One charge that was (and still is) brought against the fledgling Pentecostal movement, was that it was built more on experience than biblical truth. The old pioneers, it was said, experienced what they believed were supernatural manifestations and then moulded their doctrine around these. Hence they fell into the error of believing for experiences and gifts which, it was thought by most evangelical Christians, to have passed away with the first apostles.
However, careful study of the history of the early Pentecostal movement proves that, while this might have been true of a small number of fanatics, it was certainly not true of the vast number of pioneering leaders, whose experiences were grounded in deep study of the Bible, which was then passed on to others. In fact, one of the reasons the Pentecostal denominations themselves came into being was to preserve sound doctrine and protect young churches against roving fanatics.
One man who was enormously influential in safeguarding the young Pentecostal revival and setting experiences within the biblical context was Thomas Myerscough. Although he is now perhaps the most overlooked and forgotten of all the great fathers of the 20th century revival of the supernatural that occurred in Britain, in many ways he can be counted as one of the most influential.
An exceptional and painstaking Bible teacher and pastor, he was also an illustrious mentor for some of the greatest Pentecostal ministries of the next generation, including Elim pioneers George Jeffreys, R E Darragh and E J Phillips, together with W J Boyd of China. In addition there were the outstanding pioneers of the Congo Evangelistic Mission, WFP Burton and James Salter, and others, who were also mentored by Myerscough.
In an age where the ministry of the apostle is rightly being re-assessed, the story of Myerscough’s influences to the next generation might make us wonder whether we need also to value the ministry of this pastor-teacher, whose application of the words of the apostle Paul, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others’ (2 Tim 2:2), led to him becoming the leading one of the outstanding mentors of the young British Pentecostal movement.
Certainly the most noticeable part of Myerscough’s ministry, seen from a historical perspective appears, to have been the fact that he birthed leaders. He was a faithful man who set an example to younger people as to what a leader was and, by teaching and example, raised up numbers of leaders around him, people who would go out to the far corners of the earth to preach the gospel and plant churches, confident in the knowledge that their spiritual mentor would always be standing behind them.
Very little is known about Thomas Myerscough’s early years, apart from the fact that he was born in 1858 and came to Christ in 1874 at the age of 16. He was married, although his wife may have died before his Pentecostal days, leaving him with one son and one daughter.
During his early years he was associated with the Brethren evangelical Christians in Preston, and certainly spent quite a bit of time in open-air preaching in the town. The subsequent influence of Brethren teaching on the British Pentecostal movement may at least be partly put down to Myerscough’s early days in the Brethren.
His undoubted leadership qualities coming to the fore, Myerscough became leader of a small group of believers called the ‘Preston Evangelistic Association’ (PAE), which met regularly in his home for Bible study and outreach. Among these young men were future missionaries William Burton, James Salter and Edmund ‘Teddy’ Hodgson.
Like most of his evangelical peers of the day in the Brethren, Myerscough was initially sceptical of the new Pentecostal movement, believing that supernatural manifestations had ceased with the apostles. However, when challenged to investigate it both scripturally and experientially, Myerscough and some of his group had to confess that, on visiting a Pentecostal meeting where the gifts of the Spirit were in operation, they had never seen such a manifestation of the power of God in any Christian gathering.
Following his experience of this meeting, Myerscough and his young students did a thorough search of the scriptures and became convinced that God had not withdrawn the supernatural gifts from the church. In fact, they concluded, as the Holy Spirit had not been withdrawn from the earth, then neither had his gifts! Hence, in 1909, after spending nine months praying about these matters, Thomas Myerscough attended the Whitsuntide meetings held by Rev A A Boddy in Sunderland, where he received the baptism in the Spirit with speaking in other tongues.
From the beginning of this experience, Myerscough stood for what he believed to be the true scriptural Pentecostal experience and was soon receiving many invitations as a keynote speaker. Given his outstanding qualities as a Bible scholar and teacher, he was the obvious choice for the care of the official Bible school of the newly formed Pentecostal Missionary Union (PMU) in Preston in 1910. It was of course really an extension of the work he had already been doing in his own home, and by March 1911 he had 25 students from Britain and even from Europe. From there, leaders were sent out all over the world to preach the gospel and establish churches.
According to Pentecostal historian, Donald Gee, “a Pentecostal Centre was established in Preston that has been second to none, perhaps in all the world, for its far-reaching fruitfulness to the glory of God.” Myerscough continued with this Bible school in Preston until the school officially moved to London in 1915. It would eventually merge with the newly formed Assemblies of God in 1925.
