The International Founder
In order to talk about The Pocket Testament League, it is useful to know something about the man who was responsible for its spread world-wide – Charles McCallon Alexander.
Charles was born in October 1867, in East Tennessee, USA. His father, John, a good singer and violinist, taught him to read music at a young age and to beat time with his hands. His mother was also a great influence on his life, reading Moody’s sermons and talking much with him and his siblings. By the age of 9, he had read the entire Bible. When he was 13, he committed his life to Christ and made a public profession of his faith. He studied music at Maryville University and eventually became a Professor of Music.
His father’s death had a profound impact on his life. He said,
“The night my father died, there came to me, as never before, the worth of a human soul…I was not absolutely sure whether my father was in heaven… I knew he was an elder in a church… I cried to God, ‘If there is any way that You reveal Yourself to people, whether by vision or voice or impression, give me the certainty that my father is with You, and safe’ and I promised Him that I would serve Him all my life if He would give me the assurance. As clearly as anything I ever experienced, the impression came to me, ‘Your father is up here safe with Me.’ There and then I promised to serve Him all my life…”
He declared later that, at that moment as he looked up at the stars, he felt the load lifted right off him.
In 1892, Charles went to the Moody Bible Institute. Then for eight years, he did evangelistic work with Mr. M. B. Williams, the State Secretary for the YMCA in Georgia, USA. He was also the song leader for Billy Sunday, an evangelist in Chicago.
In 1902, he came to Australia as song leader for Dr. Torrey’s missions in Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. There was much revival. He then went to Britain with Dr. Torrey in 1903. There was revival there too. In Birmingham in 1904, he met Helen Cadbury, daughter of the late Richard Cadbury, a Christian philanthropist whose family had founded the Cadbury chocolate factory. He married her later that year.
Charles had been trying to find an attractive and practical way of bringing the Bible into the lives of people. During the Torrey-Alexander campaign in February 1906, he heard of George T. B. Davis’ “Testament Circles” in Philadelphia, whose members pledged to carry a New Testament in their pockets. He decided in 1907 that he would urge people to adopt that habit.
When his wife heard this, she exclaimed, ‘That reminds me of our old Pocket Testament League at the high school”. She told her husband and Mr. Davis, who was present, about what she had done among her school mates after she became a Christian at the age of twelve. She had carried a Bible to school and read verses from it to her friends, with the result that many of them were converted. Later she invited her friends to carry New Testaments in their pockets in the playground and they called themselves, “The Pocket Testament League”
Charles immediately decided to revive The Pocket Testament League. The most important change made was not to confine it to Christians but seek to enlist anyone who would carry a New Testament and read a chapter a day. This led to many conversions.
The Pocket Testament League (TPTL) became a prominent feature in Charles’ work. It was officially launched in 1908 during an evangelistic campaign with Dr. Wilbur Chapman in Philadelphia.
It was begun in Melbourne, in 1909 when he, Mr Davis and Dr Chapman held a four month Australian campaign. Mr Davis, who spoke, said “We want the League to spread all over the land. It will bring the greatest revival this Commonwealth has ever known.” It did spread like wildfire throughout Australia and across the world with thousands coming to know Jesus Christ.
Charles felt the need of a headquarters for TPTL. In 1914, at his own expense, he rented a small room in Paternoster Row in London, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, which he and Helen furnished. A Miss MacGill of Glasgow was the honorary secretary.
Not long after the establishment of the headquarters, England faced war. Had it not been for the new office, the work could never have developed in the marvellous way that it did. Hundreds of British soldiers and sailors became Christians. Later news reached the office that over nine thousand soldiers had signed the TPTL pledge.
Promotion of TPTL ministry also occurred in American camps during the war. Branches were formed all over America.
Charles promoted TPTL until his death in 1920. Inscribed on his tombstone was a verse of “The Glory Song”:
When by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in heaven a place,
Just to be there and to look on His face, Will through the ages be glory for me.
Helen continued the work of TPTL. At the first International Conference held in 1928 at “Tennessee” (Helen’s home) in Birmingham, it was affirmed that TPTL would be “a world-wide movement uniting all those who make a regular habit of reading the Word of God daily and of carrying a Bible or New Testament with them wherever they go.”
It was agreed that TPTL’s aim would be “to exalt the Word of God by inducing others to adopt the same habit in order that Christians may be spiritually strengthened and equipped as soul-winners and that the unconverted may be led to accept Christ as their Saviour.”
The Foundation of Belief, which included the pledge, “I hereby accept membership in The Pocket Testament League by making it the habit of my life to read a portion of the Bible each day (at least a chapter, if possible) and to carry a Bible or New Testament with me wherever I go” was adopted and signed by Helen, the Founder and International President, and several people from other countries.
Helen actively promoted TPTL for many years. By 1936, there were 5 million members in TPTL. She died in 1969 at the age of 92, having seen millions of New Testaments carried in many pockets.
Since those early days, TPTL has spread to many parts of the world with many members continuing what Helen began, and what she and Charles revived.
Alexander, Helen C and Maclean, J Kennedy:
Charles M. Alexander: A Romance of Song and Soul Winning
Published by Marshall Brothers Ltd, London.
Fact Sheet on The Pocket Testament League.
James, Leslie: The Quaker Girl and Her League. Published in 1986
by The Paternoster Press, Exeter, Devon.
Fox, Simon: Helen Cadbury and Charles M. Alexander.
Published in 1989 by Marshall Morgan and Scott Publications Ltd, London.