First Reformed Church

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An Effective Pastor of the Flock

Try to think of the most effective evangelists  in  the nineteenth century—men like Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, John Wilbur Chapman. Wait! J. Wilbur Chapman? Who was he, you might ask? And yet this nineteenth century evangelist had the experience of leading thousands to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even if we don’t know him in particular, all Christians have sung, and many loved what has been called the greatest gospel content song of all time, namely, “One Day.”  He also wrote “Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!”  So you know him as a hymn writer. Let’s get better acquainted.

John Wilbur Chapman was a Presbyterian pastor and evangelist.  Born in 1859 in a Christian home, he was educated at Lake Forest University and Lane Theological Seminary.  He was ordained on April 13, 1881 by the Presbytery of Whitewater, Ohio.  A few days later, he married Irene Sleddon.

Entering the pastorate, his first charge was a yoked pastorate over two Presbyterian churches in Indiana and Ohio in 1882.  John was able to serve both churches by alternating his preaching first one week at one church and then the next Sunday at the other.

In 1883, he was given a call to the Old Saratoga Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, New York.  This was not a Presbyterian congregation but one which was still very much within the Reformed tradition. In 1885, in the same town, he was called and accepted as pastor to the First Reformed Church.

Under his evangelistic ministry, the church grew from 150 members to 1500 members.  At least 500 conversions took place in those years.

Sorrow struck his family one year later when his wife Irene passed away.  He was left as a single parent with a young daughter. That year, still grieving, he heard a message by the celebrated preacher F.B. Meyer. In speaking of whole-hearted surrender to the Lord’s will, Meyer said “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?”  That one question, Chapman said, “changed my whole ministry; it seemed like a new star in the sky of my life.”

Five years later, J. Wilbur Chapman began the greatest of his four pastorates, at the Bethany Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was the home church of merchant John Wanamaker.

Soon after he arrived, however, an individual went up to Rev. Chapman and said, “You are not a very strong preacher, but a few of us have decided to gather and pray every Sunday for you.”   That Sunday prayer meeting for the pastor and his ministry at Bethany, grew to over a thousand individuals praying for the effectiveness of the Word of God through J. Wilbur Chapman.  Soon a revival started in the church in which 400 were added to the church rolls.  Two years later, J. Wilbur Chapman left the pastorate to become a full-time evangelist, where he had his greatest ministry to the Lord.

Words to Live By:  Do you, as a member of a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church, pray for your pastor?  Do you pray for his preparation of the Word, his evangelism opportunities, his counseling sessions, his home and hospital visitations, his administrative duties, and his  family?  Pray, pray, pray for the pastors of our churches!

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