Zoar Particular Baptist Chapel Bradford
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
On 19 February, 1984, Benjamin Walshaw of Brighouse, Yorkshire, the editor's father-in-law, was taken to be with his Lord, having suffered a severe stroke four weeks previously. A long and deepening affection prompts this record of his life as a token of my respect and Christian love for a man I knew to be a man of faith and prayer.
In 1955 some time after being appointed as Pastor of the Church, meeting at Zoar Chapel, Bradford, a small book was published entitled. Gathered Fragments, in which appears a record of the services held to mark the commencement of the Pastorate at Bradford together with an autobiographical account of his early Christian experience, his call to the ministry, and his call to the pastorate at Bradford. Many readers will not have seen this book, long out of print, and so a large fraction of this edition of Gospel Tidings is devoted to a reprint of this account, slightly edited, followed by a brief summary of the events of more recent years.
1. Called by Grace
Some of the children of God are able to point, with no uncertain finger, to the time and place where the Lord began His work in their souls, but, as one grows older, one finds that there are indications of the Lord's dealings much earlier than that which at one time was felt to be the beginning.
I have often said that the Lord broke into my Army service during the 1914-18 war and took me to Middlesbrough to begin His work in me, while at the same time, he took an esteemed friend of mine (Mr. T. D. Allick) from Middlesbrough into the Army to begin His gracious work in his soul. Now, I can trace interpositions and "leadings of the blind by a way they knew not" even before those days.
One shrinks from painting a true portrait of one's self; the colours are too livid, the lines too deep and covered with scars too grotesque to present to the open view of another, or to hang in a public gallery. A sinner is anything but a holy thing until the Holy Ghost makes him so, and even then that which is flesh is flesh, and remains so until a dying day. Nevertheless, to tell what the Lord has done for my soul, this portrait is necessary.
There are two features which stand out above the rest and display the true condition within one. The curved lip of pride, which would say: "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?" and the scowling eye and brow of unbelief, that could say: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
Amongst the family group I was, and indeed am, the least of all my father's house1. I have brothers and sisters not only older in years but better in wisdom and in judgment. The closest of these is my own big brother, Joseph, and my sister, Ruth. The others are stepbrothers and sisters. The father of us all, Robert Walshaw, was known in the denomination2 as an itinerant minister, and was loved by many in the northern churches to which he ministered. It was as humbling as it was enriching to be told by a friend in a Lancashire cause that I was not half as good a preacher as he was. His portrait displays large, sorrowful, yet sympathetic eyes, and one godly man of no small judgment said of him that he was the sweetest experimental preacher he had heard and certainly his looks and his manner portray him as such.
My mother's countenance and nature were of a gentle, timid and retiring kind. She was an example in meekness and patience; she loved the company of the Lord's people, but it was to hear and to serve rather than sit and speak. In many respects I was the black sheep of the family, as well as the youngest, and even my gentle mother was stung to say that if I went on in the ways I was then following, "I should end on the gallows". This was because of the awful temper I exhibited when thwarted in the pursuits and pleasures that I loved or when deprived of the things which I thought should be mine.
My father died when I was little more than one year old, and I unquestionably suffered through lack of parental control and discipline, and the advantage I took of the gentleness and patience of my mother! How much I must have tried her, the Lord only knows, but it became, in later years, one of my biggest sorrows, particularly so when under the conviction of sin.
Blessed be God, she lived to see the day when she could say: "I am sure there's a change in our Ben". She was also spared to see one of her lifelong wishes fulfilled, the settling of all her children in homes of their own; in fact, she was spared to see all her grandchildren. We who remain, have cause to rise up and call her blessed.
Many are the details which could be filled in during the years of childhood to young manhood, of near escapes from death and the Lord's preventive mercies. I was very badly scalded; I had a very severe cut just above my temple through a fall on ice, and in a fall from an old bicycle the handle bars pierced my chin. Had it been a little lower, it must have penetrated my wind pipe, but the good hand of God, in providence and in grace, was much marked in our home during those early years after my father's death. It was the Zoar friends, during Mr. Booth's pastorate, who, during my mother's very serious illness, very largely ministered to our necessities, while this word was made the anchor of my mother's soul at that critical time:
On Christ the solid rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
We passed through very trying times and we were very poor, and I have had cause to reflect upon this many times. How I proved in those early young manhood days—"When wisdom calls, they stop their ear, and headlong urge the mad career".
