Death of Holy Spirit Student, Stephen Merritt
Dan Graves, MSL
You may move the hands of a clock to suit you, but you do not change the time; so you hurry the unfolding of God’s will, but you harm and do not help the work. You can open a rosebud but you spoil the flower. Leave all to Him. Hands down. Thy will, not mine.”
Stephen Merritt, who wrote those words, died on this day, January 29, 1917. A wealthy New Yorker, he gave much time to overseas missions and to New York’s poor. He had studied the work of the Holy Spirit. This led to the encounter for which he is most famous.
As a secretary to the Methodist missionary-bishop, William Taylor, Stephen met many missionaries. One was a young lady named Elizabeth MacNeil. Stephen could see that she was feeling overwhelmed as she left for Africa. Gently he advised her to humble herself before the Lord and commit herself to Him. The Holy Spirit, he assured her, would empower her to do the work for which she was sent abroad.
Lizzie taught a young African named Sammy Morris everything she knew about the Holy Spirit. Sammy hungered to learn more. When she said there was nothing else she could teach him, he asked, “Who taught you about the Holy Spirit?”
“Stephen Merritt,” she replied. Sammy questioned her. Who was this Stephen? Where did he live? Satisfied, he said goodbye. Without money or a map, he headed for America. Protected by God, who miraculously met his needs, Sammy arrived in New York. Stephen lived several miles from the dock. God arranged that the first person Sammy met was an alcoholic who had once been in one of Stephen’s shelters.
The man led Sammy to the St. James Street Methodist Episcopal Church where Stephen served as pastor. Stephen was heading off to a prayer meeting and sent Sammy next door to a rescue mission he bankrolled. Stephen had gotten into trouble with the law because his prayer meetings had a way of running too late at night. However, on this night, he returned home about 10:30. Remembering Sammy, he drove back to the mission. There he found seventeen men kneeling around the African, who had led them to Christ. That night, to the surprise of his wife, Dolly, Stephen took Sammy into his home and put him up in the bishop’s room. Sammy was the first black man who ever ate at Stephen’s table. Much of what we know about Sammy and his fervor for Christ was recorded by Stephen.
He told this story on himself. “I took him (Sammy) in a coach with a prancing team of horses, as I was going to Harlem to officiate at a funeral. I said: ‘Samuel, I would like to show you something of our city and Central Park.'” Stephen showed Sammy the sights. Suddenly Sammy asked, ‘Stephen Merritt, do you ever pray in a coach?’ Stephen assured him he did.
Sammy placed his great, black hand on the white man’s “…and, turning me around on my knees, said: ‘We will pray,’ and for the first time I knelt in a coach to pray. He told the Holy Spirit he had come from Africa to talk to me about Him, and I talked about everything else, and wanted to show him the church, and the city, and the people, when he was so desirous of hearing and knowing about Him; and he asked Him if He would not take out of my heart things, and so fill me with Himself, that I would never speak or write or preach or talk, only of Him. There were three of us in that coach that day. Never have I known such a day. We were filled with the Holy Spirit, and He made him the channel by which I became instructed and then endued as never before.”
- Holden, David. Select Seed from the Granary. #99-4.
- “Sammy Morris. A New World Appears, Quoting from Stephen Merritt.” http://www.geocities.com/virtuallibrary2000/ SammyMorris/6-A-New-World.html
- Whalin, W. Terry. Samuel Morris, The Apostle of Simple Faith. Barbour Books, 1996.
- Various internet articles.