WHAT AN IMPRESSION George Whitefield, that flaming evangelist, made on the colonies when he visited in 1770 and blazed through New England preaching the gospel. Following his death, the Holy Spirit “sent an arrow from the quiver of the Almighty” to touch the heart of a young Benjamin Randall, forever changing the course of his life. Randall was converted and began to evangelize the New England states preaching Christ’s doctrine of free will, “If any man will come unto me...” His message marked the beginning of Free Will Baptist evangelism in America.
Fiery evangelist John Colby, sometimes dubbed the D. L. Moody of Free Will Baptists, preached and sang the praises of God in more than 3,000 miles of travel. His passionate preaching exhorted listeners to “flee the wrath to come.” He believed it was most imperative for men to be “born again.” Colby died in 1817, literally burning himself out for the Lord at the young age of thirty.
David Marks traveled more than 42,000 miles and attended 3,489 meetings, preaching and testifying about the grace of God to thousands of men, women, and children. It was during Marks’ studies at Oberlin College in Ohio that another evangelist and friend, a professor named Charles Finney, felt the profound impression of the message of free will and free grace. David Marks died in Oberlin on December 1, 1845 at 40 years old.
When Dr. Gipsy Smith, Jr. began to preach in 1915 at the age of 32, he was sent to a small town of 800 people. The town had two churches, one Baptist and the other Free Will Baptist. Smith preached a week in each church, and revival broke out in both churches and exploded across the region.
Many Free Will Baptists think these stories of Free Will Baptist men and women are just relics of information from the dusty pages of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Free Will Baptists have a rich history in evangelism, one that has continued through the labors of Fred Warner, Bobby Jackson, Bob Shockey, Laura Belle Barnard, Rupert and Gilbert Pixley, Floyd Wolfenbarger, David Crowe, and too many others to mention.
The Free Will Baptist heritage of evangelism must be passed down to a new generation. We cannot become insulated and isolated in our churches and fail to share the truth of Christ to the men, women, and children that surround us. Let’s live up to our evangelism reflection and be faithful, fervent, and persistent to reach others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Charles Smith has ministered in churches in Texas, Arkansas, and pastored two churches, Northeast FWB in Shawnee and First FWB in Vian, both in Oklahoma. He is currently preaching in different churches and is involved in a writing ministry.