A.T. Pierson, Gifted Warrior
A brief introduction is needed at the beginning of this Home History. Many of you may not know this godly servant of the Most High. Born in 1837, his life spanned the days of great revival in America. His contemporaries were men like Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, Ira Sanky and Charles Spurgeon. Although he is not as well known as some of these men, his contributions to the church of Jesus Christ were many. He was one of the most successful pastors of his day, building his congregations on sound biblical preaching and personal pastoral care.
I have given him the title of Gifted Warrior because God gave him many talents. These talents were not buried in the ground, but rather were seen, developed and used to the glory of God. A.T. Pierson was a multi-gifted servant of God. The Father used his son as pastor to several congregations. He had a way with words as a preacher and teacher. God used him to write many books with depth and conviction. I have mentioned his classic book on missions, The New Acts of the Apostles, several times in my sermons. I have never read anything like it. Its power of words is gripping. I have a dream of reprinting at least part of it one day.
A.T. Pierson was a missionary pastor. He was a tremendous influence to hundreds who went to mission fields all over the world. These varied blessings to the body of Christ did not just happen. The seeds of blessings were recognized early and care was given to nurture them for many years. In this Home History, we want to look behind the scene at this care. Ultimately God is the careful craftsman who uses human instruments to mold His servants. My prayer is that we would be inspired to yield to the Master Builder’s hands as we discover His handiwork on another vessel.
As I looked back into the heritage of this godly man, I was again amazed at how long the righteous lineage spans. We can hardly relate to a heritage that reaches back two hundred years. Yes, that’s right; A.T. Pierson’s lineage can be traced back that far. It is very probable that it reaches back further, but we will start when the Piersons’ moved to America in 1639. Eight generations before Arthur T. Pierson was born, Abraham Pierson and two of his brothers landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It seems that this Abraham was the foundation of many pure and godly generations in the early days of America. He was a powerful preacher at Trinity College in Cambridge England when he and his brothers sailed for the New World. He was an independent non-conformist looking for freedom to live out his radical convictions free from the scrutiny of the Church of England. He established three towns in the colonies during his lifetime. I think his strong view of the church ruling in the state was the reason that he started three different towns; others did not agree with his autocratic views. He was a rugged pioneer and a real patriarch in each town. His burden for the American Indians also set him apart from many other colonists who were quick to kill Indians to settle disputes.
Space does not allow a full study of the generations that followed, however, there were godly Piersons’ all along the way for two hundred years. Lord, give us a vision of the far-reaching effects of preserving a godly seed on the earth.
The family lines of both parents can be traced back to one of the settlements founded by the family patriarch, Abraham. The settlement was a little town we know as Newark, New Jersey. In our days of transient America the town is almost unknown, except maybe in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I live. Arthur’s parents, Stephen and Sally, made their home in New York City.
They were part of the church Charles Finney pastored in the city. Because of this, they were both well rooted in the revivals that were happening in those days. These were also the days when the reformation denominations were shaking off the scales from their eyes and looking out onto the unreached harvest fields of the world. Revival was in the air, and missions were in the air. Anti-slavery issues threatened to plunge the nation into a grievous civil war. This was the setting when Arthur was born. He was the ninth of ten children in the family.
His father, Stephen, was a steady, highly respected Christian businessman of his day. A man of staunch principles, he performed the duties of an honest accountant for forty years in New York City. He was a quiet man of few words. The words he did speak were known to be wise. Arthur could recall many of his father’s admonitions into his old age. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church that Finney started, and his living faith was absorbed by all of the children.
Sally, Arthur’s mother, was one of fourteen children. This had its sanctifying affect on Sally. There is not much room for selfishness in a household of this size. Not much known about her life before marriage, so I will go on to her life as a wife and mother. She looked well to the ways of her household, and it was a very busy one with ten children. Full of zeal in the midst of revival, she was always extending hospitality to many. She was a mother full of energy and always seemed to find time for works of charity. Arthur received his mother’s bright and cheerful personality, as well as other gifts that shined brighter in him than in his mother.
His Training at Home
Stephen and Sally believed in having a purposeful Christian home. It was not an after thought for them. It was not merely a word tacked on to sound impressive. They raised their ten children to love the Lord and serve him. The family altar fires were burning morning and evening at the Pierson home. Is God trying to tell us something? It seems that each person I study for a Home History grew up in a home where they meet morning and evening. Maybe it is like the morning and evening sacrifices in the old Levitical code. This privilege was never missed. Other things were missed in the busy house, but not this. Father went through the catechism also, and scripture verses were always being memorized. These kinds of activities brought untold blessings upon young Arthur’s life.
His home was a busy home with lots of brothers and sisters to play with and learn from. The large family provided the usual self-denying exercises that mold a child into one who thinks of others. Arthur’s early years were lived during days of national financial stress. This brought poverty into his life and all the disciplines that blessed poverty can bring.
