During the Leeds Conference it was my good fortune to lodge almost opposite Mr. Chadwick’s front door. He kept open house, and I could not but follow his example—at all events, so far as he himself was concerned. We saw a great deal of one another, and at odd moments there came to me glimpses into the joy and sorrow and romance of his mission work. I heard him tell strange stories—stories that made the people cry, and sometimes laugh. I heard him preach in his own chapel and sing and talk as we marched with a huge crowd on the Sunday night through some of the lowest and wildest streets in Leeds. When all the work of the Conference came to an end he said, “We are going to Fountains Abbey with the mission staff, for a day of rest and pure enjoyment. Will you come with us?” It was a day never to be forgotten—a day of sunshine and thunderstorm, of story-telling and laughter and sightseeing. I made one bargain with my friend, that I would accompany the party and take the camera with me on condition that he told me a story of his mission work for the Winter Number [Methodist Recorder, Winter 1897]. Here is the result. Readers must imagine they hear the story told amid the beautiful surroundings of Studley Royal.—Editor
How did I become a Missioner? Well, I was not born one, neither was I “made” according to the pattern of any particular school I suppose, like Topsy, “I growed” into it. I was not converted in a revival nor had I seen much of special missions when I began my own mission work. My conversion took place before I reached my teens, and I was not for them when I began to give addresses and attempt sermons in cottages and small preaching places. But I preached for seven years and never saw anybody converted under my preaching.
The popular conception of Missions and Revivalists was not a very complimentary one where I spent the first years of my Christian service. It was generally assumed at that time that a Missioner was coarser in the grain and more slenderly furnished than the average preacher or minister, and what he lacked in gifts he made up in extravagance and eccentricity. And having no practical knowledge of mission work I readily adopted the common estimate.
I had no desire to be an evangelist. I was more anxious to be a good preacher than a soul-winner. And, perhaps, that was not altogether my fault. I was put on the wrong track by the well-meant advice of my seniors. My educational advantages had been exceedingly few, my attainments were nothing to boast of, my appearance was very juvenile, and it is not surprising that some of the members of the Local Preachers’ Meeting thought I had better tarry in Jericho till my beard was grown. My friends assured me that the only way to overcome this opposition was by preaching nothing but good sermons. “Never preach a poor sermon,” said my good superintendent, “and you will be all right.” The advice, of course was good, but it led unconsciously to a false aim in my work. Preaching became the end of my existence. I lived and laboured for my sermons, and was unfortunately more concerned about their excellence and reputation than the repentance of the people.
The man to whom I owe most under God is the Rev. Josiah Mee. He became interested in me through my Sunday School teacher, who showed me much kindness. It was Josiah Mee who gave me my first instructions in sermon-building, and my first opportunities of preaching. When he was leaving the Bacup Circuit he asked me to go and work at Stacksteads as “Hired Local” Preacher. For more than five years I had been possessed by an unchanging conviction that I was called to the ministry, but saw no probability of the call being realized. Here, at last, was an open door. Mr. Mee prayed, and as he prayed I decided to accept his offer. Within a few days I was on the ground ready for work.
It was a large chapel, comparatively new, in the midst of a crowded population of quarrymen and factory workers. There was a good Sunday School, but only a small congregation. There I was, a stranger, without experience, face to face with the problem of how to get those godless people inside the house of prayer. I was innocent enough to believe that my sermons would do it. But, alas! I soon came to the end of my little stock, and nothing happened. Eloquence and logic, however profound, make but little impression upon pillars and pews. I became anxious and in my anxiety betoook myself to prayer. Soon thirty or forty people signed a covenant to pray daily for a revival of God’s work.
One Sunday night the Rev. J. D. Brash preached and gave a testimony that awakened my interest in the doctrine of Scriptural Holiness. But instead of seeking the blessing I set myself to study the subject. Much reading, however, only led to confusion; and at last I turned away from all other books on the subject to the Bible. For weeks I read nothing else. Then began a searching of heart and testing of motives for which I was not prepared. Some things that were precious to me had to be given up. Then finally the battle raged over my preaching. About three o’clock one Sunday morning my little pile of sermons were burnt, and I started afresh. That day seven people were converted; one for each of my barren preaching years.
