Robert Eugene Sparks 1844-1918

John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]

Of all the notable men involved at the inception of the work that later became known as Echoes of Service, it is likely that the name Robert Eugene Sparks would be largely unknown. Yet his contribution to that work in its formative years was considerable, as was his knowledge of, and interest in, the work of missionaries abroad.

Robert Sparks was born on September 17th, 1844, the son of a Dublin doctor. As one of a family of four children, Sparks did not follow his father into medicine but instead took up law. Little is recorded of Sparks’ early years, his education, his conversion or early life in assembly fellowship, and this is perhaps typical of a man who carried on his work quietly and unobtrusively. Following his legal training as a solicitor, Sparks was employed at the Head Office of the Ulster Bank in Waring Street, Belfast from 1874-94. His role was officially described as a ‘law clerk’ but, as a solicitor, he provided the interface between the commercial and the legal needs of the customers of the bank, although quite what that involved is unclear. However, a bank with branches all over Ireland was likely to give Robert Sparks plenty to do.

On February 6th, 1877 he married Catherine Rose Elliott at Alma Road Chapel, Clifton, Bristol. The couple settled in Belfast and, later, the assembly at Holywood was commenced in their house and Sparks was one of the two treasurers. It is here that Sparks’ interest in missionary activity was first noted. The assembly was generous in its giving to missionary work and, to support intelligent giving to meet specific need, Sparks developed a wide knowledge of the mission field, even in days when communication was much more difficult than today. Initially, the gifts were channelled through the organization that published The Missionary Echo which, in 1891, became known as Echoes of Service. Apart from his generosity to support gospel work abroad, Sparks also took a keen interest in the gospel in his own land. In 1891, he built Apsley Street Hall, Belfast, and rented it to that assembly. After his death they were able to purchase it from his executors.

Sparks was no stranger to tragedy. After only eight years of married life his first wife died, leaving Robert with three children. Although the circumstances are not recorded, only one of those children survived, a son, John Elliott. He followed his grand-father into medicine, qualifying as a surgeon at the University of London. It may be that his father’s interest in the mission field influenced John and developed in him a desire to serve the Lord abroad. Thus, in June 1906 he set out for Angola. As Stunt et al record, ‘On the way from the coast to Okapango (Capango) there was a lot of illness in the party. He was indefatigable in tending others but then was stricken with the illness from which he died’.1 Although Sparks was naturally shocked at the loss of his only son, he believed John had followed the Lord’s guidance in the decision and accepted it as of the Lord.

In 1893, Sparks married Janie Bogue. Robert and Janie shared a keen interest in missionary work, Janie joining her husband in the work at Holywood. She began a missionary sewing class and cooperated enthusiastically in her husband’s and stepson’s missionary interests. With Sparks’ interest in, and commitment to, the support of labourers upon the mission field, it is not surprising that Henry Dyer2 approached him about joining the work of Echoes at Bath. Sparks gave himself to prayer, and on October 6th, 1894 the family moved to 6 Widcombe Crescent, Bath. 

With his legal training and experience, Sparks’ first task at Echoes was to develop an appropriate framework for the holding of various properties overseas which had been vested in the Editors. He was involved with such organizations as the Continental Lands Company Ltd., and, later, Stewards Company Ltd., being a director of the former and managing director and secretary of the latter.

One matter that concerned both Bennet and Sparks was the issue of succession, particularly necessary in regard to the aging Dr. Maclean. Working carefully and prayerfully over a period of time, they were both instrumental in bringing to Echoes two men whose contribution to the work would be significant – W. R. Lewis and W. E. Vine.

Robert Sparks was not a gospel preacher or a well-known Bible teacher.3 To many readers he will be a complete unknown, but the legacy he has left is considerable, if evident more in organizational structures, trusts, and properties. The challenge of his life is simple. He brought his wealth, his professional expertise and his energy and devoted it to the Lord’s work for over twenty years, before, in the closing years of his life, preparing others and passing the work on to them. Are we prepared to demonstrate the same devotion and to develop others who show promise and gift.

 

Endnotes

1 W. T. Stunt, A. Pulleng, A. Pickering, G. P. Simmons, D. K. Boak, S. F. Warren, Turning the World Upside Down, Upperton Press, 1972, pg. 52. 
2 Henry Dyer was one of the brethren involved in the early stages of the work at Echoes. At this time, the others were William Henry Bennet and John Lindsay MacLean. However, it would appear that this approach to Sparks, which took place at a Missionary Conference in Belfast, was Dyer’s personal exercise derived from his concern to find a helper for MacLean. 
3 This should not detract from Beattie’s comment that Sparks’ ministry was ‘of a kind that was always practical and helpful’. David J Beattie, Brethren, the story of a great recovery, John Ritchie, 1944, pg. 156.

AUTHOR PROFILE: JOHN BENNETT is a member of the Precious Seed committee.

