W. S. (William Stephen) Rainsford.

A preacher's story of his work online

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where I was received and on the
Friday before the Sunday I was to
begin my mission I left for Baltimore.
I wrote saying I was coming. There


was no one at the depot to meet
me. I left my portmanteau and made
my way to the rectory. When I
got there, the rectory was closed. I
made inquiries and found that the
rector was in Philadelphia at the

" Is there no other clergyman con-
nected with the church ? " I asked.

" No."

" None at all ? "

" No."

" Do you know of any mission to be
held here ? "

" No, don't know anything about
any mission ; the missionary collections
were taken some time ago, and we
don't want any more."

I asked if there was no one to give
me information about the church, and
finally I was directed to an insurance
agent, who was a deacon in the church.
I went to him, and found him a de-


lightful man. Yes, I found a lifelong

"Do you know anything about a
mission to begin in your church next
Sunday ? " I asked.

" No."

" Do you know anything about a
man named Rainsford who is coming
down to take charge of it ? "

" Never heard of him/' he said,

" Well, then, there 's nothing to be
done ; I 'd better go back to England,"
I said.

" What do you mean by a mission ? "
he asked, beginning to be interested.

I sat down and talked to him about
half an hour, and he said, " Why,
that's just the thing we want."

" But there 's no preparation made
at all," I replied.

" Well," he said, " Dr. has for-
gotten all about it ; that 's just like


him ; he '11 not be back before eleven
o'clock Saturday night ; but this is, I
believe, God's doing ; you stay "

" But what can I do without any
preparation ? "

" Go ahead any way you like," he

I took the last dollars I had in the
world and had two hundred posters
printed :

" Mission, such and such a church.
Beginning Sunday, such and such a
time. W. S. Rainsford will preach
Sunday morning and evening and each
day in the week. Bible readings [as
we called them] at 1 2 o'clock. Gospel
services 8 o'clock. All welcome."

I took these two hundred circulars
under my arm all I could afford
and succeeded in getting these posters
placed in the windows of the best shops
on Charles Street; I also got the street-
car people to put them up, free of


charge two things which I have
never been able to get done in a town
since ; and then I waited for Sunday
to come.

At eleven o'clock Saturday night
back came the Doctor. I was in his
study waiting for him.

" Mr. Rainsford, I am glad to see
you, delighted to see you, sir. I have
not made any preparation in fact,
our people are not back in town yet,
but I 'm glad to see you. I am going
to preach Sunday morning, the Bishop
will preach Sunday night, and you will
begin Monday."

"Dear Doctor," I said, "I have
only come here to help you, but I
cannot agree to the arrangement that
you preach in the morning and the
Bishop in the evening. I 've got to
get hold of the people on Sunday
if I hope to reach them during the


" Mr. Rainsford, you are a stranger
in this country ; you do not under-
stand ; I am rector of this church, and
I repeat, I shall preach in the morn-
ing, the Bishop Sunday evening, and
you begin Monday." It was a little
thing, you may say, but it was a real

" Dear sir/' I said again, " I am
only here to help the work in this
church and to do the best I can, but
I know my business. If I begin the
way you suggest, the mission will be
a failure. No doubt you are going
to preach to-morrow morning and the
Bishop Sunday night, but then I am
not going to begin on Monday."

He stormed up and down his study
for twenty minutes. I did not say a
word ; I sat on the sofa and looked at
him. At the end of twenty minutes
he rushed out saying he had got hold
of a rampageous Englishman who was


bound to have his way, and asked the
Bishop to let him off. The Bishop
let him off, and I began Sunday morn-
ing. It was not exactly encouraging.
It was a wet, stormy day. I preached
in the morning, and I really felt that
God stood by me. When I got
through, the Doctor said, "You did
a great deal better than I expected ;
you will make a preacher. But you
made a great mistake; you did not
take any text."

" Doctor," I said, " I am not here
to preach sermons. You have been
taking texts and preaching better ser-
mons than I can preach all these
years ; I am here only for ten days ;
I must work in my own way."

" Go the way other people have
gone," he replied ; " do not do that
sort of thing."

I preached again in the evening,
and we had as many as in the morn-


ing ; again the Doctor grumbled be-
cause I took no text; on Monday
as many as on Sunday, and by the
time Wednesday came the church was
three-quarters full. There was an
old-fashioned pulpit, from which one
could look right down on the com-
munion-table. On Wednesday even-
ing I heard the sound of emotional
crying. I looked down, and there sat
the Doctor, his head wrapped in his
surplice, crying like a baby. Before
I could give the blessing, he ran to
the front of the church, spread out
his arms, and cried :

" Friends, you must come to hear
this young man ! "

After that the church was always
full. That was my first mission in
the United States. For two and a
half years I went all over the country
holding missions in a similar way ; and
I have always been thankful for the


good opportunity it gave me for know-
ing the country and the people. I
twice had a mission in Baltimore, one
in Washington, in Philadelphia, in
Boston, in Harlem, several places in
Ohio, in Kentucky, etc. ; I got pretty
well around the country.

After a time, at the end of the
second or beginning of the third year
of mission work, I got an urgent in-
vitation to go to Canada ; and I went
to London, Ontario, where I had one
of the most successful missions in my
whole experience. That led to my
being asked to Toronto, and there the
work developed into something more
than a mission ; it led ultimately to
my living in Toronto for four years.




THE Cathedral Church of St.
James, Toronto, by which I
was invited to hold a mission,
was a large and unusually fine church,
very well endowed. It held to Toronto
somewhat the same position that long
ago Trinity held in New York ; it rep-
resented an endowment given by the
Government for the Church of Eng-
land in the whole town of Toronto.
At the time when the endowment was
given Toronto had not five thousand
inhabitants ; when I went there, there
were eighty-five thousand. Meanwhile
the church held the endowment. St.
James's seated twenty- three hundred
people. The Dean of the diocese was
rector of the church a man of cul-


ture, refinement, and very considerable
learning, and a graduate from some
Oxford College, I forget which. He
was distinctly Evangelical, but of the
cultured school ; it was not quite the
Evangelical school to which my father
belonged. He was an old man, be-
ginning to fail rapidly, and he was
urged to have me there to hold a
mission. In fact, the whole town of
London, Ontario, had been moved, and
that led to an insistent call to Toronto.
Let me say that I am speaking now of
the year 1878. There had been no
movement in Canada such as Moody
had been associated with in this coun-
try ; the people were ready for a seri-
ous religious movement. They were
church-going people, well grounded in
the Bible. They were a moral com-
munity very moral, as I look back
and think how they compared with
others ; but there had been no distinct


religious awakening at that time. The
time was ripe when I went into Can-
ada. I was not responsible for the
wave that came ; I only happened to
come with that movement, as it were.

I went to Toronto, and I had from
the start the evidence there of the pres-
ence of God moving on the consciences
of men as I have never had at any
other time in my life; from the start
the crowds were perfectly enormous.

It was midwinter, and I had been
preaching ten days. As I say, the
crowds were immense crowds out-
side the church waiting to get in ; I
do not exaggerate ; there would be
thousands turned away each night ; I
have seen four hundred and eighty peo-
ple stand, with perfect reverence, inside
the chancel rails. The people came
there to hear. You could hear a pin
drop. It was like the things you read
of in Finney's life. The people were


fired. I did not attempt to have after-
meetings in the church. There was a
Sunday-school room that would seat
perhaps six hundred people at the other
side of the church, across a plot of
ground ; and in order to restrain and
prevent mere emotionalism I had my
first after-meeting there, not in the
church. I said, one evening, after I
had preached, " If there are any present
who would like to talk with me on
matters of personal religion, if they
will go to the Sunday-school room, I
will be glad to speak with them." I
waited a short time, and when I went
into the Sunday-school house, I found
not less than five hundred people on
their knees. I grappled with them as
best I could.

