By David A. Doudney, D. D., Incumbent Of St. Luke’s, Bedminster, Bristol; And Editor Of The “Gospel Magazine”:
In the most unthought-of and unsought-for way, it has devolved upon us to take the oversight of the following pages, whilst passing through the press. As far as the Sermons themselves are concerned, our labour has been confined to the simple reading of the proof-sheets. We have occasionally added a foot-note; otherwise we have scarcely made half-a-dozen verbal alterations: so systematic and orderly was our departed friend, both as a writer and preacher, as to render correction of anything that passed under his hand quite unnecessary.
Some eight months have passed away since we received tidings of our dear brother’s departure, and with those tidings a request from his bereaved widow, churchwardens, and many friends in his congregation, that we would go and preach his Funeral Sermon. So solemn an obligation was at that time laid upon our heart, as due to the God of all our mercies, that His covenant love, faithfulness, and Divine all-sufficiency, should, in these solemn days, be proclaimed whensoever and wheresoever opportunity was afforded, and that in unison with a bond of brotherly sympathy and exhortation to an attached and now sorely-bereaved congregation, that the invitation was irresistible. Compliance under the circumstances was felt to be a matter of necessity.
But the scene on that Sabbath is one which will never pass from our remembrance. Only a little more than two years previously, and we had to encounter a somewhat similar spectacle in the large assembly that had gathered together in Charles Chapel, Plymouth, upon the death of our ever-to-be-lamented brother-in-law. It was with deep emotion, and only by Divine sustaining, we occupied the pulpit so recently vacated by a loved pastor, who from it had proclaimed the truth, in its fulness and power, for thirteen years; but now, within so comparatively short a period, we were called upon, on a similar solemn occasion, to take temporarily the place of another champion for the truth as it is in Jesus, who, for nearly twice the afore-mentioned number of years, had fearlessly and faithfully and affectionately “shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God.” Strange as it may appear, considering the relationship which had existed, the latter was the more trying of the two engagements. This may have arisen from the mind’s being more deeply imbued with the fact of the Lord’s calling away one and another and an other of His servants, in these truly perilous days, from the evil to come, and, likewise, from personal indisposition through a previous accident and a certain dark foreboding of coming personal trial and affliction. How far this was verified may be gathered from the fact, that, with the exception of the following Sunday after that spent at Manchester, we were wholly laid aside from the blessed privilege of preaching for between two and three months, during which period we were not only brought to the very verge of the grave ourselves, but were called of a sudden, and in the most unexpected manner, to part with the bosom companion of nearly six-and-twenty years—with her who had accompanied us on our mournful errand to Manchester, and who, on that occasion, had sweet fellowship with many of the bereaved members of the congregation of Openshaw.
The reader will pardon our brief allusion to these personal circumstances, because he will thereby the more clearly see how deep—at the same time, how painful—an interest we take in all that appertained to the departure of our beloved and lamented brother and fellow-labourer. Impressed and almost overwhelmed as we were with intense sympathy for that weeping congregation, on that painfully-memorable Sabbath, how little did we imagine our real position! How little did we conceive that those strange and inexplicable feelings, of which we were then the subject, were really the harbingers of scenes and sufferings which (could they have been foreseen) must, humanly speaking, have been utterly overwhelming. We are prompted, moreover, to allude to these facts, in order to testify to the wisdom and the goodness and the love of our God, in that He so graciously withholds from us the knowledge of the morrow, so that His word may be ratified and confirmed:“Take…no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And to show, moreover, that that sweet promise shall assuredly be richly and graciously fulfilled, “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” We might add, that one of Mr. Parks’s oldest and most tried friends, and at whose house we stayed during the interval of the services of that memorable Sunday, was, within a few weeks afterwards, like wise called to his rest. How little did he imagine, who was the first in the procession that followed the remains of their beloved pastor to the silent grave, that he should so soon be called literally to follow him to his last resting-place also! Reader, how do these facts, as with trumpet-tongue, say, “Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.”
With these introductory remarks, we now proceed to speak of our dear departed brother himself. Of his character and work we have already testified, both in the pages of the Gospel Magazine and in the funeral sermons which, without our knowledge, were taken down by a short-hand writer, and subsequently by request published. But, should we trespass here and there on the same ground, we trust it may be deemed justifiable, inasmuch as many into whose hands this volume will fall, will not have seen the works aforenamed, and because we deem it a matter of paramount importance that such a faithful and fearless testimony as that contained in the following Sermons should be accompanied by particulars setting forth the personal character, individual worth, and closing days of the preacher.
Reader, have you not often thought, when reading a sermon, hymn, or paper in which certain hopes or fears have been expressed, “Oh, how I should like to know how it personally fared with the preacher or the writer in after-circumstances, or at the close of his career! How glad should I be to know that God was better to him than all his fears, and that he in very deed was brought off more than conqueror through Him that loved him?” Now these are the very questions which, with regard to our departed friend and brother, we wish to anticipate and answer.
We are indebted to the bereaved and sorrowing widow for the annexed particulars of the early days and after-career of our departed friend.
The author of the accompanying ‘‘Notes of Sermons,” the Rev. William Parks, was born in Dublin, October 20, 1809.
He was the son of Mr. William Parks of that city, and was the sixth of eleven children.
