Monday January 1, 0001
Biography of Henry Varley From "The Christian Portrait Gallery” 1889
ALL the world over, there are those who respect the name of Henry Varley. People who know but little about the man readily class him among the plain and straight preachers of the Gospel. Those who are better acquainted with Mr. Varley's life and work regard the well-beloved Evangelist as one who always has the fear of God before his eyes, and the highest good of mankind very near his heart. Henry Varley's preaching may be defined as dealing emphatically with “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come;” his life and practice are eloquent witnesses to the perfect sincerity of his profession. Whatever Mr. Varley does, besides proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God, may be summed up in the statement that he never hesitates to rebuke sin; he is not afraid to denounce the vile man and the oppressor; and he rarely loses an opportunity to plead the cause of the wronged and helpless.
HENRY VARLEY was born at Tattershall, in Lincolnshire, on 23rd October 1835. In early life, he received religious impressions which have never left him. His mother was a woman of considerable culture, having for some years been at the head of a large boarding-school for young ladies. Her influence over the boy was as holy as it was powerful. Henry was still young when she died; but he has ever since cherished the memory of the happy hours during which he sat by her bedside, and read aloud her favourite hymns. School days were spent at Lincoln, and young Varley made his mark in two directions: he was quick at figures and a capital elocutionist. These distinguishing powers of the boy have proved to be the distinguishing powers of the man.
Leaving school at about thirteen years of age, the lad went to London. One Sunday afternoon, while passing through Trafalgar Square in the course of a walk, he was accosted by Dr. J. W. Kirton (author of "Buy your own Cherries"), who was distributing tracts in connection with the Young Men's Christian Association. Placing a tract in the young man's hand, Dr. Kirton extended a cordial invitation to the Hon. and Rev. Baptist Noel's chapel in John Street, Bedford Row. The invitation was readily accepted; and lasting good resulted from that introduction to Christian influence and work in the great city. Instruction and light gained in the Sunday-school led to young Mr. Varley's conversion; and in 1853 he was baptized by Mr. Noel, and admitted as a member of the church.
In the pursuit of business, Mr. Varley soon afterwards went to Australia; but he returned to England in 1857, with the intention of preparing for the work of the ministry, with a view to settling in Australia. This purpose was not carried out. Having married a lady (Grace) who has proved a true helpmeet to him. Mr. Varley determined to settle at Notting Hill, and combine Christian work with business. Success crowned his efforts; but he felt an irresistible impulse to devote himself wholly to preaching the Gospel. In business he was in a position of unquestionable disinterestedness from which to speak to men of business on religious subjects; and he often addressed faithful and loving words to the journey men butchers of London. But all his efforts while he was engaged in business failed to convince him that he was doing his bounden duty.
Many give the end of their success to the Lord. Mr. Varley did not withhold the beginning of his prosperity. Efforts put forth in 1860 eventuated in the erection near Notting Hill of a place of worship capable of holding two thousand persons, and known as the West London Tabernacle. The cost of this building was met by Mr. Varley and his father-in-law. Mr. Varley's first savings in business, amounting to a considerable sum, were thus devoted to God.
After much earnest work in London, and answering many calls for help in various parts of the country, Mr. Varley began a series of visits to other lands. In 1875 he went to America, and preached with great acceptance and much blessing. It was not at all unusual to see twenty thousand people filling every seat in the Hippodrome, New York, on a Sunday evening. In the Association Hall, too, Mr. Varley's addresses attracted immense audiences; and drawing-room meetings were also held. The effect of his preaching was to kindle an enthusiasm in the breasts of the Christians of New York generally, which set hundreds of them seeking out their friends and relatives, and urging them to go and hear the Gospel. About a hundred ministers met him at the close of the month which he had engaged to spend in the city, and begged him to remain at least another month; while, at the same time, from Boston and Philadelphia, the cry came, “Come over and help us.”
Immense audiences everywhere attended throughout America at his various addresses, which the Rev. Theodore Cuyler said were delivered “in familiar, John-Bunyan-like English, and which held the large congregation as tight as in a vice.” It is believed that immense good resulted from his unceasing efforts, especially in New York and Boston. For seven weeks in the former city, he held meetings six days each week—
always twice a day, and often three times. Hundreds of people were converted, and the churches confirmed in the faith. Before returning to England, Mr. Varley accepted an urgent invitation to visit Canada. He was received as a man greatly beloved, and the character of his work is clear from the following sentences written at the time by a Canadian correspondent:-
"Our brother Henry Varley and his dear wife have come to us in the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus, having been greatly blessed at Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, and Belleville, to the salvation of many souls. Already this country has beheld what God can do by a man wholly surrendered. Aldermen, professors, merchants, drunkards, young and old, educated, unlearned, are daily testifying of the wondrous love of Jesus. Christians have been led to realize the riches of their inheritance, and to awake out of the death-like sleep growing out of mere formalism and ceremonialism."
Returned to England, consecrated anew to his work, Mr. Varley was instrumental of increased good; and the West London Tabernacle was the
centre of more fruitful effort than formerly. Among the agencies which sprang into existence were an “Industrial Home for the Blind”; and the well-known organization for evangelization among the butchers of Smithfield Market. For several years, Mr. Spurgeon lent his Tabernacle for the annual meeting of this Mission; when a powerful testimony has been borne to the reality of Mr. Varley's work, and the greatness of his influence among the “market men.”