Church life had a profound influence upon our young scholar with memories reaching back to the age of six. The Pierson family had moved to one of the suburbs of the city by this time where Arthur was enrolled in the local Sunday school. There were classes twice a day on Sunday that he was never allowed to miss. The normal Sunday morning service was also in the day’s activities, and so the spiritual impressions were many. As an old man looking back, Arthur wrote about the deep lasting affects of those early years in church. “I attribute to Dr. Patton and the few years that I attended the Spring Street Church the convictions that have remained with me to this hour.” He shared of the revival services where solid conversions always took place. He rejoiced over the regular diet of sound Bible preaching that was served week by week. His first interests in missions were planted in his heart by one of the teachers who were waiting for assignment on the mission field. I know that many of us fathers have assumed the teaching responsibilities for our children, and this is right; however, let us not forget the power of the local church. God in His wisdom has designed both institutions to reach the next generation.
His Training at School
I know that most reading this article believe in teaching their children at home. Because of this fact, some of you may wonder at the reasoning behind this point. Let me explain the wisdom I see in studying the schools and teachers that influenced Arthur’s life. His parents were very concerned about a solid Christian education. They selected schools that were focused on Christ and the Christian character. The teachers in these schools were good teachers. They saw the potential and talents in each student. They nurtured these areas in their schooling process. We are all teachers, and we want to be good ones. We can learn a few things from these dedicated teachers that molded A.T. Pierson’s life and ministry. Consider of few helpful insights into their teaching methods.
· These teachers had their students reading Greek at the age of twelve. We all know that this does not happen without much diligence from student and teacher. Arthur continued in his Greek studies, and he read the Greek text all his days.
· In those days, authority was an honored principle of life. The teachers brought the boys into a happy prosperous experience under authority. This required the use of the rod at times, but those were days when teachers were encouraged to use the rod to keep order. Arthur was quick to find this blessing. He went out of his way to please, to bless and to submit to his teachers and principal. This brought great blessings upon him and his congregations for many years to come. He was a kind and gentle authority leading by example more than by domination.
· The teachers applied the use of memorization and recitation to train the students in speaking skills. The student was given a portion of scripture or a meaningful poem to commit to memory. Then it had to be recited with clear expression. Corrections were made as the passage was being quoted until it could be given with clear, firm words. This exercise sounds like something many of us do for family ministry times. The young students were made to enter public speaking opportunities. We all know what the results were. They developed in these areas. Arthur was an apt preacher by the early age of thirteen. Let us engage our young men in speaking exercises, and they will not be so timid in future days of ministry.
· The students were taught to express themselves in writing. As I was reading about the different schools where Arthur went, this was a major emphasis in each school. Arthur was writing poems, articles for a school newspaper and short sermons by the time he was nine or ten years old. I am sure they lacked in many areas, but the point is that gifts were developed. Many home schools are weak in this area. We feel insecure and because of that we do very little.
Simply defined, character is moral or ethical strength. I find this definition well suited for our subject’s life. Arthur had a good strong foundation of moral principles under him. I know that much of this came from the guided care he received during the years at home. There was not much written about this care, but I know he received it by the fruit in his young life. He was showing many signs of moral determination at eight or nine years of age. Proverbs rightly says, “ Even a child is known by his doings, whether they be good, or whether they be right.” What can we learn from his character?
· As a little boy one of his favorite pastimes was preaching to a room full of empty chairs or to his sisters.
· At age seven, he joined the junior Mission Band. He became very active in raising funds and speaking in the meetings.
· He developed good study habits, which stayed with him all his days as a minister. This is very evident by the fact that he could read Greek at twelve.
· He left home at the age of thirteen to further his education. He never returned home again. This is quite a challenge for us today. Could my son be trusted to be on his own at a school with a bunch of other boys? It was at this school that he was converted to Christ, and thus he had many opportunities to stand for his Lord. We all know how boys can be in this type of setting. He was tried at times, but he never compromised.
· He quickly joined a Methodist society for growth and accountability. This provided serving opportunities of prayer, sharing, and outside ministry.
· He had a regular quiet time each morning while at school. He strengthened his faith through daily Bible reading and prayer, and he was quick to learn how to keep his conscience clear.
· He chose good solid books to read that were filled with the meat of the Word. Imagine your son reading Pike’s Persuasives to Early Piety or Baxter’s Saint’s Rest at the age of fourteen.
These are just a few examples of his early character, which grew to maturity and blessed the church at large all through his ministry. He became known for his high morals, his fine penmanship and earnestness of purpose. Where did these qualities come from? As an author, he was an example to many of us in research and honest original material. Where did this begin? As a preacher, he was eloquent and descriptive in his use of words. Where did this come from? Was it all just poured into him from the Holy Ghost? We know the answers to all of these questions. God worked through many instruments to form a vessel. He then picked up the vessel, filled it with His prevailing power and used it as a vessel unto honor.
We need to have our vision renewed continually. It is easy to get bogged down in the everyday parts of training our children and lose sight of the big picture. Let us take courage by this example as we move forward toward the goal.
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