Friday, January 29, 2010

God’s Faithfulness Spans The Ages

“Retracing Rev. William Audiss’ Beautiful Steps”

By Rev. John M. Otis

Great, great grandson of William Audiss

Churches of the Reformed Faith for many years have sung the great hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness based upon Lamentations 3:22,23 – “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy Faithfulness. Faithfulness is one of God’s glorious perfections, and being that God is eternal, His faithfulness spans the ages. This perfection is also beautifully portrayed in Psalm 90:1-2 – “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” One of the main tenets of Covenant theology is that our God’s faithfulness is generational. This great truth is reflected in the wonderful promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 17:7 – “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your descendants after you.”

One of the great privileges and blessings in my life unfolded not long ago when I had the opportunity to retrace the steps of the preaching circuit of my maternal great, great grandfather, and to preach in the old Methodist Chapel that he preached in for thirty years before immigrating to America in 1871 with his wife and ten children. William Audiss, a Primitive Methodist circuit preacher, was born in Lincolnshire County England in 1821. He was converted to Christ during a Primitive Methodist revival meeting in 1839 at Little Hale Methodist Chapel in Lincolnshire County. This chapel was first established in 1837. William Audiss in 1840 was burdened to preach the Gospel, which he faithfully did for thirty years in England and then for another thirty-one years in Wisconsin.

For fifty-eight years William Audiss kept a spiritual diary of his preaching in England and in Wisconsin. This diary remained a mystery to me until my maternal aunt revealed its existence to me about twenty-five years ago. My aunt, Lola Audiss Richardson, while visiting the old family farm in Wisconsin was made known of its existence by her brother Eldon Audiss. As told by my aunt, now eighty-six years old, the diary had been given to him as the eldest son by his father. It had been stored in a chest carefully wrapped in a plastic bag. Because of Lola’s strong faith in Christ, her brother showed her the diary and wanted her to have it. As she read it, tears came to her eyes as the remarkable story began to unfold. William Audiss’ love for Christ and passion to see souls saved was glaringly obvious. My aunt had been given a priceless spiritual treasure. As my aunt revealed the diary’s existence to her four daughters, they eventually collaborated together to type it into a booklet as a gift to their mother. It was titled, God Bless This Little Boy: The Diary of William Audiss (1821-1902). Soon afterwards, my aunt Lola sent me a copy of the booklet, knowing that I now was a minister of the Gospel. I have never forgotten the words my aunt Lola said to me about the diary as we were commiserating about how the Lord had marvelously drawn each of us to saving faith. She said, “Nephew John, I believe you and I are Christians today because of the faithful prayers of our godly ancestor. He believed in the power of prayer and committed his children into God’s hands.” As I read the diary, I fully concurred with my aunt’s sentiments. Here is what William Audiss entered into his diary, while still in England – “I feel and increasing desire for the conversion of the young people. It is on these that depends our future posterity. The conversion of my own children has become my daily prayer. I hope they speedily be converted and become more useful than I have been” (May 4, 1862). He also writes, “Amongst the many pleasing incidents that afforded me pleasure at this time was a letter from my two daughters, who were living with a lady in London, that they had been to the Primitive Methodist church to hear the gospel and that God had saved them and they had joined the church and were trying to do what they could to advance the cause of Christ in that great city. This caused me to shed many tears of joy and to praise God for answering prayer in the conversion of two of my children. Hallelujah. My daily prayer is that God may save all of my children, which is ten, and I believe He will because He has promised and I believe His Word” (June 11, 1865).

While my great, great grandfather was not from the Reformed tradition, and despite being of the revivalist tradition as the Primitive Methodists were in the early 19th Century, it is noteworthy that he speaks in some ways as one who understood certain aspects of covenant theology. Though he didn’t mention Acts 2:38-39 in his entry about believing that God will eventually save all his children, he clearly states that “God promised and I believe His Word.” The promise he probably was referring to is what Acts 2:38-39 states, “ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far of, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself. He did baptize children as a minister; in fact, he baptized his grandson, William Alfred Audiss (my grandfather) on September 6, 1885 in Wisconsin. All that he says in his diary is, “ Moundville, John 3:16 and afterwards administered the right of Christian baptism on Frank Elmer Mason and William Alfred Audiss (born March 31, 1885). It is ironic that my grandfather was born on the spiritual birthday of the Rev. William Audiss, who states that he was converted on March 31, 1839. While we know that physical baptism does not inherently save any man, we do know that God’s covenantal promises do flow in generational terms. And if we are faithful to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and bathe them in prayer, we should normally expect to see our children saved.

