Meet Mr. Philadelphia
Or, The Life of A. T. Pierson
"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an Open Door,
and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength,
and hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My Name"
by Tom Stewart
What does A. T. Pierson―pastor, Bible teacher, Christian author, Bible conference speaker, defender of the Faith, leader of the modern missions movement―have to do with Philadelphia, other than the fact that he pastored a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? This writer believes that Arthur T. Pierson best exemplifies the integrity of the Philadelphian Church Era, though Philadelphia had but a "little strength" (Revelation 3:8). In answer to the question, "What do you mean by the Philadelphian Church Era?", the following attempts an answer. Many who have read the Apocalypse, in particular the second and third chapters, have seen the past, present, and future of the Church panoramically outlined in Christ's letters to the Seven Churches. "What thou seest, write in a Book, and send it unto the Seven Churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea... Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" (Revelation 1:11-19). Briefly, the history of the Church may be correlated to Revelation 2-3 as follows:
1- Ephesus (2:1-7): the Loveless Church of the late Apostolic Age (to 100 AD), i.e., "Thou hast left thy First Love" (2:4).
2- Smyrna (2:8-11): the Suffering Church of the period of persecution (100-300 AD), i.e., "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer" (2:10).
3- Pergamos (2:12-17): the Compromising Church (300-500 AD) that led to the Dark Age, i.e., "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam [diffusing the power of the godly by alliances with darkness]" (2:14).
4- Thyatira (2:18-29): the Worldly Church of the Dark Age (500-1500 AD), i.e., "Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel [the harlotry of Rome]" (2:20).
5- Sardis (3:1-6): the Barely Alive Church of the Reformation (1500-1700 AD), i.e., "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die" (3:1-2).
6- Philadelphia (3:7-13): the Missionary Church of the late Church Age (1700-1900 AD), i.e., "I have set before thee an Open Door, and no man can shut it" (3:8).
7- Laodicea (3:14-22): the Lukewarm Church of the present apostasy (1900 AD to the present), i.e., "Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth" (3:16).
Read "The Life of A. T.
Pierson" and see how he epitomizes Philadelphian Christianity, the kind of life
that any Believer should likewise aspire to emulate. "Be ye followers of me,
even as I also am of Christ" (1Corinthians 11:1). See how Pierson struggled and
overcame obstacles as he was stirred by the Holy Spirit. "I know thy works:
behold, I have set before thee an Open Door, and no man can shut it: for thou
hast a little strength, and hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My Name"
A Heritage of Spiritual Warriors
On March 6th 1837, Arthur Tappan Pierson was born in New York City in apartments above Charles G. Finney's Second Free Presbyterian Church in what was formerly the Chatham Garden Theater. His forefather, Abraham Pierson, a nonconformist clergyman and orator at Trinity College, Cambridge, landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1639, and later spent time as a missionary to the Mohican Indians. "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children" (Proverbs 13:22). And, a "good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" (22:1). Though his illustrious predecessors were founders of both Yale University and Princeton University, at the time of Arthur's birth, his father, Stephen Haines Pierson, was a cashier and confidential clerk for Arthur Tappan―philanthropist, anti-slavery leader, and organizer of Finney's theater-church―in Tappan's wholesale silk house. Though raised in Sunday School and church from the age of six by his Christian parents, not until Arthur had left home at the age of thirteen to attend a boarding school, did he deliberately surrender his heart to Christ in revival meetings held in a Methodist church (1850). "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
Entering Hamilton College in Clinton, New York at the age of sixteen, he joined a non-secret society―a college fraternity with a reputation for piety, unlike the looser morals of its secret fraternity counterparts. In answer to a suggestion that he join the less moral society in order to reform its members, he said,
"My Bible is my only guide. While it encourages me to endeavour to make the wicked better, it in no case tells me to join hand in hand with them (Psalm i.)."
"Blessed is the man that
walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners,
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (Psalm 1:1). Upon graduation from
Hamilton (1857), Pierson enrolled in what was then a conservative school, Union
Theological Seminary, in New York City. Experiencing the Revival of 1857 in New
York, Pierson recorded in his diary (April 1, 1858):
"I am every night in the meeting for inquiry and feel that the experience is of incalculable value for me. I have just begun to realize the true worth of souls and the true secret of living near to Christ. Now I am constantly and perfectly happy. Christ manifests Himself to me very clearly and closely and I feel that 'for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.' [Philippians 1:21]. How sweet it is to do anything for Christ! How strange it is to be permitted to do anything for Him at all. I feel that I have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and am fully resolved never again to pass a day when I cannot feel at its close that I have done something for my Saviour."
Feeding the Flock of God
Upon graduation from Union in 1860, Pierson married Sarah Frances Benedict, and accepted a call to pastor the First Congregational Church of Binghamton, New York. Thus, Pierson began a ministry of pastoring churches across America―including Detroit, Michigan, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania―and eventually in Great Britain. "2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a Crown of Glory that fadeth not away" (1Peter 5:2-4). Pierson―like all pastors should―did what the Apostle Paul enjoined, i.e., "do the work of an evangelist" (2Timothy 4:5). His hosting of evangelist Major Daniel W. Whittle (1840-1901) and Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876), the singing evangelist, in Detroit in 1874 stirred Pierson to seek "more of the fullness of God's abiding presence and power in his own personal life and ministry". "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1John 5:4).
Again, as all pastors should, A. T. Pierson became an adept warrior with "the Sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). "Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2Timothy 4:2). His preaching (over 13,000 sermons), extensive writings (over fifty books), and Bible lectures made him widely known in America. He was a consulting editor for his friend, C. I. Scofield (1843-1921), with the original Scofield Reference Bible (1909), and was the author of the classic biography, "George Mueller of Bristol", of his friend and prayer partner, George Mueller (1805-1898)―both covenanting to pray for one another daily from 1878 until Mueller's death. "He being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). Some other examples of Pierson's many writings are "Godly Self-Control" (1909), on the regulation of all aspects of the Christian life; "The Scriptures: God's Living Oracles" (1904), which were his Exeter Hall (London) lectures on the Bible; "Life-Power: Or, Character, Culture, and Conduct" (1895), which was inscribed to the memory of C. H. Spurgeon, with the dedication that Spurgeon was "perhaps, the best example which the century has produced of the principles advocated in these pages"; and, "The Supernatural", a series of addresses by many speakers delivered at the Mildmay Conference in London [including Sir Robert Anderson] in defense of Christianity against Higher Criticism., on the supernatural in the Inspired Word of God, in the Incarnate Son of God, and in the Regenerate Child of God.
George Mueller and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ
Arthur T. Pierson was influenced by many of the great men of God of the Church of Philadelphia Era. In 1878, Pierson providentially met George Mueller of Bristol, England, while both were traveling on the Pacific Coast of America; and, Mr. Mueller followed him to Detroit. Pierson was transformed from an earnest Post-Millenialist to a Pre-Millenial watcher for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Pierson recounts:
"Mr. Mueller listened patiently to my objections and then said, with his celestial smile: 'The only thing I can say is that none of your arguments are founded on Scripture. It makes no difference what we think but what does God's Word say?' For ten days he came to my study every day and opened up the truth to me. Ever since that time I have been looking for the Lord's personal return and it has been the inspiration of my life" (excerpted from a biography by his son, Delavan Leonard Pierson, entitled "Arthur T. Pierson: A Spiritual Warrior, Mighty in the Scriptures; A Leader in the Modern Missionary Crusade" , p. 143).
"Behold, He cometh with
clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all
kindreds of the Earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen" (Revelation
D. L. Moody and Evangelizing the World In This Generation
Similarly, A. T. Pierson's association with D. L. Moody and his Northfield Conferences were the breeding ground for Pierson's determination to see the world evangelized in his generation―specifically, by the year 1900, as suggested in his article, "Can the World Be Evangelized in Twenty Years?" (1881), and in his best selling book, "The Crisis of Missions" (1886). In July of 1886, two hundred and fifty students gathered at Mr. Moody's Mt. Hermon school to hear Bible addresses, but Pierson's address on "God's Providence in Modern Missions" was visited by the Spirit's presence to such an extent that the now famous Student Volunteer Movement for the Evangelization of the World―which sent out 5,000 Student Volunteers as foreign missionaries from America alone by 1911―was born with the battle-cry, "The evangelization of the world in this generation." "9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the LORD had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them" (Acts 16:9-10). Though Pierson did not believe the world would be converted by 1900, he believed it could be evangelized; but, what was the hurry? The Great Commission to "preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) is a command―not simply a suggestion―that the God, who wills that none "should perish" (2Peter 3:9), gives to every Living Saint; and, Pierson reminds us,
"The opportunity of evangelization is practically limited to the lifetime of each generation."
Likewise, godly men such as A.
B. Simpson agreed with Pierson about evangelizing the world by 1900, and wrote
"The Gospel of the Kingdom" (1890), making it clear that his purpose in writing
the book was to hasten the Coming of the LORD. "And this Gospel of the Kingdom
shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then
shall the End come" (Matthew 24:14).
C. H. Spurgeon and the Deeper Life in Christ Jesus
In 1887, A. T. Pierson became the editor of "The Missionary Review of the World", which he faithfully edited for thirteen years. When C. H. Spurgeon's illness with Bright's disease so incapacitated him, he asked Pierson to substitute for him while he recovered; but, when he unexpectedly died on January 31st 1892, the people of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, invited Pierson to stay on, which he did for the next two years. 1895 was a watershed year for Pierson. His close friend and American Baptist co-editor of "The Missionary Review", A. J. Gordon (1836-1895), died on February 2nd, severing one of Pierson's closest earthly friendships. Also, Pierson recommended to D. L. Moody to invite Andrew Murray and Webb-Pepploe to the summer Northfield Bible Conference to speak. Pierson's private journal entry for August 17th 1895 recorded:
"Two addresses moved me beyond anything I ever heard ―Webb-Peploe and Andrew Murray spoke on 'Faith.' Never did I see so clearly my privilege of resting moment by moment on the Word of God. I entered that day into the consciousness of the rest of faith and Thursday night sealed my new consecration in the farewell meeting. Henceforth my motto is 'That God may be all in all.'"
"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). Commenting on his father's journal entry, Delavan Pierson wrote,
"Conventions followed in which he joined Andrew Murray, speaking at Toronto, Boston, Chicago, and elsewhere. His deepened spiritual life led him to lay somewhat less emphasis on the work of foreign missions and more on the spirit of Christ in all life and service" ("A. T. Pierson", p. 262).
"That I may know Him, and the
power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made
conformable unto His death" (Philippians 3:10).
The Keswick Convention, Charles G. Finney, and Present Holy Living
In accordance to what Andrew Murray called "one of the principal laws of the kingdom of heaven"―referring to "as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee" (Matthew 8:13)―A. T. Pierson began the final chapter of his life promoting a deeper life in Christ. He came into contact with the Keswick Convention of Keswick, England in 1895, where the Believer is directed into a sanctified walk. Delavan Pierson described the Keswick teaching as follows:
"Keswick teaching consists in definite progressive steps, from sin to sanctity. The basis of the movement is a conviction that the average Christian is too often without the experience of real spiritual power; that the average Christian life is worldly, and that it is the duty and privilege of every child of God to enter at once into 'Newness of Life' and to walk in the power of the risen Christ" ("A. T. Pierson", p. 287).
"Awake to righteousness, and sin not" (1Corinthians 15:34). The following year Arthur Pierson was himself a speaker at the Keswick Convention. This deepening of the Christian life in Pierson saw him author one of his most spiritually significant books, "In Christ Jesus"―(1898), where Pierson's personal journey had led him to the conclusion that
"this brief phrase ['in Christ Jesus'] ―a preposition followed by a proper name ―is the key to the whole New Testament. Those three short words, in Christ Jesus, are, without doubt, the most important ever written, even by an inspired pen, to express the mutual relation of the believer and Christ."
He concluded that classic study with the following:
"Surely it is high time for believers to awake out of sleep! What awful apathy and lethargy exist in the matter of spiritual life and power and victory! If such final glory and triumph are assured in Christ Jesus, may not the very promise and prospect of such victory, the assurance of such a destiny, inspire and insure present holy living! These Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They served the better because they waited. Hope reacted on faith and love and obedience. No believer can truly believe that such final perfection of character, conquest, and reward is before him without being a stronger, better, holier man for the outlook. And the close of the first epistle is the sublime expression of this argument. 'Abstain from [every form] of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and... your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, Who also will do it.'[1Thessalonians 5:22-24]."
Like Charles G. Finney before him, both had come to the wise conclusion that more needed to be done for the sanctification of the Believer. In a letter published in "The Oberlin Evangelist" Finney addressed the converts of the powerful revivals of the previous years:
"In the midst of my efforts, however, for the conversion of sinners (and as far as my knowledge extends, it has been so with other evangelists and pastors) we have overlooked in a great measure the fact that converts would not make one step of progress only as they were constantly plied with means as well adapted to their sanctification and growth in grace, as were the means of their conversion. Believing and feeling as I did then and do now that if persons were once converted God in faithfulness would save them, I overlooked the necessity of the constant and vigorous and pointed use of means to effect this end... In revisiting some of the churches in which I had formerly labored, my mind was some years since from time to time deeply impressed with the necessity of doing something for the sanctification of Christians. And after I had been settled two or three years in the city of New York and had labored almost exclusively for the conversion of sinners, I was fully convinced that converts would die, that the standard of piety would never be elevated, that revivals would become more and more superficial and finally cease, unless something effectual was done to elevate the standard of holiness in the church... I found that I knew comparatively little about Christ, and that a multitude of things were said about Him in the gospel of which I had no spiritual view and of which I knew little or nothing. What I did know of Christ was almost exclusively as an atoning and justifying Savior. But as a JESUS to save men from sin, or as a sanctifying Savior, I knew very little about Him. This was made by the Spirit of God very clear to my mind. And it deeply convinced me that I must know more of the gospel in my own experience and have more of Christ in my own heart, or I could never expect to benefit the church... Now you perceive that I have here asserted my full conviction that those revivals were genuine works of God, 'that the converts were real Christians,' that 'they are the best Christians in the church,' and yet that on many accounts they are a disgrace to religion. Now this I fully believe and reassert. And it is to win you away, if possible, from the last remains of sin that I have undertaken this work [i.e., publishing his lectures through "The Oberlin Evangelist"]."
"Take heed unto thyself, and
unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save
thyself, and them that hear thee" (1Timothy 4:16).
Pierson's Valedictory Address
On August 13th 1910, a meeting was held in honor of A. T. Pierson at the Northfield Conference. Here, Pierson delivered what now can be viewed as the valedictory address of his life. In response to the many tributes paid to him by the other speakers, he responded:
"'A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above,' and he quoted the words of St. Paul, 'It is not expedient for me to glory... but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord' (2 Cor. xii. 1). He then mentioned four Scripture texts which had greatly influenced his life.
1. "Psalm i. 1, 2―'Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.' This is the sole secret of prosperity and peace: Meditate in the Word of God and take delight in it. In more than fifty years of study I have only begun to understand it.
2. "Proverbs iii. 6―'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.' Since the time when my father first gave me that text when I was a boy leaving home, it has been a principle in my life―never to make a plan without first seeking God's guidance and never to achieve a success without giving Him the praise.
3. "Matthew vi. 33―'Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.' This promise has been wonderfully fulfilled in my experience. Whenever I have taken a step on faith, and have sought to devote myself primarily to the advancement of God's interests, He has seen to it that I and my family have lacked nothing. I have made it a practice never to put a price on my services, and yet, even during the last twenty years, when I have received no stated salary, there has never been any lack. On the contrary I have been able to give away more money than ever before.
4. "John vii. 17―'If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.' There is no need of skepticism or unbelief or doubt. Any man who is willing to do God's will can know and the only way to know is to will to do. After more than fifty years of closet study, observation and experience, I can testify that it pays to be a follower of God" ("A. T. Pierson", pp. 317-318).
