“In Journeyings Often” – By John Kershaw
From the autobiography of John Kershaw.
The next place I went to supply was Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield. I set out on the Saturday, having fifteen miles to walk. Part of the road was over a high hill called Buckstones, a continuation of Blackstone Edge, the great range of hills that divides the counties of York and Lancaster.
A heavy fall of snow came on, so that I had hard work to make my way. With some difficulty I reached the house of the deacon about dusk. He was from home, and I soon found from his wife, who received me very coldly, that another supply [visiting preacher] was engaged for the morrow. I assured her that the error was not mine, but that I had come according to order. I said, however, that as another supply was coming, if she would give me a night’s lodging I would return home early next day.
She agreed that I should stay and see the other deacon, saying that perhaps I might have to preach part of the day. I spent a miserable evening. The good dame with two servants was busy in the shop, serving the customers, and my work was to rock the cradle, which I did for five hours.
When morning came, I still begged to go home, as they had another preacher, but she would not consent. After breakfast and family prayer, I took a walk on the canal bank, as I was in great anguish of soul. One person took particular notice of me, and seeing I was in great trouble, thought I was about to drown myself, and consequently stayed and watched me till I left.
At the time appointed, Mrs. Sykes and I set off to the meeting house. Just before we reached it, the other minister passed us, and she informed me it was he that had to preach that day.
When we got into the chapel, it was agreed that as there had been a mistake, and they had now two supplies, one should preach in the morning, and the other in the afternoon. I entreated them that if I must speak amongst them, they would let me get it over in the morning, as I was the younger man. This was agreed to, I went trembling into the pulpit, and opened the hymn book and as the Lord would have it, I opened to Book 2, 77:
“Stand up, my soul, shake off thy fears,
And gird the gospel armour on;
March to the gates of endless joy,
Where thy great Captain Saviour’s gone.”
My soul arose within me. All my fears fled, and valour for the honour and glory of the Lord and zeal for the peace and prosperity of Zion came upon me.
O what an amazing change took place in my feelings in the course of a few moments!
I was suddenly brought out of a world of misery into a world of joy and peace. I opened the service with the above hymn, and found sweet liberty in prayer. My text was Romans 8. 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
The love of Christ was blessedly shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Ghost, and as I spoke of it, the people felt it too, so that I saw tears of joy trickling down the cheeks of the old pilgrims who had long been travelling Zionwards. It was a time to be long remembered, and has often been spoken of.
After service, the other minister, who was to have preached in the afternoon, came and took me by the hand, saying, “My friend, you have begun the labours of the day, and shall finish them; for I will most gladly be a hearer again this afternoon.”
He went with me to dinner, and when we got into the house, Mrs. Sykes might not have been the same person. Her countenance shone with delight, and she received me with her whole heart. From that day to the day of her death we had a growing attachment to each other in the bonds of the gospel. She was as valuable a woman as I have ever known in the county of York, both as a wife, mother, mistress and friend. As a Christian she was a bright jewel in the Lord’s house. The cause of God and truth lay near her heart. Her husband survived her many years, and was an occasional and acceptable preacher of the gospel. He is now numbered with the dead, and at his particular request I buried him and preached his funeral sermon in 1848.
The person I have alluded to, who was so fearful I should drown myself, heard me preach. He was greatly astonished when he saw me go into the pulpit, and at the great change he evidently saw had taken place in my spirit and countenance; so much so that before he left the chapel he went to one of the old members and told him all the circumstances of the case.
The minister who should have preached in the afternoon was my old, true, faithful and valuable friend and brother, Charles Lodge of Lockwood, with whom I walked in real spiritual soul-union till his death. I have heard my friend Mr. Gadsby say that in all his extensive acquaintances with the people of God, he did not know a
man who was better able to open up and expound the Scriptures in Christian conversation than his friend and brother Charles Lodge; but in preaching his utterance was frequently too rapid to be well understood, which was a great drawback to his usefulness in the ministry. “The memory of the just is blessed.”
A short time before I went to preach at Slaithwaite, I was one day sorely tried in my mind. Family circumstances were very distressing, fretfulness and peevishness worked very powerfully in my soul, and like poor, rebellious Jonah I was ready to say, “I do well to be angry even unto death.”
Like Ephraim, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, I kicked and plunged until, as Moses did, I spoke unadvisedly with my lips.
O what misery did I feel in my poor soul that day!
When night came, and the time it was usual for me to go into my closet for secret prayer, I trembled at the very thought of appearing before the Lord.
Satan, the accuser of the brethren, began to buffet me, saying it was a most wicked piece of presumption in me to attempt it; and for awhile I durst not.
I, however, felt it was both my duty and privilege to be instant in season and out of season; so with a trembling hand I opened the chamber door, and my knees smote together as I went upstairs. I fell down before the Lord, and began to tell Him what a guilty, filthy, polluted, rebellious wretch I felt myself to be. Whilst thus confessing my sins and sinfulness, I felt my hard, rebellious heart begin to soften, and tears of contrition flowed from my eyes; so that I offered to the Lord the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart, which He hath said He will not despise.
