One of the most prominent aspects of the life of Samuel Pearce—which I have been studying now for the past seventeen years—was his passion for the lost. One excellent example of this is found in a missionary trip he took to Ireland in 1795. In July of that year he received an invitation from the General Evangelical Society in Dublin to come over to Dublin and preach at a number of venues. He was not able to go until the following year, when he left Birmingham at 8 a.m. on May 31. After travelling through Wales and taking passage on a ship from Holyhead, he landed in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, June 4. Pearce stayed with a Presbyterian elder by the name of Hutton while in Dublin who was a member of a congregation pastored by a Dr. McDowell. Pearce preached for this congregation on a number of occasions, as well as for other congregations in the city, including the Baptists.
Baptist witness in Dublin went back to the Cromwellian era to 1653 when, through the ministry of Thomas Patient (d.1666), the first Calvinistic Baptist meeting-house was built in Swift’s Alley [B. R. White, “Thomas Patient in England and Ireland”, Irish Baptist Historical Society Journal, 2 (1969-1970), 41]. The church grew rapidly at first, and by 1725 this church had between 150 and 200 members [Joshua Thompson, “Baptists in Ireland 1792-1922: A Dimension of Protestant Dissent” (Unpublished D. Phil. Thesis, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, 1988), 9]. A new meeting-house was put up in the 1730s.
By the time that Pearce came to Ireland in 1796, though, the membership had declined to roughly forty members. Pearce’s impressions of the congregation were not too positive. In a letter he wrote to his close friend William Carey (1761-1834) in August, 1796, the month after his return to England, he told the missionary:
“There were 10 Baptist societies in Ireland.—They are now reduced to 6 & bid fair soon to be perfectly extinct. When I came to Dublin they had no meeting of any kind for religious purposes… Indeed they were so dead to piety that, tho’ of their own denomination, I saw & knew less of them than of every other professors in the place” [Letter to William Carey, August, 1796 (Samuel Pearce Carey Collection—Pearce Family Letters, Angus Library, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford)].
This opinion does not appear to have dampened his zeal in preaching. A Dublin deacon wrote to a friend: “We have had a Jubilee for weeks. That blessed man of God, Samuel Pearce, has preached amongst us with great sweetness and much power.” And in a letter to a close friend in London, Pearce acknowledged:
“Never have I been more deeply taught my own nothingness; never has the power of God more evidently rested upon me. The harvest here is great indeed; and the Lord of the harvest has enabled me to labor in it with delight” [Memoir of Rev. Samuel Pearce. A.M. (new York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 132].
This passionate concern for the advance of the gospel in Ireland is well caught in a sentence from one of his letters to his wife Sarah. “Surely,” he wrote to her on June 24, “Irish Zion demands our prayers” [Letter to Sarah Pearce, June 24, 1796 (Samuel Pearce mss.)].
If Pearce were alive today, I would suggest that he would still breathe this prayer. May God pour out his Spirit upon the churches in Ulster and in Eire do the same and so advance his Kingdom throughout the Emerald Isle!