Lost And Found
I HAVE had it laid upon my mind for a very long time to write a little of the LORD’s dealings with me, particularly when I have been reading the experiences of God’s people in the “G.S.” which I have much enjoyed, especially the Experience of Mr. H. Fowler; for I can truly say I have been in the same path.
I will try and begin where God began with me.
I was born in the year 1842, in the parish of Long Ditton, Kingston-on-Thames. My father was a small farmer. I was one of a large family, and worked with my only brother on the farm. I had little education, for I was wanted in the fields when old enough to work.
My father was a strict churchman, and much respected by all who knew him. In the year 1847 we were all of us struck down with scarlet fever, but only one out of ten in number died. I was quite expected to die, and have never quite recovered from that illness to this day, as it left me deaf.
I was about eighteen years of age when first convinced of my sin. It was one Sunday afternoon. I took up the Bible; not that I was in the habit of so doing, for I cared nothing about it.
I was as a beast before him; one of the vilest of sinners. But I believe it was the LORD’s will that I should take it up. I opened on Matthew 24, and road till I came to the 40th verse : “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”
I shall never forget what a strange feeling passed through my soul as I read those words.
I felt convinced that I was a sinner and a great one too, and the above words followed me all the remainder of that day, and again the next day. I was at work with my brother hoeing in a field, and the words kept sounding in my very soul.
I wanted to speak to my brother about it, and at last, when I could keep it no longer, I said, “James, I was reading the Bible yesterday, and did you ever read that part where it says, ‘Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left!’“
He made no answer, only smiled. He, like myself, was a stranger to these things.
I said, “What a shocking thing it would be if this were the last day, and I were taken and you left or you taken and I left;” for I had a solemn persuasion in my own mind that the words referred to the last day.
Time went on, and the words still followed me with much power. I used to read them again and again; but the power gradually wore off, though I can truly say they never fully left me. Sometimes I can look back and see how the hand of the LORD has kept me, how he bore with me when in my sins, how he preserved my soul from hell, and how he took care of my body; for I had many narrow escapes of being killed.
I remember once, when a boy, falling off a hay stack with a large hay knife in my hand, but was unhurt, and at another time being kicked by a horse. I was still permitted to go on in sin, although I some times felt very wretched.
At this time I always went to the Derby, and I well remember how miserable I have felt while there. I wanted something, but I did not know what. I knew one thing, and that was I felt my self a sinner.
But I must now come to the time when I was married, which was in the year 1868.
Though I went to chapel a few times before I was married I hated the place and the people too; so I did not go afterwards. I was often wretched and unhappy. Sometimes I attended church, but after coming out I went to the public-house. The time was hastening on for the LORD to send home another arrow of conviction into my soul, which was about two years after I was married.
We were on a visit to Brighton, and O what a wretch I felt to be while there!
We were staying with some friends of my wife’s, who were chapel-goers, as I called them, and I hated them, though they were very kind to me. I mention these things to show what the grace of God can do in the heart of the vilest of the vile; for such was I.
When Sunday morning came I was asked to go to chapel. I refused; but said I would go in tho evening. So I went; and the text was: “Whose son art thou, thou young man?” (1 Samuel 17:58.)
The LORD struck me down, and the terror I felt in my soul when the minister uttered those words I could not explain. I felt condemned before God, and it came home to my soul with such power that I really thought the minister was addressing me.
So foolish and ignorant was I that when I came out I accused my wife of telling the minister that I should be there that evening, and thought she had told him what a sinner I was. My wife assured me she had not spoken to him.
What I felt I could not express. I did not know what to do with myself, and felt very troubled all the next day. The words kept ringing in my ears, “Whose son art thou, thou yoimg man?” and it made me very wretched.
I felt as if the earth would open and I should drop into hell; yet I was kicking against these pricks of conviction. I was like a wild bull in a net.
We returned from Brighton that evening, and my convictions followed me. If they had been only natural I might have left them behind, but they followed me to my home and never left me, though the power which accompanied them was not so strong as at first. About this time I was very much tried in providence; for everything with regard to my affairs in this world seemed blighted.
After this visit to Brighton I felt very anxious about my soul, though no one but God and myself knew anything about it. My cry was, “What must I do to be saved?” I wanted something, though I hardly knew what. I used to read the Bible a little, and the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and was much interested in the latter, but could not understand it, for I knew it was something more than an earthly tale.
About this time a man robbed me, and to save my own character I was obliged to prosecute him. What I passed through at this time God only knows; but he was my Friend through it all.
