That is no exaggeration. As a nine–year–old boy in a mid–week children’s’ meeting in our village Presbyterian church in North Wales, during the winter months an elderly lady serialised the story of Thomas Charles (1755–1814) on a weekly basis. And it was exciting. In fact, I remember being one of the children who wanted her to carry on with the story. Why wait a week before hearing more? We were enthralled. ‘No’, was her firm and regular response, ‘come again next week and hear more’. And we did return expectantly. Already in my mind, I regarded Charles as a giant in terms of loving and serving the Lord. He was a real man ––– fearless, courageous, and selfless, risking his life and health for the sake of the Gospel. He was my hero, though I was not a Christian at the time.
… I regarded [Thomas] Charles as a giant in terms of loving and serving the Lord. He was a real man ––– fearless, courageous, and selfless, risking his life and health for the sake of the Gospel. He was my hero, though I was not a Christian at the time.
Now fast track ten years to when I was converted in college. There I began to read and hear from Christians a little more about Charles. By this time, I regarded Charles as a huge challenge who increased my appetite to know and love the Lord more. Then it was not long before I discovered a biography of Charles which initially, I found daunting. Others encouraged me to read it but confessed they themselves had not done so! The reason? Well, the biography had been written by D.E. Jenkins under the title of The Rev. Thomas Charles BA of Bala and published in 1910. The daunting aspect was that the biography was extensive, packed with detailed information and primary sources but in three large volumes! My response at first was to dip into these volumes occasionally and to increase my knowledge of Charles in small doses.
Early in my ministry within the Presbyterian Church of Wales, I began to read this biography more seriously. But I have a confession to make. First, I decided to read his original letters which are included in Jenkins’s valuable biography. I was fascinated as in the earlier letters he began to describe how he was attracted to a young lady in Bala, Sally Jones. He had not met her and would not do so for another six years but Charles heard Christians in South West Wales in the small fellowship he attended refer to her as a strong, godly Christian. She was attractive too. Sally and her parents were hospitable in providing accommodation in their home for visiting preachers and others. I was surprised that no approach was made by Charles to her for three or more years and even then, she was cool in her response to his letters and not keen to meet.
The letters Charles and Sally wrote to one another are a delight to read. Not only are they romantic but they are full of the Lord Jesus who was at the centre of their affections and relationship. Both Charles and Sally frequently referred to the Lord’s providence in all their circumstances and were prepared to trust the Lord, whatever the outcome. Gradually, he was pastoring her in his letters for she was plagued by a lack of assurance. I was enthralled by the correspondence and so I went on to read the three volumes which I have done several times.
Why am I mentioning these details? About four years ago I was challenged by friends who asked me pointedly: ‘why don’t you write a book on Thomas Charles?’ I had obviously been talking about Charles more than I realised. The question was unexpected for at the time I had no intention of writing a book on Charles . I dismissed the idea, though one friend repeated the question later.
Allow me to explain why I changed my mind and authored a new book on Thomas Charles which is published by Christian Focus under the title: No Difficulties with God: The Life of Thomas Charles, Bala (1755–1814).
Having written numerous books on historical, theological and pastoral subjects, there were reasons and circumstances why I wrote each book. That is true of my book on Thomas Charles. An obvious reason is that in the twenty–first century, very few people know about Thomas Charles, and I wanted to introduce as many readers as possible to this important, influential Christian leader who was extremely gifted as a preacher, educator, pastor, author and Bible scholar competent in the biblical languages.
A second and related reason for writing on Charles is my desire to provide an enjoyable but accurate introduction to the life and work of Thomas Charles. Jenkins’s three volumed biography is daunting for many and too demanding. By contrast, my aim has been to provide an exciting but challenging account of Charles’s life and work but from the perspective of providence. This theme of providence was hugely important for Charles and his theological grasp of the subject was profound. His regular references to this doctrine then his struggles in coming to terms with the Lord’s sovereign will in different circumstances are instructive. Surprisingly, the prominence of the theme of providence in Charles’s writings has not received the prominence from scholars it deserves.
A third reason for writing this biography is his love of the bible, his desire to enable people to read and understand it but also to ensure that the Bible was available to people in different parts of the United Kingdom and more widely in their own language. His efforts in ensuring Welsh, Gaelic and Irish translations of Scripture were fruitful. People need to hear and read God’s precious Word. This conviction led him to help establish and further the work of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London as well as support the London Missionary Society.
Why not read my book and face the challenge of Thomas Charles’s life?