David Morrieson Panton (1870-1955) pastor of Surrey Chapel, Norwich
David Morrieson Panton of Surrey Chapel, Norwich and the Dawn (Monthly)Magazine (1870-1955)
David Morrieson Panton became the successful pastor of Surrey Chapel, Norwich, Norfolk, in succession to the founding pastor Robert Govett. He later became the editor of the Dawn Magazine (1925-1955) and became a respected conference speaker and though he majored on the Prophetic Studies, he was also a British leader whose counsel and advice was eagerly sought.
Early life, education and early spiritual influences
DMP was born in Jamaica in 1870 and into Anglican churchmanship, where his father was the first Archdeacon and a missionary of the Church of England. Also his uncle had been the Archbishop of the West Indies. DMP came to England in 1885 and was educated at the Old Hall School, Wellington, for two years, then attended St Lawrence’s School, Ramsgate, where he spent another two years. Finally he went to University at Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied Law, with a view of his entering the Legal Profession as a Barrister. “At College, however, he delighted in the company of a godly Tutor, a man from Jersey, Labarestierby name. From him for the first time he heard the doctrines of the coming Kingdom [The Millennium] and the glory of Christ, during the last thousand years of earth’s existence, and the conditions upon which disciples shall be called to share this special reign [‘Selective Rapture’]. These truths revolutionised his life; they caused him to abandon a legal career; to live in the refusal of all earth’s favours and rewards: unmarried, in lodgings, living on a comparative pittance, and pouring forth his entire life and meagre substance in blessing upon all that he touched.”The immediate consequence was DMP’s acceptance of baptism by total immersion, which caused him to leave the Church of England and for him to become an ‘Undenominational’ Christian. DMP remained unaffiliated for most of his life, though later he did bring his Church into membership of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
Pastor at Surrey Chapel
In a similar way to his predecessor at Surrey Chapel, Robert Govett, when DMP accepted the Scriptural basis for baptism by immersion, he obeyed it at once and resigned from the Church of England. “After taking his degree he returned to Jamaica to face his family. Back again in England after a few years, he was appointed resident Warden at the Ipswich Social Settlementwhere he remained for four years. It looked as though he would have to resign when the authorities there cast their vote in favour of a Unitarian representative - ‘It will be impossible for me to go on after the settlement has thus officially flouted the revelation of the sacred Trinity, and subordinated faith to expediency.’”
In October 1901 DMP was called to take up the pastoral duties at Surrey Chapel, Norwich, in succession to Robert Govett, who had died in February that year. He had become acquainted with the Church through doing seven months duties as a ‘curate’ or assistant to Govett in the 90s. DMP wrote about his call; “When I was asked to accept the pastorate of this church, I at first refused realising the tremendous difficulties, but I went out for a ride on my bicycle in a snowstorm and during that half hour my decision was made. I know now that I never underrated the difficulties, but I underrated the marvellous grace and power of God to overcome them”.Surrey Chapel had asked Rev. Thomas Phillips of St Mary’s Baptist Church to advise them look for a pastor and he confirmed them in their decision to call DMP to the pastoral charge of the church. “From the beginning he was respected and loved by his flock, not only for his gracious and dignified personality, but for the stand he always took on matters of church doctrine, yielding no points where Scripture of precedent were involved.”
DMP came to have a close bond with his congregation, in the same way his predecessor had. DMP had a gracious and dignified personality, but, also, he sought to bring all matters of doctrine to the plain exposition of Scripture.He demonstrated that he was an out-standing teacher and the congregation was gradually built up and strengthened in their zeal to make known the gospel, for the church saw many conversions under his ministry there. DMP was always keen to stress and maintain the missionary thrust of the work of the church. He “had a great influence over young folk in spiritual matters, and being missionary minded himself he often stressed the yielding to God of the whole personality. Many were the young men and women – and some older – who surrendered their lives to God for service overseas or in the homeland during this period of his ministry.”One of the ‘army’ of missionary workers was Margaret Barber (1866–1930), who had returned to England from service in China, left the Church of England and joined the Chapel around 1907.
There has been some suggestion of a possible romance between DMP and Margaret Barber, but has not corroborated from other sources and in the end Margaret Barber returned to work in China in 1909, supported by Surrey Chapel. It was a period of missionary fervour in the Chapel, when, during the years 1906 to 1917, as many as nine individuals went to serve in China.