When I went on my knees I feared I was only mocking God, yet I could not help praying. I soon found that my wife began to notice a change in me. I did not care to go to chapel, so went to Kingston Old Church very regularly, feeling very anxious about my soul. After the service I used to follow the minister into the back lanes where he would preach again, and I remember how solemnly he warned sinners and laid them low, and how cutting he would be in his remarks about human perfection for he would exalt Christ, and expose Popery.
Though I knew nothing of the grand doctrines of the Bible at this time, yet the word from the minister was much blessed to my soul.
Soon after this we removed to Streatham. This was in the year 1871. I was an earnest seeker after salvation, but did not find it until I had been here two years. When we came my wife proposed to go to Tooting to chapel, as there was no Strict Baptist cause at Streathem. We attended the chapel at Tooting every LORD’s Day, and I began to like the service and the people very much.
I cannot point to any particular sermon being blessed to my soul; yet, on the whole, the services were much blessed to me, particularly the hymns, which were Gadsby’s. I searched the Word for myself to see if these things were so, and the more I read the more it appeared to cut me off; so that the exercise of my mind at times seemed more than I could bear.
After I had been at Streatham nearly two years I had a serious illness, and when I was a little better I used to go to St. Thomas’s Hospital. I remember going one morning, feeling ill and cast down, not wholly about my body, but about my never dying soul. I felt mine to be a peculiar, as well as an urgent pressing ease. Oil the way the words were spoken to me with much power:
“Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
I said “Yes, Lord, I believe there are many mansions prepared for thy people, but I want to believe that I am amongst them, and that thou art my God and Saviour;” but I could not believe it. I said, “Lord, help me to believe it;” and I firmly believed he would in his own time.
Soon after this I met with a gentleman who preached in Streatham, and he said to me. “Are you not anxious about your soul?” I replied, “I am, Sir.” He begged of me to come to Jesus and believe. I said “I cannot believe that he is my Saviour. I wish I could.”
I searched the Word and found that it says the natural man cannot receive spiritual things. I could plainly see that before a sinner could know Christ as his Saviour there must be a great change wrought in his soul; and that the blessed promises and exhortations that Free-willers are so fond of quoting belonged to a particular people and not to bastards. I saw from the Scriptures that through the fall of man it is impossible for him to do anything towards his own salvation, and that if a man has right convictions he must have power given him before he can receive spiritual things.
We went on another visit to Brighton, and O how different I now felt with regard to these things! I could willingly have washed the feet of the people I once hated. I went hungering to the chapel three times that Sunday, and felt myself a sinner indeed; but no deliverance came.
One night I had a most dreadful dream. I dreamt that the last day had come, and I saw Christ going round the heavens in a cloud. It was so dreadful to me that it woke me up. O the horrible sensation I had at the thought of being sent to hell. I saw from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the Revelation that God had an elect people, and that salvation was all of grace. In reading Genesis 3, I saw it was impossible to be saved in any other way. The more I read the more it seemed to cut me off. I knew by nature I was under the old covenant of works, but I hoped I should be brought to know something of the blessedness of the new covenant of grace. That portion in Isaiah 53, where the prophet says, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” seemed wonderfully to cut me off, for I saw by that how few there were that really believed it; yet there seemed something which told me that I should in God’s own time.
I mention these things to show to the praise of God the blessed way in which he led me and brought me to know him.
Mr. Covell of Croydon described the leadings of the Spirit in my case better than some of the ministers I heard. There are but very few that can describe the way in which many poor sinners are brought to know the Lord, and the reason is that they have not been in the same ditch. I often wish they had been there; for those who have not are no use to God’s tried people.
We still attended the little chapel at Tooting, and one Sunday evening they were singing hymn 379, each verse of which ends with the words: “Jesus, reveal thyself to me;” and I prayed that he would reveal himself to me. I was tempted that it was not prayer at all, but my very heart seemed to go out after him, and I longed to call him mine. Many of Gadsby’s hymns described my case. This was in the year 1874.
On the first Thursday night in 1875 I was brought to know the Lord as my God and Saviour. I attended a service, and while hearing a hymn sung the Lord broke in upon my soul, and I felt, with Bunyan, my sins drop from my back, and that the Lord was indeed nigh to me.
I could then believe that he was mine and I was his, and O the unspeakable joy that I realized in my soul!
I felt like a hind let loose, and when I reached home I told my wife, for I could not keep it to myself; and she wept for joy.
I must mention another blessed visit I had from the Lord a few nights after this. I was going to a lady’s house in Streatham, and as I went along the Lord again broke in upon my soul, and my heart seemed ravished with his love.
How sweet it was!
