-an article for the Anglicans for Renewal Canada magazine By Reverend Ed Hird

Dr. James Eustace Purdie: a Canadian Dennis Bennett

Dr James Eustace Purdie

Born June 9th 1880, Dr. Purdie attended St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Prince Edward Island and was converted at age 19 through his mother’s oldest sister.  Following his conversion, Dr. Purdie reported: “The call of ministry began to impress on me. I had to preach the gospel or die.”  He moved to Toronto in 1902, where he studied for five years at Wycliffe College.  Dr. Purdie saw Wycliffe faculty as “champions of the Evangelical truths of the Bible and the Reformed faith of the Reformation.”  He called them “scholarly men who were out and out for God”, the highest compliment that Purdie could pay anyone.*  Wycliffe became the future model for Dr. Purdie’s own Western Bible College where he trained 600 clergy over twenty-five years.  After pastoring three rural Anglican congregations in Manitoba, Dr. Purdie joined the staff of St Luke’s, a large Anglican congregation in St John New Brunswick where he led open-air meetings on Sunday night for as many as five thousand people.

In 1911, Dr. Purdie first heard of the renewal of the Holy Spirit through a booklet he received in the Maritimes.  In 1917, Dr. Purdie moved to St James Anglican Church, Saskatoon, which had dwindled to just twenty-five people.  When visiting renewal speakers Mr. and Mrs. Crouch visited St. James in August 1919, they prayed for Dr. Purdie in the rectory.  Dr. Purdie was powerfully filled with God’s presence, resting in the Spirit, and beginning to pray in a supernatural language.  In those early days, well before the impact of the Rev. Dennis Bennett author of Nine O’clock In The Morning ( www.emotionallyfree.org/dennis.htm ) , very few Anglican clergy were familiar with the charismatic gifts.  This experience was described by Dr. Purdie as ‘a fresh refilling of the Spirit of Life’.  Dr Purdie saw his release of the gift of tongues as very similar to that of Vicar A.A. Boddy of All Saints Anglican Church, Sunderland, in 1907 where the Holy Spirit powerfully impacted all of England.  Before Dr. Purdie left St. James, it had the largest Sunday School and most generous giving in the entire diocese. 

 In August 1925, Dr. Purdie was contacted by R.E. McAllister, the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of God) General Secretary www.paoc.org , informing him that he had been unanimously elected as founding Principal of Western Bible College in Winnipeg.  Dr. Purdie took two months praying and reflecting before he accepted the offer.  Tom Johnstone, PAOC General Superintendent, said that ‘there isn’t a man in all of Canada who contributed more of a lasting nature to the PAOC than J. Eustace Purdie.  He has laid a foundation of biblical doctrines that has paid dividends.’  The Rev. Dr. Ronald Kydd of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Cobourg, Ontario, said that ‘the one who made the greatest individual theological contribution to the PAOC was undoubtedly J. Eustace Purdie.’  In 1950, Dr. Purdie was commissioned by the PAOC General Assembly to write their official Catechism, a 567-Questions & Answers Book entitled Concerning the Faith, a catechism that drew heavily from the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.  In Question 86, Dr. Purdie asked: What is the most terrible of all sins recorded in the Bible?  Dr. Purdie memorably answered: ‘The most terrible of all sins is unbelief.’ 

 Dr. Purdie commented to the Saskatoon Bishop: ‘In my heart I never left the Anglican Church for one moment in all these years.’  The first Sunday of every month for over fifty years, Dr. Purdie would either preach or help celebrate Communion at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg.  Canon Jim Slater, the former St. Margaret’s Rector, commented that Dr. Purdie ‘was an Anglican till he died…he was a holy man and prayed for my ministry every day.”  As an outstanding theologian, Dr. Purdie has been compared to Dr. JI Packer.  Others would see him more as an early Dennis Bennett, another famous pioneer in Anglican renewal.  Dr. Purdie is fondly remembered by many Pentecostals for his practice of always wearing his Anglican clerical collar and for using the Anglican lectionary/bible readings in his sermons.  One of his early students George Griffin described Dr. Purdie this way: “As a man, he was a gentleman indeed with a great heart concern for each individual under his care.  No unapproachable austerity, but a heart-warming friendliness…a sense of humour which enjoyed good wholesome fun.  Who has not heard his hearty laugh echo along the way when we hiked through the woods or park with him?  His presence was enough to settle a problem of discipline when other methods failed; so great was the esteem in which he was held.”

 Dr. Purdie poignantly commented: “The failures throughout the history of the Christian Church are largely due to the fact that the Holy Spirit’s baptism has not been given its rightful place in the Church.  To reject it is to reject the greatest asset for labour, service, and ministry that is the privilege of men to enjoy.”  What a great challenge to renewal-oriented Canadian Anglicans in the early years of the 21st century!

 At close to ninety-seven years of age, Dr. Purdie was ‘promoted to Glory’.  He was still preaching over ninety times a year at the end of his life.  Fittingly, Dr. Purdie’s funeral was conducted by both Pentecostal and Anglican clergy.  Pastor Herb Barber who took his funeral at Calvary Temple said that Dr. Purdie established the PAOC on a solid theological and biblical basis.  Pastor Ed Austin, a student of Dr. Purdie, said. “Dr. Purdie was a real prince, a great scholar, a tremendous teacher.  We all loved him.”

 The Reverend Ed Hird,

Rector, St. Simon’s Anglican Church, North Vancouver


* www.paoc.org/administration/archives/pdf/jdcraig-thesis.pdf

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