Stephen Grellet (1773-1855) was a Quaker preacher who came to America in 1796 as a missionary to the fledgling nation. In 1799 he traveled south from Philadelphia to North Carolina, with missionary John Hall. The journey through the hills and hollers of Appalachian country was dangerous and rigorous. In his journal he recalled contending with rattlesnakes, wolves, hunger and storms. Grellet led many mountaineers to Christ and he even preached to slaves along the way.
Perhaps, one of the most colorful stories of his ministry came on his return journey to Pennsylvania. Grellet passed through a camp of lumberjacks. He had heard that these men were notorious for their drunkenness and debauchery, yet he felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to preach to them. However, when he reached the lumber camp he found it deserted. The men had moved deeper into the forest for that day’s work.
So, there he was with a story to tell and no one to hear it. Standing in the mess hall, Grellet decided, “Well, I’ve come this far, I might as well preach” and so he did. After he finished his sermon, he bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, I don’t understand why you brought me out here, but I obeyed.” Grellet left the camp perplexed and eventually returned to Europe.
Several years later, while walking across London Bridge, he was accosted by a stranger. The man told Grellet, “You’re the preacher I have been looking for all these years. I have found you at last!” “There must be some mistake,” said Grellet. “I don’t know you.” “But I know you,” said the stranger. “Didn’t you preach at a lumber camp in the American forest?” “Yes, but there was no one there.” Grellet replied. “I was there,” responded the man, “and I heard the sermon.”
The man went on to explain how he had come back from the forest to fetch a saw that had been left behind, when he was startled at hearing the sound of a man's voice. Approaching the mess hall, he looked through a chink in the logs and saw Grellet standing by himself preaching the sermon. He listened to the preacher, was convicted of sin, got hold of a Bible and gave his life to Christ.
There are so many applications we can make from this incredible story. First, is the blessing that always accompanies obedience to the Holy Spirit. Luke 11:28 says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” We don’t have to understand fully to obey immediately. Sometimes we won’t receive understanding until after we’ve obeyed.
Second, is the power of God’s word. Isaiah 55:11 says, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” The preaching of God’s Word is always effectual. When we are obedient to share God’s Word we are either planting seeds, watering or harvesting. We don’t know where we are in that process, but the Holy Spirit does and He adds the increase to our obedience.
Third, is the divine design behind detours. Sometimes, the Lord detours us from our daily pattern or planned route. We may not know why, but chances are it’s because He has someone He wants to cross our path with who needs encouragement or evangelism. Make yourself to available to God and He will order your steps in surprising ways. -DM