A Sermon Preached By William Gadsby In The Chapel, Artillery Street, Bishopsgate, London, On Behalf Of The Aged Pilgrims’ Friend Society.
From this portion of God’s Word, I shall endeavour, as the Lord may enable me this evening, to speak a little, in the first place, of where God finds all his people; namely, in a desert land. Secondly, shall speak a little of his leading his people about, and of the seemingly strange methods the Lord sometimes takes to instruct his people. And lastly, of the care with which his people are kept; he keeps them as the apple of his eye.
In the first place, where the Lord finds his people. I am certain it is where none but himself would ever think of looking for them: “In a desert land, and waste howling wilderness.” Now from this portion of God’s Word, you may in some measure be able to judge whether your religion is of the right kind; I mean whether the Lord found you, and where he found you, or whether you found the Lord; whether God began with you, or you began with God—for much depends upon a right beginning.
Now all the account that some people can give of their religion is that they had the privilege, they say, of being born of pious parents, and were brought up under the means of grace; but they cannot tell when the work began, or how. But they were brought up to attend the Sunday School, and in time they became teachers themselves, and as they grew up to years of maturity, they became decidedly pious. And if this is all the account you can give of the matter, there is no account of the Lord’s finding you in a desert land; you seem to me never to have known you were lost.
Now I will tell you where the Lord found me, and then I will endeavour, if the Lord will, to find out some of you. I remember, when quite a boy, I was so convinced of my wickedness that I resolved to reform my life, and go to church. This lasted for a few days, and I was greatly pleased with myself and my good resolutions; and as I went to the church, I thought all around me appeared so holy; the people appeared holy, and the very ground I walked upon seemed holy, and the bells of the church appeared holy also. But I was tempted to rob a turnip field, that I had to pass through; and here I fell, and lost all my holiness and religion together. But when the Lord began the work upon my soul in reality, he made me to feel I was indeed in a desert land, a waste howling wilderness. But the Lord did not find me that agreeable pliant creature that some people represent; for I resisted as long as I could.
I remember hearing a man preach once from the words, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” &c. And he represented the Lord Jesus as standing at the door of the heart, and knocking and beseeching for us to let him in. But it was not the way the Lord came to me; for he knocked door and all down, or he might have knocked long enough before I should have let him in. But this poor thing represented the Lord as quite disappointed, and not able to accomplish his own work. But, honours crown his blessed brow! he is, and he makes his people willing in the day of his power. And although some say he gently opened the heart of Lydia to receive him, God does not open hearts with feathers; so he shook the jailer by an earthquake when he took possession of his heart, and soon made the lion like a lamb.
Again. When the Lord comes to seek out his people, he makes no mistake in the matter. When he sent Ananias to seek Saul of Tarsus, Ananias thought it must be a mistake, and told the Lord, “he had heard by many of this man,” &c. But he was silenced with, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name among the Gentiles.” We sometimes look upon one and another that we think are saints of God, and are very much mistaken in the matter.
I remember, many years ago, at my own place, some young men, what the world calls respectable, came to my chapel for some time; and I was mightily interested in them, and I thought if the Lord would but convert these young men, they would be quite an honour to my church; and my mind was kept upon the subject some time.
Well, one Saturday evening, a poor man came to invite me to go and see his dying child; but as it was a name I knew nothing of, I was unwilling to go. And I said, “Surely Monday morning will do.” But the man said, “No; my lad will not be alive then, and he so wishes to see you.” So I went with the man, and found he had been to nearly all the parsons in Manchester before he found out who the boy meant. And when I got there, I found an Arminian parson with him, praying that he might work out his salvation with fear and trembling; and the boy said that that had been done eighteen hundred years ago. And then he prayed that the Lord would increase his faith. “Yes, that-he will,” the boy said. “Where the Lord has given faith, he will be sure to increase it.” The man did not seem to know what to make of the boy’s comment upon his prayer; so he soon said, “Amen,” and finished up the business.
