Blessing on The Word – By John Kershaw
John Kershaw’s account of the early days of his pastorate.
After I commenced my pastoral labours, the Word was much blessed, and for some months things went on tolerably well. In September of the same year, Mr. Littlewood, minister at Town Meadows, the old Baptist chapel, died. Immediately after his death, Mr. Stephens of Manchester began to supply. They gave him a call, which he accepted.
The cause at that time was very low; several matters, combining together, caused this declension.
After Mr. Stephens came, the chapel began to fill, the pew rents were doubled, the poor who had free sittings under their former minister were told that they must give them up, or pay for them, such was the demand for seats. As might be expected, several of our congregation, who were prejudiced against me, “being a prophet in my own country,” left and went to hear this new minister, who was so much exalted; but not a member left us.
Some of his hearers said we should have to shut up the chapel, as we never could carry on the cause – a poor weaver for their minister, with a family of small children, a heavy chapel debt, but few members, small congregation, and those mostly poor; while their chapel was free from debt, many of the congregation rich, a growing church, a learned, talented and influential minister. They no doubt thought those we had would leave us and flock to them, so that our chapel must inevitably be closed. Yea, the cry went forth that Hope Chapel was going to be sold.
Under the circumstances, our deacons, at times, began to have their fears and misgivings whether or not we should be able to stand our ground and meet all demands, and my unbelieving heart echoed these fears.
O the sighs and groans and fears that were working in my mind, both day and night, and the great searchings of heart that I endured!
I felt sure that I had not put myself into the work of the ministry. I had neither worldly influence nor human learning to carry me through. I had nothing to look to for success in the work but the almighty power of Him who had called me to it. For months together I was in great agony of soul, wrestling in earnest fervent prayer and supplication for the power of the Holy Spirit to rest more abundantly upon me and the good Word of His grace in the souls of His people, that sinners might be converted and saints comforted and edified, and that the Lord would keep me in His fear, so that my conduct and conversation might be as becometh the gospel of Christ.
In the midst of these exercises and misgivings, I spoke of them to dear Mr. Niven, the old Scotsman. His reply was, “Let us pray to the Lord to bless and prosper our friends in Town Meadows (the chapel in which Mr. Stephens preached) so far as they have the honour and glory of the Lord, the purity of His truth and the peace and prosperity of Zion at heart; and if their chapel become so full that it will not hold them all, perhaps some that cannot get seats will come up to ours.”
I hope never to forget the earnest and solemn manner in which he spoke the following words: “But whether the Lord will bless them or not must be left to Himself. This I know, that He will us; for I have had such a spirit of prayer given me for you as a minister, and for us as a church and people, and have felt so much of His power and presence with us in the means of grace, such answers likewise to prayer in reference to you and your ministry among us, that I know He will bless us in the midst of all the opposition we may have to meet with. What we have to do is to study to be quiet and mind our own business, pray for His presence and blessing to be with us, and leave our cause in His hands; and it will be made manifest that the Lord of Hosts is in our midst, and that to bless us.”
What he said was a great encouragement, coming as it did from the lips of such a gracious, God-fearing man; yet I did not feel as though my gracious Master had spoken them unto me, so that I still cried unto Him that He would give me some kind, assuring word that He would make bare His arm and command a greater blessing upon my labours. Though I was but a stripling in person, and mean and poor in circumstances, He had given me zeal for His honour and glory; so that at times I was like a bottle ready to burst, there being nothing so near and dear to me as the Lord’s honour, and Zion’s peace and prosperity.
One day, walking alone, pondering these things over, the following words dropped into my soul: “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”…I knew that young David’s God was my God, that His ear was not heavy that He could not hear, nor His arm shortened that He could not save.
From this time I lost my fears that we should not be able to carry on the cause of God and truth at Hope Chapel. Many more encouraging portions were brought to my mind with great power; such as:
“If God be for us, who can be against us?”;
“More are they that be with us than they that be with them”;
“With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and fight our battles”;
“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty”;
“God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongeth unto God.”
What the Lord wrought by the poor, ignorant and unlearned fishermen, as recorded in Acts 4. 13, was also a great encouragement to me. I had now faith to believe that His blessing would more abundantly attend my labours. The conclusion the apostles came to was powerfully impressed upon my mind: “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.”
Thanks to the Lord, this has been my practice during all the course of my ministry. The following portion was often upon my mind, and I was enabled to obey it: “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand, for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.”
The Lord soon made it manifest that He was working with and by me, confirming the Word with signs following. In a while, some who had left came back, and settled down among us. A few who came before the church, in giving a reason of the hope within them with meekness and fear, spoke of the great prejudice they had felt against me because of my birth and low circumstances; but the power of the Lord so attended the Word spoken by me to their souls that, as “the north wind driveth away rain,” so had the preached Word in the demonstration and power of the Spirit blown away all these fleshly feelings, and they confessed with tears the hard and bitter things they had felt and said against me. This greatly strengthened my hands and was a great encouragement to the church.
Some of those who belonged to the other chapel, both from the church and congregation, began to meet with us; but what was more astonishing, the two old deacons, who had been as pillars in the other church in the days of Mr. Littlewood, left the place, giving up the church books, moneys, and all other affairs they held as deacons and members, and joined us; and several more of the members joined also.
On March 5th, 1820, I baptized ten persons, nine men and one woman, and the same day we received four from the other church, making an addition of fourteen to our number. This caused a great stir amongst the professors of religion. Whilst these things were working, like Manoah and his wife I was looking on with wonder and astonishment at what the Lord was doing amongst us.
From this time our church and congregation greatly increased.
By John Kershaw