If you had found yourself wandering the streets of the Tregynon, Montgomeryshire in the late 1730s, and had come to notice that your boots were letting in the winter rain, you might have come across Thomas Olivers (1725-1799). Orphaned when only four, he was an apprentice shoemaker in that small village. He was also a youth with a bad reputation. In fact, his reputation was so bad that in his late teens he had to leave the village, and so he made his way to Bristol. There he came across George Whitefield.
Whitefield was the great preacher of the revivals which spread throughout England and America, and in his early ministry he was often in Bristol. So it was that Olivers heard the evangelist preach from the passage “is this not a brand plucked out of the fire” (Zechariah 3:2). Olivers was plucked. He converted to Christianity. Although he intended to carry on his shoemaking, John Wesley saw his potential and he became a preacher. His conversion led to changed ways, and he returned to his home to repay his debts and make good. He even once travelled the twenty miles from Shrewsbury to Whitchurch to return a sixpence.
Olivers also became good friends with Rabbi Myer Lyon, and would from time to time attend a synagogue. There he heard the Rabbi sing ‘Yigdal’, a Jewish hymn of praise to God which begins:
Exalted be the Living God and praised, He exists – unbounded by time is His existence;
He is One – and there is no unity like His Oneness – Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness;
He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal – nor has His holiness any comparison;
He preceded every being that was created – the First, and nothing precedes His precedence…
Inspired, he made his own paraphrase of this hymn which has come down to us as “The God of Abraham Praise”.
The converted shoemaker preached for forty-six years, throughout England and Ireland, and it is estimated he rode over one hundred thousand miles as he did so. When he suddenly died, aged 74, such was his repute he was buried in John Wesley’s grave. All of this in the service of the God of Abraham who gave a new birth to the rebellious Welsh cobbler.
The God of Abraham praise,
Who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of love;
Jehovah, Great I AM,
By earth and heaven confest;
I bow and bless the sacred Name,
For ever blest.
He by Himself hath sworn,
I on His oath depend,
I shall, on angel-wings upborne,
To heaven ascend:
I shall behold His face,
I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace
There dwells the Lord, our King,
The Lord, our Righteousness,
Triumphant o'er the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace;
On Sion's sacred height
His kingdom He maintains,
And, glorious with His saints in light,
The whole triumphant host
Give thanks to God on high;
Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
They ever cry:
Hail, Abraham's God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays;
All might and majesty are Thine,
And endless praise.