One incident must suffice to show the truth of this. I had been working some eight months, and holidays had come round. There was a prospect of going to Cleethorpes, but mother felt the expense would be too great; we could not afford it. I went into a rage and was determined not to be thwarted. I drew my weekly wages and, without a word to anyone, I set off to Blackpool. O, the hindrances the Lord put in the way to resist me, but, like Balaam, I was blind to them all.
It was not until my return to Brighouse in the early hours of he morning that conscience began to prick and then condemn, until eventually I was both afraid and ashamed to go home. I stayed out all night! In the morning I decided to go home and confess all, but also just as determined not to show "the white feather". How all this was broken down when I saw my mother and the anxiety expressed in those sleepless eyes. I learned afterwards that she sat up all night waiting for her wayward son.
I told her what I had done, but not without tears streaming down my face and surprising even myself, by saying: "Mother, pray for me". Nor shall I ever forget her reply: "Yes, I will, but when will you pray for yourself?" Then she added: "I will forgive you, but do you ask God to forgive you?" For a time this steadied my downward rush and sobered my life, particularly towards my mother.
In the providence of God, after I had enlisted at the early age of 16 years 10 months, my mother broke up the home, and, from 1915 to the time I was married in 1924, my home life, when not in the Army, was among relatives and friends. Wherever my mother was when my leaves from the Army came round, there I went; sometimes to Brighouse, sometimes to Bradford and sometimes to Middlesbrough, where she lived with my sister Ruth. This was my introduction to Middlesbrough.
Here I was to learn the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the exceeding riches of His grace; here I was to know the pit of corruption in which, but for divine mercy and sovereign grace, I was doomed to die; here I was to know and feel the joy and the blessedness of being brought out of the horrible pit and the miry clay and of a new song being put into my mouth, with my standing more secure than what it was before I fell.
How? By the simple testimony of a few saints of God, telling me of their call by grace and the work of God in their souls. O the effect of this upon my poor heart. This was the way in which it wrought in me: "These people possess something of which I am totally ignorant", and, moreover, I was convinced that what they possessed, I could not procure.
I was as convinced that they were right as I was that I was wrong. If they were taken out of this world, they would go to heaven. If I was taken from this world, I should as certainly go to that place where hope and mercy can never come. O, the misery, the burden, the envy. Job's complaint was my complaint: "Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery and life unto the bitter in soul".
Moreover, my new burden was—it was against the Lord that I had sinned. My sins were seen and felt in a new light. Much could be written of these times of darkness. It grew blacker, it grew denser, it was a darkness which could be felt and there was no rift in the cloud, no alleviation of the weight, but, rather additional burdens caused by new sins and new shortcomings.
O, the judgments I passed upon myself; O, the awful approvals that were forced out of my soul, that God was right in all that He did and in all that I felt. This went on for weeks until I felt I must give it all up. To go on was but adding sin to sin, displaying the great hypocrite that I was.
Well do I remember that particular Sunday evening when, such was the anguish of mind, that I said to my dear friend: "Jack, I am going to the chapel for the last time, and if there is nothing tonight I will never go again". The service followed the usual course, and when the last hymn was sung and the benediction pronounced and I had received nothing, I felt transfixed to the very seat I sat on. I was literally afraid to move.
Only those who have passed that way can know the awful and terrible condition I was in, and which I felt. O, how I begged the Lord not to allow me to leave that House of Prayer to go into the blackness of darkness for ever. It was the first Sunday and the ordinance3. I had never stayed to witness it before. I felt altogether unfit to witness such a blessed scene, but I could not move. The first hymn was given out, and, as the minister read the first verse, a change, such a change, came over me, such a brokenness of spirit, such a sense of light round about one, and such a love. What a transformation; what a translation! It grew in intensity so that when the fourth verse was sung, I sobbed aloud for joy:
Yes, now I know 'tis He, 'tis He!
Tis Jesus, God's dear Son;
Wrapt in humanity, to die
For crimes that I had done!
