This Series of Blogs provide vignettes of the early pioneers of The Muscular Christianity Era - Faith-Sport Integration who laid the foundations for the Modern Day Sports Outreach Movement
THE INFLUENCE OF FINNEY AND BINNEY
Evangelist Charles Finney had a profound effect on the spiritual formation of young Williams, particularly in the area of personal prayer. Williams followed Finney’s admonition to fervently seek the face of God on behalf of non-believers. This became a vital part of Williams’s spiritual walk for the rest of his life as evidenced by his diary entries. His diary records constant pleas on behalf of his family members and other acquaintances throughout his life. When first hired at Hitchcock & Rogers as an assistant, he began a prayer list of three other workers he wished to come to Christ. The next day he added a fourth name to the list, the following day the list was up to nine and on it went. One by one each of those prayed for became believers in Christ and their responses were also noted in Williams’s diary. He believed prayer was foundational to evangelism and this discipline started as a result of heeding Finney’s encouragements. (E)
Probably the area in which Finney had the greatest impact upon Williams was his admonitions to make one’s business associations and interactions a part of his religion. Finney stressed integration of faith in the everyday aspects of life. George had seen this modeled by the draper in Bridgewater and now was being taught by Finney to do the same. In addition Finney challenged those in business to remember the great business for a Christian was to save souls. He would implore believers to examine their own life by asking such questions as: what were they living for, and why were they neglecting the main business of life. Williams answered these questions by deciding the rest of his life would be about the business of bringing others to Christ.
There was however, a downside to Finney's approach, including a severely critical and condemning nature. While he inspired Williams and others to reach out for Christ, his was not a style that could have sustained the long term relationships necessary in winning young men to Christ. It was into this void God provided George Williams yet another mentor, Thomas Binney was a teacher who most influenced him in two ways. The first was how to win others by love and the second was the pastor’s admonitions about character development. Both of these elements played important roles in both Williams’s personal life and also in his YMCA work.
Thus, Williams had become a composite of those who were early influences in his life. His was the unique ability to assimilate the best characteristics and principles of his mentors and teachers without taking on their negative attributes. He demonstrated the rare ability to not only recognize what was true and practical, but he was also able to put these truths into action.(F)
THE MISSION BEGINS
The first person known to come to Christ as a result of George Williams was his brother’s wife. After completing his apprenticeship in Bridgewater, George lived with his sister-in-law for six months while awaiting his new appointment in London at the draper business of Hitchcock and Rogers. During this time she witnessed in him a vital faith which her Unitarian association did not provide. This was indicative of what was to follow in London. Williams moved to London to join with 140 other draper’s assistants of whom it was said that upon his arrival there were none who followed Christ and upon Williams’s death there were none who weren’t.
His was an inauspicious beginning as Mr. Hitchcock refused to hire him because he was so small, but upon George’s older brothers’ pleadings, Hitchcock was finally persuaded. He was found to be of utmost value due to his integrity and work ethic and progressed through the ranks of the business as he made the firm ever more profitable through his efforts. Throughout the years Williams learned the business well and became so successful in it he eventually was allowed to marry Hitchcock’s daughter and he even became the eventual owner of the business.
The London Williams entered was a foreboding place. There were an estimated 150,000 young men in a similar situation to George, all working as business assistants. Their life was drudgery as they worked as much as 17 hour days. They had little to look forward too and what little pleasure they managed usually was in the form of a bottle or a sexual liaison at a local pub, but not George Williams. His free hours were consumed with personal prayer, Bible study and on Sunday the one day most young men could be found carousing and wasting the day on selfish ambition, George could be found attending Church and doing Sunday School work. This was a discipline which was to mark his entire life.*7 While all his efforts on behalf of the Sunday School and Church were invaluable it was his efforts on behalf of young men which changed the course of Evangelism and ministry. These efforts began in his own bedroom.