His parents left Dublin when he was young, and went to reside on the Continent; living first at Boulogne and after wards at Brussels, where they both died, and are interred in the Protestant cemetery there.
His early years were spent in frivolity and gaiety, living entirely to the world, without God and without hope—sometimes in his native city and other parts of Ireland, sometimes in London, and much on the Continent.
It was the intention of his parents from early life that he should be educated for the Church, which was selected, as in the case of too many others, alas! merely as a profession; he never having experienced and knowing nothing at that time of the necessity of a call from God to the work of the ministry. Had he followed the bent of his own inclination he would have chosen the army in preference to all other pursuits, but that desire was overruled by a sovereign God. He designed him, unknown to himself, for a soldier of the cross, to fight under Christ’s banner.
He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1828, and took his B. A. degree in 1832. He was ordained to the curacy of Rainow Church, near Macclesfield, in February, 1840. The incumbent of Rainow resigning, the living was given to him, in March, 1841, which he held until his appointment to St. Barnabas’, Openshaw, in October, 1843, which living he held until his death.
His call and change of heart were only discoverable (and that subsequent to his college career) by the marvelous change in his desires and pursuits; those things which before had been his delight were now his abhorrence—those things which, like Paul, had been “gain to him,” he now “counted refuse,” that he might win Christ.
He was not the subject of that agonizing soul-distress which many of the children of God pass through in the new birth; but, like as God mercifully dealt with him in his last long sickness, taking the fleshly tabernacle down so gently, sparing him the excruciating pain which his distressing malady might have led his friends to fear he would have to undergo, so gently did He convince him of his lost estate, and manifest Himself to him, when He called him “to leave all and follow Him.”
He could truly say the glorious Gospel, which he was the honoured instrument of proclaiming, was not “after man;” he neither received it nor was he taught it of man, never having had the advantage of hearing the doctrines of sovereign grace preached, until (as he often remarked) he heard the echo of his own voice.
His preaching was much blessed to the wakening and building up of many souls, both in his own congregation and at other places where he occasionally proclaimed the word of life. Many of his hearers came a long distance in order that they might enjoy the privilege of attending his ministry. His great and earnest desire was to arrive at the mind of the Spirit in his opening up of the sacred Scriptures, and his great concern was rightly to divide the word of truth. In preparing for the public services of the sanctuary, and other labours in his Master’s cause, he spent much time in his study, both in meditation and prayer, the value of which was very evident in his pulpit labours.
As a writer, he was much appreciated; his tracts, of which he wrote many, had a wide-spread circulation. He also wrote a treatise upon the five cardinal points of the doctrines of sovereign grace, and other works, which will be valued as long as sound literature exists. The liveliness of his disposition rendered him a most agreeable companion. He had a great flow of animal spirits, and a great amount of natural wit, which in his latter years was a source of much sorrow to him; often leading him into folly, and causing him to exclaim in bitterness, “God, forgive me!”
About seven months before his death he was struck down by sickness, in, what appeared to mortal eyes, the midst of his days of strength and usefulness. In the early part of his illness he was very desirous to be restored, to be enabled again to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ;” but he soon began to discover that his “sickness was unto death,” that his work was done, and his Father had no longer need of his services. It was, however, his earnest wish that he might be permitted once more to occupy his pulpit, if, as he said, he had to be carried into it. The energies of his mind and the strength of his voice were so unimpaired by his long sickness, that had not the extreme weakness of his body prevented this, his almost dying wish, being complied with, he would no doubt, with the Spirit’s help, have been enabled to address his dear people with almost his accustomed vigour, and have taken a personal though painful farewell of those over whom he had been for so long the under shepherd.
The lovers of truth amongst his congregation deeply deplore their loss, to many of whom he was the spiritual father.
With regard to the Lord’s earlier dealings with His servant, he tells us, in one of the last tracts he wrote, entitled, “A Brief Review Of My Ministry, During The Last Twenty-Four Years,” &c., and to which tract we affectionately and earnestly call the reader’s attention, our dear brother says:—
“And now, my dear brethren in the Lord, come with me into the inner precincts of my heart, and let me show you what I have passed through in the way of practice and experience.
“Martin Luther said long ago, ‘It takes three things to make a divine, viz., reading, meditation, and temptation.’
“Luther, doubtless, had his cue from Paul, who exhorted Timothy to give attendance to reading and meditation (1 Tim. 4:13-15). What sort of reading this was we may readily imagine. It could not have been the reading of the works of the rabbis and doctors of the law, for these were utterly ignorant of the true meaning of God’s word; but the reading insisted upon must have been the prayerful perusal of the word itself, seeking out the meaning through the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
“This is the sort of reading ministers ought to devote themselves to, and not the reading of commentators, &c., who are fallible and fanciful.