Every line, every word, came with such sweetness and such power; it was almost too much not to be able to tell someone then and there "what a dear Saviour I had found". Truly, the Lord made all things new, and I did joy with His heritage and in the gladness of His nation. To the friends gathered round the supper table afterwards, I asked if we could sing hymn number 9384, but let us change it and sing: 'I shall among them stand, Such shall a worthless worm as I, who now am not afraid to die, be found at thy right hand,'" without any felt presumption.
The way was now opened for me to come before the church and to tell to sinners round what a dear Saviour I had found, and to follow in the despised ordinance of believer's baptism. This was conducted by the late Mr. A. McKenzie.
Now I trust that "He that has begun a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ". Much of the detail has been left out. One would like to mention certain characters who were made a help to me in the time of darkness and distress, and also the many incidents by which, in spite of the darkness and misery, a hope was kept alive in my heart, a hope that indeed was void of every other support but mercy. Space and time forbid.
The time of my first love centred around, and found its full expression in, the truths of that hymn 950. Jesus and Him crucified was indeed the meat and drink of my soul. O, that it were with me as in months past! now I have to say:
More frequent let thy visits be,
Or let them longer last;
I can do nothing without thee;
Make haste, O God, make haste.
Such then is the portrait of the Shulamite; black but comely.
2. Preach the Word
Between my call by grace and that which I am now to write concerning my call to the ministry, was a period of 23 years. Many and great were the changes during those years, but a simple entry in my diary dated October 18th, 1921 reads: "Motored with Mr. McKenzie to Bradford; prayer meeting; hymn 247; back to Brighouse; Lord help me!" An entry in another diary dated October 26th, 1944 reads: "Preached for the first time in my life; Isaiah 40.6".
Between these two entries and amidst many seasons with their fluctuations, variations and vexations, their clouds and their sunshine, I can say nothing better than this. I was kept by the power of God. How I did prove that my heart was still desperately wicked; how I had to search for and beg for, those great promises of God, concerning His backsliding people, for my backslidings were like theirs.
Blessed be God, He brought my secret sins into the light of His countenance, and did not leave me without a spirit of deep repentance for them. When sin abounded in me. His superabounding grace was manifested toward me. The godly sorrow for sin brought me to that favoured spot—"He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake".
During this period of 23 years, the providence of God showed in no uncertain manner that I had to leave Middlesbrough and settle at Brighouse. All doors to employment at Middlesbrough were closed, the door at Brighouse opened of its own accord, or rather by God opening it, and, consequently, my membership at Middlesbrough was transferred to Zoar, Bradford. The advice of Mr. Booth was: "It would not be right to leave your furniture at Middlesbrough and live at Brighouse".
It was at Bradford, therefore, that I began to "bear the yoke", first as a member, then teacher, superintendent and deacon. The wrench from Middlesbrough was hard, but I believe it was divinely ordained.
It was during these years that I was asked to write articles in Waymarks, relative to lessons or addresses given in the Sunday school. Here was a link which the Lord used in respect to my call to the ministry. A letter I received dated January 14th, 1944 reads: "For the past three or four years, our deacon, his wife and myself have followed with great interest your page in the monthly issue of Waymarks. At the present time there is a great need for more men to supply the northern churches, particularly those who have the welfare of our young people at heart. Our prayer is that God, to whom all power belongs, will open the hearts of God-fearing men to take the place of those who are now laid on one side. May I, on behalf of our little cause, extend to you a cordial invitation to preach at—, and may the Lord our God open the way for you to come".
My first reaction to this letter was to laugh outright and exclaim to my younger daughter: "Your dad has received an invitation to preach, evidently from someone who does not know your dad". Howbeit, as the day wore on, this letter would come foremost in my mind.
It was our annual members' tea and church meeting, and I would gladly have relegated the letter and its contents to the background, to be considered at some more convenient time, but such thoughts as these would persist: Was it a God-honouring way to treat it so lightly? What if this thing should be of God? You haven't put a finger to this, the writer is unknown to you, why should they have been prompted to write?
I thrust the letter into my pocket and said to myself: "If it should be opportune, I will show this letter to Griffiths (Mr. Vaughan)5 and hear what he has to say". Before the end of the day, the letter had become a burden, and I wished it had not been sent.
