It was in 1948, the year in which I came to know the Lord as my Saviour that I remember it particularly. I was just 17 years of age at the time, and I was walking down Hendon Lane, near Finchley Central, North London, towards Waverley Grove where my Uncle Wilfred lived. I had just passed Wickliffe Avenue, and there on the right was Kensit Memorial Bible College. I had seen it many times before as I frequently visited my uncle and cousins.
Let me give you a brief history of John Kensit. (1853 – 1902). Like me he came to know the Lord in his late teens, and was immediately filled with evangelical fervour. But he lived at a time when the influence of the Roman Catholic Church began to increase in Britain, particularly through the Oxford Movement. But Kensit was an out-and-out Protestant, and knew that his task as a Christian was to stand up for Protestant Truth.
Kensit was aghast at the lack of evangelical teaching in the Anglican Churches, and during his early days as a bookseller in London he promoted Protestant Truth on a one-to-one basis with customers. But in 1889 at the age of 36, he founded the Protestant Truth Society. (PTS) From small beginnings the movement began to grow, and in 1898, just nine years later, the first band of Wickliffe Preachers was appointed. Although Kensit was considered an upstart and a nuisance by many, there was a strong groundswell of evangelical opinion in his favour.
In 1902 he travelled to Liverpool to attend a meeting with his wife and son (who was also a fiery preacher) and all went well until he left. As he walked through the crowds a young man hurled a large file at him, which struck him on the left eyebrow. Floored and bleeding, he was taken to the local infirmary where he died just 11 days later, on October 6th, at just 49 years of age.
Tributes to John Kensit came from all over the English-speaking world. The Evangelical Episcopalian of Chicago described him as ‘a plain and industrious man of business … a devoted Christian, whose study of the Bible and of the history of the English Reformation had filled his soul with a profound abhorrence of the false and unscriptural tenets which were being taught in the parishes … When bishops and clergy were unable or unwilling to take action, plain John Kensit, the layman — the London bookseller — flung himself into the breach’.
Rev. F. S. Webster, Vicar of All Souls, Langham Place, preached at the funeral service in St Mary’s Church, Hampstead, and thousands lined the streets as the funeral service made its way to Hampstead Cemetery. The cemetery gates had to be closed because of the gathering crowds, and before the concluding prayer, ‘Rock of Ages’ was sung round the grave.
In 1905 the PTS decided to build the “Kensit Memorial Bible College”, which was opened in 1908 for the training of Wickliffe preachers to declare the Gospel and defend the faith.
And on that particular day in 1948, as I was passing the entrance to the College I stopped to read the notice board, which had never interested me before. A number of brief expository items were posted, but then my gaze turned to the deeply engraved letters at the heading, which read The Wayside Pulpit. The title became fixed in my mind, so that in 1999, half a century later, I decided to use it in a series of expository articles I was writing for my mailing list. And now, in 2015 I have decided to use it again.
Thank you for reading my brief reminiscence, and the details of John Kensit’s life.