The Wesleyan revival movement of the 1700s has been credited as the means by which England avoided a bloody revolution of the kind that engulfed France in the later part of that century. The revival changed the moral atmosphere of the nation, but that change came about as one sinner after another experienced the transforming power of God’s grace. Early in the revival, violent mobs attacked the Methodists and magistrates did little or nothing to protect the innocent and uphold the law. However, as the new converts stood firm and let their new life in Christ shine in front of their neighbors, the violent opposition died down and the Methodists gradually won the respect of their peers. Early Methodism gloried in radical conversions, and many of these trophies of grace had been rascals indeed before they repented of their sins. A good argument can be made that no Methodist convert was a greater rascal before his conversion than Sampson Staniforth, who came to Christ while serving in the English army.
Staniforth was born in 1720 into a home that seemed to be totally without religious influences. He was a vigorous young man, and without any religious restraints to “bump up against” his conscience, he took to sin like a duck takes to water. By his late teens he was a very hard young man who had no thoughts about God or eternity. He would later describe himself at this time as “fierce, sullen, passionate, and malicious.” Sampson ended up in the English army, and his ways only became more wild and reckless as he experienced the rigors of army life. During this time, he heard George Whitfield preach, but it made no impression upon him. However, in the mercy of God, the Lord allowed a young soldier by the name of Mark Bond to be providentially placed in Sampson’s life.
Mark Bond was the exact opposite of Sampson in that he had feared the Lord since he was a very young boy. If his parents forgot to pray with him before bed, Mark would get out of bed to pray so he could sleep peacefully. However, Mark did not have peace with God in his soul. He spent his growing-up years in a state of near torment, tempted to curse God as he struggled to find that peace. He entered the English army as a way to “die honorably” and end his misery, but in the mercy of God, he was saved under the preaching of Methodist soldiers, and his burden was gone. Sampson immediately came to his mind, and he began to deal with his fellow soldier about his lost condition. Staniforth thought he was crazy and mocked him. The new convert wondered if he should spend more time laboring with others, but Sampson rested heavy on his heart. At one point, Sampson had no food or drink, and Mark Bond offered to provide for his needs. Reluctantly, Sampson then went to hear preaching with him, and during the sermon, his soul came under deep conviction. He would never go back. He immediately turned from his alcohol, fornication, and swearing while earnestly seeking salvation at every opportunity. It was while he was on guard duty during the middle of the night that he had a powerful vision of the Lord Jesus and knew his sins had been forgiven.
His dear friend Mark was overjoyed and did all he could to support him in his new life, to the point of even being willing to help him pay off his old debts. The bond among the Methodist soldiers was close indeed, and their influence upon their fellow brothers in arms was great. A mighty work of God took place in their ranks as they tried to live for God while fighting for their nation across the sea in France. Tragically, Mark Bond died in battle, but his peace was great in his final moments. Sampson would live to see the day when he was able to leave the army and return to England. For the rest of his life, he would be a faithful local Methodist preacher. He passed to his eternal reward at the age of seventy-nine.
It has been said that the first instinct of a newly saved soul is to tell others about Jesus. For Mark Bond, that meant letting someone who was radically different from him know the Good News. He experienced rejection and mocking, but he faithfully continued to pray for his soldier buddy and even helped take care of his temporal needs. Mark labored to get Sampson to “church,” and the fiery, anointed preaching did its work. Though Mark Bond had little in common with Sampson Staniforth, the love of Christ burning in his heart led him to do all he could to reach what seemed an unreachable soul. In a day when hearts seem very hard and a biblical worldview is increasingly rare, it is greatly encouraging to read of the glorious transformation of this English soldier. We would do well to follow the example of Mark Bond to reach the proud and malicious “Sampsons” around us and see the power of God displayed in our various spheres of influence.
One FEARLESS “unreachable soul” that is reached has a way of softening hearts and minds to the claims of Christ like nothing else.