In 1877, our friend again visited Australia, and extended his travels to Tasmania and New Zealand. Hundreds of persons came forward and confessed Christ; and Mr. Varley came home much cheered to resume his pastoral and evangelistic duties. He soon realized, however, that pressing evangelistic calls stood in the way of giving due attention to the pastor's work. He therefore resigned the pastorate, in order that he might be at liberty to give himself exclusively to proclaiming the Gospel. To the deep sorrow of the church worshipping in the West London Tabernacle, the resignation took effect in 1882; and since that time, Mr. Varley has devoted himself to evangelization, also paying especial attention to the work of promoting social purity.
This latter is a branch of work in which Mr. Varley has done yeoman service. With tongue and pen, he has laboured mightily to enlarge the membership of the White Cross Society. His Lectures “to men only” have been listened to by hundreds of thousands; his pamphlets also have reached a wide circulation, and thus, it is known, many have been warned of evil while there was still place for repentance. God has blessed the plain and solemn words spoken and written; and men have been thankful as well. In proof of this, it may be stated that about fifteen thousand letters have been received from time to time, thanking Mr. Varley for delivering his Lectures.
Mr. Varley is content to be known as a “lay evangelist.” Though he has no “charge,” he has a world-wide interest and sympathy. In 1884, he paid a second visit to America. In every place he visited, his fame had preceded him, and the buildings in which he spoke were crowded to their utmost capacity. After successful work in various parts of the United Kingdom, Mr. Varley paid a visit to Cape Colony in 1886, being accompanied on this journey by Mr. Hannington (brother of the late Bishop Hannington). In different parts of the Colony meetings were held, and a blessed season of revival among the churches was realized. A year later, Mr. Varley made a call at the Cape on the way to Australasia, and was rejoiced to find many fruits of his previous visit to the Colony. This Australian journey was also made for the glory of God and the good of men; the Word was preached with power, and the work was attended by much encouragement.
In a private letter, written from Melbourne soon after his arrival, Mr. Varley says:—
"I have received a most hearty welcome to the city on the part of a large number of the Lord's people; and in every direction, I come in contact with testimonies as to the blessed work done when we were here ten years since. One gentleman told me that he visited one locality, where there are fifteen hundred families; and to this day, he is constantly meeting with those who were brought to Christ, or were graciously helped in their spiritual life. A very interesting case occurred the other day. A Christian doctor (whom I met in Dublin some years since) was called in for consultation in regard to a gentleman who was dying. There was no cure, but he alleviated his suffering, and then began to speak of eternal things; when the sufferer said, 'Oh, I thank God I was brought to Christ when Mr. Henry Varley was in Melbourne. I was saved in the Town Hall.' 'Yes,' rejoined the doctor, 'so was I.' Another young man came to see me. He said, 'At the last meeting you held in Prahran Town Hall, I was brought to Christ. My brother and two sisters also were saved; and we four have been working for the Lord since (now ten years ago) in one of the suburbs.' "
Biblical exposition is, in Mr. Varley's belief, a desideratum in these days. There is, he holds, no better way of moving an audience in the right direction than by making the Word of God thoroughly understood. A passage of Scripture clearly explained, has a better influence than the best “original" thought and the most brilliant eloquence of the preacher. Of course, such methods do not suit men who are mainly anxious to attain a great reputation; but preachers who have no concern about themselves, and are anxious only to save souls, may profit from Mr. Varley's experience, which is, that there is no surer means of obtaining the Holy Spirit's blessing than by an exposition of the Word. Mr. Varley is a fervent believer in the speedy coming of the Lord. This is one of the deepest convictions of his heart; and the effect of it upon him is that it gives a solemn yet gladsome glow of feeling to all his words upon any subject. He has written a deeply interesting volume on this great theme, entitled “Christ's Coming Kingdom.”
In June, 1888, Mr. Varley returned from his third Australian tour; but in October of the same year he again bade farewell to our shores. In consequence of a troublesome throat complaint, it was found advisable to spend at least two winters away from our humid and foggy climate; so a stay of a more or less permanent character was contemplated in the “sunny south,” and Melbourne again became the destination for which our friend was bound. A large farewell gathering was held in Talbot Tabernacle, Notting Hill, to bid God-speed to Mr. Varley and his family. Letters expressing regret at unavoidable absence were read from Pastor Frank H. White and many others; while Mr. C. H. Spurgeon also addressed a short note to the meeting, expressing his appreciation of Mr. Varley's public work. An interesting feature of the assembly was Mr. Varley's own speech, which dealt with his connection with the neighbourhood; his work at the West London Tabernacle; and a survey of his labours the wide world over. He referred, “without boasting,” to the feeling that he could thank God for twenty thousand cases of conversion, and to the enormous bulk of letters which we have already noticed—received in connection with the “Lectures to Men.”
Upon arriving in Melbourne, Mr. Varley again engaged in his evangelistic labours, and attracted audiences as large as on his previous visits. We trust that the sojourn in a warmer climate may prove highly beneficial, and so fully restore Mr. Varley to his usual vigour that he may feel justified in again crossing the seas and engaging in the Lord's work in our midst.