In the ordinary course of my life, I had no wish for this change; we were a happy family. Our Sundays at Bradford were always full and never dull. To think about any other way of spending them was like contemplating the uprooting of a well established tree. The changes that would inevitably follow such a new sphere of labour were like so many explosions with their attendant blast and shock waves, or like a major operation which demanded the amputation of precious limbs. Our whole family life would be disturbed from its pleasant tranquillity.
After the annual meeting referred to, I handed the letter to Mr. Vaughan and asked him to read it at his leisure. Mr. Vaughan's advice was that I should show the letter to Mr. Whitaker6 and, in the meantime, should watch the Lord's hand.
The reply which I sent to this letter can best describe my feelings and exercise. Here are relevant extracts: 'It certainly came as an encouragement to know you had found the articles in Waymarks interesting ... I can also fully agree with your next point regarding the need for more divinely-ordained men to supply the northern churches, to follow in the steps of those laid aside, or who have been taken home ... It is your next question and cordial invitation, which has given me great concern. To give an address in a Sunday School or to write an article for a magazine is one thing, but to occupy a pulpit is quite another thing. I feel I cannot move quickly in this matter —'do nothing before the time'. I will, however, give you some of my thoughts and leadings, and what may prove to be developments.
Over 20 years ago an aged deacon at Middlesbrough told me that he felt persuaded the Lord had a special work for me to do, and that I should be a preacher of the gospel. Since that time, I have been asked in writing, on two occasions from two different churches, to go and occupy their pulpit, but each of these I declined, feeling I had no warrant to accept.
I had seen two brethren go out to preach without the full commendation of the church, and I felt at the time that there was something lacking. I felt there should be something mutual in the calling-out and the sending-out of a minister; there should be a common spiritual bond between the two, the one exercised to go, and the other to send. This has been a powerful deterrent to me ...
Reading the life of George Muller, these words arrested me: 'while Satan's motto is spare thyself, Christ's motto is deny thyself; and I would be found within the latter... I trust I have not gone into more detail than your letter demands, and I do hope and pray that what to me is now a tremendous question will be answered by the Lord Himself, and that I shall be made willing to follow His will concerning me. As to making any engagements, I can do nothing without the full consent of the church with whom I enjoy so much fellowship".
At this particular time Mr. Vaughan's ministry was made most pointed, helpful, and savoury, and I was enabled to tell him of things that were going on, both within and without, and his understanding, sympathy and wise counsel were as much needed as they were prized.
The year 1944 was to be, in the providence of God, a remarkable one in many ways, and particularly in respect to my exercises. At least three ministers of the gospel spoke to me about the ministry. These added to my exercise, but my chief and heaviest was from within. Also in earthly things there appeared to be a possibility of promotion, and an opportunity for a higher executive position. I felt that to take such a step would require so much more responsibility and time that it would mean the complete closing of the door to the ministry.
My oft-repeated prayer at this time was: "Lord what wilt Thou have me to do?" On the Friday of one particular week I was asked to give a decision on a very important matter. I asked for an extension of time until Monday before I gave an answer, begging of the Lord to show me clearly the course I should take. On Sunday morning, Mr. Davenport7 announced his text, which came with divine power: "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not" (Jeremiah 45.5). This was sufficient, and I was able on Monday morning to give an answer with a clear conscience as to the Lord's will in the matter.
The week following, I read of a missionary seal which depicted a bullock standing between an altar and a plough, with the inscription: "Ready for either", and this truly expressed my feelings. At the week-end, Mr. Vaughan preached from: "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord", and we sang part of hymn 783. How the last two verses .expressed the feeling of my soul.
Lord, let thy Spirit prompt us when
To go, and when to stay;
Attract us with the cords of men,
And we shall not delay.
Give power and will, and then command,
And we will follow thee;
And when we're frighten'd, bid us stand
And thy salvation see.
This service was, indeed, a feast of fat things, when I could say and feel: "Lord, thou hast known my soul".
The following Saturday I had to attend the funeral of an uncle, and on the return journey had to pass the house of God which was attended by the unknown deacon who had written to me. I shall not forget, while memory lasts, the spirit of prayer which was given to me, in wrestling for an answer from the Lord respecting my exercises; indeed, such was the faith given, that I was persuaded that, in His time and way, my sentence would come forth from my God.