Since my reading of William Audiss’ spiritual diary, I thought that it would be a marvelous thing one day to travel to England and try to retrace all the towns that he preached in. About five years ago, using the diary (which is very detailed in where he preached), I used the Internet to see if those towns still existed, and sure enough, I found everyone one of the forty-three towns he preached in.

As wonderful an idea that it was of retracing those footsteps and reading about some of the amazing stories that happened in some of these towns, I figured that it was just a pipe dream. Then, God providentially began to move very recently to bring the dream to a reality. Since I have a small publishing ministry, I decided to eventually reprint the diary into an actual book with additional information so that it would have a more lasting form for future generations. I had not talked to or seen my aunt Lola for about 35 years, since she lived on the West coast. I called her on the telephone to reestablish our communication and to tell her that later in the year I was going to put the diary into a book, and was there any other additional information she might have on William Audiss. She sent me a booklet she had that was done in 1987 on the 150th anniversary of the establishing of Little Hale Methodist Chapel by a gentleman in England. It was wonderful to talk with my godly eighty-six year old aunt after all those years. When I concluded our phone conversation, the desire to get to England became more intense than ever. I told my wife later that day that someway, somehow I needed to find the financial resources in the next couple of years to get to England; otherwise, at fifty-seven years of age, I might not ever make it. Then, the hand of God became manifest.

It was less than a week later that I received an unexpected telephone call from a gentleman from Ireland. He had heard my radio interview on Freemasonry where I was the guest on a New York City Christian program in December of 2007. The program was featuring my upcoming book that I was publishing on Freemasonry. This man from Ireland asked me if I would be willing to go to London, England and participate in a televised debate with a leading English Freemason on English Christian television. The debate was on whether Freemasonry was compatible with the Christian Faith. Since I was publishing a book on the issue and was involved in this subject on a denominational level as far back as 1985 with the Presbyterian Church In America, he thought I was a natural choice. I said I would come, but he said, “There is a hitch. I would have to pay my own way to England, for the station did not have the financial resources to bring me from America.” I said, “That is a big hitch, for I don’t personally have the financial resources to do this. I told him that if God wanted me to come, then the Lord would have to provide me some financial benefactors to make it happen.” Well, within a week I had my benefactors.

Since I was going to London, there was no way that I would get that close and not retrace those footsteps of William Audiss. Lincolnshire County is about 125 miles north of London in the Eastern center of England. As I researched the geographical location of all the towns in Lincolnshire, the only way I could make this happen was to take a train from London to Nottingham, rent a car there and drive to Lincolnshire County forty miles away to begin to retrace those steps. Yes, I would be renting a car in England where the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car and where they drive on the left side of the road with who knows what kind of traffic laws. The idea of trusting myself not to unconsciously and instinctively default back to driving on the right side was rather an intimidating thought. But, as the old adage states, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I must say that I was frequently praying, “Lord, protect me and protect the English from this American driver.” In a period of three days, I put 327 miles on that vehicle retracing those spiritual footsteps of my great, great grandfather.

I was determined to be prepared. I had printed out detailed maps of Lincolnshire from mapquest. Many times, those maps saved me from becoming really lost. One of the most incredible things is that Little Hale, Lincolnshire, England had not changed virtually at all in its road infrastructure in over 167 years! In one of my resource materials from my aunt, there was an 1841 map of Little Hale, England with William Audiss’ name on it where he rented some property. I brought up Little Hale, England on Google Earth with a satellite picture of the little town (still no more than about 350 people after 167 years). I was dumbfounded in what I saw. I could virtually superimpose the 2008 map of Little Hale over the 1841 map. They were virtually identical! The same bends in the road and number of roads had not changed in 167 years. Even the pasture lands surrounding the town were essentially the same. It was like stepping back in time nearly two centuries.

