In the history of God’s people, there have been a number of individuals who seem to have packed decades of spiritual maturity into a few short years of life. There is a spiritual intensity about such men and women that make them utterly unforgettable to their contemporaries.
Such, for example were:
- David Brainerd (1718–1747)
- Ann Griffiths (1776–1805)
- Robert Murray McCheyne (1813–1843)
- Jim Elliot (1927–1956)
- Samuel Pearce (1766–1799)
“An image of our Lord”
The name of Samuel Pearce rarely appears in histories of Christian spirituality, though it most definitely should. His life and thought represent the best of late eighteenth-century Baptist piety. His memoirs, drawn up in 1800 by Andrew Fuller (1754–1815), one of his closest friends, went through a significant number of printings and editions on both sides of the Atlantic in the course of the nineteenth century. Fuller especially focused on Pearce’s piety and concluded that the “governing principle in Mr. Pearce, beyond all doubt, was holy love.” In fact, for some decades after his death it was not uncommon to hear him referred to as the “seraphic Pearce.”
William Jay (1769–1853), who exercised an influential ministry in Bath for the first half of the nineteenth century, has this amazing remark about Pearce’s preaching:
“When I have endeavoured to form an image of our Lord as a preacher, Pearce has oftener presented himself to my mind than any other I have been acquainted with.”
He had, Jay went on, a “mildness and tenderness” in his style of preaching, and a “peculiar unction.” When Jay wrote these words it was many years after Pearce’s death, but still, he said, he could see his appearance in his mind’s eye and feel the impression that he made upon his hearers as he preached.
Ever one to appreciate the importance of having spiritual individuals as one’s friends, Jay has this comment about the last time that he saw Pearce alive: “What a savor does communion with such a man leave upon the spirit.”
Learning from Pearce Today
If Pearce’s life could be a blessing to Jay as he recalled aspects of that life, such a blessing is equally available to modern readers of Pearce even though they have not had Jay’s privilege in knowing Pearce when he walked this earth. Pearce’s life, shaped as it was by “holy love,” has much to teach modern-day believers in our world today.
This post is adapted from Loving God and Neighbor with Samuel Pearce by Michael A. G. Haykin and Jerry Slate, Jr. (Lexham Press, 2019).