I might say in passing that the
effects of that work were largely per-
manent. Men of first-rate position in
the city confessed conversion ; lived up


to their confession for many years
are living so to-day. Multitudes of
young men came forward to join the
church ; and at the end of three
weeks I had administered Holy Com-
munion to such crowds as had never
been seen before in St. James's;
nothing approaching it had ever been
seen before in Canada. I prolonged
my mission ; but at the end of three
weeks I was about played out. I
had preached nearly every sermon
I had ; but people came to me and

" You must not go ; it is absolutely
essential for you to stay longer ; stay
four months, and preach twice on Sun-
day and once during the week."

It seemed to be God's call, and I
had to stay. The Dean went to
England. I lived in the deanery, and
preached twice on Sunday and once in
the week ; and the crowds were almost

as big and as eager at the end of four
months as when I commenced.

You will understand that at the end
of the four months I was absolutely
preached out. I was spiritually ex-
hausted, not physically exhausted, be-
cause I was young and strong, but I
had a feeling as though I never could
preach a good sermon again. I felt as
if I had put the last thing I ever knew
into my last sermon ; I was preached

It was a tremendous wave of reli-
gious excitement at that time ; I could
not get away from it. I preached
against dancing ; we all did ; I told peo-
ple they should not go to the theater ;
they did not go ; dances were broken
up. People who came to dance re-
mained to pray, and all that sort of

There is a completeness about the
mission sermons that a missioner
7 97


preaches that makes them better in a
way than sermons preached from Sun-
day to Sunday ; for this reason. In
three years a mission preacher addresses
himself to certain topics, and ap-
proaches those topics from all sides.
He listens to confessions of faith, he
picks up different illustrations of an
idea, and, if he is methodical, as I
was, he puts all down. He works, he
reworks, he polishes ; and there is no
excuse for him if, after three or four
years of that work, he cannot produce
a couple of dozen of such sermons as
are about perfect of their sort. The
sort may be very poor ; but as instru-
ments to produce what a man is after,
they ought to be very good. The
point that I am coming to is, that their
effect on a congregation is marked and
apparent, but the effect on the mind
of the man who preaches them is not
so favorable, if he does not supplement


the work with other things. The
mind gets into a rut. It is working
and reworking in a circle, and it
may become a vicious circle. This is
my judgment ; and I am quite certain
that the experiences of others verify
what I say. I do not want to quote
names, but I can think of several good
men who have, in my judgment,
greatly deteriorated by constant mission

I parted with the people of Toronto
at the end of four months, my heart
wrung. Kindness is no word to use
for what I received. I cannot describe
the effect on myself when I quit
preaching, except as a general let-down.
I went to England to take a six
months' rest and to be married. I
was still in a quandary as to my future.
I did not feel that I could be a curate
in the Church of England, and I was
upset and unsettled. Then an appeal


which I could not resist came again
from Toronto :

" The Dean is getting very old ; the
doctors say he cannot live long ; there
are signs of brain trouble. You have
built up the whole community ; they
look to you. Come back and be assist-
ant rector. We give you both our
hands, as you know you have our
hearts, and our universal pledge that,
on his death, you shall be our rector."

That pledge was given with most
absolute assurance on their part of good
faith. I laid the matter before my
wife, asked her if she was ready to go
with me for some years to Canada, she
said " Yes," and we went.


MY intellectual trouble began
with my return to the Cathe-
dral Church of St. James,
Toronto. I had taken absolute rest
during the six months ; I had read
nothing to speak of; and when I got
back to Toronto I found enormous
crowds waiting to hear me ; the church
jammed and people waiting outside.
I set to, and did the best I could to
preach to these people. 1 Scarcely had

1 The following is an extract from one of Dr. Rains-
ford's sermons delivered during the mission which he
conducted in Toronto. It may give an idea of some of
the beliefs which he held and preached at this time. This
sermon is on the Second Coming of Christ. After stat-
ing what he declares to be two certitudes, that "there
are two comings of Christ and two resurrections of the
dead" the first coming of Christ being for his saints
only, the second coming being the great day of judgment ;




