Roger,
You should only be opening this in the event of death. When God calls there are no regrets. I tried to share my heart with you as much as possible, my heart for the nations. I wasn’t called to a place; I was called to Him. To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward, His glory my reward . . . The Missionary Heart:
Cares more than some think is wise
Risks more that some think is safe
Dreams more than some think is practical
Expects more than some think is possible.
I was called not to comfort or to success but to obedience. . . . There is no Joy outside of knowing Jesus and serving Him. I love you two and my church family.
In His care,
Praise the Lord for how He saves us, changes us, and uses us for His glory! I hope your faith has been bolstered by the stories of these faithful saints. May their stories be a reminder of how big God is and how He is always at work. May they spur you on in personal holiness and faithfulness to God. I encourage you to pick one or two of these faithful saints and learn more about them—there is so much to praise the Lord for in each of their lives!
Below are several links to an assortment of articles, blogs, podcasts, and books that you can explore to learn more about these and other faithful believers along with church history.
Augustine, Luther, Calvin- http://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-legacy-of-sovereign-joy
Church history- http://reformedforum.org/resources/topic/