When he was gone, I said, “My lad, where did you hear of these things?” And he said, “O Sir, I am so glad to see you; I seemed as if I could not die until I had seen you.” And he gave me a sweet account of the Lord’s dealings with him, and of the terrors of the law that he had passed under; and I said, “My lad, I never saw you before that I know of.” “No, Sir, I dare say not; I belonged to Paul’s church Sunday school, and there I felt distress enough; for we said, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law,” and our parson preached nothing but law, until I really thought we should all be damned together. But under this distress I was one day passing your chapel, and seeing the people go in, I thought I would go in too; but I am a poor cripple. So I waited until all were gone in, and then crept in, and sat on the gallery stairs, where I could get out again before the people, so that they should not tread upon me; and your text was, ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth;’ and the Lord enabled me to believe it to my own comfort and consolation.” So the poor lad, you see, sweetly slid to the far end at once. He was led to the believing end of the law, and found that Christ had fulfilled it all for him. And O, how my soul was humbled under this discovery; but it was rather mortifying to the pride of my evil heart. I had been fishing after these young men, but never caught one; and I remembered I had them on my mind when I preached this very sermon. But the Lord, you see, at the same time was at work upon the heart of a poor cripple upon the gallery stairs, that none of the people seem ever to have noticed or known; but he was one that the’ Lord found in the waste howling wilderness.
Secondly, “He instructed him, and led him about,” and he will lead you about, and into some strange places too, if you are his children and live long. For instance; look at Job, that wondrous character whom the Lord declared to be a perfect, upright man, and that there was not such another upon the face of the earth; and yet he let the devil loose upon him; and who was ever tried like Job? Indeed so wonderful appears the whole history and character of this eminent child of God, that were it not confirmed by other parts of God’s Word, we should perhaps almost doubt whether there ever was, in reality, such a person. The fear of God in his heart and tenderness of conscience were such as made him the very butt of Satan’s envy and malice; and being rich in the blessings of God’s providence, he was a blessing to all around.
I fear such characters are quite as scarce now as they were in his days. There are plenty of hardhearted, covetous wretches, even under a profession of the gospel. But where are the characters that can say, “The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me; and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy,” &c.? And the poor child of God said he should die in his nest, as the kind providence of God had made it very comfortable. But the Lord pulled the bottom out, and let Job slip through into such trials that would puzzle all the Arminians in the world to make it lie straight with their views of God’s truth.
The Lord said to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in all the earth, a perfect, upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil?” “O yes,” said the devil. “I know all about him. I have considered” (and he might have said envied) “him long enough; but I cannot get at him. Hast thou not made a hedge about him on every side? He does not fear thee for nothing.” Now how did the devil know there was a hedge about Job, and about his substance, if he had not tried to break through it? I dare say the devil had had many a thrust at that hedge, but you see he could not touch poor Job without the Lord’s permission. It may truly be said they are well kept whom God keeps, for we see the malice of that old infernal in the case of Job; for no sooner does he obtain permission of the Lord, than he kills all his children at a stroke, and sends his own children to steal most of the cattle; and, to make it still more terrible, burns up the rest, and altogether causes such destruction to all the comforts of the dear man of God that would have melted the heart of any one to witness, except the devil. Here was indeed a mysterious way of the Lord’s instructing his poor child, and leading him about, with a witness.
Well; having by his instruments done all this mischief, the impudent old wretch presents himself again before the Lord, and his blessed Majesty condescends to speak to him again: “Hast thou considered my servant Job,” &c.? As much as if he had said: “Well, Satan, I see what thou hast done, and what dost thou think of my servant now?” “Never saw such a selfish old wretch in my life,” says the devil. “Job cares for nobody but himself; neither children, nor Battle, &c.; but let me just get at his person, and he will curse thee to thy face.” But this was like himself, liar as he was; for Job was an affectionate, tender father, and deeply felt the loss of his children, &c. But the Lord gives still further permission for the devil to do his worst, except to spare Job’s life; and so hot and dreadful is the trial, that the poor man curses almost every thing but his God. This was the devil in him. The old wretch was filled with such malice that no doubt he said to himself,” O, he will do it presently—he will curse his God.” And Job’s poor wife took the devil’s part against him, and urged him to do the same; but he did not, for the grace of God in the heart of Job was more than a match for the very devil.
We see, my friends, by this, what an enemy we are exposed to in this old restless, roaring lion, that goeth about seeking whom he may devour. When Job lived we know not—most probably thousands of years ago; but the devil was made to confess this before the Lord, that he was constantly going about; and it is evident his only object was to do mischief. And Peter, hundreds of years after, gives the same testimony concerning him; and if God’s dear saints are thus instructed and harassed by the terrible temptations and cruel insults of Satan, depend upon it, you that know nothing of these things are under his powerful influence. The strong man armed keeps the palace, and his goods are in peace.