The very ground seemed holy to me. My soul was melted with love. It seemed too good for a wretch, like me. I never shall forget that night. When I reached the house I thought I must have told the people there what I felt, though they were quite strangers to me. The savour of these sweet and blessed visits stayed with me a long time.
On another occasion the Lord blessed me when alone in my own home, and I felt a burning desire to pray. I went upstairs and knelt by my bedside when the Lord manifested himself unto me in such a way that I was obliged to ask him to stay his hand. The room seemed filled with his presence. The gospel was now very sweet to me, and with great comfort I read the Word of God. The promises seemed all for me. Old things had passed away and all things had become new. I read Isaiah 53 many times, and could soon say it by heart. I saw Christ everywhere in the Bible, and what made it so sweet was he seemed to be mine.
About this time I heard a sermon preached from the Song of Solomon, 2:11-12. The minister spoke of the winter as the time when we were under the law, the singing of birds as the time of deliverance, and the voice of the turtle as the teaching of the Spirit. That sermon was much blessed to me. I wrote to my relations and told them all about it, though I knew there was not one of them except my father who knew or cared anything about these things.
I went home to see them, and the LORD wonderfully blessed me on my journey. I related to my dear parents what I had realized, and my mother said I was what they called a Whitfieldite. Soon after this I went into a Convalescent Home by the seaside, and found they were extreme Ritualists; so that there was no comfort for me, though they were kind to me in temporal things. What surprised me most in connection with the Home was that though these people professed so much with regard to the spiritual wants of the inmates, yet there was not a Bible to be seen in any of the rooms we occupied.
One morning being alone in one of the rooms, and having left my own Bible upstairs, I thought I would look through a drawer, and amongst some old books I found the remnant of an old Bible. I turned to Psalm 23, and as I read the words: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” the Blessed Spirit of God broke in upon my soul again.
The next day I took my own Bible out with me and sat by the sea-side. I asked the LORD to come and bless me, and make me realize that he was my Shepherd. I then read that blessed Psalm again, but did not realize what I did the day before. My Beloved had withdrawn himself. But O, when a poor sinner is brought to know these things by experience, infidels may call it a delusion or what they like, yet all the powers of earth or hell are not able to persuade him out of it.
I continued to attend at Tooting Chapel. The ordinance of Believers’ Baptism had been laid upon my mind for some time, and I clearly saw that it was right. I also had a desire to sit down at the LORD’s Table. I applied for membership, and after going before the church and telling them a little of what I had realized, I was accepted.
When the day came for me to go through the water, the devil came in like a mighty flood, and said, “If you go through that ordinance in your weak state something will happen to you.” I was harassed and tormented all that day. When the evening came and I was getting ready to start, these words came with much power and sweetness into my soul: “When thou passest through the waters I will be with
Away went all my fears, and Satan too for a season.
O the blessed, happy feeling that came over me again!
I felt I could go to the stake for Christ, if it were his will; and this feeling continued with me all the evening. In going through the water I had a blessed view of Christ in his death and resurrection. I was so hungry after the truth at this time that I felt I could go for miles to hear it. Little did I then think I should have to pass through so much darkness of soul, temptation, unbelief, hardness, coldness, and indifference. I have often been tried in such a way as I cannot express, and have envied the very dogs in the street. I heard a minister once say that past experience was no good; but I am glad to look back upon the happy hours that I once enjoyed.
There are times when I am lifted up above all my trials, and can hold the things of the flesh and the world with a loose hand, though I need more grace day by day to keep me humble at his blessed feet.
After I had attended Tooting Chapel for about four years I left, for reasons which I need not mention; and went about to different places. I used sometimes to go and hear Mr. Covell, and I never shall forget the first time I heard him; for it was just the kind of preaching I wanted. I had never heard anything like it before, and it set my very soul on fire. Some time after Mr. Covell died I went to hear Mr.
Willis’s, and often have I thanked God for leading me there; for the word from his lips has been much blessed to me. I think about the second time I heard him it was from these words: “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away.” (Ezekiel 34:16.)
That sermon seemed just suited to my case; for I had been driven about a good deal at that time, and falsely accused by some more professors.
Another time I heard him from the words: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.” (Psalm 46:4.) That Sabbath morning the place was like a little heaven below to me. After I had attended Mr. Willis’s ministry for over a year I applied for membership, and after going before them and relating a little of my experience was received. Now I will bring my humble, and, as I hope, faithful testimony to a close, for I have trembled lest I should say anything that is not strictly true. If it should be of any service to any poor, tried child of God, as others have been to me, to him be all the praise. Amen.
W. J. A