Brethren Archive
Monday January 1, 0001

Life Story of Henry Varley

A Review by

ALEXANDER MARSHALL.

 

HENRY VARLEY was well known in the United Kingdom, United States of America, Canada, and Australasia as a faithful and gifted servant of Christ.  His son, bearing the same honoured name, in the interesting and instructive volume before us, has given the life story of his father.*

Henry Varley was born on 25th October, 1835, in the village of Tattershall, Lincolnshire.  His father, a small brewer, was unsuccessful in business, and at the age of eleven, the boy left school and went to the city of London to earn his living.  Converted to God at sixteen, he made rapid spiritual progress, using his spare time in studying the Scriptures and spreading the Gospel.   In 1885, he emigrated to Australia, and in a comparatively short time made enough money to purchase a business at Geelong.   In 1887, he returned to England, started on his own account, and married the daughter of a former employer.

Whilst associated with a Baptist church in Westbourne Grove, London, he became deeply interested in the spiritual condition of a squalid district in Notting Hill, in which "filth, violence, profanity, drunkenness, and immorality abounded on all hands."  Mr. Varley was asked to undertake the superintendence of a Sunday school which had been commenced there.  The earnest gospeller "laid hold" of the work, visited the homes of the people, dealt with them as to their state, and started Gospel meetings.  The congregations increased by leaps and bounds, until the capacious hall was crowded to the door.   Numbers of earnest workers, hearing of what God was doing through His servant, gathered around him and rendered invaluable help.  Many of the poorest and wickedest of the people were soundly converted to God.  As the work progressed, the serious problem as to what was to be done with the converts had to be faced.   Most of them belonged to the poorer classes, and did not care to attend the churches in the district.  The young preacher was asked if they could not gather as a church of believers, and, if so, would he act as their pastor?  He consented, although nominally in fellowship with a Baptist congregation in Westbourne Grove.

A sorrowful controversy arose about his daring to "administer the sacrament" without human ordination, and without ecclesiastical permission.  When summoned to attend a church meeting to explain his "irregular and disorderly conduct," he maintained that he had done nothing opposed to the Scriptures, with the result that he was severely censured.  As a consequence of this, he withdrew from the Baptist denomination.  His work having increased, a large building seating 1000, called the "Free Tabernacle," was erected, costing £2200.  Mr. Varley gave the half of the amount himself, as being ''the first-fruits unto the Lord" of his business savings, his father-in-law providing the other half.   From the day that the building was opened God set His seal on the labours of His servant, multitudes of souls being plucked as brands from the eternal burning.  "Scarcely a day passed," he afterwards wrote, "without ten to twenty of the congregation being brought to Christ."

The abundant blessing following the labours of the "irregular preacher" caused searchings of heart amongst numbers of denominationalists who believed that human ordination was necessary for a "minister of the Gospel."  Though the church was "undenominational" and the preacher "unordained," the blessing of God was abundantly manifest.  It was felt by many that Mr. Varley's influence would be greatly increased if he allowed himself to be ordained as a Baptist minister, and the church become affiliated with the Baptist Union. A deputation of Baptist ministers interviewed him offering to ordain him, but he steadfastly declined.  He told them that as the Lord Jesus Christ had ordained him  to preach His Glorious Gospel, and had deigned to bless his ministry, human ordination was unnecessary.  To the end of his days he believed that denominationalism was another name for sectarianism.  At believers' meetings held at Bradford in May, 1882, we heard him telling the Christians assembled that they could afford to wait, as "denominationalism was doomed." We could not but think that denominationalism was like our Scottish enemy, "John Barleycorn," hard to kill.  Mr. Varley was in fullest sympathy with Mr. Spurgeon regarding preachers taking The Title of "Reverend." We venture to make a quotation from C. H. S. on the subject:

 "It is, at any rate, a suspicious circumstance that among mankind, no class of persons should so commonly describe themselves by a pretentious title as the professed ministers of the lowly Jesus.  Peter and Paul were 'right reverend' men, but they would have been the last to call themselves so.  A lad fresh from the college who has just been placed in the pulpit is called the 'Reverend Smith,' while his eminently godly father, who has for fifty years walked with God, has no claim for such reverence.  We wonder where men sought out this invention, and from whose original mind did this original sin emanate.  We suspect that he lived in the Roman Row of 'Vanity Fair,' though the 'Reverend' John Bunyan does not mention him.  One thing is pretty certain, he did not flourish in the days of the 'Reverend Paul,' or 'Reverend Peter,' or 'Reverend Apollos.' "

The believers with whom Mr. Varley was associated were known as "The Church Meeting in the Free Tabernacle, Notting Hill."  On one occasion Mr. Spurgeon humorously twitted him with being a "bad Baptist" and a   "half-bred Plymouth brother."  "Well," rejoined Mr. Varley, "show me some scriptural authority for calling myself a Baptist, and I will fall in at once."  "But," said Mr. Spurgeon, "we must be called by some name."  "That is so," replied the evangelist, "but how would this do, 'a good minister of Jesus Christ?'"

