The Gospel Oak of Addlestone
(Also known as the Wycliffe, Whitefield, and Spurgeon Tree)
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
There is an ancient Oak Tree, probably 1000 years old, in the town of Addlestone, county of Surry, England that once marked the boundary of Windsor Forest. It is one, perhaps the only remaining tree of a number of trees scattered throughout England called "Gospel Oaks." This Crouch Oak, as it is called, hearkens back to a time the preaching of the Gospel message was either illegal or unpular in the churches, so the Word of God was preached in the en air. The Gospel Oak of Addlestone has a long, distinguished history of service to our Savior.
To understand what I mean, I have to take you back to the late 1300’s. In that day, it was not uncommon to speak to large crowds in the en. Likewise, in order to be heard, since there were no public address systems or bull horns, a public speaker would look for a tree with branches arranged just right so as to act as a sounding board, projecting the speaker’s voice out to the crowd.
John Wycliffe (1320-1384) was a leading professor at Oxford. They tried to silence him because of his evangelical views. When he would not be silenced, they kicked him out of Oxford. They thought that would silence him. Instead, he began to preach the Gospel anywhere he could. He stped at Addlestone and preached the Gospel to the pele in the area under this Oak Tree. Up until Wycliffe, the pele only had a Latin Bible, which they could neither read nor understand. John Wycliffe and his helpers changed all that. So, it is likely that the pele under that Addlestone Oak heard, for the first time, the message of Salvation from the new Wycliffe English translation. They heard verses like these for the first time.
"For God loved so the world, that he gave his one begotten Son, that each man that believeth in him perish not, but have everlasting life." John 3:16
"For all men sinned, and have need to the glory of God." Romans 3:23
"For by grace ye be saved by faith, and this not of your; for it is the gift of God, not of works, that no man have glory." Ephesians 2:8-9
"Jesus saith to him, I am way, truth, and life; no man cometh to the Father but by me." John 14:6
"For the wages of sin is death; the grace of God is everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Roman 6:23
"For each man, whosoever shall inwardly call the name of the Lord, shall be safe." Romans 10:13
(Note: The verses are taken from "Wycliffe’s New Testament: A Modern-Spelling Edition…" by Terence P. Nobel; Cyright August 2001)
Wycliffe trained laymen to share the message of the Gospel. He provided them with portions of the Bible and sermon outlines and sent them out over the English countryside to preach to the pele. Did John Wycliffe, his English Bible, and the lay preachers (called Lollards or evangelical men) have an impact on England? One historian, writing ten years after Wycliffe died wrote: "You cannot travel anywhere in England, but every two men you meet, one is a Lollard."
Our job is to witness to other’s and trust the Lord for the results. It will accomplish that which our Lord pleases. We read in Isaiah 55:11 "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."
John Knox (1505-1572) was a fiery Scottish Gospel preacher. For his dedication to the Word of God and preaching the Gospel French Catholic soldiers raided his headquarters, the Castle at St. Andrews, Scotland, captured him and made him a galley slave, chaining him to an oar for 19 months. After his release, he went to England for five years and Charles H. Spurgeon writes, John Knox proclaimed the Gospel under the far-spreading boughs of an ancient oak at Addlestone, in Surrey during his sojourn in England.
Knox clearly believed that Justification was by faith and not works. It is evident that he was acquainted with Galatians 2:16 which says, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." Knox said, "Diverse men have their diverse inions of Justification; yet they alone, in whom the Holy Spirit worketh true Faith are just before God. The substance of Justification is, to cleave fast unto God, by Jesus Christ, and not by our self, nor yet by our works."
Years later, in the mid 1700’s another preacher made a trip to Addlestone, to preach under the tree. His name was George Whitefield (1714-1770). Once again, this man was called of God to preach the Gospel. Whitefield was one of three men used of God to bring about the Great Awakening, on both sides of the Atlantic. His en air preaching reached as many as 100,000 in one gathering. It is said that he had such a powerful voice that it could be heard one mile away. It was on one of these en air preaching missions that Whitefield preached under the Addlestone Oak to the crowd.
I can almost hear Whitefield saying, "O sinner, will you be able to stand in the day of judgment, if Christ be not your righteousness? No, that alone is the wedding garment in which you must appear. O Christless sinners, I am distressed for you! The desires of my soul are enlarged. O that this may be an accepted time! That the Lord may be your righteousness! For whither would you flee, if death should find you naked? Indeed there is no hiding yourselves from his presence. The pitiful fig-leaves of your own righteousness will not cover your nakedness, when God shall call you to stand before him. Can you bear to hear the Lord Jesus say to you, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.’ But thus it must be, if Christ be not your righteousness. O that you would seek the Lord to be your righteousness! Who knows but he may be found of you? For in Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free; even you may be the children of God, if you believe in Jesus." (Taken from: The Lord Our Righteousness – Sermon by George Whitefield)
That brings me to Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). He was the foremost preacher of the 19th century. Before our modern "mega-churches", Spurgeon's congregation built "The Metrolitan Tabernacle" in 1861 which seated 4,700. In that same year Spurgeon preached at London's Crystal Palace to a congregation of more than 23,000 without micrhone or any other means of amplification. He used his pularity to advance the preaching of the Gospel. Under his leadership, 200 Baptist Churches were built in outlying towns around London. Addlestone happened to be one of those towns. It was announced that Spurgeon would preach an en air sermon there and the pele gathered abound the Gospel Oak (today called by the town the Spurgeon Tree) to hear him preach the Gospel.
I don’t know what he preached that day, but I do know he preached the Gospel. He may have preached a message similar to How Can I Obtain Faith? "Remember that word of Christ, it is one of the most terrible I know of, "if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." To die in a ditch, to die in a prison, to die on the gallows, none of us would desire it; but to die in your sins! O God, it is hell, it is eternal damnation. May the great Lord save you! But to perish forever will be your lot as surely as you live, except you believe in Jesus and that speedily, for soon you will be out of the reach of all hearing. Receive what God teaches…. He hath set forth Christ to be a pritiation for sin, receive him as such: since he has said, "Look unto me and be saved," they look because God bids them look, and they are saved. To believe in Jesus is a command from God's own mouth, and is, therefore, to be obeyed, and the more so, because ‘he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son; and this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
I do know this, as a result of Spurgeon’s preaching, was a Baptist church started in Addleston that still stands today. The six hundred year old Oak of Addlestone faithfully served as a sounding board for the Gospel for at least three faithful Gospel preachers. May we follow the example of those Christians who have gone before us and proclaim the Gospel boldly.
Praise the Lord for all who faithfully proclaim the Gospel, whether they are preachers or parishioners. Why? First of all, it is our job! Second, where the Word of God and the Gospel are preached, and believed, the bondage of sin is broken. But where the Word and the Gospel are suppressed, there is pression, superstition, immorality, idolatry and despair. Note what our Lord said, "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12
Since the dawn of Christianity, witnessing and preaching the Gospel has been used of God to set men free. Paul wrote, "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." Romans 1:15-17
May we follow the example of those Christians who have
gone before us and proclaim the Gospel boldly. As Paul wrote to the
Philippian believers, "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the
gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I
may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind
striving together for the faith of the gospel."