The story becomes even more amazing. On the 1841 map, it showed approximately where the Methodist Chapel was located. After 167 years, I figured it was long gone. I thought about standing in the spot and doing open air preaching like my great, great grandfather. But, as it would turn out, there would be no open air preaching, for the chapel was still in existence and was functional! I discovered this fact from research on the Internet from the local historical society in Lincolnshire. I brought up the local historical society for the purpose of finding if they had some archived information on Little Hale Chapel. Lo and behold, I discovered that the historical society holds frequent meetings in Little Hale Chapel. So, I knew that it was still existing. There was a telephone number and an email address of the secretary of the society, a Mr. Alf Wilkinson. Praise God for the Internet. I called Alf and told him who I was and that I was coming to Little Hale to retrace my ancestor’s steps. I said, “ I want to personally give them a diary that they probably have no idea that exists, which would have great historical significance for the area.” He responded, “You mean, the diary called ‘God Bless This Little Boy’ done for Lola Richardson?” I was almost speechless. How could he have a copy of this diary? Later, I would find out how he acquired a copy. Also, Alf Wilkinson told me that he and his wife were actually two of the six members of Little Hale Chapel!

From the diary, William Audiss mentioned that on September 26, 1841 he preached two sermons on the Lord’s Day at Little Hale Chapel. I realized that I was going to be in the area on September 26. Would it not be incredible if I could preach in the same chapel that my ancestor oversaw for thirty-one years on the anniversary of messages he gave 167 years ago? I asked Alf if I could have the honor of conducting a special service in the chapel on a Friday evening. He said he would check with the congregation and the circuit and get back with me. A few days later, he wrote saying that they would love to have me preach to them and that they would advertise the event for local Christians to attend – that the great, great grandson of one of Lincolnshire’s most beloved preachers, who was also a preacher, would give a message at Little Hale Chapel. Not only was I going to retrace the footsteps of William Audiss in Lincolnshire, but I was going to stand in the same pulpit and preach the Gospel he preached 167 years ago. My dream was becoming greater than I had ever imagined.

I was to preach at 7:30 P.M., but I would get another pleasant surprise. An eighty -year old lady, Mabel Priestley, who was from a long-standing family in Little Hale, would say to me, “Pastor Otis, would you like to see where Rev. Audiss lived in town and where his wheelwright shop is?” She said, “It is less than a five minute walk from here.” I was able to see the exterior of the house where he lived with his young bride starting in 1847 and the wheelwright shop next to it. The boards of the wheelwright shop looked like the original boards with the old nails. Not only did I not know whether the chapel was still in existence, but I had no idea that his house and workshop were still standing. William by trade built wagons during the week, and preached on the Lord’s Day. He would regularly walk 10-20 miles and even further every Lord’s Day to preach in one of the chapels throughout the county. William Audiss would write, “I am now 21 years of age and now free from the bond with an ungodly master. That yoke is now gone. The past three years have been a time of persecution, temptation, sorrow and trial, and very laborious. I was working hard all the week at my business, and then traveling on Sunday to preach the gospel, many journeys from 10 to 20 miles on foot, and preaching twice, and sometimes three times, and many of the appointments at this time were in the open air, and I had very little help. The preacher had the singing, praying, and preaching to do and sometimes lost a meal time at that. Coming home at midnight, faint and weary, but had to be at work at six o’clock the next morning. Many times I felt more fit for medical aid and rest than work. But God was my great help – physically and mentally. I never lost an hour’s work by my hard labours on the Sabbath day. But I got a great many wonderful blessings, and saw many souls converted to God. Hallelujah” (December 2, 1842).

I had brought with me a digital camcorder to document all my journeys, and I was filming all of this unfolding of history. Mabel had given me a key to the chapel earlier, so I re-enacted what it would have been like for William Audiss with his family to walk out of his rented house, check out the wagon shop, and walk down the same road on Chapel Lane to the chapel and preach.

Concerning his preaching circuit, his modus operandi was to go to a town sometimes with a fellow brother Primitive Methodist and simply start singing hymns and then preaching in the open fields. Crowds would gather, and interested persons would be encouraged to go to a local house for a prayer meeting and love feast where personal evangelism would continue. It was in this context that William Audiss said many souls would be converted.

From his diary, William Audiss recorded just prior to his immigration to America that within the thirty-one years of ministry in Lincolnshire County, he had visited 43 towns, and preached 1708 sermons. Concerning the miles traveled, he states, “The miles I traveled to and from these places was 10,504 miles and the most part on foot, but I have never regretted. I shall never repay the good Lord for what He has done; for if I had my life to do over again, I would do more if I could” (1871).

The story of William Audiss’ life and the impact upon future generations is surely a tale of God’s faithfulness that spans the ages. He would passionately describe his first conviction of sin as a nine year old boy, where at a Primitive Methodist prayer meeting he remembered them praying for him, “God bless this little boy.” Though William’s parents were not Christians, he recalled visiting his godly grandparents as a child. William would write, “They, being good old Christian people, and as all good old Christian people do, before they retired at night had family worship. The old gentleman read the scriptures and then they both prayed and very earnestly prayed for their children, and particularly did they pray that God would bless this little boy and make him good and make him a blessing in the world. This made me feel as before and to wish I was a Christian. I was now about ten years of age “ (1840).

