Love Your Enemies
From the autobiography of John Kershaw (1792-1870).
My next-door neighbours were my greatest persecutors, especially the man’s wife. The enmity of this woman’s heart against me and my family because of my religion I cannot fully describe. She would often laugh me to scorn as I passed her door, and tauntingly call my children bad names, allowing hers to beat and abuse mine, which, as may be supposed, annoyed my wife exceedingly.
When she saw me off on a week evening to the prayer meeting, she would run and tell her neighbours that they might join with her in abuse. Instead of retaliating, the Lord enabled us, in some measure, to pray for our enemies, and to do good to them that despitefully used and persecuted us.
When we had been gone from Lower Fold a few years, to our great surprise this woman began to come to the chapel. My wife opened our pew door for her, and she continued to sit with my family. In a while, she not only came on a Lord’s day, but began to attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting. Though she had nearly two miles to come, a dark night did not prevent her. It was evident that the Lord had begun the good work of grace in her soul. She had gone to most of the churches and chapels in the town to get some good to her soul, as she called it, but all in vain. She sank deeper and deeper in wretchedness. At length she was compelled, from real necessity, to come and hear the man she had so much despised and persecuted.
The Lord evidently blessed the Word to her soul, which constrained her to esteem me highly in love for my work’s sake.
When she felt her feet fixed upon the Rock of Ages, and the sweet love of Christshed abroad in her heart, she was constrained to come forward and make a public profession of her faith by being baptized and joining the church.
She had now to prove the truth of our Lord’s words: “And with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
The persecutions she endured from her husband were very great. He was a well-read man of Unitarian principles and, like Saul of Tarsus, breathed out threatenings against her. When these would not keep her away, he often beat her severely; and when he found that beating would not do, he locked up her clothes. But none of these things kept her away from the House of God. He then threatened to kill her if she would not cease going to Hope Chapel. She told him she was commanded not to fear them that kill the body but were not able to kill the soul; but rather to fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
The more she was persecuted the brighter the grace of God shone in her, and she proved the truth of the promise: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass, and as thy days so shall thy strength be.”
Some time afterwards, her husband died, and left her with several children. She was much tried in her circumstances, and was forced to remove to Manchester in order to procure work for her children. She then began to sit under the ministry of Mr. Gadsby, and became acquainted with some of the people who had a love to her as a saint of the Most High God. Having been brought up in the country, Manchester did not suit her health.
The smoke and fogs of that place soon impaired her constitution, and she was brought to the brink of the grave. As she lay on her death-bed, some of the friends visited her. She expressed a great desire to see me. I was written to, and accordingly went.
Before I had been five minutes in the room with her, my soul was so blessed with what she said that I felt myself amply repaid for going. I spent some time with her in conversation upon spiritual and eternal realities, read a portion of the Word of God, and spoke to the Lord in prayer.
We had a very affectionate parting, with the impression on our minds that we should not see each other’s face in the flesh any more, which proved true.
By John Kershaw