September 3: William Edward Biederwolf, Evangelist

Exchanging a Cross for a Crown

Do you realize that, to the surprise of countless Christians, Presbyterianism has produced some of the most noteworthy evangelists in history, especially in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds?   We say “surprise to countless Christians” because it is wrongly thought that our understanding of Calvinism would prohibit us from being evangelists.  But it is rather a case of because we are convinced of Calvinist truth in the Holy Scriptures, that we are zealous of winning souls to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The inspired writer Luke sums up our confidence, when in Acts 13:48, he described the gospel’s effect being preached by Paul “as  many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (ESV)

One of the greatest Presbyterian evangelists of that time period was William Edward Biederwolf.  Born in 1867, he was the seventh child of two German Presbyterians, Michael and Abolana Biederwolf of Monticello, Indiana.  After schooling in the area, he taught school for a while.  Attending Wabash College in Indiana, a Sunday School class began to pray for his conversion.  In fact, each of them wrote a letter, urging him to receive Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  At age 20, he did just that, becoming a Christian.

He then went to Princeton University, and Princeton Seminary, graduating in 1895.  Marrying a hometown gal the next year, he studied overseas in Germany at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.  Well educated for his life’s calling then, he returned to the United States where he was called to the pulpit of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Loganport, Indiana in 1897.  It was a short ministry as the war clouds of the Spanish-American War loomed on the horizon. He enlisted as a chaplain of the 131st Second Voluntary Regiment  of the 13th Calvary, serving six months in Cuba.  He would write  on his experience and the regiment he served afterwards,  as a spiritual servant of Christ.

Beginning the new year and millennium of 1900, he entered evangelism as a full-time preacher of the gospel.  For the next 39 years before he passed away on September 3, 1939, he made three world tours of evangelism.  And yet the most dramatic evangelistic ministry he engaged in was in a town in Pennsylvania, called Oil City.  In the winter of 1914 on the eve of World War I, he had thousands attending in the bitter cold of north-west Pennsylvania, with the result that the whole town from the mayor down to the ordinary citizen, was stirred in  deep concern about the things of God and their place in it.

His closing years was spent associated with the Winona Lake Bible Conference and School of Theology.  After a long illness, he spoke the title of this devotional about his exchange of a cross of a crown to his wife, and died the next day.

Words to live by:  Christian reader, you can go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, sharing by life and lips, to your unsaved loved ones, neighbors, school friends, fellow workers at your jobs, and even strangers whom you meet in divine appointments, the unsearchable riches of Christ and Him crucified, knowing that those who are ordained to eternal life, will believe the gospel and be saved.  Claim this text of Acts 13:48 as your confidence, and go, be witnesses of Christ.

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