“Well, to this reading did I devote myself for years, but it was hard work to understand what I read. There seemed to be such contradictions and such confusion in the Scriptures, that it was many a day and many a year ere I got the clue. At last, two great truths broke in upon my soul, namely, My own complete inability to keep the law, or God’s precepts and commandments, if my salvation depended upon my obedience. The holiness of God and the depravity of man put themselves in array before me, and I said, ‘Surely there must be some one to take wretched man’s place and answer for him if he ever is to be saved!’ That some One I discovered to be Jesus Christ. I reasoned thus, ‘I will take Christ’s own illustration of sin, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Of course this equally applies to all the commandments of God—then, where am I? I have been angry, and therefore have committed murder! I have been untruthful, and therefore have borne false-witness! I have been disobedient to my parents, and therefore am under God’s curse! I have been a Sabbath-breaker, a coveter of other people’s goods, dishonest in many of my dealings, besides a cherisher of evil thoughts. “What is to become of me? Thus I am a sinner both practically and spiritually! The Saviour declares me to be one of the vilest of the vile! I am lost and undone!’
“But Satan came with his sly suggestions. He said, ‘Oh, repent, reform, turn over a new leaf, and all will be right![“Reader, this is actually the divinity of many preachers. It is openly promulgated by the deluded hand of men and women calling themselves ‘the Hallelujah Band’. They teach that if a man reforms himself he will have instant salvation, and they quote instances where the outcast and the nuisance, the debauched and depraved, have become sober and respectable characters, and conclude that these persons are saved. Of all the monstrous deceits of Satan this is one of the most dangerous! I readily grant that a man from a drunkard may become a sober man, from a gambler may become a thrifty man, from a thief may become an honest man, from a debauched man may become a respectable member of society; but I utterly deny that any of these changes necessarily includes regeneration. In fact, the Holy Spirit’s work in the matter is completely ignored by those poor ignorant spouters. I grant, too, that this ‘band’ may have done some moral good for their fellow-creatures. It is a great boon to society to be rid of nuisances; but all this may be effected by free-will or moral agency, whilst the subjects of the change are no more regenerated than the heathen. But, as I was saying, Satan came in with his sly suggestions—Repent, reform, &c.”]
“But, Nay, nay, says Christ, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nay, nay, says Paul, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). This completely shut out all hope through my efforts or doings to make things straight with the all-holy God! There was nothing for it but salvation full and free, wrought out for me by Jesus Christ. I saw the mystery, and believed! Oh, how my heart leaped for joy!
“Observe here, that at this time I was quickened by the Holy Ghost. I was a regenerated man. My very anxiety about my soul, and my intense longing to know what the word meant, prove this; for no natural man ever troubled his head after this fashion. I was quickened before I gave myself to reading. Very different is this case to that of those who take all for granted, and are carried away by exciting rant or popular preaching.
‘‘The other great truth my reading brought to light was—’By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh he justified’ (Rom. 3:20). Oh, what huge obstructions and difficulties did this sweep away at once! Before this, in reading the Old Testament history especially, I was puzzled beyond measure with God’s commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances. I used to say to myself, ‘There must be two ways of salvation, one by keeping those laws, the other by believing in Christ.’ But the blessed epistle to the Romans taught me that ‘Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth’ (Rom 10:4). From that day to this I have had no doubt about God’s way of salvation, though I have had of my interest in it. The Old Testament commandments, statutes, and ordinances have nothing whatever to do with salvation. They are conditions, on the observance of which national Israel was to have possession of the land, and enjoy temporal blessings; whereas salvation is wholly, completely, and unreservedly un conditional! God grants salvation, not of works, but by grace—sheer, gratuitous, sovereign grace; and this He gives according to the good pleasure of His will.
“Brethren in the Lord, thus was I delivered. The work was done first by God the Holy Ghost quickening me—me, who never sought Him; secondly, by inciting me to give diligence to reading the word. ‘Ah,’ say many, ‘we don’t like those extreme views!’ Like them or dislike them, I reply; I am going to heaven with them in the full assurance of understanding! How common is this objection to the doctrines of distinguishing grace! ‘Extreme—extreme’ the enemy cries; ‘let us have something more in accordance with man’s notions of right and wrong.’
“I answer, What the word teaches, and not what man wishes, are two different things. The word distinctly declares that God’s thoughts are not as man’s thoughts, and the whole tenor of God’s dealings with man proves that God’s ways are diametrically opposed to man’s. ‘Who by searching can find out God?’ But let us have a word upon ‘extreme views’. What folly and inconsistency lie at the bottom of this objection!
“What greater extreme than the eternal love of God for His poor sinning Church (Jer. 31:3)?
“What greater extreme than the assumption on the part of Jehovah-Jesus of the form of sinful man (Phil. 2:6-8)?
“What greater extreme than Jesus becoming a Beggar that His Church might be rich (2 Cor. 6:10)?
“What greater extreme than the Creator of the universe submitting to be maltreated by His own creatures (John 1:3; 19:18)?
“What greater extreme than God in redemption-work passing by angels and rescuing and saving men, who by nature are worse than devils (Heb. 2:16; James 2:19)?
“What greater extreme than God giving grace to His Church in Christ Jesus before the world began, to save it irrespective of all sorts of works whatever (2 Tim. 1:9)?”
Such was the nerve, such the courage, such the strength of constitution of the late Rector of Openshaw, that, until within a few months of his decease, he appeared to be one of the least likely to be removed. His health was proverbial. As we understand, with the exception of occasional slight attacks of biliousness, he knew not ache or pain. His intellect was clear, his mind vigorous, his bodily frame erect and imposing. He looked like a man capable of and prepared for any service to which his Lord and Master might see fit to call him; and yet, whilst in the full enjoyment of both his mental and bodily powers, disease insidiously, but only too successfully, invaded that noble frame. By little and little, but only too effectually, strength and animation were compelled to yield to a malady which of itself was peculiarly weakening and depressing.