DMP preached and increasingly wrote and published his teaching in studies that were designed to help and instruct the churches in the contemporary circumstances. (A full list of DMP’s writings is found below)
DMP in a lecture at Surrey Chapel on 20 March 1924, which marked a significant change in his own ministry and that of the church, spelt out what he believed the distinctive views that the Church stood for. He wrote,
1). “Foursquare on the Bible, as inerrant and infallible – the whole of evangelical truth – fundamental, evangelistic, missionary, devotional.”
2). “We are officially committed to catholicity, that is we accept into full fellowship and at the Lord’s Table all who show credible evidence of saving faith, all regenerate.”
3). “There is a group of subjects with which the church has always been associated for it sprang out of the dawn of Second Advent truth in the nineteenth century ... We hold the judgment of Believers: Selective Rapture: Kingdom and Exclusion.”
4). “Now comes a novelty, this ministry as apart from this church stands for truths which the church has never accepted and has never been asked officially to accept;
DMP defended his list of beliefs: “Now I will briefly answer a challenge which might be made. If you accept these truths why refer to them so rarely? Well I am not ashamed of them. Both Robert Govett and I have written on all these subjects, but we must keep the proportion of Scripture; the Washing of Feet [is] mentioned once perhaps twice; Devotion leading to celibacy for devotion’s sake – 1 Corinthians 7, Matthew 19, v12; Revelation 14, vs1-5; [the prohibition of] the oath, twice – Matthew 5, vs 33-39; James 5, v12; Fasting once commanded, as [with] Augustine, God says ‘when you fast is equivalent to that you fast’ – Matthew 6 v16.He concludes, “Why are these subjects mentioned so rarely in God’s Word? God I am sure gives quiet signals, like summer lighting on the horizon when you say did you see that? God does not force some truths and they only catch the watching and waiting eye: Keep wide awake.”
During his 24 years of ‘full-time’ ministry at Surrey Chapel, he saw the congregation built up, which compared to the early days of the Chapel’s history. The Church maintained its Evangelical convictions and Panton saw many conversions, which were followed by baptism and Church membership. In particular Panton’s time saw the Sunday school built up to reach a peak of over 600 scholars and 60 teachers and officers. “The Undenominational traditions were maintained, also the doctrinal position of the Church. That the Holy Spirit was at work was abundantly evident in the large attendances at the prayer meetings and Bible readings, as well as on the Lord’s Day. Conversions were the usual thing and baptisms followed. The Sunday School also was a hive of Spiritual activity, and reached a peak of over 600 scholars and 60 teachers and officers.”
DMP’s work as Editor:
DMP became the founder and editor of a new mid-monthly magazine, The Dawn, an Evangelical Magazine, and its first issue was published on April 15th1924.DMP’s aim of his Magazine was the stimulus, encouragement and instruction of many Christians who believed without reservation in all the Scriptures and sought to devote their lives to the highest ends before the Second Advent of Christ and the setting up of the Millennial Kingdom. “In The Dawn we shall endeavour to keep in view, within the necessarily restricted limits of such a magazine, the manifold needs – fundamental, evangelistic, missionary, prophetic, dispensational, [and] devotional – of the watchers in the last days.”This new responsibility heavily taxed the delicate constitution of Panton’s health and brought inevitable changes: “Unfortunately the Pastor’s health was not equal to the dual load of church plus magazine, and in view of this he retired from the ministry so far as to preach only one Sunday in each month as a rule. This was, of course, a big blow to the church, but when counsel was needed, or on special occasions DMP was always ‘get-at-able and willing to help.”
DMP maintained his output of writing the main article, which was often re-circulated as a separate paper. “The monthly sermon was taken down in shorthand by a member of the congregation, and often appeared as one of the articles in a later edition of the monthly magazine.”He maintained his editor’s role right up to his death and regarded at as his ministry to encourage and strengthen the churches at a time of turbulence and confusion. He was certainly in demand as a counsellor to friends such as William Fuller Goochat Lansdowne Hall in Norwood, London and he found himself increasingly in demand as a conference speaker.
DMP’s last years
As Panton aged and the mode of the country and the times changed, so there was a reduction in readers of The Dawn. Paternoster took over from Charles Thynne as the publishers for the Magazine. DMP was delicate in health and sought to husband his strength for the needed tasks of his life and from 1941 DMP resigned completely from Surrey Chapel. As he aged he felt the mode of the country and the times were changing and he saw that there was a significant reduction in the number of subscriber and readers of The Dawn.
DMP had become virtually a bed-bound invalid at the end and was disappointed not to be able to join the folk of Surrey Chapel for their centenary Celebrations. He still maintained his rigorous schedule of preparing the monthly edition of his magazine. After preparing the June edition of the dawn DMP died on 20 May 1955, and with his death the magazine ceased.
