The Way the Lord Hath Led Me
HOW wondrously true is that word which the Lord spoke to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." The writer of these pages desires for His glory, who has shown mercy to him, to record His ways of sovereign grace.
As a child I had very little opportunity; but I had a great thirst for books and learning. One day I happened to say, in the presence of a poor woman, how I longed for books, and had nothing to read. "What, Charles," she said; "there is the word of God on that table, and you have nothing to read!" She said no more, but those words could not be forgotten. They were used by the Spirit to show me that I had no heart for God. This, no doubt, came with deeper force as I had, though only twelve years of age, a good knowledge of the letter of the word. In those days it was the lesson book in the village school, which I had left about a year; and for which I have ever been thankful.
As yet I had no knowledge of my true condition as a lost sinner, and at once set about becoming religious. I tried hard to reform my outward conduct. What surprised me much was that the more I tried, the worse I became. This went on for some months. There were none in those villages who could point me to the finished work of Christ. All who seemed to have any care for the things of God, were working for salvation. From acquaintance with the letter of scripture, I was sure there was peace with God that I could not obtain by all my doings and efforts. After months of struggle and distress, I was returning home one dark rainy night, when the burden on my soul was so great, that I fell down on my face in the road, and cried out, "Oh Lord, I can do no more" and a deep sense that I was lost came over my soul. It was there, as I lay in the dark lane alone, that the Spirit of God revealed to my soul the finished work of Christ. Then it was that I saw that which I was vainly trying to do, had been done by my precious Substitute on the cross. I do not remember that I saw beyond this; but, like Israel in Egypt, I found shelter and safety beneath the precious blood. And rising from the ground, I do not doubt I was a new creature in Christ Jesus; but though born of the Spirit, how much had I yet to learn as to what the flesh was.
When I was converted, I began at once to long for the fellowship of Christians. Fifteen to twenty minutes' preaching once a week, was all we got. Nothing could have been more lifeless. Indeed, I do not remember that there were any who attended the village church that knew their sins were forgiven. I attended other preachings a few times, was greatly impressed, and enjoyed their hymns and prayers; but felt their preaching was not the finished work of Christ, through which God had spoken peace to my own soul. I had, moreover, in my conversion and ever since, a deep sense of the sovereignty of God, and I soon felt that this was set aside too much in the preaching.
I can see now, that what the new nature longed for, was the fellowship of saints in separation from the world. There was a little meeting begun in the neighbourhood, and the preaching was much in keeping with what the Holy Spirit had taught me in that dark lane. There was a gracious work of God, and a good many souls were converted to God. This was at Laughton, in Yorkshire, in the year 1835. In that year, when I was 14 years of age, it so happened that the preacher, one day, failed to come. The Lord then, for the first time, opened my mouth to tell of His wondrous love, to a world lost in sin. I remember the text was John 3:16. In visiting the village more than forty years after, I happened to call on a man who well remembered the sermon, and the text. It is very interesting to me at this long distance of time, now fifty-three years ago, to remember that in that first preaching, it was what God is to us: "God so loved." It was not, it is not. what we are to God. Oh, if this were the case, I should have been lost a thousand times since then. No, if that were the case, I for one have found, that if my salvation depends on what I have been to God, I am lost for ever. In my case, nothing short of an infinite Saviour could have met my sins and need.
Here I would just name how God had educated and prepared me, as a vessel of mercy for His future work. Left an orphan at the age of four, I had been brought up by a grandfather, a man of the strictest integrity. I believe I was brought to know the Lord at the time of which I have just spoken. From the age of about seven, I had partly to earn my bread, by working in the fields in summer; and in winter I went to the village school. At the age of eleven, a gentleman took me to his house, and for two years I had the most remarkable instruction from this gentleman. I had little book education, but he made me learn everything that could be learnt by observation; the garden, the stables, the duty of the butler, with all this he made me perfectly familiar. One day he would say, "Charles, I give thee three hours to catch a crow." Another, he would give me a covey of partridges to bring up. Sometimes he would require an answer at once to a difficult question, such as this: once before company, he asked me, What was the cause of an eclipse of the sun? I replied, "If I place my head between this lamp, sir, and your head, you will not see it, just like when the moon is between us and the sun." Amongst other things, I had at times, to act as chaplain, and read a sermon in the drawing-room; and this was done with great solemnity, though a child, when God had begun to work in my soul.