Those who, it may be, are constitutionally weak or nervous or low-spirited—or others who have been called for a lengthened period to endure pain and prostration—can understand how great the change, and how strange and dispiriting the process, by which a strong and vigorous and lively constitution is brought of necessity to succumb to what is stealthily over spreading the whole system, and by slow but sure degrees bringing it down and down and down to the place appointed for all living. There is such a thing as the being inured to pain, and a kind of matter-of-course reconciliation to weakness and prostration, by those long the subject of it; but the sudden failure of long-continued and the most uninterrupted health is a severe trial of faith, and calls for additional grace and patience. Strong and hale as Mr. Parks was up to within a few months of his death, we are informed that such was the progress of the malady by which he was instrumentally called away, that even his most intimate friends would scarcely have known him. The tall, stout, well-built, handsome man was reduced to a mere shadow, and the floridness of his countenance and general healthful hue, gave place to a deep copper colour. We allude to the fact because those who know what a bilious headache and disordered liver are, will be able the more readily to account for, and the more deeply to sympathize with, what is so pre-eminently calculated to affect the spirits and prostrate the whole system. There are those among even the children of God who are mercifully imbued with such a wondrous measure of health as to be unable to understand or practically sympathize with a state of weakness and depression which, if not the immediate consequence of, is greatly nourished by, a course of diligent study and scarcely-to-be-avoided sedentary habits. How different, for example, the appearance and the general tone and bearing of the farmer and the student! The one enjoys the blessing of almost-constant exercise in the open air, the which braces the nerves, and gives vigour and elasticity to the whole frame. The other is, of necessity, confined much within doors; and, if he be a minister as well as a student, his time for most part is divided between the sick rooms of his parishioners—the personal conferring with the anxious and the troubled—and his study. Mark the contrast in the life and occupation of the two parties; and see if it be difficult to account for the less healthy countenance and the not-unfrequently deep mental depression of the latter. In the former case, how much is put down to the possession and the triumphs of faith, which, we verily believe, if it came to be analyzed or tested by a constant stress upon the mental and bodily powers in the manner to which we have alluded as appertaining to the parochial minister or close and persevering student, might be fairly regarded as of the flesh rather than of faith. In this we do not attempt to limit the power and operations of the Holy Ghost; God forbid! We only seek to account for much which may be, and is, experienced on either side. In the same way we may account for the different tone and bearing of many of the servants of God. One is placed in an active and agreeable sphere, and is brought much into contact with, it may be, a cheerful people, in many respects of kindred thought and taste; another is set down in the midst of the most depressing and uncongenial circumstances, without a single fellow-being with whom to exchange thought or idea. A total blank, and worse than blank, as far as his fellow-man is concerned, and this probably where there exists the greatest possible intellectual taste and acquirements. Such, for a time, at least, lack the advantage arising from the declaration, “As iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the countenance of a man his friend.” Moreover, who can estimate the blessings often times arising from the fact recorded in Mal. 3:16: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name?”
We are not now contemplating—which under other aspects we might do—the overruling hand of God, in that this very solitude and desolation is caused by Him to minister to a closer clinging to Himself—the sweeter communion with eternal realities—and a greater deadness and indifference to time-things. We speak thus (as we have before intimated) to account for what may appear in the servants of God thus situated as shyness, abruptness, a lack of courtesy, and a want of sympathy and commiseration. If any would have illustrations of what we mean, let such visit Fen Ottery, the scene of the keen, penetrating, fruitful, master-mind of the immortal Toplady; or let them resort to the lone, dreary, desolate spot, some six miles from Perth, where one of the Bonars passed so much of his life, and to which the spiritual and energetic McCheyne resorted, when, by an exchange of pulpits, he would have extreme quiet, and be uninterrupted. Then let such seeker retrace his steps. Bid him visit the suburbs of the populous city of Manchester, and take a casual survey of the anything-but-picturesque village of Openshaw, and see if aught appears attractive to a mind of no ordinary stamp—an intellect which would love to revel in the vast, the deep, the lofty, the profound. Reflect upon a man and a mind thus located for four-and-twenty years, and say if great grace were not needed to keep such an one contented in a sphere thus so undesirable, but at the same time divinely appointed, and overruled, as we believe it has been, for the spiritual and eternal well-being of multitudes throughout the length and breadth of the habitable globe; for we verily believe that our dear departed brother’s labours were not circumscribed to the little narrow limits of Openshaw, but that, by his clear-sightedness, his vigorous grasp of truth, his boldness in stating it, and his power and perspicuity as an author, his writings have been read, and his labours will be more than ever valued, through the length and breadth of Christendom. Few, as writers, have the power of concentrating their thoughts, and expressing them in the same pointed, pithy way, as did our deceased friend. And sure we are, that those who differed from him in doctrine, must acknowledge that there was an honesty and an outspokenness about him which is rarely to be met with. It was evident that he feared the face of no man; that what he believed, that he was prepared honestly to avow, and scrupulously to abide by. Although, however, a strong-minded man, leading many, both by his writings and his pulpit testimony, to suppose he was not easily moved, yet he was nevertheless deeply susceptible of impression, and possessed withal a vein of tenderest sympathy.
