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The Seraphic Samuel Pearce

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Category Articles
Date December 27, 2001

THE SERAPHIC SAMUEL PEARCE

Pearce hoped to join him overseas but his own church were united that he was needed more in England. So he spent his brief ministry in Birmingham.

The closing paper of the Westminster Conference was given by Dr Robert Oliver the professor of Church History at the London Theological Seminary and co-pastor with his son Paul at Bradford on Avon. The subject of his lecture was “The Seraphic Samuel Pearce” Robert Hall entitled him. For more information about this godly preacher there is an essay in Andrew Fuller’s Works and a biography written by Samuel Pierce Carey. But readers will find the most accessible source a splendid essay in “Sound of Trumpets” by Faith Cook (Banner of Truth). We learn that he was born in 1766, the younger son of a Plymouth silversmith. From a Dissenting family with a long Baptist tradition, he early heard stories of the courage and endurance of previous pastors of his church in days of intense persecution when to bear the label ‘Baptist’ was to court abuse and ill treatment. Of the 150 church members of the Plymouth Baptist Church when Charles II was restored to his throne in 1661, most faced the confiscation of their means of livelihood, crippling fines, imprisonment and banishment. Their pastor, Abraham Cheare, was banished for life to a small island in Plymouth Sound where he endured ‘great inhumanities from merciless jailers’ until set free from his bondage by death itself.

Samuel Pearce’s parents and grandparents were loyal church members and devoted Christians. But the loss of his mother when he was little more than a baby meant that Samuel was brought up in his grandparents’ home, five miles from Plymouth in the village of Tamerton Foliot. Here he lived until he was eight or nine years of age and attended the small Baptist Meeting House with his grandparents, who faithfully gave the child his early religious instruction. When he returned to his own home he attended the local school until he was thirteen and was old enough to learn his father’s trade.

But in spite of all his early religious advantages, Samuel showed little inclination to seek his father’s God. Mixing with young people of his own age, he shrugged off any religious impressions which might stand in the way of his enjoyments, and at his own confession, set his heart so firmly on evil that had not the God of mercy preserved and restrained him from his chosen course, he feared he should have been utterly ruined. He was converted through the ministry of a theological student from Bristol Baptist College, Isaiah Birt, who preached one summer. Pearce wrote, “I believe few conversions were more joyful.” He studied for the ministry at Bristol and stood out at a time of very able fellow students. His main ministry was in Cannon Street, Birmingham, where he battled and prevailed with some hyper-Calvinists.

Hearing Thomas Coke, a 60-year old Methodist preacher, who was full of zeal for the spread of the gospel, impacted Pearce and make him a lover of missions. Prayer meetings and sermons were preached locally and also in Baptist Association meetings which encouraged an interest in India. The structures were put in place in which William Carey was able to set out for India. Pearce hoped to join him overseas but his own church were united that he was needed more in England. So he spent his brief ministry in Birmingham. Two of his children went as missionaries to India.

On 10 October 1799 Samuel Pearce, suffering with tuberculosis, came at last to the end of the journey. Both he and Sarah knew it was the end, and he seemed to be given an unusual joyfulness of spirit that day. She repeated to him the words of John Newton’s hymn:

Since all that I meet shall work for my good,
The bitter is sweet, the med’cine is food.
Though painful at present, ’twill cease before long,
And then, oh how pleasant, the conqueror’s song.

‘The conqueror’s song,’ repeated the dying man with a smile of delight, and with these words he left behind his pain for ever. He was thirty-three.

Samuel Pearce was a Calvinist (in spite of the confusion about this evidenced by biographer Samuel Pierce Carey), an Evangelical in his earnest commitment to evangelism, and an outstanding example of godliness. He would pray, and then begin to rise to his feet, but be drawn to pray again, and then stop, but then drawn to pray again, and again.

GEOFF THOMAS

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