Review and Herald, February 1, 1923, pp. 21-22
TESTING HIS CALL TO PREACH
AFTER listening to a stereopticon lecture by Elder James Hickman on the wonderful, world-wide extent of our present canvassing activities, and seeing the picture of the familiar face of Brother George King, the recognized founder of our present canvassing system, I feel that it may be of interest to the readers of the REVIEW to know something of the early start of that particular branch of our work, and how Brother King was led into that field of labor.
At the close of his sermon in the Battle Creek church, one Sabbath in the early winter of 1880, as Elder James White stepped down from the pulpit, he remarked to my father, “Uncle Richard, don’t leave until I see you. I want to talk with you and Aunt Huldah a minute after the crowd gets away.”
Standing by my father’s side, I listened as any small boy will, wondering what Brother White had to say.
When the congregation had gone, Elder White came np to where we were standing, and as I now recall his words, they were something like this:
” Brother Godsmark, I’ve got a man up at our house that I just do not know what to do with. He has been hanging around for the last two weeks, wanting to preach. He says he knows that the Lord has called him to the work, and maybe He has, but he doesn’t look much like a preacher to me. He is devoted and seems like a good man. We hear him praying in his room a good deal, but he has no education, can scarcely talk at all, and I don’t believe we can ever make a preacher out of him. I wish you people would take him out on the farm. He can work enough to pay for his room and board, and maybe by next summer we can let him go out with a tent. I wish you would see if there is any ‘ preach ‘ in him. His name is King, George King.”
On our way home that afternoon, father drove by Elder White’s home and took in a tall, slim, seedy-looking man whose dark, rusty-brown overcoat looked much the worse for wear. He placed in the back of our buggy a little old trunk which contained all the worldly possessions he had. He was given a comfortable room just across the hall from mine, and I remember how often I would be awakened in the early hours by his earnest prayers before the rest of the family were astir.
He helped about the chores, but spent much of his time studying his Bible. Mother helped him to arrange his sermons, and tried to teach him how a minister should present his subjects, for he seemed to have no education, no ability, and no initiative at all; but he knew that the Lord had called him to the work. He used to go alone into the front room, and there, standing before the law and prophetic charts that hung upon the wall, try to explain the message to the empty chairs he assembled before him.
One day ‘ toward spring, Brother Edmund’s family, the only family of Sabbath keepers there was for several miles around, came to visit us (we used to visit back and forth in those days), and it was soon arranged that after dinner Brother King should preach his first sermon. My aunt, Mrs. Evans, one of the early Sabbath keepers, was sent for, and came over to help swell the crowd. This was to be his trial sermon, and was to decide whether the Lord had endowed him with a gift to preach. When it was decided that the time for test had come, poor Brother King refused to eat any dinner, and although it was a cold winter day, he spent the time out in the barn in earnest prayer to God.
After dinner the chairs were arranged, and an earnest season of prayer was engaged in before inviting him in. He made a blundering failure. His talk was short and anything but to the point. As he left the room, he tearfully asked that they pray earnestly that the Lord’s will might be done.
After another season of prayer and a long pause, for no one seemed to want to express an adverse opinion, mother stood up and said, as best I can remember, that it was clear to her that Brother King was not called to preach in the manner that others preached. He could never go into the desk and hold a crowd, but he could be a fireside preacher,— that is, he could go to the homes of the people, and preach to them around their firesides; that he could give away tracts and talk the truth to people where they were.
Father, who stuttered so ho could never take any part in public meetings, said that if Brother King would only do that, he would gladly buy all the tracts he would ever need, and would furnish him with whatever money he might require, as he would have no possible way of obtaining money of his own. It was soon arranged that so long as he devoted his life to that work, he should always have a home with us, should never want for food, clothes, or money, and his tracts should always be supplied.
Brother King accepted this as the will of God, and his call to untried fields. His clothes were put in respectable shape, and the next Monday he started out. He carried a little old satchel, the best we had, full of tracts. His pockets, too, were bulging out with papers to give away, and he had $2 in his pocket, enough to last him till the next Friday night, when he was to return and go to church with us. Friday came, and no Brother King; Sabbath morning, and still no Brother King. We felt no small concern as to his whereabouts.
When we reached the church in Battle Creek, he was there, so full of joy that he hardly knew how to tell of the rich blessings which had been his to enjoy as he had gone to the homes of the people and tried to tell them of the glorious truths that filled his own soul. He had not only given away a large number of his tracts, but had actually sold sixty-two cents’ worth.
The next Monday he again started out with renewed vigor, another satchel full of tracts, and this time $2.62 in money. That was his last visit at our home. This week he succeeded in converting nearly his whole satchel full of literature into cash. From that time on he bought his books direct from the Review and Herald Publishing House. During the summer he sold a good many dollars’ worth of tracts and books, mostly books.
In the fall he urged his case so strongly before the brethren at the Conference that they decided to prepare him a special issue of “Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation,” binding the two books together in one. I remember how he urged the matter in his blundering way, telling them that if Elder Smith would only take his engraving tool (Elder Smith did all our illustrating in those days), and would engrave another picture of the “great and terrible beast ” of Daniel 7, making it look larger, more fierce, and then just print it in red ink, he could sell those books readily.
That was the way our canvassing work began. The man whom Elder White did not know what to do with, became the pioneer of this wonderful means of carrying this message to earth’s remotest bounds.
O. C. GODSMARK.
More on George King
Arthur Spalding (1949). Tract and Colporteur Work. Captains of the Host. pp. 411-420.
Richard Schwarz (1979). Light Bearers to the Remnant. pp. 155-156
George King (1882). Canvassing. Review and Herald, January 24, 1882, page 12.