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01 September 2007

A heart for unity

A heart for unity

Geoffrey Henderson looks at the life of one of the Alliance's original founders...

Some years ago I was introduced to friends and acquaintances of an Australian clergyman as a "writer and broadcaster from England". I did indeed broadcast regularly (on a local UK cable station), and I had written a small! book on church unity, which had little chance of ever being published. But 12,000 miles away from the harsh reality it seemed like a reasonable description of my calling.

As I looked into the role of 19th century Jewish evangelist as a founder of the Evangelical Alliance, I noted a similar use of rose-tinted spectacles by his daughter Ghetal in her entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Ridley had, she wrote, "joined heartily with Sir Culling Eardley and others in establishing the Evangelical Alliance".

Well, Herschell, Sir Culling Eardley and 798 others actually. For in the wet and warm August of 1846, 800 delegates signed in to the meeting in Covent Garden, and together they would lay the firm foundations of the Alliance.

Sir Culling Eardley was chairman of the conference and appears at the top of the book of autographs. Herschell does not register until page 32. about halfway through the list of delegates. But whatever Herschell's position in those early days of the Alliance, by September 1857, at the age of 50, he was speaking at the Berlin Conference.

Unity among believers

As early as 1839, the idea of unity among evangelical believers of al! shades, Jew and Gentile, had clearly been laid on his heart: ''It were well if Christians of all denominations would unite in the grand essentials of justification through the atoning blood of Christ. and sanctification by the operation of the Holy Ghost, allowing all minor differences to be matters of forbearance and not of dispute. For myself I desire no other terms of communion, no other test of discipleship in one whom I am to treat as a Christian, than a reasonable evidence that God hath received him.

"I can truly say that I love every one in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, whatever section of the Church he may belong to"
Ridley Herschell

"I can truly say that I Jove every one in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells, whatever section of the Church he may belong to, and that I wish God speed to all who preach the everlasting Gospel which is the chief means, by the blessing of God, of removing the ignorance and iniquity which so much abound."

The starting point for my own biography of Herschell has been my great-great-grandfather Michael Tomlin's conversion to Christianity, the result of hearing this quietly spoken Jew preach the Gospel in the Essex fishing village of Leigh-on-Sea.

After many failures and disasters on his way from Poland, Herschell had himself repented and given his life to Jesus, or Jeshuah as he might call Him today. A few words from the Beatitudes, the biblical wrapping paper for a casual purchase in Paris, had lead the yeshiva student to his Messiah.

With his Scottish wife Helen they would settle for a while in Leigh. The events that precede and follow the conversion of Michael Tomlin, the illiterate fisherman who became an open-air evangelist, is a dramatic and often moving account of a young rabbi's struggle against his own doubts and fears. Ridley and Helen's ministry is an inspiring story of strength in weakness.

  • Geoffrey Henderson's book All Love - A Biography of Ridley Herschell is published by HTS Media: www.htsmedia.com

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