The Clapham Sect

“…a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
Titus 2:14 (NIV)

Gordon Rumford Ministries - Daily Devotional - The Clapham SectWhat an odd name for a group of remarkable businessmen and legislators. In my studies of British religious history I came across these incredible people who lived a short 3 miles outside London, England in a village called Clapham. They all had their own companies to run or voters to represent in parliament yet worked together from about 1790 to 1830 to ease the suffering of people around to world.

These families were the leaders of society in their time, being among the richest people in the land. They lived very well in large estates with servants, they ate the best food of the day, and possessed all the heart could desire for their time. Yet there was something odd about these same people.

Take the case of Henry Thornton, the banker. His granddaughter, many years after his death, published some of his personal financial records. They indicate that before Thornton was married he gave away 6/7 of his income to various charities and lived on 1/7th of his total income for the year. After marriage he gave away from 50% to 75% of his gross income and lived on what was left. The other families were similarly generous, a few even reducing themselves to penury in order to relieve the suffering of others.

William Wilberforce, depicted as the main character in the movie Amazing Grace was the champion of freedom for slaves. Wealthy, he gave away to charity one quarter of his income before he married, and by the closing years of his life had given to charity all he had and was forced to live with one or another of his two parson sons. He believed God allowed him to be reduced to poverty to demonstrate “that a man can be as happy without a fortune as with one.”

Zachary Mccaulay who was governor of Sierra Leone for some years, was another member of this “sect”. By the end of his life, he too had given away his fortune and lived in poverty. He along with the others was slandered by others, lied about in various journals and newspapers, yet all of the “Sect” maintained their honest and generous ways.

What inspired these powerful men to devote so much of their fortunes to the well being of the poor? Each of these dozen or so men had extremely demanding careers yet they rose early to pray from 5-6am, prayed from noon to 1pm and again from 5-6pm. They were “eager to do good works” because they loved Jesus.

They had come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour and Lord and then dedicated all they were and had to His mission in the world. Reading the diaries of some of these men will show you that they began life as people who looked out for themselves rather than others. But the Carpenter from Galilee entered their lives, called them to repent of their selfish ways and devote themselves to the Gospel. They still carried on with outstanding careers but served Jesus first and their temporal businesses second.

How do you value your life? Are you someone who must have the best? Are you distressed because of poor health, a broken marriage, a loss of income, or other trials in life? Can you find Jesus to be your greatest treasure? Do you find His presence in your life to be all the compensation you need for the loss of other things? The martyr Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

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