But lastly, he kept him as the apple of his eye. You see, in the text, the children of God are spoken of in the singular, as if there was but one: “He found him, instructed him, and kept him.” We see also by this the eternal security of the people of God. They are spoken of as one person—the body of Christ; different members, but making up one perfect body; so those that would thrust upon Christ more members than make a perfect body would make him a monster. But surely you would not have Christ a monster in heaven. And those who believe that some that Christ died for are in hell would make him a cripple, being without some of his members in heaven. But who these members are we are often mistaken about. Some of my people at home are such in-and-out sort of creatures that I really do not know, at times, what to make of them. I do hope sometimes that they make a part of this blessed complete body. If they form but part of the feet, they are equally safe with the Head; but the feet you know, are often in the dirt.
Again. They are spoken of as a complete building, of whom Christ is the Foundation; just as large as the building; also called a building fitly framed. Now, if you should employ a builder to build, say a building like this chapel, or a factory, and just as you expected it was nearly finished, some of the beams should fall out,—a piece of timber here and a stone there, why you would say, “This builder will craze me, will ruin me.” But not so with our God, who is a Master Builder indeed, and looks up his materials, as I said at first, where no one else would look for them; and really these living stones are composed of such materials that no one else could do any thing with them; and they are hewed and squared exactly to fill up their place in this blessed building, and shall never fall out. No, bless his dear name! He does not come into the waste howling wilderness to search and seek out his poor scattered sheep to lose them at last. He instructs them, and leads them about, and keeps them as the apple of his eye. O what a text is that! What is the apple of God’s eye? It is his own glory, secured in the Person of the Son of God; and such is the security of his dear people; for our blessed Jesus says, “They shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”
“The foregoing can only be called recollections of a sermon by the late Mr. Gadsby, as the writer of these remarks has no notes of the sermon, and is not certain when it was preached, but thinks in 1839. It is only from the powerful impression on the memory, at the time of its delivery, that has enabled him to lay these few fragments before the children of God; which he does not profess to do in the order in which they were delivered.
“I had the privilege of hearing him several times in London, and always felt there was a power attended his ministry that I hardly ever felt under the ministry of any other man. The Lord certainly honoured him much; for if he felt shut up, I could not discover it. I remember hearing him at Gower Street, in 1836, when under great temporal distress, and expectations of worse to come. He preached from Isa. liv. 1. And although at that time I did not know the blessedness of pardon, yet so powerful was that discourse that all that appeared to me as mountains of temporal trouble flowed down before the presence of the Lord, and I was carried honorably through them all. The mountain indeed became a plain. (Zech 4:7.)
“Many striking things I have heard from his lips, which I shall never forget. I remember once hearing him speak of the efficacy of the blood of Christ; and, speaking of some that abused the very grace of God, he said,’ Some people seem to know like angels and yet can sin like devils; and then fly to the Word of God, and say, “O! The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin.” It never was shed for you, you presumptuous wretch, let me tell you, whoever you are, if any such are before me this night.’ So thrilling seemed to be the effect of this solemn appeal, that I trust it will never be forgotten by me.
“In 1840 the Lord honoured a few poor outcasts in Norwich, by a visit from his dear servant, when he opened Jireh Chapel, and manifested such an affectionate interest in the welfare of the little cause that will not soon be forgotten by the few who had the privilege of his company on that occasion. This was the only time 1 ever heard him beg for the cause of God, and he did it most successfully, for we collected upwards of £20 under two sermons. He told the people God had a nice pair of scales, very nicely adjusted indeed; and he weighed what was left, as well as what was given, to see what proportion it bore to each other; which he proved by the case of the widow’s mite, when the dear Redeemer sat over against the treasury. And then his willingness in traveling about, and preaching the gospel wherever doors were opened, was a pleasing trait in his character. Blessed be God, there are a few young men raised up who preach the same doctrines; but I know of none so willing as William Gadsby was, even in his old age, to run on errands of mercy, in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ, and seeming always alive in his Master’s cause.
“It was impossible not to smile, at times, at some of the witty remarks that seemed so natural to him; but in preaching this sermon, he severely reproved the people, and said, ‘Poor empty creatures, to laugh at the solemnities of eternity! You will not laugh when the world is in flames.’ Take him all in all, I never expect to see his like again. But after all that has been said about him, it may seem
presumption in such a poor ignorant creature as the writer of these remarks in giving his opinion; but I only state a little of what I knew and have heard from his lips. It was not the man we admire, but the grace of God that shone so eminently in him.”—ANDREW CHARLWOOD, Norwich.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist.