Charles Stanley (1821-1890), of Rotherham, England, was left an orphan at the age of four. At seven, he had to earn his living in the summer by working in the fields. With his energy he could have been a rascal. But it was his legal guardian who stopped the precocious little fellow and, with a firm hand on his shoulder, foretold, “Charles, you will either be a curse or a blessing to mankind.”
By the mercy of God, “C.S.” became a blessing to thousands. Converted when fourteen, that year he preached his first message. One Sunday, the preacher had not arrived, and so young Charles opened his Bible to John 3:16. God’s hand was upon him. The quick-witted youth would be like that anonymous Christian that Paul spoke of: “We have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches.”
At age twenty-three, with meager capital, he had begun his own hardware business in Sheffield. Then the businessman met Captain Wellesly, (the nephew of “the Iron Duke” of Wellington). Under his gracious teaching, the Bible became a new book to him. It was his daily study, and “he grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
As a salesman, he crisscrossed England, at the same time doing “the work of an evangelist.” Forty years after, he said, “Seldom in those days did the Lord open my lips without some soul being converted. Not that this appeared at the time, but I have met them everywhere, ten, twenty, or thirty years after.” His favorite Old Testament story was of Mephibosheth, the orphan who was tragically crippled. Speaking of his message on Mephibosheth, he remarked: “I believe the Lord rarely ever led me to preach from Mephibosheth without souls being converted.” D. L. Moody told Stanley he had preached it in almost every city in America, and, he thought, never without souls being brought to God.
“C.S.” expected the Lord’s special and direct guidance. He pitied the Christian who did not enjoy looking to the Lord every day for directives from the Holy Spirit. His own record abounds with the mystic and subjective. As an example, he would be deeply impressed that he ought to go to specific places to preach the Gospel, often where he had never been. “Three of us felt led to go to Leamington. We had a small notice printed, asking the Christians of Leamington to come together in the Music Hall at three o’clock for prayer for the Lord’s blessing on the Word to be preached in the hall that night. About two hundred came together, and oh! what a cry of united, expecting prayer went up to the Throne of Grace. At seven, the large hall was filled. That night God answered prayer. It was the birth-night of many precious souls. It was said some hundreds found deliverance and blessing that night.” By the riverside, in railroad cars and steamboats, at balls and races, in halls and chapels, in kitchens and drawing-rooms, theatres and concert halls, Charles Stanley confidently witnessed to the grace of God.
On one occasion, he was leaving Bristol, where he had been preaching, for Tetbury. A stranger to that part of the country, he said “On arriving at Wootton-under-Edge, I had some time to spare. It was about five o’clock on a hot day in the midst of harvest. There was scarcely a person to be seen in the little town. I was very distinctly impressed from the Lord, that I must preach the Gospel there that afternoon, yet there appeared to be no people to preach to. Nearly all seemed to be out in the harvest field. Yet the conviction deepened, that I must preach.”
Taking a handful of tracts, he began hunting for a congregation, great or small. He was standing in a little shop, speaking to a woman about her soul, when from up the road, a man puffing with exertion, perspiration streaming off his face, charged into the shop, and said, “Please, sir, are you a preacher of the Gospel?”
“Yes,” he admitted, “I am, through the Lord’s mercy, but why do you ask?”
The man, who was the town bellman (town crier), said, “I was working in the field, and a woman came past and told me someone was distributing tracts in Wootton, and it was just as if a voice had said to me, You must run, and there must be preaching in Wootton today. That is why I left my work, and came immediately.”
As he was the bellman, Stanley involuntarily put his hand into his pocket to give him a shilling. “Oh, dear no, sir,” he said, “I don’t want the money; I want souls to be saved.” In half an hour he had washed himself, publicly announced the preaching, and they were on the way to the preaching location.
Just outside the town, they were passing a house on the right when, wrote Stanley, “the Spirit of God stopped me, and distinctly directed me to stand on that doorstep, and on that end of it nearest the town.” The crowd that gathered was not large. Stanley wondered what the purpose was in preaching from that place, when after the message the husband and wife who owned the house opened the door from behind him. They had been standing behind the front door and had heard every word. The man was openly weeping as he told Stanley: “We have never heard these things before.” Stanley went in and spoke to the man, his wife, and his invalid mother, who had also heard the entire message from an upstairs window. All three trusted the Lord Jesus Christ.
A wave of spiritual awakening had reached Scotland. William Trotter had been to Glasgow, and saw hundreds of souls coming to Christ. He told Stanley of the wonderful works of God. “A remarkable sense of the Lord’s presence came over me,” said C. S. “I felt moved by divine power to go at once to Birmingham. A strength of faith and expectation that souls would be saved, such as I had never had before, filled my soul.”
The large room in Broad Street was crammed night after night. At the after-meetings, nearly all stayed. The preaching was devoid of emotional string-pulling or psychological manipulation. Stanley did little inviting, or pleading with sinners. He spoke almost entirely of the righteousness of God in justifying the sinner, and of justification in the risen Christ. “Indeed, I have always found the more God is revealed in Christ in preaching, the more lasting the results. There must also be undoubting confidence in the Word of God: that all who are brought by the Holy Spirit to believe God, are justified from all things.”
While these meetings were held in Birmingham, a brother in Christ came over from Stafford. He believed that God was about to bless souls there. He returned, and asked some brethren to come together to cry to God, at six o’clock the next morning. A number prayed for blessing on the Word there that same night. But when this brother borrowed chairs, so as to seat every available space in the large meeting room, some doubters smirked.
But at 6:45 P.M., the large room was packed. Several were fainting, but could not be taken out. The danger from the crush was so great, that a gentleman stood up, and offered the use of a large church building nearby. Then it also was quickly filled. One drunk man unexpectedly lurched in and the solemnity of God’s presence had him sobered in a moment. With many others he professed to be converted that night.
Stanley was not interested in tallying numbers. He viewed the results of his Gospel preaching with caution. Looking back at a very encouraging Gospel campaign, he would say, “Many professed to be saved, some fell away as stony-ground hearers; but the day will declare what was of the Spirit of God.”
Charles Stanley was called from his earthly home in Rotherham, to his Heavenly Home on March 30, 1890.
Stretching beyond his preaching, perhaps his greatest Christian work has been the “C.S.” tracts. A brother asked, “‘Why don’t you print some of those incidents of the Lord’s work in the railway cars? I am sure the Lord would use them.’ I said I had never thought of it. He urged me to do so. How little did I think at that moment that the Lord would use them in so many languages.” The goal in writing the tracts was “to look to God to give me to write just what He pleased, and to enable me to write it plainly without any adornment. To never allow me to write with a party feeling, but to write for the whole Church of God, or Gospel to every sinner. In every incident related to give the exact words as near as I could recollect.”
His counsel to Christian workers should be heralded among believers across the continent: “I have always found blessing and results in proportion to communion with Christ in His love to the whole Church, whether in writing or preaching; and no Christian can prosper in his own soul unless he is seeking the welfare of others.”
Incidents of Gospel Work: Showing How the Lord Hath Led Me, by Charles Stanley, G. Morrish
Chief Men Among the Brethren, by Hy. Pickering, Loizeaux Bros.