Final Visit to the Mission Fields of Japan and Korea
Not until the close of his life, did this leader of the modern missionary crusade have the opportunity to visit the foreign missionary fields, in particular, of the Far East, through the generosity of gifts given to him by friends. "And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the Word of the LORD, and see how they do" (Acts 15:36). On October 19th 1910, Dr. Pierson, his wife Frances (with whom he had enjoyed fifty years of marriage), his missionary daughter Mrs. Curtis, and their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Walker of Leicester, England sailed from Vancouver to Yokohama, Japan. Sightseeing had little attraction for him; and, when he saw people engaged in the worship of idols, he longed for the "gift of tongues" to speak to them of the True God and only Saviour. "And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the Living God, which made Heaven, and Earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein" (Acts 14:15). His health was enfeebled, and after a month in Japan, with time spent in Kyoto, he journeyed to Korea, where he spent six weeks in Seoul. He was able to ascertain the needs of the local missionaries and impart to them needed funds, as well as to encourage them through addresses such as "The Names of Christ". "And His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
"As he saw and heard of the apostolic character of the Korean church, their faith, their self-sacrificing spirit and their hunger for Bible study, he determined to enlist the cooperation of friends back home in the effort to establish Bible schools in that land. [And, according to a footnote in Pierson's biography, at this point: 'This he was not able to do personally, but friends have undertaken to establish in Seoul an interdenominational Bible school to be known as the Arthur T. Pierson Bible School']" ("A. T. Pierson", p. 326).
Pierson's Home Going and His Grandson's Dream
Because Pierson's health had so seriously deteriorated, he had to cut short his plan to continue to China and India; but instead, he returned by way of San Francisco, and finally home to Brooklyn, New York. During his last days, he was alert, and attempted to be useful. Only two days before his departure, he was correcting printer's proofs that were published two months later. The words most frequently on his lips, at the time of his death were, "That we might be partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:10). Arthur T. Pierson completed his earthly sojourn on June 3rd 1911.
"The morning after Dr. Pierson's decease, his little six-year-old grandson and namesake, who had not yet heard of his loss, crept into his mother's bed and said:
'Mother, I had such a beautiful dream last night. I dreamed that I saw steps going up into heaven. It was all gold up there. Oh, it was very beautiful, mother.'
'Did you see anyone you knew?' his mother asked.
'Yes, I saw the Lord Jesus.'
'Did you see anyone else you knew?'
'No, I don't think so, mother.'
'But some one did go yesterday into heaven to be with the Lord Jesus. Some one whom you love and who loves you very much.'
'Who was it, mother―was it―was it grandpa?'
'All day the little fellow was happy in telling friends that his grandfather had gone to heaven on the golden steps of his dream. So the vision seemed to those who were left behind. The sting of death was taken away in the certainty of life in Christ and all felt the peace that came to the heart of the little child in the thought that the beloved one had entered heaven by the 'new and living way,' [Hebrews 10:20] after a life brought to completion according to the plan of God" ("A. T. Pierson", pp. 330-331).
At times, it is useful for the Holy Spirit to impress us that the wonderfully useful Saints who came before us were only "men of like passions" (Acts 14:15); and, the God that gave A. T. Pierson his victories is the same God available to us today. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). Like many of us, Pierson energetically began his Christian life with the zeal of "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Growth taught him the importance of the "Sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), that he, like we, could not do anything without the Word of God. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Maturity teaches us that the Soon Return of the LORD Jesus Christ is the atmosphere for the best life and service of Christ. "42 And the LORD said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? 43 Blessed is that servant, whom his LORD when He cometh shall find so doing" (Luke 12:42-43).
Balancing the demands of our LORD's Every Creature Commission, i.e., "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), and our life "in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24, etc. at least 40 more times), are completely possible. The closer we are drawn to Christ, the better we will serve Him. "28 Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). Pierson affirmed what Finney had previously discovered, the Body of Christ must discover more of Christ as a Sanctifying Saviour. "And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His Name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
May our lives be a holy and acceptable sacrifice unto God, that we would reflect more and more the LORD Jesus, and that our service would hasten His Return. "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God" (2Peter 3:12).
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