In order to know this, there needed an acquaintance with him in his more private character; and, seeing that he very much excluded himself from society, this personal knowledge of the more private character and relations was difficult of attainment. Judging, as many might, from the general tenor of his writings, that Mr. Parks was not a man of feeling, we may state, for the information of such, that many years ago, by a fall, we were personally deprived for a time of the use of the right arm. Mr. Parks was among the first to write and sympathize; and, although some twelve or fifteen years have passed away since the circumstance adverted to, we perfectly remember the deep feeling with which he expressed himself, saying—he at the time being in the habit of writing his sermons— what would become of him had such an accident happened in his case. There was evidently a deep and grateful recognition of God’s hand in the matter.
Again, when, some two or three years ago, a little difference arose between ourselves respecting a correspondent, whose character and general opinion we could not dissociate from language or expressions which in themselves were capable of a different construction—we cannot forget the terms in which our deceased brother at length wrote. He closed a letter, which we greatly valued for its subdued tone and conciliatory spirit, by stating in what a different strain he should have written twelve months before.
Moreover, when, in the early stages of that illness which was ultimately to take him home, we wrote to sympathize with him, in the promptest way he replied, stating that, al though he had been compelled almost to lay aside the pen, ours must be an exceptional case, he being most anxious, in connexion with recent circumstances—the coolness to which we before alluded—to prove that he was not indifferent to our sympathy, but that he did indeed most fully recognize and appreciate it.
There may not appear anything remarkable in these facts to the general reader; but we would have such consider the man of whom we speak—his great boldness of character, and his uniform outspokenness, both as a preacher and a writer. To judge of many of his statements in the abstract, some might conclude he was unapproachable and void of susceptibility. This, facts disprove. Although appearances might lead to a different conclusion, we believe that, under certain circumstances, Mr. Parks was a man of deep feeling.
One example which happens to have been mentioned to us, will explain what we have said of his sympathies. A poor man wanted to see him. Not satisfied with a mere message, Mr. Parks at length went into his kitchen (where the man was seated), and asked him, in his own short, quick way, which might have been regarded by some as harsh or uncouth, what he wanted. The man in simple language, and with evident emotion, told him how he had asked of God for an interview with one whose writings had been so specially blessed to his soul. As the stranger talked, Mr. Parks was moved even to tears. Both indeed wept together, and the subsequent bearing and conduct of Mr. Parks proved how susceptible he was of impression, and how capable of the most marked and liveliest sympathy, where the impress of the Spirit’s work was discernible, and not mere hypocritical cant or pretension. How much men of God are exposed to this, and, with the claims of poor and populous parishes, how constantly intruded upon even in their most sacred hours, can only be known by those who have had an experience of parochial work.[A visitor at a former residence of ours had the curiosity on one occasion to reckon the number of applicants at the door. In two days they amounted to two hundred! On a very recent occasion a special request was made, that we might be seen. The servant’s question as to what message she should deliver was to no purpose. The mistress then came forward. Special in quiries were made as to what the business might be. After much hesitation and evident disappointment, the answer was, “That the lodgers in the same house complained of the noise made by the applicant’s mangle, and that she had come to consult the minister as to whether or not she had better seek for a room for herself and her mangle elsewhere.” This was the nature of the business with which the minister was to be intruded upon during his Saturday’s reading and meditation and this is the kind of thing with which the parochial clergyman is harassed, and, in the event of his declining to advise or interfere, gets him the name of a selfish man, and an indifferent visitor. His leaving the work of God to serve tables, has no weight with such fault finders, and it is this “table-serving” and pecuniary helping that so further the semi-papists of our day, in all their treacherous and systematic efforts to influence and proselytize the poor, the scale of whose “religious” profession is only too easily turned by a few shillings, a few hundred-weight of coals, and a blanket or two.—Ed.]
Men in general little know what in this respect falls to the lot of the parochial minister. Considering the poorness of the locality in which Mr. Parks spent little short of one-half of his valuable life, we doubt not that he had an immensity of this kind of thing to encounter. We have heard that he had not, humanly speaking, a very deep insight into character. Hence he was the more open to imposition, and, such impositions being afterwards brought to light, would naturally tend to steel the heart against other applicants. We have been assured, from the very best authority, that Mr. Parks was generous to a degree. His systematic habits, moreover, and his great disinclination to be mixed up with the business of the world, proved how great his desire to give heed to the words of the apostle: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” One fact with which we have been confidentially put in possession, proves this in an eminent degree.
