John Berridge expected to follow his father into livestock, but he could never learn the ropes. His frustrated dad finally said, “John, I find you cannot form any idea of the price of cattle, and I shall have to send you to college to be a light to the Gentiles.” Thus John went to Cambridge, then entered church work, but without personally experiencing the gospel.
His preaching was striking, his life upright, his energy boundless, his ministry worthless. His message, devoid of the death and resurrection of Christ, was like a solar system without the sun. For years he thrashed around brilliantly, but fruitlessly.
In 1755 he became vicar in out-of-the-way Everton, and there at age 42 he finally agonized about his own soul. “Lord,” he began crying, “if I am right, keep me so; if I am not right, make me so, and lead me to the knowledge of the truth in Jesus.” One morning sitting before an open Bible these words flashed to mind: “Cease from thine own works; only believe.” He immediately started preaching salvation by grace through faith alone. Soon one of his parishioners visited him. “Why, Sarah,” he said, “What is the matter?”
“I don’t know,” said the woman. “Those new sermons! I find we are all lost now. I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep. I don’t know what will become of me.” Others echoed the same cry. Berridge’s church soon swelled with villagers giving their lives to Christ. People flocked from all parts, and the buildings proved too small. On May 14, 1759 Berridge began preaching outdoors. “On Monday,” he wrote, “we called at a farmhouse. After dinner I went into the yard, and seeing nearly 150 people, I called for a table and preached for the first time in the open air. We then went to Meldred, where I preached in a field to about 4,000 people.”
His remaining 30 years found him preaching the gospel in season and out, indoors and out. He never married, always resided alone, and remained in rural parishes until his death at age 77 in 1793. He was the Whitefield of the English countryside.
God treated me with kindness. His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news. I am the least important of all God’s people. But God was kind and chose me to tell the Gentiles that because of Christ there are blessings that cannot be measured. (Ephesians 3:7,8)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). May 14.