A Sketch of The Character and Ministry of William Gadsby
I give a few thoughts, agreeably to request, on the character of the late Mr. Gadsby, not to praise the man, but the grace of God in him, and that the generation to come may know that in Manchester “a prophet hath been among them,” taught by the Spirit, and commissioned by Christ to preach “the glorious gospel of the blessed God,” for the obedience of faith, and for a witness against the ungodly at the appearing of Jesus Christ. In so doing I wish it to be understood that I do not give the following brief outline of his character to commend his memory to the children of God scattered abroad, as I believe that the testimony of God by his mouth has done that long ago in many of their hearts.
1. As it respects his natural disposition, when crossed and put much out of the way, he was rather passionate and hasty, but he was kind, free, benevolent, and hospitable. He made no pretensions to human learning, but he was not an ignorant man; he knew human nature well, and the nature of the world, and the things of it too. His natural talents were good and powerful. He had a capacious, clear, and strong mind—apt in conception, quick in perception, deep in penetration, humourous and keen in wit, sound, comprehensive, and decisive in judgment. These were some of the natural qualities of his mind as man, which, when guided and regulated by the indwelling of the blessed Spirit and his divine operations, were one means of making him an able minister of the New Testament, and a burning and shining light in his day.
2. His habits of life were plain and simple. He never stooped to assume the foppish and fashionable manoeuvres and manners of the age, doubtless considering them unbecoming the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. On the other hand, he was not morosely reserved and uncivilly distant, but affable and courteous, as far as was consistent with truth and conscience. On this account many respected him as a man who hated or knew nothing of the truths which he preached. He was frugal, careful, and prudent in domestic affairs, but disliked penuriousness and illiberality.
3. As it respects his religion, I think I have heard him say that the Lord made himself known to his soul when he was about or near the age of eighteen years. He used to say, when referring to that period, that before he was savingly convinced of sin he had a sense of sin, and great fears of hell and the devil, but that in all these convictions and fears there was no grace. But when the Lord the Spirit convicted him of sin, he felt it was against the Lord that he had sinned, and felt the fear of the Lord more than of Satan, which caused him to cry and beg for mercy.
After this, while he was very ignorant literally, and young spiritually, the Spirit revealed and powerfully applied to his soul justification by the righteousness of Christ, opening up to his mind the glory of this doctrine, and gave him some deep, clear, and comprehensive views of the glorious “mysteries of God, and of the Father, and of Christ,” (Colossians 2:2) and made them unctuous and sweet to his soul. Possessed of this experience, and urged by a few friends around him of like experience, he began to preach to them in a barn near Hinckley, I believe. No man was more sensible of the overpowering filth of the human heart, which caused him many sighs and groans.
I do not think that any minister of the Lord of life was ever upheld by the hand of God in a more consistent and blameless life for so long a period. His walk and conversation were an ornament to the pure and sound doctrines he preached; and yet, at times, O the distress and trembling fears he had lest he should be left to fall into some sin, and disgrace the blessed truth of God! such was the working of corrupt nature within and the feeling sense of his own weakness to stand; but the Lord most graciously held him up, and brought him honourably through all.
These things were means, in the hand of God, of making him a powerful and comforting minister of the Spirit of life.
Once when a noted minister in Manchester fell into sin, it distressed his soul almost to agony lest he should be permitted to fall into a similar sin. He endured temptations, suffered trials and afflictions of almost every kind, too numerous to mention, and many times laboured under the painful sense of coldness, deadness, barrenness, and all the fruits of depraved and helpless nature. These things were deeply and repeatedly experienced by him.
On the other hand, he was frequently favoured with solemn and glorious faith’s views of the eternal love of God, the glorious mysteries of redemption, and the sweet anointing and sealing power of the blessed Spirit.
The Lord led his mind clearly into the deep things of God, and sealed them home with such sweet power as to assure him of his interest in them. He was blest with a clear, comprehensive, and sound judgment in the harmony of truth, and loved to keep a clear distinction betwixt the law of works and the gospel of free grace, and betwixt the religion of human nature and the religion of the Holy Ghost. In short, a sense of what he was by nature, a sense of the fiery temptations and wily snares of Satan, and a sense of what he was in and by the Lord Jesus, were variously and copiously experienced by him.
4. As a servant of the Lord, he was “an able minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit;” and, at times, his preaching was powerful and full of majesty. To the truth of this he has perhaps more witnesses in this kingdom than any other man.
He was, by the grace of God working in him and by him, enabled to make full proof of his ministry. The blessed Spirit often clothed his speech with power and demonstration to the souls of the people.
His language was not in the words of man’s wisdom; it was plain, accurate, and expressive: his method clear, and always aiming at the point in the text. When the Lord touched his heart with the sweetness of the truth, while preaching, it filled him with energy and zeal, and sometimes the tone of his voice told the sweet sensations and anointings of the blessed Spirit in his heart; and when dwelling upon the glories of Christ and his fulness, and the bliss and blessedness of the church triumphant, his soul was wrapped up in ecstacy, and his preaching at these seasons was powerful and brilliant.
As to faithfulness, he paid no more regard to offending Arminians and Fullerites than he would to Satan and his agents, for the sentiments of these classes he abhorred, and always set his face as an iron pillar and brazen wall against them. He had not that keen and searching manner of separation that some of the Lord’s servants have, (for every servant of the Lord has his own work to do, and his own manner of doing it,) but he was very faithful, and at the same time, with the people of God, forbearing.