It would take too long to detail all the exercises, the encouragements and discouragements between February and October 13th, 1944, when a special church meeting was held, at which I related my testimony of the Lord's dealings in respect to this solemn work of the ministry, and what, I trust, was my call to it. Extracts from a letter, written to a friend shortly afterwards, cover the more important details.
"I am not without hope that the Lord has given me some very definite leadings, through the application of His word with power. First, I was brought to a spot where a decision must be made, one which would apparently shape the whole course of my future life. The worldling would have chosen the opposite from that which I took, and my human nature would have made the same choice as the worldling, but I was confirmed by the fact that the minister took this Scripture for his text: 'Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not'. This came at the right time; a week before would have been too soon, a week later may well have been too late.
Secondly, this morning's reading was preceded by a felt access at the throne of grace, and as I read in the fourth chapter of Exodus, verse 12 came with power: 'Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say'. I Felt I had as many hindrances as Moses, but what affirming evidences he had! His rod, his hand, his bosom! I was almost tempted to ask for some miraculous sign. However, I read on, and this thought arrested me: The Lord promised to send Aaron, his brother, to meet him in the wilderness. Why should not I ask for a brother to come and help?
This I did, and the same day I received an encouraging letter from a minister. In the evening our reading was Ezekiel 29, the last verse came with arresting power: 'And I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them; and they shall know that I am the Lord'. Yet another brother, who was to be a help, said to me: 'When are you going to preach? God does not give a lighted candle to be put under a bushel; I expect you are waiting for a word from the Lord'. My heart was too full to answer. I could only say I was very exercised.
Thirdly, there came a time of great distress of mind, when I felt unable and unfit to move a step in the matter, and I begged for another word that would settle the issue for me. I opened my Bible and began reading in Jeremiah, and read on until I came to the 38th chapter, verses 20 and 21. Particularly did the latter verse come with power: 'But if thou refuse to go forth, this is the word that the Lord hath showed me'." Thus I wrote to my friend.
Yet another confirmation I must relate. I had been begging of the Lord that my dear wife should be brought to "take up her cross, the shame despise, dare to defend His noble cause, and yield obedience to His laws". I knew that exercise in this matter had gone on for some few years at least. I felt this would reconcile us each to the changes and partings which must enevitably follow, should I be called to go out to preach, as nothing else would. How very graciously did the Lord answer prayer in this matter also, and my dear one was baptized on the first Lord's Day of August, 1944.
I felt that the time had now come when I must go forward. To refuse, and the awful consequence of doing so, filled me with greater dread than the fear of venturing forth. I told Mr. Vaughan and the deacons, and arrangements were made for one to tell the church.
As our custom is, it was arranged that I should speak in the Lord's name before my own people for three week-evening services, and afterwards, according to their leadings and hearings, they should vote whether or not they could wish me God-speed and commend me to the churches, as the Lord was pleased to open the doors. Personally, I felt that, notwithstanding all that had gone before, I still could not go forth without their full acquiescence.
On the third occasion on which I attempted to speak in His name, all the young men from the Bible class I had conducted for some years attended, and this expression of goodwill was indeed an encouragement.
The meeting of the church now followed, and it was their unanimous wish that I should be given their God-speed through their speaker, Mr. Vaughan. A week the following Sunday, I was engaged to preach at Bedford, and since then every available Lord's Day has been engaged (and in most years this has meant 52 Lord's Days). I cherish no greater commendation than just this:
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ".
3. The Call to Bradford
It was a sad church that heard the request of Mr. Vaughan to be released from his duties as pastor, and perhaps on no-one did the blow fall more keenly than on the man who eventually was to follow him. He had seen the multifarious duties that had devolved upon Mr. Vaughan when Mr. Booth's pastorate had ceased, and he shrank from having to follow in the same path.
Our dear friend, Mr. Vaughan, had for many, many years fulfilled most of the duties of a pastor, long before the church felt the urge to give him the call to the pastorate. Was there then to be a repetition of those duties? The path of duty and loyalty lay upon him with no small degree of weight, the love and concord amongst the members of the church forbad any withholding from their wishes, much as the natural wishes of the natural man shrank from having to minister to those among whom he had grown up from childhood.
