Secret Prayer

The early experience of John Kershaw of Rochdale (1792-1870), taken from his autobiography.

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I had many inward cryings to the Lord before I began to go aside for private prayer.

I well remember the first time I retired for this purpose. It was to me then a matter of necessity. One morning, when I was at work with my father, I was so bowed down with sin and the terrors of the Lord upon my conscience that I could not rest.

I felt I must fall down before the Lord, against whom I had sinned, and confess my sins.

Having no private room in my father’s house where I could kneel down unobserved, I laid aside my work, and went to the corner of a field adjoining the village, where I knew there was a dry pit that would screen me from view. Here I kneeled down and prayed.

I had kneeled down many times by my mother’s lap and at my bedside to repeat the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed, and when I got up had thought all was right; I had done my duty and said my prayers; but with what a different feeling of soul did I now bow before the Lord!

Repeating prayers would not now satisfy my mind. I was very dark and ignorant, and had little to say; I could only tell the Lord what a wicked sinner I had been, and pray for mercy like the poor publican: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” My prayers were more in heart-felt sighs and groans than words.

From this time I began to go to this place three times a day for prayer; a bird began to build her nest near me.

Before the Lord laid hold on me, I used to go into the woods with my companions to seek for and rob and plunder them of their eggs and young; but my conscience was now made so tender I was afraid to harm the meanest thing that lived. I was cautious not to disturb her, and went to my devotions as quietly as I could.

She became in consequence so familiar that she would sit upon her nest, whilst I lifted up my heart and eyes to Him who openeth His hand, and supplieth the wants of every living thing. She brought forth her young at the appointed time, and I soon lost these unconscious witnesses of the distress of my soul. I mention this simple circumstance to show the effect the grace of God has upon the heart. I continued to resort to this place until the grass was cut in the adjoining meadows, and haytime came on, when it became too public, and I had to retire to some woods near at hand.

By John Kershaw

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