It would take up too much space to tell of many interesting particulars, and why and how I left that gentleman. It seems like yesterday since he gave me his long and last address. His last words were: "Charles, thou wilt either be a curse or a blessing to mankind." Sure I am, if it had not been for the grace of God, I should have been the former; and if, in the least measure, it has been the latter, to God be all the praise! I am quite sure God used this kind man, during these two years, to the benefit of the whole of my after life.
I left him, and walked over two fields, and then sat down on a stone stile, and wept; and I saw him no more. Thirty years after this, I felt led to go into the neighbourhood, to see the aged butler, now with the Lord. We had never met during those years. He said, turning quite pale, "How strange, I have just been reading your tract, Mephibosheth, the same which my master gave me before he died, saying to me, 'Thomas, take this, and keep it. God has shown me by it, that I have been wrong all my life. I thought I had a great deal to do for God. I see it is all the kindness of God, for Christ's sake, and what He has done for me."' I am thankful to be able to add, that aged Thomas was also brought to the Lord, and to rest in His finished work.
After my conversion I removed to Sheffield, then town of 70 to 80 thousand inhabitants. Here I was apprenticed to a gentleman who kept a steel, iron, and general hardware store. He was also a file manufacturer. I thus became acquainted with the Sheffield trade, and all classes of its people. My various occupations had given me a wide acquaintance with human nature. But in those years God was pleased to show the utter corruption of my own evil nature. It is a terrible lesson, but it must be learnt. "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not!" (Romans 7:18). This must be learnt. The full truthful history of the two natures, would be like the history of two distinct persons. The history of the flesh, with its lusts, would not be to the profit of any: to the individual believer, he learns, by its history, that salvation is wholly of God. What will be recorded then in the following pages, will be the dealings of God in perfect and amazing grace.
In looking back on those years, I am struck with one fact, that is, I made no advance in divine knowledge. I was greatly interested in eloquent preaching, but learnt nothing. Indeed, I was in a state of self-satisfaction, and felt as if I knew all there was to be known. In one word, I had no idea of my own ignorance. This was not so in reference to any branch of secular knowledge; but in divine things there was no advance. Indeed, there was the most astonishing ignorance of the true meaning of the Word of God. I thought the world (that world which had rejected and killed the Lord Jesus) was rapidly getting better, and that we were the people who would gradually mend it, until it was a converted world!
I will now tell how all this self-satisfaction, and delusion, was broken in upon. I should be about 23 years of age, and at this time was keeping a little store of material for the Sheffield trades. A neighbour came in one afternoon, looking very serious, and said to me, "Have you heard the news?" "No," I said; "what news?" He replied, "There are two men lecturing at the Assembly Room, and they declare that the world will be at an end, and Christ will come at four o'clock tomorrow morning!" I turned round, for I could not keep from laughing. He begged me to go and hear the lecture that night. I went. The lecturer said nothing about the world coming to an end the next morning; but he went over Matthew 24., and showed, from that chapter, the impossibility of the world being converted before the coming of the Lord. Now, though this man held much false doctrine, and probably was not a Christian, yet God was pleased, by this lecture, to awaken in my soul an earnest desire to know the truth as to the Lord's coming again.
I was amazed at my own ignorance of Scripture, and could scarcely sleep. About eight or ten others were also awakened to inquire. We met at five in the morning, to search the Word. We had no idea, either, as to what the church was, or the coming of Christ to take away His saints; but we were occupied with the coming of Christ to set up His kingdom on earth.
At this time, two of us opened a little room at Sheffield, in Duke Street, for preaching the gospel.
The late Captain Wellesley was then labouring in the service of Christ in Sheffield. Hearing of this little meeting, he called on us, and asked if he might preach the gospel in our little room. We gladly consented. He set before us the living Person of Christ meeting the sinner at Jacob's well - meeting the woman just as she was. Christ did not shun her, or tell her to go and reform her sinful character before He could speak to her, or save her. It was the Son of God saying to a poor sinner, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water" (John 4:10). I had never before heard Jesus thus set forth by any preacher; but I found it was the same precious Jesus, who had met me in that dark lane, and on that rainy night, and had spoken peace to my troubled soul. The effect of this preaching, I doubt not, has been felt by me ever since that night. It is a wondrous revelation of how God can, and does, meet the sinner.
We soon found that, for the present, instead of preaching, we needed close and continued study of the word of God. For eighteen months we read together the epistle to the Romans; and for that period, I scarcely read anything else but the Word of God. This has been a great blessing to me.
