David Nasmith: A Dynamic Founder of Missions (1799 – 1839)

May the glory of God and the salvation of souls be your chief – your only end!

David Nasmith, 1826

David Nasmith: A Dynamic Founder of Missions (1799 – 1839)

In 1799 David Nasmith was born in Glasgow. He grew up to become a devout Christian with endless energy and passion for founding missions. In fact, in his short life (40 years) he founded over 60 Christian City Missions and agencies, including the YMCA.

He founded the first city mission in Glasgow on January 1st, 1826 and proposed the original vision of the movement thus:

…That the object of the Society shall be to promote the spiritual welfare of the poor of this city, and its neighbourhood, by employing persons of approved piety, and who are properly qualified to visit the poor in their houses.”

Delores Burger, Practical Religion: David Nasmith and the City Mission Movement, 1799 – 2000, p.27

At the first Annual Meeting on 1st January, 1827, in the Trade’s Hall, Glassford Street, Glasgow, the message to the first missionaries was:

You will convert the houses that were tenanted by men of the foulest passions, into churches of the Redeemer, where the Lord the Spirit will dwell and the God of Salvation will be loved and served. You will arrest the progress of vice and promote the interest of virtue. You will make our poor, our ignorant, our degraded population stand forth in all that freshness and fairness of moral and of spiritual excellence.

Ibid., p.28

Nasmith was daring to challenge the spirit of the age and shake the churches out of their slumber with three key principles:

  1. Evangelize our cities when the churches mostly believed the lie that Britain was “Christian” and didn’t need missionaries.
  2. Evangelize our cities using ordinary men and women without theology degrees, which was unheard of.
  3. Evangelize our cities using evangelical Christians from all Church denominations, when people said it would be impossible.

W. Edwyn Shipton wrote in 1845, that the missionaries were:

Christian men, bound by no other ties than those of the “common faith” and of common object. The City Mission from the first was nondenominational.

Ibid., p.29: Shipton, W. Edwyn, Lectures: Delivered before the Young Men’s Christian Association, 1845 – 1846, Vol. I, London, James Nisbet and Co., 1875

And again:

This was something new. A Mission of laymen, not trained in University or theological colleges, but able to proclaim the facts of the Gospel in everyday language……. Someone who would go where they lived, meet them on their own ground, sit to listen as well as well as to talk, and then explain in words they could understand, the message that was proclaimed from the pulpits of churches to which the slum-dwellers never went.

Ibid., p.29

In 1828, Nasmith mailed his vision and plans to principal cities and towns in Scotland, England, Ireland, France, and other places on the continent of Europe, to Asia, to Africa, and to Canada and to America. He spoke out passionately at the founding of the Manchester City Mission in 1837:

…..if we expected the poor to flood to our churches, we were greatly mistaken, and if we wanted our places of worship to be crowded, we must carry the Gospel to the homes of the poor. The object of the mission is not to make people Protestants or Roman Catholics, Baptist, Episcopalians, Methodists or any other sect: its object was in no way sectarian, but to unite all denominations of Christians, and by one strong effort, to pluck sinners as brands from the burning.

Ibid., p.46: Manchester Guardian, May 3rd, 1837

In a day when ordinary evangelical Christians of all denominations and organizations work together in reaching the world for Christ, only God knows the full extent to which the Church owes the God-given pioneering life of David Nasmith, who by his vision, preaching and personal example broke the mould of a Church bound by the traditions of men.


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