My Bible had led me in my search for a fuller salvation; I now turned to it for direction in my work. I believed that when a man talked to God, God talked back; and that when He talks to a Lancashire lad He doesn’t talk Dutch. For answer the Spirit led me to the study of the resurrection of Lazarus and its results. Here was a case abandoned as hopeless. If only the Lord had come while he lived he might have been healed. But now, he is four days dead, and the corruption offensively manifest. They have rolled the big stone of a dead hope against him. Whatever may come now all chance for him is gone. But the voice of Christ raised him. Contact with Him who is the Resurrection and the Life more than out-matched death in its most repulsive form. Surely that meant that the most notorious and hopeless sinner might be saved if only he and Christ could be brought together. Oh! how I looked at those great strapping fellows at the public-house corner; men abandoned by Church and friends as hopeless and longed for their salvation. The Lazaruses in that valley were very many.
The next thing I noticed was that Lazarus sat at meat with the rest and ate his supper like an ordinary mortal. That was wonderful. Some people who have marvellous experiences of Divine power are very unapproachable. They live apart from common people and common things. If some people I knew had been privileged to pass through an experience like that of Lazarus they would have had to be kept under a glass case the rest of their days. But all grace is for common life. The highest sanctification is but the sanctification of the common-place. So from resurrection he goes to eating and drinking, toiling and praying, bringing all visions of glory and exalted experience to the common duties of life; and thereby making the commonest things radiant and divine.
Then more wonderful still, crowds that cared nothing about Jesus were curious about Lazarus. “They came not for Jesus’ only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom He had raised from the dead.” Lazarus fetched the crowd. They knew him. They had heard of his death and burial, and now he was alive again. No wonder they wanted to see him and hear the story from his own lips. And when they came to see Lazarus they found him so near to his Master and so full of His praise that they saw Jesus too, and went away believing.
I rose up from the study of that incident and shut my book, saying, “That’s the solution.” What we want is a Lazarus. Oh! for the conversion of some man whose wickedness stinks in the nostrils of the valley! That Christ would raise some well-known sinner from the dead.
We prayed for him; took the Gospel to where he was likely to be found and our Lazarus came. A man whose brutality and wickedness was a bye-word singed the pledge and gave his heart to God. It was talked of as a miracle. It was discussed in every barber’s shop and public-house in the district. Lazarus was converted!
We hadn’t long to wait for the crowd. The largest building in the valley would not hold the people who came, not to hear preach, Oh dear no! Precious little they cared for preaching; nor to see Jesus, but that they might see Lazarus whom He had raised from the dead. Never shall I forget the glorious work that followed. Hundreds of great big, rough fellows were converted, and many godless women turned unto the Lord. I can see them as I write: coming shyly into the unaccustomed place, struggling to swallow down the lump in their throat, and to hide the ear that would not be kept back, then, overwhelmed with grief, rushing to the penitent form to wrestle with the devils till Christ set them free. Then what a shout! What Doxologies we sang night after night as one Lazarus after another stepped form his grave and took his stand by the side of his Lord. And most of them, by the grace of God, continue unto this day.
All I know of mission work I learned in that revival. We had no special preacher, and no elaborate arrangements. The fire simply came down in answer to believing prayer, and earnest, dogged work for the salvation of men. I have from that day maintained that conversion is the one and only secret of abiding success. Wherever there is a Lazarus there will be a crowd. If God is at work week-by-week raising men from the dead, there will always be people coming to see how it is done. You cannot find an empty church that has conversion for its leading feature. Do you want to know how to fill empty chapels? Here is the answer: Get your Lazarus.