In proof of his heartfelt humility (notwithstanding his occasional external bearing), we are grateful to have the opportunity of quoting from a letter which he wrote to one of the members of his congregation, who lacked the advantage of early mental training and educational privileges. And we would have the reader remember that this letter was not written during his last illness, and when the word had apparently gone forth, bidding him to “set his house in order, for he should die, and not live;” but it was penned five years ago, when Mr. Parks was enjoying, as he was wont to do, the most vigorous health and animation:—
‘‘From my heart I mourn over much that clings to me! I mourn lest at last I may be nothing but a hypocrite. Yet the Lord knows I am not that, but thoroughly believe His truth from my heart, and preach it too. I fear lest God might leave me to myself, to do something to cause the enemies to blaspheme. God and myself only know how I have dreaded this. The melancholy thought sometimes hovers over me: ‘Perhaps those who do not suffer as much are not to be made meet for the Master’s use.’ But I candidly confess that I feel myself in a wrong position when I assume to be your teacher. You have passed through so much more than I. You know so much more of the Scriptures than I; you have studied them so much more deeply than I, that I find often you have more understanding than your teacher. It is humiliating to flesh and blood to confess this; but I am certain that, wherever the Spirit of God has been at work, there will be a transparency, a godly simplicity, and an honesty in speaking and writing which the world in vain tries to imitate. I often think that my little gifts would be very admirably laid out in exchange for the knowledge of God’s word which many an ungifted man possesses. Still, how can I teach you? However, it must be very gratifying to you to see that the Lord has been teaching and exercising me, and opening my ear to discipline, which I hope He will do more. But this is like asking the Lord for trial and tribulation, &c., &c.; and we must have it.”
The foregoing extract will, we are sure, contain volumes in the esteem of those taught of God. How few of those who differed from Mr. Parks, or who maligned the doctrines he conscientiously believed and proclaimed, would thus have written of themselves to a plain member of their flock! Verily, “man looketh upon the outward appearance, but God looketh at the heart.”
As our space forbids enlargement, we must content ourselves with some two or three short extracts from Mr. Parks’ farewell letter to his parishioners. Before doing so, however, we may state, that we cannot conceive of a greater privilege than that awarded to our dear brother, in that he was permitted so calmly, so concisely, so comprehensively, to take his farewell of his congregation and friends. It has been well compared to the blessed Toplady’s coming forth, as it were, from the very brink of the grave to confute his enemies, and, with his dying breath, ratify and confirm his living testimony.
In the summary of his views and the doctrines he had proclaimed Mr. Parks says:—
“Temptation has now to be dealt with. Some years ago an old Christian man, whom I never saw, wrote to me thus: ‘My dear brother in the Lord Jesus, you have need of many prayers, for I am certain you are the object of fierce attack on the part of Satan, whose cause you have much injured.’ Never was a truer word written! Every man who will speak the truth as it is in Jesus is sure to be fiercely opposed by the father of lies. The reason why preachers and professors in general spend such quiet and apparently-happy lives is, they never oppose Satan. Poor deluded souls! They eat and drink and are merry with their fellows, never for a moment alluding to serious things, but speaking of the news of the day, and are ‘hail fellows, well met’ with the world at large! Why should such suffer prosecution? They oppose nothing, therefore Satan leaves them unmolested. But it is not so with a truth-speaking minister. He must identify himself with God, and consequently he is shunned and hated and tempted.
“Some of you little know and little dream of the depths of temptation that I have waded through! Oh, what horrid thoughts! What filthy and blasphemous thoughts have been poured into my soul by Satan!—thoughts more than enough to sweep my soul into hell! Peter with his lying and swearing was nothing in comparison with me! I have all but cursed the day that I was born, and would gladly have exchanged my existence with that of the brute that perisheth. I have wished to be annihilated, or to sleep eternally. And, though some will hardly believe me, I have been a coward toward my Saviour! What! you say, after your conversion? Yes, I answer, after my conversion! Men talk of having been in Satan’s sieve, because they have been notorious profligates, or remarkable sinners, before some moral change has taken place in them; but let me tell them that Satan’s sieve is only for the living children of God. Every unconverted man is under the influence of Satan, but his sieve is only for the blessed of the Lord, the redeemed and the saved! Peter’s case illustrates what I assert. ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona,’ declared Jesus of Peter, a very little while before he was sifted as wheat (Luke 22:31, 32).
“But my Saviour stood by, and reminded of His prayer, ‘I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’ The result of all this (as you with discernment have detected) was experimental preaching. Through my own failings and infirmities, I knew that you, dear brethren in the Lord, have been in the same position, and thus was I enabled to preach acceptably to you, and to remind you of my commission, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.’” (Isa. 40:1, 2).
Ah, there is no preaching like experimental preaching! It is like face answering to face in a glass! The anxious hearer beholds the facsimile of himself, in the honest preacher, and thus is he built up in his most holy faith, and strengthened for further conflict. It is this knowledge of self that enables a minister to describe the ins and outs of the human heart, to declare the absolute necessity of a finished salvation, and to say with authority, “I have seen an end of all perfection!” (Psalm 119:96.)
Then comes his final farewell, and most touching and truthful are its terms:—
“And now, my dear brethren in the Lord, I bid you fare well. My prospects on earth don’t seem very bright, but this matters little whilst the glorious inheritance above is ready for my possession; and not only for mine, but for that of all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity and truth. I could go to sleep in Jesus to-night with but one regret, and that is not expedient to relate here.
“But with regard to what I have written above, you who can separate the precious from the vile, you who can discriminate between truth and error, you who can distinguish between godly experience and natural excitement, you who have had your own senses exercised by the Holy Spirit, will be able to appreciate the solemn truths I have laid before you.
