Have you ever heard of a dead guy named John Mason Peck? He is largely forgotten now, but, as one our nation’s first Baptist church planters, “home” missionaries and the founder of one of the earliest colleges west of the Alleghenies (Rock Springs Seminary, 1827), he used to be famous.
I recently wrote a chapter on Peck (1789-1858) for a larger book on the History of North American Evangelism which will come out next year. I was reminded of Peck’s life and legacy. He came to St. Louis in 1817 where he started the wild frontier town’s first Baptist church and baptized new believers in the Mississippi River. Within a few year, Peck moved the center of his operations 18 miles to his farm in Rock Springs, IL where he lived until the end of his life. (Rock Springs is today part of O’Fallon, IL and Peck’s homesite is less than a mile from where I write this in my office at FBC, O’Fallon.)
In his forty years of ministry, Peck participated in the starting of 900 churches, helped to ordain 600 pastors, printed bibles by the score, wrote histories of the region and biographies of people like Daniel Boone and helped keep Illinois from changing its constitution to allow slavery. Oh, and he found time, when he wasn’t farming in order to feed his family, to start the aformentioned Rock Springs Seminary to train pastors and teachers.
Here are 4 lessons I learned from John Mason Peck.
1. A life of obedience leaves a lasting impact. The sheer number of churches Peck helped start seems overwhelming. His impact on so many churches and so many pastors and other believers is incredible. But any life, fully devoted to the Lord, can make a lasting difference in ways not always noticed at the time. Peck just obeyed the Lord for a long time and God used that obedience to impact the region and beyond.
2. God uses people we might not have picked. Peck had very limited education in his early years. He did not come from a wealthy family. He did not come to know the Lord as Savior until almost a grown man. He didn’t become a Baptist until after the birth of his first child. He did not verbalize a call to ministry and further his education until after that. In fact, almost nothing in his early years suggested he would become what he became–except his ever growing confidence in God.
3. Opposition comes but can be overcome. Peck was opposed by gamblers, thieves and infidels when he came to the West. But he was also opposed by other ministers, including fellow Baptists. Some distrusted those from the East or anyone with education. Some believed that missions was an attack on the sovereignty of God and they responded by personal attacks on Peck. The response of Peck was to stay faithful, keep preaching, print more bibles, start more churches and Sunday Schools and to disagree agreeably. Through much travail, Peck would see the kingdom of God expand.
4. God honors faith. Peck never had much money. There were chronic shortages in the churches he served. Problems of every sort abounded. But, through it all, Peck believed God was able to accomplish great things because he is a great God. He lived by faith and he found God to be faithful. God honored Peck’s faith by providing just what was needed, just when it was needed. Trusting God counts and God blesses faith.
I think about old John Mason Peck once in a while. After all, he spent most of his ministry in the same area where I’ve spent most of mine. And, I’m thankful that his life can still teach us today though his body was placed in a grave long ago.
Maybe God will teach you something today from a dead guy. I sure hope so!