I must, however, relate one incident that occurred at the commencement of these readings. As almost everybody spoke of the errors of Capt. Wellesley, I thought he must hold some; and, strange to say, the most precious truths he sought to bring before us, I, through my own ignorance, thought to be errors. I have often noticed the same thing since. At that time I had no little conceit of myself, and great confidence in logic. I thought the best thing to do would be to prepare a number of syllogisms, bearing on the points I judged to be error. An opportunity soon occurred, and, in answer to a question from the Lord's servant, I let off a volley of syllogisms. I shall never forget his kind, pitying look, as he clapped his hand on his knee, and so quietly read the next verse. In that moment the Lord showed me what a fool I was, and all my trust in logic was forever gone.
I now come to an event that turned the whole current of my future course from that day to this.
I had heard that Capt. Wellesley and a few other Christians met on the first day of the week to break bread, like the disciples, in Acts 20. One Lord's day morning, I went to see what this could mean. I found them gathered in an upper room, in Wellington Street, Sheffield. I sat behind, and naturally looked for the pulpit. There was no pulpit, but a table spread, or covered with a white cloth, and on it the bread and wine, in commemoration of the death of the Lord Jesus. I then looked for the minister, or president; there was no such person. All the believers gathered were seated around the table of the Lord. A deep, solemn impression fell upon me: "These people have come to meet the Lord Himself." I have no doubt it was the Spirit of God that thus spoke to me. It is impossible to describe the sense I had, for the first time, of being in the immediate presence of the Lord Jesus, according to that word, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). I could scarcely notice what was done, I was so overwhelmed with the presence of the Lord. No one can have any idea what this is, unless really gathered to His name. What a contrast to everything I had seen before, and yet how simple! It was like going back to that which was in the beginning of Christianity, before any priest was heard of to offer in the church a sacrifice for the living and the dead. I was much surprised to find, strange as this gathering together of Christians to break bread appeared to me, that it was exactly what we find in scripture. Instead of even a minister at the Lord's Table, I found the same simple liberty as described in 1 Corinthians 14:29-37. I was greatly struck with each worshipping before the Lord, in dependence on the Holy Ghost. I felt that was my place, deeply unworthy as I was of it. Well do I remember the thought, "This is my place..."
After some weeks, I was named as one who desired to obey the Lord, "Do this in remembrance of me;" and, through grace, I took my place as one redeemed to God, at the Lord's Supper. Shortly after this, I experienced one morning, while we sat in silent worship, what I had never known before - the leading of the Spirit of God. It came as a gentle whisper from the Lord, "Read 2 Corinthians, chapter 1;" and very precious thoughts came into my soul on verses 3-5. I felt agitated, so much so, that perspiration ran down my face and body. We had sat some time in silence. I felt bid to rise and read, but had not courage to do so. At length, Capt. Wellesley, who sat at the other side of the room, arose and said, Let us read 2 Corinthians 1, and then he ministered the very thoughts the Spirit had laid on my heart. This was how I first learnt the leadings of the Spirit, in the midst of Christians gathered to Christ This has been a matter of frequent occurrence for these many years. Some instances I shall relate. We cannot read the Acts without seeing that, after the Holy Ghost formed the church, He was really present to guide the servants of the Lord. I am persuaded it is our unbelief that hinders much more of His distinct guidance now.
One thing that made me now slow to speak, was the continued discovery of my astonishing ignorance of scripture. The more I studied it, the more I discovered my ignorance. I suppose it is always so. With a deepening sense of my ignorance, I will relate how I began again to preach the gospel. A brother in Christ was over from Ackworth. Before he returned home he said to me, "It is much impressed on my heart, that you are to go back with me, and preach the gospel at Ackworth." "What," I said, "I go and preach! nay, it will take me all my life to unlearn what is wrong, before I can preach what is right." He said firmly, "You will, I believe, go, and the Lord will bless the Word." This was quite another thing. I dare not doubt that He could bless His Word. After prayer I went, and proved then and ever after, that the Lord could, and would, bless His Word.
This, then, was the second start to preach the Word, about ten years after the first, when a boy of fourteen. Seldom, in those days, did the Lord open my lips throughout the towns and villages of England, without some soul being converted. Not that this appeared at the time, but I have met them everywhere, ten, twenty, or thirty years after.
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