We often remember the famous names of spiritual giants – Billy Graham, John Wesley, C. H. Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, Bill Bright, George Whitefield, etc. What about the people behind them? What about the names of the men and women who inspired them? Well, we may not know their names, but we can be sure that heaven knows their names. God doesn’t deal in fame, but he deals in faithfulness and how we live our lives in obedience to him.
Let’s take the case of William Holland. I would imagine many of you have never heard of him. He was a contemporary of the Wesley brothers — John and Charles (1700s). They were all a part of the Holy Club at Christ Church in Oxford, England, along with George Whitefield and others. These young men were serious in their devotion to God, but they were trying to earn their way to heaven. They had no real peace and security in their relationship with Christ. John Wesley actually came to Georgia to convert the Native Americans in an effort to save his own soul. William Holland was definitely in the same state as well. History records that Holland had once shared with some friends about the person and doctrine of Jesus Christ. He said he become very conscious that he was not in the state they were describing. They had an experience of Christ he had not discovered. It left him very uneasy and unsettled. He began to make a diligent search for books dealing with faith in Christ. Eventually, he discovered Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians.
One day, Holland went and visited Charles Wesley, and they read together from Luther’s work. Charles was reading from the preface about how a man can be saved by faith in Christ alone. He came to the part that said, “What have we then nothing to do? No nothing! But only accept Him of who God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Luther was describing how there is nothing, no nothing any person can do to earn God’s salvation and favor. The only act of man is to turn in faith to Christ, to trust in and accept Christ as one’s only hope. Christ forgives. Christ saves, and Christ alone makes us right with God. As Holland heard these words of Luther being read by Wesley (now that is pretty cool, isn’t it?), the Holy Spirit opened up Holland’s heart and mind in a life-changing way. He said, “there came such a power over me as I cannot well describe; my great burden fell off in an instant; my heart was so filled with peace and love that I burst into tears. I almost thought I saw our Savior. My companions perceiving me so affected, fell on their knees and prayed. When I afterwards went into the street, I could scarcely feel the ground I trod.”
Holland met Christ and left Wesley’s house that night feeling like he was floating above the ground. He caught fire for Christ and wanted to share the message of Galatians with everyone. It was not long after this that John Wesley had his life-changing encounter with Christ. It took place one evening at a church in Aldersgate. John Wesley didn’t even want to go to chapel that night, but he did. While he was there, someone was reading from Luther’s commentary on the book or Romans. A number of historians believe that the man reading that night may have been William Holland. Some also believe that it may have been Luther’s commentary on Galatians that he was reading from and not Romans.
It is a great story. Not many of us have heard of William Holland, but God used this man to inspire and encourage John and Charles Wesley — and the Wesleys helped to change the world and the face of church history. Millions have been impacted for the sake of Christ due to their ministry. Thank God for the Wesleys of the world, but thank God also for the William Hollands. There are many of the behind the scene heroes who are not household names, but they help shape the world for the cause of Christ nonetheless. May we play our part well for the sake of the Kingdom, no matter how big or small it may seem. We matter. Let’s make a difference. And that’s the Word.
The Rev. David Yarborough is pastor of St. Simons Community Church. Contact him at email@example.com