There were scriptures from which one shrank, lest their implication would suggest any move by the creature, and the church have cause to feel that any imposition was being placed upon them. Also, after more than eight years as an itinerant minister, many misconceptions of the work previously held had been exposed, and a deeper realisation felt that "the work was only fit for God".
When called to the ministry at the same time that Mr. Vaughan was considering the call to the pastorate, one hoped that here was God's supply to a need, that as the churches were to be deprived of Mr. Vaughan's ministry. God had raised up another to fill his place in some measure, however inadequate and unfitted for the work the instrument felt to be, but I could not feel the same about following in the footsteps of Mr. Vaughan as pastor.
Here I was, expected to take almost 40 Lord's Days among my own people, and feeling most unfitted and unqualified to do so. Moreover, I had already received two "calls", before receiving the one to Zoar. In neither case did I feel it easy to say "No", and, in fact, it was not until I had finally felt the call to be to Zoar, that I could say "No" to the church at Siddal.
The call given by the church at Bury was hard to decline because my poor ministry had been signally owned and blessed there. O, the solemn and sacred pleasure of being enabled to say: "As a proof of my ministry are ye in the Lord". Nevertheless, I felt the Lord had signally closed the door at Bury. The case of Siddal was quite different. I was asked to meet the deacons. They also had a special prayer meeting for divine leading and guidance. Some of the flock there testified to being fed through the preached word, nor do I wish to forget the savour and union felt in the prayers of the late Mr. Adams and the godly conversation of the late Mr. J. Hargreaves at that particular time.
At the special prayer meeting referred to, Mr. Adams said with such fervour: "Come in thou blessed of the Lord, wherefore standest thou without?" and Mr. Adams told me afterwards that the words came spontaneously and without any premeditation upon them. How much could I write about my exercises respecting Siddal, exercises which continued right up to the moment that the Lord directed me to Zoar, as will be seen later.
An extract from my diary dated January 19th, 1953 reads: "Momentous things, in which I do desire and pray we shall feel, and have, the Lord's direct leadings and teachings have occurred this week-end at our annual Members' Tea and Meeting. The business side was gone through with its usual ease and unanimity; the spiritual side with the unusual question of a pastor being brought forward. (Mr. Booth began his pastorate in 1898, the year that I was born, and terminated at his death in 1928; from that year until 1946, when Mr. Vaughan took over the pastorate, we had supplies.)
Mr. Whitaker said that, while he did not wish the church to come to a decision hastily, he felt it would be well if the church was given a spirit of prayer, and we had the Holy Spirit's guidance in this solemn matter.
The Lord knows the end from the beginning. There are no people that I love more than the people at Zoar, but I do want to feel, and to know, that this is the Lord's will for me".
Thus the exercise and seeking the Lord's face and favour was begun. I little knew that at the same time the friends at Zoar were to have prayer meetings for this very purpose also.
A second entry may now be quoted from the same diary three months later, which reads:
"Yesterday evening's church meeting at Zoar was an important one so far as I am concerned. At this meeting I was asked to take over the pastorate. Mr. Whitaker said that, although four of our regular members were absent, from conversations which Mr. Desmond had had with them, it was the unanimous wish of the church that I should be invited to become their pastor.
Where am I and what am I, with respect to this big call? I can only say: 'some glimmering light I seem to have, and yet too dark to see my way'. God knows I do want His divine leading and teaching. I told the dear friends that I could not give them an answer there and then; I had no authority to do so, but if they were prepared to wait until July, and altogether we were enabled to wait upon the Lord in earnest prayer, the matter would be reviewed, and so it was left".
By the month of June, I was enabled, and I trust moved, to enter this in my diary:
"June 1st, 1953: Now I want to record what I hope are the Lord's dealings with respect to the call from Zoar. At the moment two scriptures have come with a little unction and grace, a softened spirit and a soft heart. One is Ruth 2.10: 'Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?' The second came yesterday morning before going to chapel: Ezra 8.23: 'So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us'. O, I do want the Lord to show me distinctly, what He would have me to do. I certainly have had no encouragements from outside."
