A Largely Unknown Hero of the Faith

I love learning about great men and women of Christian faith of whom I was entirely ignorant. This is one such man and one such ministry. I am indebted to the Christian History Institute for the story of his life and faithfulness.

BORN IN CONNECTICUT in 1801, Titus Coan almost did not survive to adulthood. When he was seven, he defied his father by sledding on a frozen pond with his friend Julius. The ice broke, plunging him into freezing water. He bobbed to the surface, screaming and grabbed the edge of the ice. It snapped. Again and again the ice broke. “At length, however, I came to firmer ice, and clung to it as with a death grasp, calling on Julius for help. The timid boy approached slowly until his hand reached mine; and with his help and God’s mercy I was delivered from a watery grave….”

His first near-death experience, however, did not immediately lead him to Christ. It took until he was twenty-five for Coan to become a Christian. A severe illness made him bed-ridden for four months. Lying in bed he reached a decision: he would train for the ministry.

After graduating from seminary, Coan worked with leading evangelists of the Second Great Awakening, visited prisoners, explored Patagonia, married cheerful young Fidelia Church, and sailed to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) as a missionary. Titus and Fidelia arrived in June 1835. They would soon be at the center of an amazing revival.

Once Coan mastered the Hawaiian language, he visited every one of Hilo island’s 16,000 people, making notes on each person so he could pray intelligently. Later he revisited each to check on them. Many Hawaiians fell under conviction of sin and soon revival was roaring across Hilo. Coan wrote, “In places where I spent my nights they filled the house to its entire capacity, leaving scores outside who could not enter.” The Coans’ congregation became the largest in the world at the time, surpassing 13,000 members. To become a member, a convert had to show a genuine life change over a period of several months.

On the morning of September 16, 1881, Coan suffered a stroke and lingered for eight weeks. Asked if he had any fears, he replied, “When I look at myself, I see no reason why I should be in heaven; when I look at Jesus, I see such a Savior I have no fears, not one, not one.” He died on 1 December 1881. His last whispered word was “Jesus!”

About This Teaching Ministry

I don’t have a hard time trying to stay busy. Now I know some would question that; after all, as a university professor, I get the summers off, right? Well, I do appreciate the breather from the routine that I receive in the summers, so I agree—but only in part.

What have I done this summer? I’ve prepared for the five courses I will be teaching this fall at Southeastern University; I’ve worked on a new course I will be teaching in the spring on “Religion and the Presidents” (yes, I have to work that far ahead).

That’s all for my day job. In addition:

I’ve completed developing a class I will be teaching at my church on Wednesday evenings from September through December—that one is on C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis; I’ve attended two conferences, where I presented a paper at one (which required a lot of reading and preparation) and spoke at a church while attending the other.

I’ve also just agreed to begin teaching an adult class at my church on Sunday mornings, beginning in September.

Oh, and while teaching those five courses at SEU and teaching at my church, I’ll also be grading papers for about 30 high school students who are part of the Classical Conversations homeschool program.

Yes, I stay busy.

Keep in mind this is not a complaint. I love everything I do because it’s all wrapped up in the ministry God has given me.

In the midst of the coming fall semester, I already know, by about late October-early November, I will begin to feel overwhelmed. The temptation will be to start complaining (too much grading; too few students who really want to learn, etc.).

What I need to remember at that crucial time is that every day that I teach a class session, God have given me an opportunity to help direct the thoughts of the upcoming generation. More than that, He has given me the opportunity to demonstrate to them through my own life that God’s love reaches out to us all and that we need to respond to that love.

I’m in the same position as the apostle Paul (and all other Christians, frankly), as he reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:20:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I’m not just a university professor. Most university professors are only doing a job. For me, it’s a ministry, a calling, a sober responsibility to hold out Truth to everyone who hears me.

I accept this ministry gladly. This year is my 30th year teaching at the university level. It’s been an interesting ride all those years, filled with both high points and very discouraging moments at times. Yet the calling has never been revoked.

The goal of my teaching has not changed:

To equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, to equip the saints for works of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming.

Pray for all those who have this ministry that we will be faithful to the calling.

Finney: The Clear Communication of the Gospel

Charles Finney 4A good many ministers in Charles Finney’s day didn’t like the way he preached. He hadn’t gone to one of the seminaries of the time; instead, he came directly out of the practice of law into his evangelistic ministry. They despised his lack of “polish” in the pulpit, in the sense that he didn’t fill his sermons with examples from classical history or use language suited more to the well-educated congregations. He had this penchant for talking to the common man and making sure that man understood the message of the Gospel.

Finney listened to their criticisms, but found no good reason to change his style. He shares this story in his autobiography that touches on the issue:

Many years ago a beloved pastor of my acquaintance, left home for his health, and employed a young man, just from the seminary, to fill his pulpit while he was absent. This young man wrote and preached as splendid sermons as he could. The pastor’s wife finally ventured to say to him, “You are preaching over the heads of our people. They do no understand your language or your illustrations. You bring too much of your learning into the pulpit.”

He replied, “I am a young man. I am cultivating a style. I am aiming to prepare myself for occupying a pulpit and surrounding myself with a cultivated congregation. I cannot descend to your people. I must cultivate an elevated style.”

I have had my thought and eye upon this man ever since. I am not aware that he is yet dead; but I have never seen his name connected with any revival, amidst all the great revivals that we have had, from year to year, since that time; and I never expect to, unless his views are radically changed, and unless he addresses the people from an entirely different stand-point, and from entirely different motives.

How many ministers are in the ministry for the wrong reasons? How many just want to impress with their intellect? How many talk above the heads of the people who need to hear the message that will lead them out of sin and into life? As Finney says, the motives need to be entirely different. I have no problem with a learned ministry, but if one has really “learned” what God wants one to learn, the Gospel will be communicated clearly and with conviction. God will work with that to bring results.