There are 23 articles in
ISSUE (2018, Volume 73 Issue 3)

1 Kings

Angolan Literature Fund: 20 years of service

The Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Character Studies in the Book of Proverbs - Part 3: The fool and his friends

Editorial

The Epistle to the Colossians - Part 2

The Gospel of Mark - Part 3

His Coming – A Guide to Future Events - Various Authors

Image Cover - Volume 73 Number 3

Lessons from Old Testament Characters in James

The Messianic Psalms - Psalm 45: The Coming King

New Testament Priests, Speak Up! - Mike Stephenson

Personalities in the Nativity - Joseph: The Husband of Mary

Question Time

Reaching out to your neighbours with the gospel - Noah's Ark Replica

Regeneration

Robert Eugene Sparks 1844-1918

The Desert Shall Rejoice

Their Finest Hour - Peter

Truth and Training from Titus - Stephen G. Baker

The Twelve Tribes of Israel: Reuben

Why are there so many Bible versions today?

Word For Today: Skandalon

This article is not part of a series

There are 101 articles by this author

Hezekiah’s Confession

The Central Role of the King

On-Line Bible version 1.41

Hezekiah’s Revival

Day by Day Bible Promises

Light & Life Literature

Editorial - ‘We be brethren’, Gen. 13. 8.

Hezekiah’s Revival

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Editorial

The Precious Seed Web Site

Day by Day Divine Titles

God and the Nations

Eternal Security

Editorial - ‘Who is Apollos?’ 1 Cor. 3. 6.

Editorial - ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil’, 1 Thess. 5. 22.

The Chuch in Smyrna

Eternal Security

Day by Day - Bible Commands

The King in Psalm 45

Man’s Attitude to Christ

All Things

The Fear of the Lord

Approved

Could you ever love me again? Bob Cretney

Day by Day - Pictures and Parables

Editorial

Editorial

Editorial

Book Reviews

Prayer Moves Mountains John Williams

Editorial

R. B. Jones – Gospel Ministry in Turbulent Times N. Gibbard

Bible and Church Conference 2009 Peter Williams, Dirk Jongkind, Simon Gathercole

Christian Devotedness Anthony Norris Groves

Editorial

A Practical Theology of Missions: Dispelling the Mystery; Recovering the Passion

Psalm 119 For Life: Living Today In The Light Of The Word

Empty Arms Keren Baker

The Church the Body of Christ

On wings of prayer

Editorial - Do I seek to please men?

Laridian Bible Software

King Asa

King Jehoshaphat

Baptism Jack Hay

The Heavenly Physician Rommel Ghossain

Editorial - ‘For if ye do these things ye shall never fall’

Editorial - ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love’, Gal. 5. 22

e-magazine

The Tabernacle and the Offerings Albert Leckie

Roses, Marys & Others Betty Holt

Editorial - ‘Many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them’, Mark 2.

“Thank You, King James” – the tough life of Robert Hicks James Hastings

Editorial - ‘Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’, Matt. 28. 20.

Editorial - ‘Apollos . . . mighty in the scriptures’, Acts 18. 24.

Amaziah – ‘thine heart hath lifted thee up’

Editorial

Editorial

Working with Senior Citizens - Part 2

Editorial - ‘Touched with the feeling of our infirmities’, Heb 4. 15.

David Livingstone

Editorial - ‘In whom we have . . . the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace’, E

Voice in the Darkness - Della Letkeman

The Messiah in the Temple - Roger Liebi

Show & Tell Colin D. Jones

Life in the Big Story – Your Place in God’s Unfolding Plan - Heidi Johnston

Led by His Hand - Malcolm Coombes, ex- R.N.

The Saviour God and His Servant King - Malcolm C. Davis.

Frederick Stanley Arnot: 1858-1914

Editorial - ‘Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others’, Phil

Making Disciples – The Thessalonian Way Tim Mather

Biblical Principles of Leadership - Dr. Alexander Kurian

Possessing the Inheritance – a Concise Commentary on the Book of Joshua Malcolm C. Davis

Replacement Theology David Dunlap

Editorial

William Rhodes Lewis 1877-1964

Editorial

J. Charleton Steen, 1865 - 1931

Editorial -

Editorial

The Prophet Gad

William Trotter 1818-1865

The Epistle to Philemon - Part 1

Epistle to Philemon

Editorial

Henry Craik 1805-1866

Editorial

Changes in the Precious Seed Trust

John R. Caldwell

Chairman’s Notes

At His Feet - Part 1

The Gospel of Mark

First Samuel

At His Feet: John 11 - Weeping at His Feet

Second Samuel

The Gospel of Mark - Part 2

At His Feet - Part 3: John 12 - Worshipping at His Feet

General Data Protection Regulation - Article 29 of the EU

The Gospel of Mark - Part 3

Robert Eugene Sparks 1844-1918