Impending Climax in the History of the Church– by E L Langston and D M Panton: Aids to Prophetic Study No 12 (Chas J Thynne, London N/D).
The Period of Judgment and the Saved Remnant – an address with others: ‘Aids to Prophetic Study No.16 (Chas J Thynne, London N/D).
The Apocalypse of the Lord (Revelation 19) – an address given at the half yearly meetings of the prophecy Investigation Society on November 11th1921: ‘Aids to Prophetic Study No. 22 (Chas J Thynne, London January 1922).
The Christian Home: Its Sanctity and Joy(Chas J Thynne & Jarvis Ltd, London, May 1924).
Satanic Counterfeits of the Second Advent(Chas T Thynne & Jarvis Ltd, London, Jan 1925 [Second Edition Revised and Enlarged])
Present-Day Pamphlets [Series]: (All published by Chas J Thynne & Jarvis Ltd, London).
‘A Rejoinder onThe Judgment Seat of Christ’(A J Tilney, Norwich 1912 [Private Run]).
Note carried in The Christian Home (1924), “The above 11 Pamphlets, bound in one volume, cloth boards, with gold lettering.”
Present-day Papers (or Addresses) [Series]:
Perils of the Age, First Series:
Studies in the Types:
‘Trusting and Toiling’ Reprints:
“But God had other plans for the would-be barrister. He brought him under the influence of a godly ‘coach, - who amazingly enough – was himself a follower of the teaching of Robert Govett through his writings. With other undergraduates D.M. Panton absorbed the truths of Scripture from the lips this man, often sitting up far into the night in their eagerness to learn.” Surrey Chapel: Book of Remembrance [Booklet for the 100th Anniversary of the Chapel] 21-2
Ramsay, George H: ‘A Brief Memoir of the Late Editor’, Dawn, an Evangelical Magazine, Volume 32, No 374, August 1955
DMP established a firm friendship with E.J. Poole-Connor (1872-1962), who originated the idea of the FIEC: DMP always remain a loyal but at the same time a ‘watchful’ member.
This is the description of his profession given in the Census for 1901 for the Parish of St Clement, Ipswich.
Book of Remembrance, op cit 22
Panton, D.M.: ‘Notes of Lecture given at Surrey Chapel’, 24 March 1924, Surrey Chapel Papers, FC76/59, Norfolk Records Office, Norwich: 5-6
Book of Remembrance, op. cit., 23
Like DMP’s predecessor he took a ‘literalistic’ view of Scripture – particularly in Eschatology.
Book of Remembrance, op. cit., 23-5
Barber, M.E. (Margaret Emma) (1866-1930): Born in Suffolk County, England; went to Fukien, China, as an Anglican missionary; returned to England; D.M. Panton helped her to see denominations from God's standpoint; went back to China without any denominational connection; settled in Kulangsu, Fukien; spiritual help and support from D.M. Panton; helped edify and perfect Watchman Nee; poems and hymns show a deep experience of Christ (Songs of the Heavenly Way); passed away in Anchorage Pagoda, China.
Panton, D.M.: ‘Notes of Lecture’, op. cit., 3
Book of Remembrance, op. cit. 23
“God had shown His servant that he ... must fulfil a wider ministry and implanted in his heart the desire to broadcast through the printed page the truths he had taught at Surrey Chapel. As a result of this, and of the generous offer of Mr frank Tweeddale to supply the means necessary for its launching, the first issue of the Dawn magazine appeared in April 1924.” Ibid. 25
Advert in The Christian Home (Thynne & Jarvis Ltd, London 1924)
Book of Remembrance, op. cit. 25-6: DMP lived in Sheringham and being in north Norfolk, was always within easy reach of Norwich.
Codling, Rosamunde: 150 Years at Surrey Chapel, Norwich 1854-2004, 14
DMP took the funeral service for Gooch in 1928: “One of the happiest and most blessed influences of my life ha[s] gone out in the silence of that casket. No visitor was so welcome and beloved at the church in Norwich (Surrey Chapel) and that is a sample of the churches up and down the land.” Gooch, Henry Martyn: William Fuller Gooch, (London, The World’s Evangelical Alliance, 1929) 142-144
G.H. Ramsay, the pastor of Hillcrest Chapel, Thorpe St Andrew, Norwich, over-saw the final edition and compiled a brief biography. There may have been some expectation that others might have taken on the editor’s role, whether George Ramsay or G.H. Lang, but nothing came of these possibilities.