We have no doubt Mr. Varley would endorse Dr. Arthur T. Pierson's remark that "the terms 'clergy' and 'laity' were the invention of the devil in the Dark Ages.  The introduction of this distinction into the Church of Christ was not only an invention of the devil, but a master stroke of Satan-craft" (Divine Enterprise of Missions, pp. 31 and 32).

One day a Church of England clergyman called at his place of business and begged him to accept from him an introduction to the Bishop of London, who "would gladly ordain you as a deacon and priest in the Established Church."  "For myself," he added, "I think that there are few positions in the Church to which you might not ultimately attain." Mr. Varley expressed to the gentleman his thanks for his kind words, and said, "As the servant of the Lord Jesus, I would not change places with the Archbishop of Canterbury."

When quite a young man Mr. Varley was surprised at receiving an invitation to preach in the Metropolitan Tabernacle.  Though somewhat nervous at first, the messages given to him by the Lord were delivered with remarkable power, and were greatly appreciated.  And, better still, his heart was cheered through a letter received by him from Mr. Spurgeon stating that more than fifty additions were to be made to the membership of the church on that day as the result of his Gospel addresses.

Mr. Varley visited various cities and towns in England, and held evangelistic services with remarkable results.  In nearly every place he went, God gave him the joy of seeing "showers of blessing."  As he lifted up his eyes and gazed upon the fields white to harvest, he longed to give up business and devote himself entirely to the work of evangelism.  After twelve years' trading in the west end of London, he retired with a "moderate sufficiency."  He was greatly encouraged in his desire to engage in worldwide evangelistic efforts by Mr. John Offord, the minister of Palace Gardens Chapel, Bayswater.  One day Mr. Offord called at Mr. Varley's shop and expressed the desire to have a personal interview with him.  We shall give in the words of the biographer an account of what took place: "Just as he was, in blue coat and white apron, my father took his visitor into the drawing-room upstairs.  Mr. Offord began by saying how greatly he rejoiced in all that God was doing by my father.  Then suddenly, as the two men stood face to face, the elder, his deep-set eyes glistening with brimming tears, put his arms round the younger man's neck and kissed him.  'My dear young brother,' he said, 'I have a deep conviction that the Lord is yet going to use you in a more wonderful manner.  Years ago I had the opportunity to give myself to evangelistic work over a large area, but I declined to go.  For a long while I have felt that it was then that I missed my way.  It has been laid upon my heart to say this to you.  That is why I have come.'   The two knelt down, and Mr. Offord, in fervent prayer, commended my father to God, praying that he might at any cost follow the guiding pillar, were it cloud or were it fire."

The Tabernacle had to be enlarged to seat 1800 people, and it was crowded every night that Mr. Varley preached.  On his decision to "launch out into the deep" and engage in world-wide evangelism, he mentioned the matter to Mr. Spurgeon.  "Varley," said the "prince of preachers,"  "you are the only man in London that I envy.''  Mr. Varley was surprised.  ''Why?'' he inquired.  "Well," was the answer, "it's like this.  You can go where you please and hold great missions throughout the country, and many souls are won for Christ.  Now I admit my pond is a pretty big one, but I can't keep on catching the same fish over and over again."  Mr. Varley replied that the minister of a church, as a soul-winner, seemed to him to be in the retail business, but the evangelist to be in the wholesale.  And it was the wholesale business that for himself he earnestly desired.

Mr. Varley acknowledged that the greatest spiritual help he ever received was obtained at the Dublin Believers' Meetings.  His testimony about it is as follows: "After being present at three of these yearly assemblies, I had such a sense of my ignorance and unfitness for the ministry that I thought I should never be able to preach any more.  I returned to my work utterly dispirited."

His biographer's observation about this is instructive.  He says: "The experience proved to be the assured pathway to a further accession of ministerial efficiency, and his people as they listened to his preaching felt that some great thing had happened to their pastor."