William would describe how he fell into the ways of the world until he was 18 years old. He mentioned that on a Sabbath Day in 1839 that he and others bent on religious persecution would attend a little cottage in Helpringham (only a mile from Little Hale) were an old Primitive Methodist preacher would preach in a most earnest and faithful manner, warning sinners to flee from the wrath to come and pointing them to the Savior of sinners. During my visit, I found the little chapel in Helpringham where William Audiss felt the conviction of sin. As I was filming the place of this little chapel, I could not help but see the contrast between it and the massive 14th Century edifice only a hundred yards away of a now Church of England building. In a town of less than a thousand people stood this incredible ancient church building. A stranger in Helpringham earlier in the day told me, “Yes, that is a beautiful piece of architecture, but nothing much is happening inside.” Within a radius of 10 miles and in small towns were no less than about ten of these massive 14th Century church buildings. Apparently, the Lord of the manor during the Middle Ages had these churches built for his manor’s inhabitants.

William Audiss would describe how God would direct a good Christian man to speak to him about his soul. The man would invite him to a revival meeting at Little Hale Chapel. It would be in the Little Hale Chapel where on a Sunday night that God would burden his heart to repent of his sins and give his life to Christ. William writes about that evening “O, give me the blessing of pardon – the evidence of my acceptance and I will give my soul, body, and all that I have and are to Thee, and I will serve Thee the best I can all the days of my life. And while thus wrestling with God, and consecrating my all to Him the burden of my heart rolled away. And such a flood of joy sprung up in my heart I have never been able to describe. This I believe was the new birth the Savior taught Nicodemus, when He said, ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth and Thou hearest the sound thereof , but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3:8). Old things were cast away and all things became new. I then could sing with others. My soul is now united to Christ, the living vine. His grace I long have slated but now I feel Him mine. I was to God a stranger until Jesus took me in, and freed my soul from danger and pardoned my sins” (1839).

While his theological education obviously could have been much expanded and improved, for he was without any formal training, William Audiss made the most of the light that was entrusted unto him. His preaching and others like him of the Primitive Methodists focused upon exposing their listeners to the reality of their sins and calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. Essentially, he would be viewed today as fundamentally an evangelist. In his own words, he said, “A great deal of our work was missioning new places, holding our services in the open air until we could do better” (September 3, 1854).

One of the most powerful entries in his diary was when he was engaged in open air preaching in the town of Orbling, which was about five miles from Little Hale. As I visited that town, I went to an open field nearby to get a sense of what it must have been like for William Audiss to arrive in a town and start preaching in the open field. The following is one of the more powerful stories of his preaching. William Audiss writes, “Billingboro and Orbling, 10 mile walk, spoke twice. These were Mission places. Preached in the open air, two large congregations; powerful time. Whilst I was singing down the street of the latter place an old magistrate offered an ungodly man a sum of money to go and drive me out of the town. He accepted the offer and started to do his work. But when he arrived I was preaching and God was wonderfully blessing the Word. The Word went with power to his heart. He was thoroughly awakened to a sense of his danger and returned home with a determination to lead a new life. A short time later, he got converted and afterwards became a local preacher. Glory to God, one more soul for Christ. Hallelujah” (December 26, 1841).

William Audiss would make the decision to leave England after much prayer and God’s providential provision in the sale of his business when very difficult economic times swept England, affecting his wheelwright business. Apparently, many had immigrated to America, and some of his relatives had immigrated to Wisconsin.

A very touching entry in the diary are comments about his last two sermons in Little Hale Chapel. He preached on Ezekiel 33:7-11 and Hebrews 13:14. William writes, “Here I tried to remind my dear friends for the last time that I had acted as a watchman over them for 24 years. I had tried to live before them as a Christian man. I had faithfully warned them of the consequences of sin, even eternal damnation. I had showed them again and again that God had no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but would rather they would all return, repent, and live. I told them that they knew I had pointed them again and again to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. And now for the last time in this world, I exhort you one and all to that Saviour who will save to the uttermost all who will come unto Him. My dear friends, I beg of you to meet me in Heaven. This was an impressive time, many wept and many promised they would meet me in Heaven” (April 16, 1871).

