“LORD, Help Me!” – The Story of a Prayer
William Gadsby once preached at Rochdale from the text, “Lord, help me!” Having read his text, he took off his spectacles, and, in his usual, deliberate way, looked round on the congregation, and said, “Friends, by way of introduction, I will tell you how I came by my text.”
“Before I was fully in the ministry, I was in business; and, as most business men do, I worked a little on credit. When I gave up business and settled as a preacher and pastor of a congregation, I owed several sums of money; but much more was owing to me, so that I had no fear of being able to pay my creditors. One of these creditors, to whom I owed twenty pounds, called upon me for the payment. I said to him, ‘I will see what I can do for you next Monday.’
He called on the Monday, but I had not the money. He was rather cross with me, saying I had no business to promise except I intended to perform. This observation roused my pride, and I told him I would pay him on the coming Monday. He went away in a rage, saying he hoped I would.
I set out the following day to see some of my debtors, not fearing but that I could raise the twenty pounds; but I did not get one farthing. I tried others, but with the same success. I then put down on a sheet of paper the names of several of my friends, certain that I could borrow twenty pounds from anyone of them; but to my utter amazement I was mistaken. All of them could sympathize with me a deal better than lend me anything; and I began to find out that if a man wants to know how many friends he has, he had better try to borrow some money.
The next day I made out another list of names of those not so well able to help me as the former; for I thought if I can get five pounds here and five pounds there, I shall be able to raise it all. I travelled many miles on my errand, spending a whole day, but returned in the evening without one penny. I began to ask myself, ‘How is this, that I, a respectable man and, as people say, a popular preacher, cannot in the whole of my acquaintance borrow twenty pounds? I thought I had as many friends as most men, but now I cannot find one that will trust me twenty pounds.’ My pride got a terrible shake, and I felt very little indeed.
Friday came, and my spirits were sinking. I could not tell which way to turn. I had promised to pay, and was very anxious to fulfil my promise for good reasons – my honour and veracity as a minister of the gospel were at stake. I feared that if I did not pay the man, he would send me the bailiffs; and for a person to have the bailiffs would be a terrible disgrace. I read the seventy-third Psalm that morning at family prayer, for I thought it was nearest my case. The mournful portions of God’s Word best agree with the feelings of God’s mourning people. I began to look out texts for the Sunday but I could find none, for I could think of nothing but twenty pounds. I tried to read, but it was of no use; the twenty pounds covered all the letters. Twenty pounds seemed written on everything – on the ceiling, on the walls, in the fire, on my dinner-plate, on the faces of my wife and children; and the whole of that day was one of morbid depression of spirits. I was really miserable.
Saturday morning came, and I rose from a sleepless bed. I ate very little breakfast, and when at prayer I was so overcome with my feelings that my wife asked me if I was poorly or in trouble. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I am in trouble enough’; and I then told her all about the cause of my sorrow.
She was silent for a few minutes, and then said, ‘You have often talked and preached about the power of faith; I think you will now need some yourself.’
Having said this, she rose from the chair, and went rattling amongst her pots and kettles. She was evidently mortified because I had been refused the money by those she had considered our friends.
‘My wife,’ I said to myself, ‘is a good Christian woman; but she thinks works are the best evidence of faith, both in preacher and people.’
Saturday was spent much as Friday had been. I was in a state of torpor until evening. I then went upstairs into a little room I called my study with a heavy heart, for I had three times to preach on the Sunday and no text – twenty pounds to pay on the Monday and no money.
What was I to do?
For a long time I sat with my face buried in my hands; and then I fell on my knees, and I believe I said, ‘Lord, help me!’ a hundred times, for I could say nothing else. While praying, I felt an impression that these words might serve me for one text, and as Sunday came before Monday. I began to prepare as well as I could for Sunday’s work, but no other text could I think of but, ‘Lord, help me!’
While preaching on the Sunday morning, I had so many thoughts and illustrations arising out of the subject that I felt very great liberty in preaching. One of my illustrations was about a man I well knew, who was a deacon of a church, and had been an executor for two orphan children. He was tempted to make use of the money, and much of it was lost. This so preyed upon his mind that he began to drink. He lost his character, lost his peace of mind, and died with the reputation of a rogue. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘had this man, the executor, when he first thought of taking the children’s money been enabled to resist temptation, and to call on God to help him to be honest, help him to do nothing but what a professing Christian ought to do, instead of losing the money, his good name, his peace of mind, and, perhaps, his life, God would have heard his prayer and delivered him.’
Noon came; but my sermon was not half done. I preached from it again in the afternoon, and again in the evening; and I felt that I could have preached from it for a week. So, you see, the Lord helped me through my work on the Sunday, and I believed he would, some way, on the Monday.
After finishing the night’s service, when I got to the bottom of the pulpit stairs, a young man stood there with his hat in his hand, wishing to see me in private. I took him into the vestry and requested his errand, expecting it would be something about his soul. For several minutes we were both silent, but at length he said, ‘You knew my mother, Mr. Gadsby?’
I looked him in the face, saying, ‘Surely I did; but I did not know you at first sight.’
‘Well, Sir, when she died, she left me some money; in fact all she had, except two small sums she wished me to give – one sum of five pounds, to a poor old woman of her acquaintance; and, speaking of you, she said, ‘Our minister needs help, and I wish you to give him twenty pounds.’ I paid the five pounds to the poor woman but, thinking no one knew, I resolved never to give you the twenty pounds. But while you were talking about the roguish executor this morning, I felt thunderstruck; and I have now brought you the twenty pounds. Here it is. Do take it, and forgive me.’
It was now my turn to be thunderstruck. I was amazed; and while the young man was putting the twenty sovereigns into my hand, I trembled all over. God had heard my prayer; he had helped me through the Sunday, and sent me the twenty pounds for the Monday.
It was mine, and I took it. I shook the young man by the hand and, without putting the money into my pocket, I went home quickly, spread it out on the table before my wife saying, ‘Here it is. I see now how it was that I could not borrow the money. God knew where it was, and he has sent me the twenty pounds, and delivered me out of my trouble. He has heard my prayer, and helped me; and I will trust Him and praise Him as long as I live.’
Ah! my dear friends, when that little prayer, ‘Lord, help me!’ comes from the heart of one of God’s children in distress, neither men, devils nor angels can tell its power. It has brought me thousands of blessings, besides the twenty pounds.
By William Gadsby