In the autumn of 1874, Mr. Varley visited Canada and the United States of America, and was abundantly blessed of God.  Teaching believers and preaching to Gospel missions held at Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and other Canadian centres.  At Brantford, which was then a town of 12,000 inhabitants, the Lord wrought wondrously.  Though the thermometer was below zero, the people flocked to the meeting places daily, and it was often after midnight ere the evangelist was able to leave the inquiry-room.  A thousand persons professed to accept of the Lord Jesus as their Saviour.

Seven years afterwards Mr. Varley met in England a leading Christian worker from Brantford.  When asked about the results of that special mission, the Canadian replied: "Never was a revival more lasting in its effects.  You left us with an army of young men converted to God.  They carried the Local Option measure and closed every drinking-house in the place.  Our prison is empty; there is not a criminal in it.  Poverty, crime and drunkenness are unknown among us.  The police have literally nothing to do, and during the whole of last year only one woman applied for pauper relief."                                                                                                         

Mr. Varley had also wondrous times of reaping, as well as sowing, in many American cities.  Enormous meetings were obtained in New York City.  Dr. Talmadge's tabernacle and other large edifices were used on week nights, and Barnum's Hippodrome was secured for Sundays.  The huge building, seating 20,000 persons, was overcrowded with eager, interested congregations, who listened with intense interest to the truth proclaimed by the "English evangelist."  Of this campaign, Mr. Varley wrote as follows: "Such meetings have never been known here."  There is a long-continued cry to God for His richest blessing.  Now the tide is rolling gloriously.  Surely the Lord is with us in great blessing and power."  Mr. Varley laboured much in the United States, and was greatly appreciated by American Christians.  His impressions of the people are exceedingly striking and suggestive.  "The disregard for law, the mistaking of license for liberty, the failure to punish crime, the slow and corrupt process of the law courts, the horrible lynching in the south, the wrongs which pertain to the African race question, the civic and State corruption, the power, governmentally conserved, found in the hands of and possessed by many of the most corrupt of the people—these are some of the conditions which imperil the stability, safety, and progress of the great Republic."  God gave Mr. Varley favour with the people of San Francisco, California, where he had a time of rich blessing.  "Many hundreds tell me," he wrote, "how wondrously God has blessed the Word to their strength, song, and salvation.  A friend says that in forty years, he has never seen such a deep real work." Mr. Varley, on the invitation of Mr. D. L. Moody, helped in a great evangelistic effort at The World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.  The Gospel was preached from twenty centres in various parts of the city.  Twenty-five thousand persons, at least, heard the Gospel preached every week day, and fifty thousand on Sundays.  For thirty-five years, Mr. Varley laboured in the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, South Africa, India, Australia, and New Zealand.  For twenty years, he looked upon Melbourne, Australia, as his earthly home.  Much good work was done by him in the Australian Colonies.  In Melbourne, Geelong, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, and other cities, saints were edified and sinners were led to the Saviour.  In his later ministry, Mr. Varley gave much time to the ministry of the Word with a view to the development of the spiritual life among Christians. His biographer comments on this as follows: "He saw more vividly the need of a revived Church.  Wherever he went, he found large numbers of Christians in the condition of the lukewarm Laodiceans, worldly-minded, pleasure-loving, prayerless and comparative strangers to their Bibles, making no use of the vast spiritual resources open to them in the Holy Ghost.  He set himself to arouse them to a fuller, higher, worthier life." Mr. Varley visited India, and laboured among the English-speaking Brahmins and Hindus.  Meetings were held in Madras, Poona, Bangalore, and Bombay.  His ministry was much appreciated and the educated natives attended his services in great numbers.  In lectures, addresses, public discussions, and private interviews, he sought to spread the truth of the Gospel of God's matchless grace.  Of the European population in India, generally speaking, he was not enamoured.  "They seem to care very little for the natives, and are fashionable, worldly, sensual, and eminently ungodly.  Eating, drinking, and every form of luxury hold the Upper Ten" was his testimony.  Mr. Varley had encouraging missions in Cape Colony, South Africa, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, Petermaritzburgh, and Durban were in turn visited. Numbers professed conversion to God, and believers were built up on their most holy faith.  For over fifty years by voice and by pen, instant in season, out of season, in many countries and climes, Henry Varley was privileged to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ.  Thousands of believers were stablished, strengthened, and settled in the faith, and "thousands of sinners were saved with an everlasting salvation through his labours.  He passed into the presence of the Lord at Brighton, on 30th March, 1912, in his seventy-seventh year.  May the Lord raise up many more such labourers.

From:  "The Witness"  1913

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