In 1871 William Audiss with his wife and ten children would get on a train at Heckington Station, only about three miles away, and go to Liverpool to set sail for New York and then eventually to Wisconsin. I saw the train station, and it probably has not changed much in 150 years. I videoed the area like all the others, taking footage of the railroad tracks that would take him to the New World, where a new legacy would begin for another 31 years before his death in 1902. He would never return to England, but his legacy had been left. The Sleaford Gazette, a local newspaper, would carry his departure, mentioning that there were many who bid his family farewell with many tears, that they would be sadly missed, as indeed they were (Sleaford Gazette, May 6, 1871).

So, what would I preach on as the great, great grandson on the 167th anniversary of some sermons he preached in Little Hale Chapel? I must preach on God’s faithfulness that spans the ages, for His covenantal faithfulness to one of His servants. In my sermon, I had to refer to Psalm 127:3-5 – “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gates. I said, “If I could speak to my great, great grandfather, what would I say to him? I would say - Great, great granddaddy, one of the arrows that you shot into the future so many years ago has traversed the great ocean and found its mark in the land of your origin. Your great, great grandson has brought back to this place the Gospel you loved so much. The circle has been completed.”

I had brought to England forty copies of literature that I had written on knowing the Gospel, a Gospel tract, and a booklet on being prayer warriors for God. I said that I was not taking them back to America, but would you see that they are distributed throughout the county. I was told sometime later by Alf Wilkinson that they were all distributed per my request. I would leave a copy of the bookDelivered By Angels: God’s Providence For An American Soldier In Iraq that I co-authored with my son Brian Otis about God’s faithfulness to spare my son in the war in Iraq. I left it for Alf Wilkinson as the secretary of the historical society to put it in their historical archives with these words in the front cover of the book – “"This book was written by Brian Otis, the great, great, great grandson of the Rev. William Audiss and presented to Little Hale Methodist Chapel on September 26, 2008 by the great, great grandson - Rev. John M. Otis."

We have lost the importance in our culture of diaries. Maybe its due to the onset of modern technology. However, we each should leave some kind of written legacy for our posterity, particularly those of us who are preachers. Generations yet to come need to know the past that has played such a vital role in creating present realities. It is one of the reasons why I have for years emphasized a writing ministry. Not only can I minister to more people, but I can leave a legacy for my own posterity long after I have gone the way of all men. Future generations need to know the battles that I fought for His sake. Faithful stories need to be remembered so that our glorious God receives all the praise.

A reporter for the Sleaford Standard, the new name for the same newspaper that carried the story of William Audiss’ departure from England, would take a picture of me in front of Little Hale chapel and write a very nice article in the October 8, 2008 edition with the title – “Preaching Runs In the Family: American minister follows in relative’s footsteps.”

Several Scripture passages are noteworthy regarding my trip to England. Psalm 45:17 says, “I will cause Thy name to be remembered in all generations; therefore the peoples will give Thee thanks forever and ever.” The diary of Rev. William Audiss was more than a documentation for himself of his ministry. I don’t know if he fully realized the magnitude of his diary when he decided to keep it for fifty-eight years. I have an inkling that he did it also for future generations to know of God’s faithfulness to him. He knew as he wrote that the children are the future. God would preserve that diary for over a century and a half so that grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren would know of the power of God that saves souls. His posterity has come to understand and relish his memory. How true are the words of Psalm 102:18 – “This will be written for the generation to come; that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord. My aunt Lola would shed tears as she would discover for the first time about her great grandfather. I would shed my own tears as the great, great grandson would read and marvel of his dedication, zeal, and faithfulness to preach the Gospel. God would raise up through his bloodline another preacher in myself, who would cross the vast waters to the Old World, proclaiming the faithfulness of God to the place of origin. In my presence, God would confirm to the world that His faithfulness to William Audiss indeed spans the centuries.

Romans 10: 14-15 states, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things.” For three days, I traveled 327 miles following the beautiful steps of my great, great grandfather. I beheld with my own eyes the legacy that he left. I would remember what Psalm 44:1 says, “O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, the work that Thou didst in their days, in the days of old. I have remembered; I have marveled; and I have indeed given thanks to our great God. May I be found faithful to the end as was my great, great grandfather. May others yet created remember all our days of old and the battles we fought in our time for His glory.

*** For those interested in seeing the sermon Rev. John M. Otis preached in the pulpit of his great, great grandfather in Little Hale, Lincolnshire, England, it can be viewed on pastor Otis’ church website at

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