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Johan Gustav Gudmundson (also known as Gummeson, and changed to Gunnerson after they arrived America) was born in Smaland, Sweden on September 18, 1845. Johan and his family emigrated to the United States arriving in New York on July 3, 1856. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Princeton, IL.

When Johan departed for further education in 1863 he changed his name to John Gustaf Princell, out of respect to the town that had become his home, Princeton. We know him as J. G. Princell, and consider him one of the “fathers” of the Evangelical Free Church (Swedish).

Often we hear or know the great accolades of an individual, or the many gifts a person possesses, or the numerous ways the work of a person’s hands prospered. All of these matters would be accurate for Princell. But what is often missing from such a recounting of a person’s history is the kind, wise, good providence of God in preparing a person for those tasks. Although the former is true, without the latter it can almost become historical hagiography. The result can be that we end up making more of a man and less of God.

In the recounting of the lives of those who have gone before, there are few, if any, who are exempt from learning and growing through pain, suffering and sorrow. In fact, it has been said those God uses greatly are those who have been tested deeply. And by faith, they have come forth as God’s refined gold, vessels in the redeemers hand.

This is true for our beloved J. G. Princell. God used him greatly in the Free Church movement, which is why he is considered one of the fathers. He had a giant of an intellect, was a gifted preacher, and a strong leader. But that did not happen apart from God’s gracious sanctifying work in his life. Here are three painful life experiences, which are little known, but which God used for good, evidenced in the spiritual fruit that remained in his life and ministry.

The Death of Princell’s Brother. Three days before they arrived in New York, John’s younger brother died and was buried at sea. As a boy of 11, John was overcome with grief. Through his tears he said, “It was so hard to see little brother sink into the depths of the ocean!”

The Death of Princell’s Wife. J. G. was married to Selma Ostergren in the Gustaf-Adolph church in April 1873. After two short years of marriage, Selma succumbed to death. Upon exchanging vows, J. G. did not think his commitment “till death do us part” would be only two years. Interestingly, prior to Selma’s departure to be with the Lord, she informed J. G. about his remarriage upon her death. “I know who will be my successor,” she said, “because I have already talked to the Lord about it. She is Josephine Lind, and you may remember that there is no one who I would rather see in my place than she.” J. G., once again, experienced the depth of grief in the loss of his wife. What transpired between them prior to Selma’s death also says something about their relationship. J. G. and Josephine were married in 1876 in Boston, and they remained married until J. G.s death in 1915.

The Joys and Sorrows of Revival. P. P. Waldenstrom’s ministry in Sweden was used greatly of the Lord in the renewal and revival of individuals. Waldenstrom’s influence was carried by and flourished among Swedish immigrants in the United States. These immigrants studied the Bible and experienced revival. Princell was also influenced by Waldenstrom and the revival. This resulted in a commitment to the Scriptures and to spiritual reform in the church with an emphasis on “believers’ church membership and believers’ communion.” (There were other emphases, such as his view of the atonement that were problematic, but that is for another time.) This offended some of the members which resulted in a split in the Gustaf-Adolph church. This painful split led to Princell’s resignation from the church in 1879, and a formal and official suspension by the Augustana Synod at their annual meeting in 1879. Princell personally experienced both the joys and pains of revival.

In the midst of trials and tribulations, we trust in God’s good providence as he “causes all things to work together for good.” We are also assured it is these kinds of life experiences God uses to form and shape who we become, and from this character created by God, we serve others with an “aroma of Christ.” This truth was manifested in the life of J. G. Princell, and we are thankful.

Today is the first of the month in which we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses: October 31.

Desiring God is providing a month-long study of the Reformation leading up to the October 31, the actual day of the posting of the Theses: Here We Stand: A 31-Day Journey With Heroes of the Reformation Each of the studies focuses on an individual used of God in the Reformation.

This study is described as follows:

In one especially memorable scene, he stood before the emperor and declared courageously, risking his own life, “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God.”

But Luther did not stand alone. The Reformation was not about one or two big names — Luther, Calvin, Zwingli — but about a massive movement of Christian conviction, boldness, and joy that cost many men and women their lives — and scattered the seeds that are still bearing fruit in the twenty-first century. Not only was Luther surrounded by many Reformers in Germany, but lesser-known heroes of the faith rose up all over Europe. Heroes like Heinrich Bullinger, Hugh Latimer, Lady Jane Grey, Theodere Beza, and Johannes Oecolampadius. Luther was the battering ram, but he ignited, and stood with, a chorus of world changers.

And here we stand today, 500 years later. Luther wasn’t alone then, and he’s not alone now. To mark the 500th anniversary, we invite you to join us on a 31-day journey of short biographies of the many heroes of the Reformation, just 5–7 minutes each day for the month of October.

The first one in the series was officially published today:

Jon Bloom, The First Tremor: Peter Waldo Died by 1218

One was published last week as a precursor to the series:

Stephen Nichols, The Morning Star of the Reformation: John Wycliffe c. 1330-1384

Here are a few that were published leading up to this 31-day journey of learning.

John Piper, Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

Ryan Griffith, Luther Company Remember the Rest of the Reformers

Tony Reinke, The Nail in the Coffin of Our Hearts: Five Hundred Years of Fighting Idolatry

I encourage you to sign-up and join many others in learning about key individuals, known and lesser known, but all important as they were used of God, in the great work of God in reforming the church, and bringing God’s people back to affirm and embrace the solas: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).

As Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) wrote, which captured the heart of the solas and of the Reformation, “We give God the glory if we trust in His grace that He does everything and that our work, righteousness, ability, and merit cannot save us or eradicate sin.”