Unlike some who had gone before, Ellis was not born into a family who groomed and prepared him for notable work and accomplishments. In his biography, they write that:
“far from starting with all the favoring influences of great antecedents and liberal training, he achieved his success in spite of early disadvantages of no ordinary kind… Such was the introduction to life ‘with all its woes’ which constituted the missionary’s early training for future usefulness. In this school he learned to be helpful, unselfish, and self-reliant. His little hands early ministered to the support of his parents, and took their full part in the care of the younger members of the family. It is related of him that when scarcely more than six years old he was employed, at the rate of two shillings a week, probably at the candle factory, in winding cotton wicks with one hand, while with the other he nursed his little brother, thus relieving his mother of a portion of her task, and adding his mite to the family earnings.”
As he grew, he grew a love for plants and became a well known gardener. Using this talents, he became the gardener for a wealthy family and began to build a good life for himself. But his life was always discomforted by the condition of soul. Ellis had been raised in the home of Unitarians, where he was taught that Jesus was simply a prophet and not God and that salvation was something to be earned. But as he began to live life “in the big city”, he found his life growing worse:
I worked at Mr. Bassington’s nurseries for about seven months, during which time I was rapidly hurrying down the broad road to destruction. I was under no control. I forgot God, and was led the willing captive of Satan. I eagerly mingled with all sorts of bad company. I profaned the Lord’s day; and was often drawn by my companions to spend its sacred hours in the ale-house. I sometimes attended the chapel in the evening, merely to pass away the time. During all this course of sin, I often felt the stings of conscience, and in the midst of my pleasures my heart has condemned me, and told me I was rebelling against God with a high hand.
As the battle raged for the life of this young man, God providentially brought him into the employment of a godly family, who required him to attend family worship, as well as church every week. His father had encouraged him to attend the Unitarian meetings, but since it was too great of a distance away, he simply attended services with the family. As he listened to the Bible being preached every week, conviction began to form on him and the love of the almighty savior shone in his heart. In his own words, he can describe far better the change that came into his own hear that night he chose to believe:
I shall ever remember the first time I attempted to pray. Having retired to rest in my own chamber, I sat down to reflect on the events that had recently occurred. A secret impulse, an irresistible power, compelled me to bow my knee, and approach a throne of grace. I could say but little, scarcely more than “God be merciful to me a sinner.” A few precious promises were recalled to my mind, and afforded me much consolation—” Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool”—” Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out”—” God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”….Satan was not an idle spectator of these conflicts and reforms. He plied his suggestions to distress and deter me; tormenting me chiefly with the fear that I should not hold out to the end. Against these discouragements I was upheld by remembering that where the Lord had begun a good work of grace in the heart, He would carry it on to perfection.
Ellis would go on to start a mission among the South Sea Islands, work in Hawaii, serve as the Foreign Secretary of the London Missionary Society, pastor churches back in England, and, at the age of sixty, completed his greatest and most well known work in Madagascar. God, who did start a work in the heart of this young man, performed it until the end.
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