Indeed, the correspondence I had received at that time was most discouraging, as well as some of the happenings in the life of the church and congregation at Zoar. The time for the next quarterly church meeting was drawing on apace, and the exercise deepened, but it was not without its reliefs. Listen to this:
June 12th, 1953: "Last Saturday morning, while taking our dog for exercise, and meditating upon the services of the Lord's house, the first hymn for the morning service came so sweetly to my mind—
Descend from heaven, immortal Dove,
Stoop down and take us on thy wings,
And mount and bear us far above
The reach of these inferior things;
I stopped and repeated the hymn through, and as I came to that verse,
O for a sight, a pleasing sight,
Of our almighty Father's throne;
There sits our Saviour crown'd with light,
Clothed in a body like our own.
My heart was filled to overflowing; the tears ran down my cheeks, until the last verse,
When shall the day, dear Lord, appear,
That I shall mount to dwell above,
And stand and bow amongst them there,
And view thy face, and sing thy love?
O, it was a little heaven in my soul, and although it did not last long, it was indeed precious. How I can say, in retrospect of it: 'More frequent let thy visits be, or let them longer last'. Yet I am assured of this, we could not stand these visits too long while in this body; we should be altogether unfitted for this life".
It would take too long, and maybe it would be unprofitable, to recall all that transpired during those anxious weeks, but I must cull just this extract, written on Friday, July 3rd, 1953:
"I have to recall what I feel to be one of the most important steps and decisions that I have had to make in my life, yet I hope it is not my decision, but rather the Lord's will towards me and for me. Yesterday morning the Lord applied those words, with a little unction and power: 'And their nobles shall be of themselves, and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord. And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God' (Jeremiah 30.21-22)."
This I feel to be the Lord's clear leading that I should accept the call to the pastorate at Zoar. But to recall the incidents previous to this word. On Wednesday I went to see Mr. Dawrant, who had been very ill. We had a nice conversation together, and before I left I said: "If I read, will you engage in prayer?" He said he would try. I read Jeremiah 30, and the good man prayed for me in a way that encouraged me to hope that the Lord would at length appear and make the matter plain. When I came home and began to muse on the past, and also consider the following evening's prayer meeting, I could not get beyond that hymn:
If to thee I breathe my prayer,
Lord, wilt thou not deign to hear?
Shall I seek, but seek in vain?
Shall I ask, and not obtain?
After all had retired, I again went to the throne of grace. "Lord, do settle this doubtful case." Then Satan set about me on these lines. There was not a word in the whole Bible could come where I was and give me the word that I needed, to say it was to Bradford and to nowhere else. Did not the Lord Jesus Himself say that a prophet is not without honour save in his own country and in his own house; did not the Lord warn Paul that his own brethren would not receive him?
Why should I expect an answer contrary to the Word of God, and how will you know that it is a word for Bradford and not for Siddal? Satan then suggested that the two passages I had previously had were only the emotions of the mind. I was looking for something, they were not given to me. The soft heart was just the result of pent-up feelings, the moving to tears no different from the tears at the Coronation Service; what difference was there?
So I began to wonder where I was and what I was. Then I felt that it was indeed Satan tempting me, and had I listened to, and acted upon, his vile insinuations, I should be secure in his doubting castle and reduced to the border of despair. "Look here, devil," I said, "if it's all emotion and natural feelings, give me those feelings now, give me a soft heart and something that will cause me to weep". While I was thus facing my accuser, I felt a hardening of heart and further away from tears than ever, and so I went to bed, feeling the truth of those lines:
Lord, to thee I trembling run,
Void of refuge and undone;
And if thou reject my prayer,
Ruin'd, lost, I'll perish there!
Thursday morning found me downstairs at 6.30 a.m., again begging of the Lord to appear for me. I began to read in Jeremiah, and again came to the 30th chapter, the same chapter I had read with Mr. Dawrant. My heart was made soft, and the tears flowed, as these words stood out above all the rest: "And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving ... and their nobles shall be of themselves and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord".
Oh, how this 21st verse seemed to fit my very case and answer all the temptations of the devil; how fitting was the word; how it shut me up to Bradford and not to Siddal. How thankful I was for the first word the Lord dropped into my soul: 'Why have I found grace in thine eyes ...", otherwise I knew that this word in Jeremiah referred to the Lord Jesus, and I should have felt a usurper, but I had found grace, I had been caused to approach.