Incredibly, during this time, Myerscough, like most Pentecostal leaders then, was not ‘full time’ in the ministry but worked as an estate agent. He himself had no thought of starting a church, but seeing the young believers under him were finding it hard to find like-minded fellowship, in 1911 he began a Pentecostal Mission in a large upper room in the centre of Preston.
In the early years the church held Bible studies three times a week and open air meetings every Saturday, where zealous young preachers could be tried out in the face of hecklers. Further churches were started in places like Coppull, Charley, Wigan and Bamber Bridge, often as a result of open air work carried out by young people from the Preston assembly. Myerscough would visit the new churches to help and strengthen them in the word of God.
Every year the Preston church would hold a convention which was attended by a crowd of around 500 people. Myerscough would sit and lead the worship from a portable organ, the same kind as used by DL Moody’s worship leader, Ira Sankey. Over the years thousands of people came to Preston to hear leading Pentecostal preachers.
One close bond that Myerscough formed was with the young William FP Burton, a missionary pioneer of apostolic dimensions, through whose ministry and leadership thousands of churches were planted in the (then) Belgian Congo. Later Myerscough became the secretary and treasurer of Burton’s Congo Evangelistic Mission, and the Preston conventions eventually included one day set aside especially for missionary work in the Congo. On that day special collections would be taken and challenges would be made for young people to give themselves to missionary service.
However, lest it be thought that the actual selection process for missionary work was anything less than rigorous, reference must be made to the account the veteran Congo missionary, the late Fred Ramsbottom, gave of his meeting with Myerscough, when he and his wife, Isabel, applied to be missionaries:
“He [Myerscough] sat rocking slightly in his old leather chair as we told him about our calling to the Congo, and when we’d finished our story he simply said, ‘Hmm,’ his eyes fixed somewhere above our heads. ‘And how many souls have you won for the Lord Jesus Christ?’ he said finally.
“We totted up hurriedly. ‘About a dozen.’
“’Marvellous, marvellous,’ he said, rubbing his long beard lingeringly with both hands. ‘Well then. Go back home, and when you have won as many again come back and see me.’ This was one eventuality we really hadn’t bargained for. But beneath the awful feeling of deflation we had coming out of his office, there was a gritty determination to do what was required, and in a few months we were back in Preston once again.
“Tom Myerscough listened quietly, as he had before. ‘Marvellous,’ he said, smiling. ‘Marvellous. Now would you mind going away and winning twelve more . . . ?’ It began to dawn on us that in the Mission’s view more was needed to make a missionary than simple zeal!”
Another protege of Myerscough whose ministry was distinguished by apostolic signs and wonders was George Jeffreys, the founder of Elim. Jeffreys’ first biographer states that, “His teacher, when at the Preston Bible school, was the one beloved about all. The name of Thomas Myerscough stands in many circles as a synonym for sound, saying and scriptural exposition of the word of God.”
Myerscough was also a close friend of the remarkable but eccentric Smith Wigglesworth, despite the wide difference in their respective ministries. Towards the end of his life, in 1931, he accompanied Smith on a preaching tour of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. He was moved with joy to see the huge crowds that gathered, with thousands of people coming to hear the visitors.
One vital role played by Myerscough was in the formation of the Assemblies of God movement in Britain. After the First World War there were many small independent Pentecostal churches scattered around the British Isles which were vulnerable, among other things, to false teaching. Gathering them together into a group of interdependent churches would help safeguard the testimony and aid mutual encouragement.
Although Myerscough did not feel able to lead this himself, he certainly leant his weight and experience to those – like John Nelson Parr and Howard Carter – who did. He was one of the keynote speakers at the first Assemblies of God convention held in 1924 and he served on the Executive Council for the next nine years until his death in 1932.
A man of many gifts, Myerscough excelled at preaching, teaching, music, writing and administration. Yet he remained free from personal agendas, and wrong motives, never attempting to control or manipulate the ministries of others. He not only taught the scriptures but lived them out in his own life, testing all things by the word of truth. One of the last statements he was heard to utter was, “Buy the truth!”
Myerscough was active for the Lord almost up to the end, passing away after a short illness on a Sunday morning during the 1932 Preston convention. His funeral service – attended by hundreds – was conducted by his old friend, Smith Wigglesworth. Unlike his friend, Myerscough has been largely forgotten by history, but eternity alone will reveal the vital role played by this outstanding yet self-effacing man in the service of God and in the role he played in mentoring and promoting the ministry of others.
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