THE BEGINNING OF THE YMCA
Williams began meeting with other men in his bedroom at the Hitchcock establishment. They met for prayer, Bible study and discussion on how to reach fellow drapers for Christ. Soon they began to see the fruits of their labors as many associates responded to Christ, but Williams had a wider vision for a greater influence. As he walked through London, his heart went out to the thousands of young men who needed to know Christ. On one particular day in May of 1844 he shared this vision with his colleague Edward Beaumont while crossing Blackfriars bridge. He talked about this vision with other individuals and the vision was organizationally consummated on Thursday June 6th, 1844 at a meeting in Williams’s bedroom. (H)
The 12 men gathered committed themselves to a mission of reaching men for Christ, not to a program. They knew little about how they would do it, only that it needed done. They were willing to cast their lots together to fulfill the mission. The minutes of that first meeting were brief and to the point:
Thursday June 6th, 1844 met in G. Williams’s room for the purpose
of forming a society, the object of which is to influence Religious
young men to spread the Redeemer’s kingdom amongst those whom
they are surrounded.
Indeed this was their goal and this goal remained clear in William’s mind throughout his life as evidenced by his response to a question posed to him by John R. Mott. Mott was the “heir apparent” of the Williams, McBurney and Morse legacy, while Williams was the aged “patron saint” of the worldwide YMCA. Mott asked Williams what was in the mind of Williams and the original twelve who began the Y. Williams’s response was: “We had only one thing in mind and that was to bind our little company together in order that we might the better lead our comrades to Christ.” To further illustrate Williams’s focus on winning young men to Christ, Mott also recalled his last conversation with the founder of the Y. Williams had become so frail he had to be supported by others and yet even in this debilitated state Williams directed a most pointed question to his young protege. Mott later stated it went straight to his heart and reinforced his own commitment to pursue the goals of the Y. The question was: “Mr. Mott, are you ever alone with a man that you do not talk with him about Jesus Christ?”
Another interesting insight into this initial meeting of the YMCA was not only did the twelve recognize the necessity of the mission to be focused on reaching out, but they also recognized the necessity of finance and willingly contributed a sum of 13 shillings towards the mission. Money became an issue at a subsequent meeting a few weeks later, but was firmly put into perspective by George Williams. During the group’s discussion about how to get the word out to other establishments, some were reluctant to agree to the idea of spending money on producing a written communication. After some discussion, Williams slammed his fist to the table and exclaimed that if this was God’s work, the money would come. With this definitive statement Williams clearly demonstrated his understanding if God had given a vision and had provided the necessary leadership, the money would follow.(I)
One of the first items of business of the association was to implement personal prayer lists. Each member of the association was to assemble a list of five young men who did not have a personal relationship with Christ and then begin to regularly pray for their salvation.(J) Furthermore, it was expected association members would then establish and nurture relationships with the men on their prayer list in order to create an opportunity to lead them to Christ.
The overall ministry of the YMCA soon expanded into areas not initially seen as being spiritual. This expansion occurred with the blessing of George Williams. It added both mental and physical development to the main emphasis of spiritual growth. These new methods suited Williams who was himself driven to self improvement and had taken both musical and elocution lessons to improve his overall person. However, he made it very clear these efforts were accessories and they could never interfere with the central idea and goal of the association. In addition he stressed the importance of the Bible class as being one of the most vital parts of the work.
In the inevitable discussions which erupted through the years such as whether or not association members could engage in certain amusements, George was always a sane and reasonable voice. He helped the YMCA to “keep the main thing the main thing,” by simply asking: “What shall we do to win men?” His leadership was respected and followed as was evidenced 19 years later. In an association meeting in 1863 the leadership reaffirmed their one great aim was to “win young men to Christ,” regardless of the methods used.
Williams, p. 112.
Mott, Confronting Young Men with the Living Christ, p. 14.
Mott, p. 15.
Williams, p. 157.
Williams, p. 181.
This blog is an excerpt from a future book "Surrounded by Witnesses" by Dr. Greg Linville. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville and other local church Sports, Rec & Fitness Ministers are archived at: http://www.csrm.org/blog/