Then again, I had read this chapter the previous evening with Mr. Dawrant without a soft heart. Now I read it with one. Who had given it to me? Surely not the devil! Then again I felt my heart at rest, the conflict was removed, my doubts were gone. Again, it had come at such an opportune time, it was the prayer meeting night, and it was my turn to take the reading and expound, in fact, my next problem was: how was I to tell them, and what was I to read?
I felt the church should know first, and their acceptance be sought, and so I read II Corinthians 1, and spoke on the 20th verse: "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us". I spoke of this word under three heads: the person, the promises, the purposes. I felt it good to be there and I am sure that others felt it so too. I believe there was a "flowing together to the goodness of the Lord"
There is only one more entry I now need to make, and it is again from my diary and dates Thursday, July 21st, 1953:
"We can truly say, the Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad". The business side of the church meeting was soon disposed of and then came the question of the pastorate. The friends heard the account of the Lord's dealings with me.
Mr. Whitaker then spoke on behalf of the deacons and the church. "They felt," he said, "unworthy of having such a gifted man to be their pastor" (I do hope it made me feel what a big sinner I really am; it is I who am most unworthy of this high calling of God in Christ Jesus). Then Mr. Desmond spoke, and I learned for the first time that, for most of the six months, they had been having special prayer meetings on the matter. My wife and I were altogether ignorant of it.
I felt it was another mark of the Lord's great mercy and favour toward us, and made the second word, which the Lord gave, of new import; "So we besought our God for this". It was not I, but we, secretly and apart, who were seeking the right way for us and our children. Mr. Ludlam also spoke on this occasion, as being a new experience to him, and he found it most simple and yet so sweet.
A vote was then taken, and I was given a unanimous vote of acceptance to become their pastor. The doxology was sung and the meeting closed with prayer.
So I feel I can go forward with the full confidence of the church, and, O that I may have in a blessed and fruitful ministry "the confirmations of God". Truly, I am what I am by the grace of God, and I would be where I am in the fulness of that scripture: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light". (This concludes the autobiographical section).
At Evening Time
For over twenty five years this ministry continued, mostly at Zoar Chapel, but also on annual visits in many chapels in Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Midlands. Sadly, events at Zoar Chapel were not so encouraging towards the end of this period as had been the earlier developments leading up to the appointment and in the earlier years of the pastorate. The area surrounding the chapel became increasingly derelict as the scourge of inner-city decay had its serious consequences. Older members were taken home and a most serious loss was the death of a comparatively young and active deacon, Mr. Arthur Desmond.
The second world war had loosened the attachment of many young men from the chapel and so almost a generation of useful men were lost. A process was accelerating, particularly in the North of England, in which even a nominal attachment to churches and chapels was broken and congregations throughout the area generally declined. It is a mercy that faithfulness to God, faithfulness to the Word of God, and faithfulness to the divine call are the hall marks of a true servant of God and not merely numerical success. Such faithfulness in preaching and teaching the word continued in spite of discouragements until 1980 when their Pastor, now over 80 years old, told the church that he must resign.
However, the dearth of preachers in the Particular Baptist churches of the North of England is so severe that this resignation seemed to be only in name. The ministry continued with very little diminution until very recent times and even on the Lord's day prior to his stroke, he was preaching two sermons to a small but affectionate gathering.
The last four weeks of sickness in hospital in Halifax were weeks in which he could frequently speak quite distinctly and more than once there was a glimpse of the old preacher, with his deep love of the Word of God telling his friends and relatives of thoughts he had from the Scriptures. The writer had the privilege to be present once as he spoke of the way the Lord had been showing him something of the glory of God from John chapter 17, the glory of God the Father, the glory of Christ the Son and the glory of those who are with Him. This glimpse of the glory was his final anointing and after that he seemed to come gently and peacefully down to the river. Surely we can say with quiet conviction that now he knows that glory in its perfection.
Many believers up and down this country will testify to blessing received through his ministry and others to the encouragement ministered to them in his long and spiritual letters. Those who remain at Zoar Chapel, Bradford, can testify that he was indeed "faithful unto death". His family cherish the memory of his constant love and fervent prayers; daily his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were held in the arms of his prayers and carried before the Lord; many are the blessings we have received and doubtless will yet receive as these prayers are answered.
Our thanks to Christian Bookshop, Ossett, who are the owners of the copyright for 'Gospel Tidings' and also for their permission to reproduce this article.