I commenced when I found myself
confronted with a terrible difficulty. I
felt as if I had already preached every
single thing I knew ; I had nothing
new to give them. I began to read,
but my reading did not fit in with
what I had been preaching ; I could
do nothing but pray. The only thing
that saved me was the conviction that,
step by step, I had been honest in try-
ing to do God's will ; that each step

the first resurrection being that of the ' dead in Christ,"
the second being that of all other men for judgment he
continues : " We don't know but that the very next soul
called to Christ in Toronto may make up the great num-
ber of God's elect His elect Bride and just so soon
as the number is made up, and the Bride has made her-
self ready, so soon shall this mighty shout be heard, and
the dead in Christ shall rise first, and shall be, rapt away
to meet Him in the clouds and be with the Lord forever
' and so shall we ever be with the Lord.' ' Where-
fore,* says the Apostle, * comfort one another with these
words.' I want to-night, briefly, to dwell on the con-
sequences of this first coming. The first object will be
to manifest who are God's children, and who are not."



had been taken, so far as I knew, for
his glory and not for my own advance-
ment. Night after night on my knees
I said, " I am prepared to do Thy
will. I cannot preach what I do not

It would be perfectly impossible for
me to describe the struggle I went
through for two years. My wife's
health failed in the meantime failed
utterly ; I had anxiety at home ; and
people came to me and said : " You
are undoing the good you did before ;
what do you mean?" My oldest
friends plead with me, " We love you,
but what are you doing ? You are
not preaching as you used to preach ! "
And I knew I was not preaching as I
used to preach. I had no liberty, no
sense of power. There was not a man
in town to help me. All I could do
was to pray to God for help and light,
and pledge myself again and again that


I would not express an emotion that I
did not feel, or preach something I did
not believe to be absolutely true.

I had got past the baptism question
by that time ; I had run up against
something bigger. How could I tell
men that, if they believed in Jesus
Christ, they would be children of
God ? If they were not children of
God to begin with, believing on Jesus
Christ would not make them children
of God. And yet did not the Bible
say they had to be born again before
they were children of God ? Very
simple ; but it came to me with ap-
palling insistence as an unanswerable
intellectual problem. I could not for
the life of me believe that a man
could become a child of God if he
had not been antecedently a child of
God. A child of God is always a
child of God, whether or not he be-
lieves that God is his Father; but


if God were not already his Father,
believing it would not make Him his
Father. That is, if God were not
antecedently his Father, believing so
would not make Him so.

I had not a soul to speak to in my
inward strife, except that I once went
to Phillips Brooks for help. I went
to Boston solely to see him. He was
a dear friend of mine ; but Phillips
Brooks could not help an individual at
all. What he said was : " I cannot
help you ; you must fight it out your-
self." Very wise advice, but terribly
hard for me at the time. That was the
only appeal I made. I remember what
was troubling me terribly then was the
impossibility of believing in transferred
righteousness, and Brooks had not a
word to say. I suppose his big soul
drew a gasp when I came to him ; but
all he said was, " You 've got to fight
it out yourself."



In the meantime, the congregation
had very perceptibly fallen away ; the
great crowds were gone ; I had to
preach three times to get four hundred
dollars missionary money. People did
not know what to make of me ; my
friends would come to me and say,
" Why don't you preach against danc-
ing and the theater and worldliness as
you used to ? why don't you come out
with your old assurance ? "

No one can realize what this gradual
failure in Toronto meant who has not
felt the intoxication of gathering to-
gether thousands of people, the stim-
ulus, and spiritual elation, and the joy
which comes from leading and sway-
ing a mass of people eager to hear,
and the pleasure in the ties of friend-
ship that are formed, and then seen
it seemingly all go melt away ; the
church get less and less crowded, col-
lections melt away, friends look doubt-


fully at you, and enemies jeer. It
seems all a long time ago now but
it was a searching fire then. What
saved me from defeat was just this,
that through it all I could and did
keep saying to myself, " I must act
as my heart tells me ; I won't speak
until I have the light, by God's help I
won't." A man who has gone through
that cannot be beaten. I could not
exaggerate, if I spoke for a week, the
effect of that experience on my life.
Although I would not wish to dupli-
cate that experience in the life of any
one I loved, yet I do think an enor-
mous gain and blessing will come to
the man who is prepared to fail, at all
cost to himself, rather than say what
he cannot truthfully say.