Whilst engaged in telling the Lord what a poor vile creature I was, He began to tell me what He was, saying, “I am the Lord: I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
“Ah, Lord,” I replied: “It is of Thy mercies that I am not consumed,
because Thy compassions fail not; and great is Thy faithfulness.”
I felt such a sweet, humble giving up of myself to the Lord that body, soul and circumstances I could now leave in His hands. I felt Him to be sweet and precious to my soul. I could now feelingly say with Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” etc.
I felt that I was more than a conqueror over sin, the world, death and hell, through Him that hath loved me. This was a time of refreshing to my soul. Bless the Lord, who can make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. I came downstairs as happy and comfortable as I could desire to be.
If all the free-willers in the world were to tell me that God’s immutable love shed abroad in the heart of a poor sinner by the blessed Spirit leads to sin, I am a witness for God against them. It humbles the soul, enlarges the heart, causes the feet to run with a sweet and solemn pleasure in the way of God’s commandments.
What I felt at this time was the substance of my first day’s preaching at Slaithwaite.
From this time I began to go to Slaithwaite once a month, and many a toilsome journey I had over the long and tedious moors, sometimes wet through as if I had been immersed in a pool of water.
At this time there were six miles on one part of the road with only one house, which was a public house and a den of thieves. I called occasionally, not knowing the character of the house, to get a little refreshment, and sometimes shelter from the storm. The people were always very kind and civil to me, especially the mistress of the house. She was a Scottish woman, from Glasgow, and from what she told me it appeared that her first husband was a God-fearing man. I had a bad opinion of her second husband. One night I dreamed that he followed me and took my watch and the little money I had. This greatly increased my fear, insomuch that afterwards I often turned round in the road to see if he was following me. Thus, like the apostle, I was in peril of robbers. In this house a desperate gang of robbers had their rendezvous. They had a horse shod with leather, which they took with them in the night to carry away their plunder. At length they were apprehended. The landlord turned king’s evidence to save his neck; but several of the gang were hung at York.
On one occasion, whilst walking across these moors, I was caught in a dreadful thunderstorm, and not a living creature near me but a few sheep. Like Moses and the children of Israel, when at the foot of Mount Sinai, I exceedingly feared and quaked. “What an awful thing,” thought I, “it would be if I should be killed in the storm, as both man and beast often have been!”
I was led to examine the ground I stood upon for eternity. As a poor, guilty sinner, I saw my need of the dear Redeemer and His finished salvation, and a giving myself up into His blessed hands, and I had such a precious view of Him by faith that all my fears fled away. I knew that the thunder was the voice of my heavenly Father. I had such a confidence given me of my safety and security in Christ Jesus that I was as happy as I had just before been miserable, and descended from the great moors, singing,
“Should storms of sevenfold thunder roll,
And shake the globe from pole to pole,
No flaming bolt could daunt my face,
For Jesus is my hiding-place.
On Him almighty vengeance fell,
That must have sunk a world to hell.
He bore it for a chosen race,
And thus became their hiding-place.”
On another occasion, passing over these moors, I was lost; there came on a dark, thick fog, so that I missed my way, and soon became so confused that I could not tell which way to set my face to go right. I wandered about for some time in great agony of mind, fearing that if night came on before I could find my way, I might lose my life. While thus filled with terror and dismay, I heard the voice of a shepherd and the barking of his dog, which gladdened my heart. I called to him, and told him I was lost. He spoke kindly to me, and inquired where I was going and from whence I had started; when to my surprise he told me that I was within a few yards of the place I started from in the turnpike road, which I left by a footpath, being a much nearer road. How thankful I was when the shepherd put me right. I walked along, thinking of my lost state and condition as a sinner, and of the good Shepherd finding me upon the dark mountains of sin and iniquity, and of His showing me my lost, ruined state by nature, and the distress I was in when I could see no way of escape. I was led also to think of the joy and gladness I felt when Jesus said, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.”…“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”
Soon after I began to preach, the Lord opened up a way for me into different parts of the Forest of Rossendale, where I went once a month till I was settled over the church at Rochdale, and where I have gone occasionally ever since.
There have been two churches planted, one at Bacup and another at Goodshaw, as the effect of my ministerial labours. Many a rough journey have I had into Rossendale over Rooley Moor, sometimes wet through with rain, at other times up to the knees and loins in snow, labouring in it till the sweat dropped off me and I was nearly out of breath, and had to rest before I could proceed.
I well remember on one occasion it snowed and drifted so violently, and I toiled till almost ready to faint; so completely was I exhausted, that I was brought to a stand, nearly up to the middle in snow. After resting awhile, I became quite easy, and felt exceedingly drowsy; but just as I was about to fall into a deep sleep, it came powerfully into my mind that if I fell asleep, I should be smothered in the snow and lose my life, as I had heard of others having done. This gave me fresh vigour. I exerted my remaining strength, and through mercy, got off the moor safely. I was not to be lost in the snow as my work was not done. The Lord be praised for His goodness.