Conversions not only bring prosperity to the Church; they solve the social problem. Many of those people lived in the most wretched parts of the town. Their houses were filthy and their children in rags. They were the despair of the law and sanitary science. But when they “got converted” all that soon changed. Furniture and clothing were fetched from the pawnshop, soap and water came into evidence, and the neighbourhood became so clean and respectable that the Chief Constable wrote expressing his gratitude for the change that had come over the place. Environment is but the shadow of character, and the surest way to change the shadow is to begin with the man. Some of these people have prospered since the day they were saved, and they and their families are now filling positions of honour and trust.
During these months that silently revolutionized my life I learned that success is soul-winning is not according to the measure of our natural powers. Some of the most wonderful things I saw were wrought by most unlikely people. Men without education and apparently destitute of great natural powers were made mighty through God. One little fellow who had come up from Lincolnshire and had fallen into drunken and idle habits was among the first converts. We tried in vain to teach him to read. He was absolutely incapable of picking up the most elementary education. But he was well-saved and eager to work for God. I gave him four or five different kinds of work, but none of them suited him. Then I told him I would not give him another job; he must go the Head of the firm and say, “Lord what wilt Thou have me to do!”
One Sunday morning at the seven o’clock Bible-class he asked us to pray for him. The Lord had told him to go and fetch a notoriously godless family to chapel. When I heard the name I forbade him to go. But he said if I wouldn’t set on, I ought not to knock off. His mind was made up. So we prayed. It was a dreadful house. Father and mother, several grown-up sons and daughters, all drunkards, and several of them violent and brutal. I was afraid they would half kill him.
About ten-clock he knocked at the door. It was answered by the old man in his stocking-feet and without coat or waistcoat. He opened the door a little way, and the little man knowing their ways, slipped through without a word. When he got inside the old man joked him about his size, and asked him whether, if he hadn’t opened the door, he wouldn’t have come through the keyhole. The ambassador delivered his message with much feeling to the astonished old sinner. It was only a broken sentence or two about God’s love and coming to the chapel. The man looked at him in silence. One by one the members of he family came down in various stages of dress and undress. Then the old lady got up and came to see what was the matter.
“What’s he efter?”
“He says his Master’s sent him.”
“And whoa’s his mester, pray?
Then the old man turned and said—
“Who did you say it were?”
And again the simple, broken message was spoken.
Then the old man spoke and said—
“Young man, you are the first person that has spoken to me about my soul for more than twenty years. My father was a Methodist; he were superintendent o’ th’ Sunday School; and my mother! ay she were a good woman—a class-leader—and she did broken-hearted, praying for her lad.
“Young fellow, I’m a big sinner, but if you’ll hev us we’ll come.”
And for the first time in their life those children saw their father in tears.
He and his wife that night knelt together at the communion rail sobbing their way back to the Father’s house.
When they had “got through” he asked us to hold a prayer meeting in his house every day till all his family were converted. And we did.
The young fellow who fetched them had found his work. He developed a marvellous faculty for hunting big sinners out from the haunts of vice to the house of God. The Queen’s English was too much for him, but he understood the King’s message, and was honoured of the Holy Ghost in that kind of work above any man I know.
In the conversion f sinners it is not according to our culture and natural talents, but according to our consecration and faith. I have seen it everywhere. In Leeds an unlettered woman in one year led twenty-six grown-up people to Jesus Christ. She couldn’t read, write, or argue, but she could make gruel for the sick, she could pray and tell others the wonderful things Jesus had done for her.
Can you wonder that amid such scenes I became a Missioner? I learned all I know about mission work during those years I spent in Rossendale. Since then I have sat at the feet of learned and godly Professors in the Theological Institution, but they had nothing to add to the essentials I learned among the quarrymen. I have laboured among the cultured of the Edinburgh Universities, and found that the same Gospel and methods produced the same results. In Clydebank I had new ground, with a new Church, without congregation or prestige, but there again Lazarus was the key to the situation. The church was filled because many were saved. In Leeds, Wesley Chapel filled in a month because the second Sunday a gracious revival began, which continues to this day. And so everywhere the solution our problems, the key to all our difficulties is in the presence of a miracle-working Christ, who calls forth Lazarus from the grave and places him in our midst.—Samuel Chadwick
Taken from the Methodist Recorder, Winter of 1897.