Bicentenary of The Birth of William Gadsby
William Gadsby (1773-1844)
By B.A. Ramsbottom (1973)
A small tribute to this honoured servant of God on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth.
When God has a work to do, that work must be accomplished; yet how mysteriously and by what unlikely means does He work!
Who would have thought that a small, ragged, barefooted boy, receiving hardly the bare essentials of education, and growing up “as far from God as sheep can run,” would one day be one of the most honoured ministers in the churches of truth-indeed, the founder, instrumentally, of forty churches-and that his name
and work would still be honoured two centuries later?
Yet so it was with William Gadsby.
It was just two hundred years ago, on January 3rd, 1773 (or thereabouts-the exact date is uncertain), that a ninth child was born into the family of a poor Warwickshire roadman, John Gadsby. The child was named William. The cottage in Attleborough, near Nuneaton, where he was born, has long since been demolished, but an interesting pen sketch may be seen in the chapel at Attleborough.
We know little of William’s early days-just sufficient to catch a glimpse of a lively little boy, full of mischief and frolic, running almost wild about the village, or nursing a younger child almost as soon as he is able to hold it in his arms; a little boy being punished for throwing away a piece of bread, or, feeling he is badly treated, fleeing from home disguised as a hunchback.
Yet already a fallen nature was manifesting itself, especially in dreadful swearing.
At the age of thirteen, he was apprenticed to a ribbon weaver, and ran to great lengths in sin. Already he was a leader among his companions, entertaining them for hours together to their great amusement and delight. As he put it, “I was the life of their society, and they seemed as if they could not live without me.”
But “the appointed time rolled on,” and about the age of seventeen, the Lord began to work in his heart. He strikingly describes this:
“When the set time came, He arrested me, broke my heart and brought me to stand before His throne as a guilty criminal, brought me to sign my own death warrant. I gave God leave to damn me if He would. I had nothing to offer, and I could do nothing to save myself.”
Some of his workmates tried to force him to go with them as formerly, but he so spoke to them of hell and damnation that they were glad to be rid of him.
The Independent Chapel at nearby Bedworth (“black Bed’orth” as it was known on account of its wickedness) was where he now began to attend. His mother soon had to warn him that he would have to go without shoes as he was wearing out his only pair by the constant journeying there and back!
There was a godly zeal in William Gadsby’s religion from the beginning.
It would appear that his soul was brought into gospel liberty after a few months of deep and sore spiritual distress. Speaking of this in after years, he said:
“But O! God’s peculiar love that was shed abroad in my heart by His blessed Spirit, and which brought me to feel the love and blood of Christ, led me to trace something of the wondrous work of His wonder-working grace! Then how my hard heart was melted! I was brought to His footstool with all humility, simplicity and godly sincerity; filled with gratitude and thanks for God’s unspeakable mercies in opening these great mysteries to my poor soul. I was then solemnly and blessedly led to believe in God’s free mercy and pardon, and could look up and say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.” I recollect the time when God was graciously pleased to reveal pardon in my poor soul at first. O! what sweetness and solemnity and blessedness there were in my poor heart! I sang night and day the wonders of His love.”