Charles Stanley (1821-1890)
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Charles Stanley, known under the initials of ‘C.S.’, was born in Rotherham, England. Little is known of his parents as he was left an orphan at the age of four and was brought up by a grandfather whom he described as ‘a man of the strictest integrity’. 1 He began earning his living at the age of seven by working in the fields in the summer.
Attending school during the winter months, he had a great thirst for books and learning. Of that thirst he commented, ‘One day I happened to say, in the presence of a poor woman, how I longed for books, and had nothing to read. “What, Charles,” she said; “there is the word of God on that table, and you have nothing to read!” She said no more, but those words could not be forgotten. They were used by the Spirit to show me that I had no heart for God. This, no doubt, came with deeper force as I had, though only twelve years of age, a good knowledge of the letter of the word. In those days it was the lesson book in the village school, which I had left about a year; and for which I have ever been thankful’. 2 Although this initial reading only developed in him the desire to be religious, he acknowledged, ‘the more I tried, the worse I became’. Sadly, as a seeking soul, he enquired of those church-going folks around him but confessed, ‘There were none in those villages who could point me to the finished work of Christ’. 3
However, by the mercy of God, he was converted when fourteen. Of that conversion he later wrote, ‘After months of struggle and distress, I was returning home one dark rainy night, when the burden on my soul was so great, that I fell down on my face in the road, and cried out, “Oh Lord, I can do no more,” and a deep sense that I was lost came over my soul. It was there, as I lay in the dark lane alone, that the Spirit of God revealed to my soul the finished work of Christ. Then it was that I saw that which I was vainly trying to do had been done by my precious Substitute on the cross’. 4
After his conversion, he moved to Sheffield and was apprenticed to a man who kept a steel, iron, and general hardware store. Of that time, he acknowledged, ‘In looking back on those years, I am struck with one fact, that is, I made no advance in divine knowledge’. 5 At age twenty-three, he began his own hardware business in Sheffield and opened a little room in Duke Street, Sheffield, for the preaching of the gospel. It was in that room that he met the businessman Captain Wellesly, under whose teaching ‘the Bible became a new book to him’. 6 He spent the next eighteen months studying the Epistle to the Romans.
Those early days left a deep impression upon Stanley. From his association with Wellesly, he heard that the Captain and a few others met to break bread. Intrigued as to what this meant, he went to find out. He commented, ‘I sat behind, and naturally looked for the pulpit. There was no pulpit, but a table spread, or covered with a white cloth, and on it the bread and wine, in commemoration of the death of the Lord Jesus. I then looked for the minister, or president; there was no such person. All the believers gathered were seated around the table of the Lord. A deep, solemn impression fell upon me: “These people have come to meet the Lord Himself”’. 7 Some weeks later he joined the company and, initially, sat in silent worship.
In association with his business, he crisscrossed England, travelling as far as Exeter in the south-west as well as north to Newcastle. He also moved into Kent, north Wales, and Scotland, yet never neglected to preach the gospel in the villages surrounding the industrial centres of his home area of Sheffield and Rotherham. Wherever he journeyed it was because of a deep impression that he ought to go to specific places to preach the gospel, often where he had never been. Pickering records one example, when Stanley was going to Tetbury, ‘“On arriving at Wootton-under-Edge, I had some time to spare. It was about five o’clock on a hot day in the midst of harvest. There was scarcely a person to be seen in the little town. I was very distinctly impressed from the Lord, that I must preach the Gospel there that afternoon, yet there appeared to be no people to preach to. Nearly all seemed to be out in the harvest field. Yet the conviction deepened, that I must preach”. Taking a handful of tracts, he began hunting for a congregation, great or small. He was standing in a little shop, speaking to a woman about her soul, when from up the road, a man puffing with exertion, perspiration streaming off his face, charged into the shop, and said, “Please, sir, are you a preacher of the Gospel?” “Yes,” he admitted . . . The man, who was the town bellman (town crier), said, “I was working in the field, and a woman came past and told me someone was distributing tracts in Wootton, and it was just as if a voice had said to me, You must run, and there must be preaching in Wootton today. That is why I left my work, and came immediately”’. 8 From that preaching souls were saved.
In addition to the Lord’s leading as to his preaching, Stanley wrote of the Lord’s provision. ‘As we were reading, the Spirit of God laid it on my heart that I must go to Scarborough to preach . . . This was a long journey then, via York, and I had not money to take my ticket. But then the Lord knew that. I took my bag, told the friends I was staying with that I felt distinctly called to go to Scarborough, though I had never been there, and only knew the name of one person there, and I had not money to pay my fare . . . I left the house, and walked until I was just stepping up to the booking-office, when A. J. cried out behind me, “We have just heard you are feeling led to go to Scarborough to preach to-morrow. A brother, Mr. H., desires to have fellowship with you, and has sent you, [I think it was £3] to pay your expenses”’. 9
In contrast to some more modern forms of preaching, Pickering records of Stanley, ‘The preaching was devoid of emotional string-pulling or psychological manipulation. Stanley did little inviting, or pleading with sinners. He spoke almost entirely of the righteousness of God in justifying the sinner, and of justification in the risen Christ’. 10 Stanley was not interested in counting the number of those who attended his meetings or of those who made professions of faith. He always viewed the results of his gospel preaching with caution. Rather, he commented, ‘Oh depths of mercy, not only to have saved us from hell, but to use us as channels of mercy to others’. 11
Apart from Stanley’s extensive preaching he will be remembered most for what became known as ‘C.S. tracts’. Initially, many of those tracts were evangelistic in nature, including one on a favourite subject, entitled Mephibosheth; lame on both feet. 12 Of the extent of the usage of his tracts, Stanley later wrote, ‘How little did I think at that moment that the Lord would use them in so many languages’. 13 His simple and pithy style proved a blessing to many and his topics expanded as he began to ‘write for the whole Church of God, or Gospel to every sinner’. 14
During the last ten years of his life, he was editor of the monthly periodical Things New and Old. In a period of significant turmoil in Christian circles, he used the periodical to contend for the divine authority of the scriptures, labouring also to build up believers in their faith. Of this period, Snell writes that Stanley had ‘nothing less before him than the blessing of the whole church of God. To the importance and scriptural teaching of this, he often referred. His ministry, in a word, was concerning our Lord Jesus Christ’. 15
On Lord’s Day evening, March 2nd, in what had become his home city of Sheffield, Stanley preached his last gospel message. Feeling unwell and conscious of his own frailty, he wrote to his daughter, ‘I am entering my sunny year of 70, and shall in a few more days at most, be in the kingdom and the glory of Him who has loved me and died for me’. 16 Rallying a little, Stanley was eventually called from his earthly home to glory on March 30th 1890. Of him, Snell summarizes, ‘he was an eminent evangelist, and had great delight in the service, both in oral ministry and in the writing, publication, and gratuitous distribution of gospel tracts’. 17
1 Charles Stanley, The Way the Lord has led me, found here: https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/stanley/Way_Lord_Led.html.
6 Henry Pickering, Chief Men among the Brethren, Pickering and Inglis. Found here: http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/article/51.
7 Stanley, op. cit.
8 Pickering, op. cit.
9 Stanley, op. cit.
10 Pickering, op. cit.
11 Stanley, op. cit.
12 A copy can be found here: https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/stanley/Mephibosheth.html.
13 Pickering, op. cit.
14 Pickering, op. cit.
15 H. H. Snell, Recollections of the Last Days of Charles Stanley, G. Morrish, 1890. Found here: https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/stanley/Last_Days.html.
16 Snell, op. cit.
17 Snell, op. cit.