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The Forgotten Samuel Pearce

May. 5, 2014By: Evan Burns

Like an unforgettable shooting star that burns bright and fast through the night sky, so was the short-lived burning and shining light of Samuel Pearce (1766-1799).  He, like Brainerd, died at an early age leaving many to wonder at God’s inscrutable providence. 

Pearce was born in Plymouth.  His mother died at a young age, so he was raised by his father, who was a Baptist deacon.  In 1782 he was converted under the anointed preaching of Isaiah Birt and was baptized the following year at age seventeen.  Because he displayed a peculiar anointing in preaching and a noticeable call to the ministry, in 1786 his church sent him to Bristol Baptist Academy, the only Calvinistic Baptist college at the time.  Upon graduation, he was called to pastor Cannon Street Baptist Church in the industrial city of Birmingham.  Ministering to a congregation of predominantly illiterate people, he preached faithfully and baptized 335 people. 

Pearce’s preaching ministry was largely motivated by his love for sinners and his concern that they hear the Word of Christ and fly to him as the Savior of their souls.  Illustrative of his love for souls was one of his last sermons he preached before he died.  Though the French were widely despised as the archenemies of Britain, Pearce called for compassion and gospel witness to be published throughout France. 

Birthed out of his compassion for sinners and his love for God’s glory, in 1792 Pearce, Andrew Fuller, and eleven other men started the Baptist Missionary Society.  After much fasting and prayer, Pearce initially felt called to go to India, but the committee decided he would be more useful at home preaching and raising support/awareness for the BMS since his activistic preaching was unrivaled save Andrew Fuller’s.  Pearce, though discouraged, submitted his soul to the will of God and trusted that his leadership’s decision was the voice of God.  He did not seek to strike out as a maverick, for his devotion was to the cause of Christ and the common good of the whole BMS.  He would willingly follow his Lord in stirring hearts to give and labor for the salvation of the heathen.  When he would preach, many would comment on his heavenly anointing with descriptions such as ‘silver-mouthed’, ‘seraphic’, and ‘like an apostle’. 

Honor must be given to Pearce’s highest joy in this life—Sarah.  Married in 1791, Sarah stood by him, and together they valued the kingdom above all else.  Clearly a passionate man, Pearce’s letters to Sarah resound with adoration, devotion, faithfulness, and solidarity in their single-minded pursuit of Christ and his glory.  Pearce died of Tuberculosis in 1799, and knowing her intimate oneness with Pearce’s evangelical soul, Fuller told Sarah that he wanted her help in recollecting Pearce’s life since Fuller considered him another David Brainerd. 

Pearce’s spirituality was chiefly evangelical.  He placed God’s glory as the consuming center of his piety.  And the golden chain of God’s glory was linked unbreakably to the cross in Pearce’s preaching and piety.  The blessings of God fell on his ministry due to his crucicentric preaching and his regular desire to be anointed with the Holy Spirit’s power.  Joined at the center of a passion for God’s glory, Pearce’s spirituality combined two main expressions—Christ and him crucified, and a passion for lost souls.  Impartiality for the unconverted and the heathen pulsed through Pearce’s veins, and it was all because of how excellent the crucified Christ was to him.  To him the good news demanded declaration out of honor for God and love for his fellow man.  Ultimately, to him, life was not worth living except for the glory of God and the good of Christ’s elected Church.

Pearce was not without controversy in his ministry.  He fought vigorously against Antinomianism.  Pearce shattered the unbiblical stereotype that Calvinists were lazy and fatalistic, as though they did not need to be active in the Lord’s work.  In fact, Calvinism gave him the assurance that God would even have power over the unregenerate heart.  Calvinism gave Pearce the assurance of knowing that as God had predestined the ends, so he predestined the means.  Calvinism was the door through which Pearce entered into the unspeakable joy of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. 

Pearce warned against allowing one’s piety to cool to a tepid lukewarmness.  He would warn that the degree of one’s true piety relates to one’s spiritual enjoyment and spiritual usefulness.  Any despair of sinfulness that does not result in active fruitfulness proves to be presumptuous and false.  So conscientious of spiritual decline in his own soul, Pearce would offer advice for renewing one’s relationship with Christ back to a warm-hearted enjoyable religion.  Pearce felt deeply in his Christ-pursuing piety and he hoped to help others do the same.[1]

[1] The source of this summary is Michael A.G. Haykin’s “Joy unspeakable and full of

glory”: The piety of Samuel & Sarah Pearce.

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