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David Nasmith and Friends Found London City Mission

This Glasgow native founded the first Protestant city missions.

IN JANUARY 1826, twenty-seven-year-old David Nasmith opened the first Protestant city mission in his native Glasgow. His idea was to get every Christian agency possible united behind the work—in fact, he pioneered this kind of parachurch effort. The Glasgow mission organized preaching and literature distribution among needy people, but also helped them in practical ways, such as obtaining medical care and providing education. Mission workers visited prisoners and stood by criminals in court. 

Nasmith had been doing similar work privately since he was fourteen. With a gift for inspiring and persuading others, he organized the Young Men’s Society for Religious Improvement at only twenty-five. 

Lacking confidence in his business and clerical skills, he prayed deeply for guidance. When he became ill, he resigned the Glasgow work. However, this freed him to travel widely and organize similar missions in other cities: Dublin, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Paris among them. Altogether, he worked with or inspired over one hundred and forty missions, including one in London. 

London was then the most populous city in the western world. Perhaps seven hundred thousand of its inhabitants attended no church at all. In 1835, Nasmith made his way to London, trusting the Lord would use him to bring into existence a London mission. 

At the time, he was in dire financial straits. Support that had been promised him was not forthcoming. His wife had sold her lucrative business for less than it was worth in order to accompany him in his travels. Where would he find the means to establish a new mission? As if this were not difficult enough, Nasmith’s contacts in London tried to dissuade him from the effort. There were already many religious endeavors in London. Why start another? They also predicted it would be impossible to get leaders of the established Church of England to work with members of dissenting denominations.

 And yet, this was the kind of resistance Nasmith had seen God overcome in the past. He persisted in his goal. On this day, 16 May 1835, Richard Edward Dear and William Bullock met him in the three-room cottage on the bank of Regent’s Canal which was all Nasmith could afford for his family. After prayer, they formed the London City Mission. 

In order to raise support, they needed a trusted man as treasurer. Amazingly, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a well-respected financier, accepted the position. Ministers from eight denominations joined to oversee the work and examine candidates. Within six months, the mission had ten agents; in twelve months, it had forty. Before two years were up, it had sixty-three agents and a balance of £4,000. 

Four years later, Nasmith passed away at the age of forty. He died in poverty, having foregone business success for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Family, friends and mission societies raised close to £3,000 to support his wife and children.

Dan Graves

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