I shall never forget my sense of

relief when the first gleam of light

came to me. It seems so simple now.

Why had it not come before? I re-



member I had been praying late one
night, and suddenly the fifteenth chap-
ter of St. Luke came to me with new
light. One of the most effective ser-
mons I used to preach was based on
that chapter ; the sermon I always re-
served for the end of my mission work
a dagger for the fifth rib of a man
who had not given in before. And
now I discovered this a new dis-
covery all for myself. If the son had
not been his father's son before he
went into the far country, he would
certainly not have come back ; he
came back because he was a son. His
coming back was coming to his true
self. His smothered self, but his real
self all the same.

I got up in the pulpit and preached
that sermon all over again. He came
back because he was a son ; a man
turned back to God because God was
his Father ; we were to live as the


children of God because we were his
children ; I found new light in the
things I had been repeating over and
over. People began to come back to
the church ; collections increased ; joy
and peace returned to my soul.

I was worried, and still uncertain
about lots of things, but I had got my
feet on the rock. I felt I had some-
thing to say once more. It was then
I found Robertson Frederick W.
Robertson ; he came to me like a
voice from high heaven. I drank him
down as a man shriveled with thirst
alone can drink. I read and re-read
him. I preached him. Unconsciously,
almost, I began to feel how things
should go. Spiritual truth was an evo-
lution ; God had spoken, but He was
speaking still. I began to read Fiske ;
I began to get a grip on the great idea
of evolution ; but it was Robertson
who was the messenger of God to me.


I may say here incidentally that,
years afterwards when I was preaching
in New York when I was rector
here a call came from the New York
Hospital very late one night to see a
dying woman a very rare thing. I
went and found a frail woman of fifty,
perhaps more, in a private room, sur-
rounded with every sign of attention
and refinement, very near death. She
said :

"I would not have sent for you to-
night, but I feel I shall not live until
morning ; and I wanted to say this to
you before I go. I have been attend-
ing St. George's for some years. I
have been a housekeeper in a large
house in this city ; they love me ; they
give me everything that conscience and
friendship can give. I have not had
much money to give ; St. George's
was free, and I have given what I
could ; my name would not have been


of service for I had no time to do work
for the Church, but I have always felt
that, before I died, I wanted to tell
you that I know it was Frederick W.
Robertson who was God's messenger
to you : I knew it would delight you
to know that it was he who brought
me to Him."

Just about when I got well on my
feet again in Toronto, the call came
from St. George's, New York. I then
refused it. I should like to say that,
during the first three years in Toronto,
I had not been able to take one holi-
day. The people were kind to me ;
backed me up loyally ; but there was
a certain party in the church by this
time who wanted me to resign. The
old Dean, whose health was failing
very fast, and to whom all these things
came dimly as to a very old and fad-
ing man, said to me : " Mr. Rainsford,
if you respect yourself, you will re-


sign." I was torn and upset, but I
felt that, before God, I could not re-
sign. I had responsibility for these
people. I had led them to a certain
point, and if I were to leave them
there, I had absolutely failed; I had
led them nowhere. I was bound to
preach nothing except what I believed.
I was bound to get light from God,
and so fill up the hiatus between my
preaching in '78 and in '81. I had
to hold on ; I could not resign.

I took my sick wife and our little
baby to Gloucester, and left them there
by the sea, and took the train back to
Toronto the next morning. I dared
not leave ; I did not know what would
happen if I left. But when I began
to see light and get on my feet again,
I went off for a glorious holiday of
nine weeks in the Rocky Mountains;
and while I was away the call came
from St. George's. Some one, no



doubt, had heard me preach occasion-
ally in the tent, and at ^intervals I
spoke in some church in the States,
but rarely. The St. George's people
did not know anything about the con-
dition of my church in Toronto ; and if
they had investigated towards the end,

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Online LibraryW. S. (William Stephen) RainsfordA preacher's story of his work → online text (page 4 of 9)