“The poor world, both religious and profane, will read this tract with incredulity and contempt, because it cannot understand the ways of the Lord. Doubtless I shall be charged with arrogance and antinomianism, but God is my Witness that I am far, far from both.
“The living children of God are no boasters—no loose livers. They know that their salvation is all of the Lord, and their desire is to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; and, though they cannot do as they would wish, ‘for evil is ever present with them, yet their delight is in the law of God, after the inward man’ (Rom. 7:15-25).
‘‘Brethren, you know this; you know that for twenty-four years I have taught you thus, so it matters not what the world either thinks or says respecting you or me. The experience of the Church of God often seems bordering on enthusiasm, and even daring liberty, but it is only to the world, and it no more can understand the inner or outer life of a truly-regenerated man, than can the peasant understand a problem in science!
“Strive, my brethren, to walk consistently, give no occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, and you will have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:11. Once more, Farewell! Your faithful Pastor,
By the kind permission of the bereaved widow, we are enabled to give a copy of a letter she wrote to a dear sympathizing friend and minister, which was as follows:—
“Fairfield, Oct. 10, 1867.
“My dear Sir,—I thank you much for your kind note of sympathy received yesterday. I am not able to say much about my late dear husband. It was a source of regret to his Christian friends that he was reluctant always to speak much about himself, or his personal experience in private; and he was especially silent during his long and depressing sickness. I do not think, from the few remarks he made from time to time during his illness, that he suffered much from temptation, or at all from doubt of his interest in Christ’s finished work. During the last fortnight of his life, when it was evident his end was fast approaching, it was a comfort to see how calmly yet anxiously he waited for the summons to go—to use his own words—‘to my Father.’ He said to me, the prospect of going home was very delightful to him. A few days before he died he said he had often wondered at such men as Jeremiah charging God with having deceived them; but he had that morning been much tempted in the same way, not feeling for the time His presence when passing through the waters. His independent spirit wanted no creature comfort in a spiritual way, but for temporal assistance and comforts he was very thankful. He said one day, when I had been at tending to his bodily wants, ‘If a creature is such a comfort, what must a Saviour be?’
“He liked to be left alone to hold communion with his God. Hearing him speaking in a low tone, I inquired if he wanted something. He replied, ‘No, I am talking with my God.’ The last connected audible sentence he uttered was, ‘I wish the companions of my youth—my confederates in sin—all felt themselves as firmly on the Rock as I do now.’
“You, sir, were amongst the most valued of his correspondents; he longed often, for a measure of your mild humble disposition. He was a proud man towards his fellow-man; humble as a little child in the presence of his God.
“I have been most mercifully sustained, and enabled to attend to his wants during his long illness; and have been surrounded and assisted by many kind Christian friends at his burial. I am not at all able as yet to realize my unutterable loss; it seems from first to last a dream to me.
“Believe me, dear sir, yours sincerely,
“Rev. Robert Walker.
We would add, that our dear brother preached his last sermon in March last, from the words, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” A sweet summing up of the public testimony of one who would only be to happy to declare that he himself was, “A sinner saved by rich and free and sovereign grace.” Singular to say, that dear Mr. Parks preached his first sermon at Openshaw, the Sunday on which the beloved Mr. Nunn preached his last at St. Clement’s. Thus as the Lord was about to withdraw one Boanerges, He was condescendingly giving another. Mr. Nunn laboured at St. Clement’s, Manchester, for twenty-three years; Mr. Parks, at Openshaw, for twenty-four. Mr. Nunn was called home at the age of fifty-four; Mr. Parks, within a few days of completing his fifty-eighth year.
We shall add, in conclusion, the striking remarks of our dear departed friend, as expressed in his last tract but one, published under the title of “A Voice From A Sick Chamber.”
“I have learnt, moreover (he says), that I am very dear to the hearts of many whom I once suspected of coldness. What anxiety, what fear, what devotion, what sympathy you have exhibited in my behalf! You have sent up prayer after prayer for my restoration. You have literally struggled with God for my healing. How dear must I be to you. Yet how unworthy am I of the least particle of your love. I cannot but know that I have taught you carefully and faithfully; but what was all this but my duty? And, when I call to mind the selfishness and shortcoming of my most efficient efforts in your behalf, I am ready to break my heart with weeping.
“May the God of all grace continue to bless you, my brethren; and, if the tie be made faster by a prolongation of my life, may the remembrance of these things sweeten our future intercourse: if the link be about to be broken, and your lot be to stand at my grave side, remember kindly the poor frail imperfect man, but only in God.”
Reader, what language can be more touching—what more indicative of a deep and humiliating sense of personal sinfulness and shortcoming? Let the enemies of the departed say, conscientiously, as before a heart-searching, rein-trying God, whether they are prepared thus to regard and speak of them selves! “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.”
In reference to the Sabbath of which we spoke in an earlier page, the following remarks were subjoined to the account in the Gospel Magazine for November, 1867, from which we have just quoted.