He had a particular manner, peculiar to himself, of simplifying and entering into the various feelings and exercises of the Lord’s quickened people. The burden of his ministry seemed chiefly to consist of three particulars:
1. In laying bare the death, depravity, deceit, and helplessness of human nature.
2. In tracing out the first work of divine quickening in the cries, desires, and sensations of the living soul, and the various trials and temptations of God’s afflicted sheep of slaughter. (Zechariah 11:7)
3. In holding forth the rich glories of eternal grace and love in the covenant purposes of God the Father, the mediatorial glories of the God-Man, the inseparable union of the church with him, and her completeness in him, having all fulness treasured up there; and the effectual operations and sweet anointings of the Holy Ghost in the heart.
These things he held forth with powerful majesty as he was enabled by the Lord working in him mightily. (Colossians 1:29.) He naturally had a great degree of eccentric wit, which he sometimes used in the pulpit, and which was frequently a source of grief and uneasiness to his mind, but it frequently beseemed him when it does not his imitators, as something weighty and solemn generally succeeded it, but even this failing the Lord overruled tor good. Many on that account heard him who otherwise would not have done, and sometimes, at these seasons, he made powerful and convincing illustrations. Referring to his humourousness in preaching, an old minister in Lady Huntington’s connexion told him of it, and wished him to avoid it, when he replied “If I must study to do that, I cannot preach at all:”
“Then,” said the other, “go on.”
His language at times in the pulpit to nice ears might appear coarse and too plain, hut he did not study to please the ears of fleshly hearers with fine speech or eloquent “words of man’s, wisdom,” for that makes the cross of Christ of no effect; (“not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect;” 1 Corinthians 1:17;) but that plain language and those (to some too) familiar figures manifested the independence of the preacher’s soul, and freedom and deliverance from the thraldom and systems of men; and also proved that the truths which he preached were realities possessed in his own heart, and that he neither learnt, borrowed, nor stole them, nor his manner of delivering them, from others, but were truly original, as must be the case with every sent servant of the Lord. He did not, therefore, come into the thick forest of religious profession in Lancashire to fell the trees of self-righteousness with a borrowed axe. (2 Kings 6:5)
The Lord placed him in a large field, and owned his word by him extensively. Many souls were brought out of Arminian and legal bondage by him, many comforted and watered, and some quickened into life.
God made him the honoured instrument of planting and confirming many churches in the truth in Lancashire and elsewhere, so that he may be called “the great Apostle of the North,” as J. C. P. once said of him, nor do I believe so great a preacher (taking his labours as a whole) has been raised up in this land for very many years.
That great man of God, W.Huntington, was a greater and more useful writer to the church of God, but, as far as I know, I believe W. Gadsby was a greater and more powerful preacher, and his ministry more widely extended over the land. He preached the doctrines of grace clearly and harmoniously, but not in that dry, formal, systematic manner which some of his imitators do.
He learnt them by the divine light and unctuous teaching of the Spirit, and preached them in the same, and so the Lord frequently owned them to the souls of his people.
Notwithstanding this, he at different times endured many trials and perils in his own church from false brethren, and divisions caused by heretics. His constant and strenuous contention for the doctrines of free grace, and the gospel liberty of the children of God, in opposition to workmongers and letter professors, caused him to be maliciously and notoriously branded with the epithet of Antinomian, and his personal character vilely disparaged by wicked and graceless professors. But the Lord stood by him, and kept him faithful to the end, and brought him to his latter end in honour and high esteem among many friends for the truth’s sake.
Some said, “he was sunk in his sentiments at the latter end,” but this is a base falsehood, and I give it a flat contradiction.
He died with the sweetness and power of those truths in his heart which he had preached nearly fifty years.
By some he has been charged with “petty jealousies;” but if his own words are to be believed, this is not true, for he has told me to the contrary. Others have called him “a pope;” but nothing could be farther from his wish and feelings than to be considered such. He was esteemed and looked up to as a father in the truth, and an able minister of the New Testament by many of the Lord’s people; but if any esteemed him otherwise, he did not own it or receive it.
His benevolence to the poor, his humane disposition, his liberal principles, and good nature, compelled even his enemies frequently to speak well of him, and many of them to be at peace with him.
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7.)
Notwithstanding, because he lived godly in Christ Jesus, he suffered much tongue persecution.
In him that scripture was surely fulfilled, “them that honour me, I will honour,” (1 Samuel 2:30), for the Lord brought him to his end in honour and respect. His life and his death were a blessing to my soul. I heard him preach fifteen times. Three times were his sermons blessed to my soul, the last time very sweetly, and at the news of his death the Lord softened and solemnized my soul, and raised my heart up to himself; and I believe my heart prayed that a double portion of that Spirit that was upon him might be upon me,(2 Kings 2:2,) and for some days the solemnity and reality of death and glory to the saints was much upon my mind. I experienced, too, a feeling of gratitude and love to the Lord for his great grace and kindness to this his honoured servant.
By the grace of God he has fought the good fight of faith and finished his course, and is now gone up to bis rest, and to be crowned with the crown of righteousness, glory, and eternal life.
By John M’Kenzie