“When I entered the church my heart failed me, and I greatly reproached myself for venturing to undertake such a grave and solemn responsibility. I knew what a creature of feeling I was, and how soon overcome. When, therefore, although a wet morning, I saw the numbers clad in deep mourning, crowding into the church, and in the first person I recognized the weeping widow, I was obliged to cry mightily to the Lord for support. The pulpit and communion-table were covered with black cloth. The pews were strewn with the hymns to be sung on the occasion, surrounded by a deep black border. The church was filled to overflowing with persons who, both by their dress and their countenances, be spoke their deep sense of the solemnity of the occasion. It was a dark morning without, and dark indeed within the walls of that sanctuary. As one sat in the silence that preceded the service, one was reminded that never would he who well nigh twenty-four years, almost uninterruptedly occupied that desk and pulpit, occupy it more. Another voice was now to be heard both from the one and the other; his never! At length one’s reverie was broken in upon by the announcement of Luther’s hymn:—
“Great God! what do I see and hear?
The end of things created!
The Judge of mankind does appear,
On clouds of glory seated.
The trumpet sounds, the graves restore
The dead which they contained before:
Prepare, my soul, to meet Him!
“‘The dead in Christ shall first arise
And greet th’ archangel’s warning,
To meet the Saviour in the skies,
On this auspicious morning:
No gloomy fears their souls dismay,
His presence sheds eternal day,
On those prepared to meet Him.
“‘In that great day at His right hand
May I assume my station,
And in His holy image stand
In robes of free salvation!
Then, while His frown the wicked dread,
Peaceful shall I lift up my head,
Prepared with joy to meet Him.’
“In the most measured, solemn way was this—and indeed all the hymns and chants—sung by the whole congregation. It was touching in the extreme. Oh, how did one feel the need of divine support at that moment, lest the natural feelings should give way, and, being overcome, be compelled to bring the service to a close. These were one’s fears. And yet how good and gracious was the Lord! As one placed one’s foot upon the stairs leading to the pulpit, one mentally exclaimed,
“Lord, for more than twenty years Thou hast stood by, and never, never forsaken; nor wilt Thou now!” There was given at the moment—there and then—although not before—the assurance of divine help and all-sufficiency. And, though one felt the vast difference and the very great inferiority of gift in one’s-self in contrast to him who had so long stood in that pulpit, yet there was the calmness and composure one had so earnestly desired.”
His mortal remains are deposited in the burial ground attached to his church in Openshaw. The following inscription is placed on his tomb:—
“In Memory Of William Parks, B. A., Late Rector Of This Parish, Who For Twenty-Four Years Was Privileged To Preach The Discriminating Gospel Of The Free And Sovereign Grace Of God, In The Adjoining Church. He Died In Hope Of A Glorious Resurrection, On The 2nd Of October, 1867, In The Fifty-Eighth Year Of His Age. “He Being Dead Yet Speaketh.”
To which is added by his own expressed desire, “Here Lies A Sinner, Saved By Grace.”
His congregation have erected a tablet to his memory in the church, of which the following is a copy:—
“In Memory Of The Rev. William Parks, B. A., Late Rector Of This Parish, Who Departed This Life October 2, 1867, In The Fifty-Eighth Year Of His Age. He Was Born In Dublin, And After Preaching Three Years At Rainbow, Entered Upon His Labours At Openshaw, Where He Proclaimed The Gospel With Boldness For Twenty-Four Years. His Views Of Divine Truth Were Distinct And Unvarying; Ever Ascribing All The Glory To Christ, For The Salvation Of His Chosen People. His Preaching And Writings Were Blest To Many Of God’s People. His Upright Manner Of Life, And His Patient Hope In Death, Bore Testimony To That Grace Which He So Dearly Loved And So Faithfully Preached. “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death, And I Will Give Thee A Crown Of Life.”—Rev 2:10. This Tablet Was Erected By The Congregation As A Token Of Esteem For Their Late Minister. November, 1867.”
William Parks (1809-1867) was a High-Calvinist Anglican preacher. In 1843, he was appointed Rector of the church meeting at Openshaw, Manchester, a position he held for twenty-four years.
The Inscription On His Tomb: “In Memory Of William Parks, B. A., Late Rector Of This Parish, Who For Twenty-Four Years Was Privileged To Preach The Discriminating Gospel Of The Free And Sovereign Grace Of God, In The Adjoining Church. He Died In Hope Of A Glorious Resurrection, On The 2nd Of October, 1867, In The Fifty-Eighth Year Of His Age. “He Being Dead Yet Speaketh.” To which is added by his own expressed desire, “Here Lies A Sinner, Saved By Grace.”
The Memorial Table In The Chapel: “In Memory Of The Rev. William Parks, B. A., Late Rector Of This Parish, Who Departed This Life October 2, 1867, In The Fifty-Eighth Year Of His Age. He Was Born In Dublin, And After Preaching Three Years At Rainbow, Entered Upon His Labours At Openshaw, Where He Proclaimed The Gospel With Boldness For Twenty-Four Years. His Views Of Divine Truth Were Distinct And Unvarying; Ever Ascribing All The Glory To Christ, For The Salvation Of His Chosen People. His Preaching And Writings Were Blest To Many Of God’s People. His Upright Manner Of Life, And His Patient Hope In Death, Bore Testimony To That Grace Which He So Dearly Loved And So Faithfully Preached. “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death, And I Will Give Thee A Crown Of Life.”—Rev 2:10. This Tablet Was Erected By The Congregation As A Token Of Esteem For Their Late Minister. November, 1867.”