Sunrise and Obscuring Clouds
Here I was born, and here I was born again. Here I sinned, and here I sorrowed for sin. Here I fell under the power of temptation, and here I learned to overcome temptation in a strength greater than my own.” So, in relating a visit to his native village, wrote Gawin Kirkham when youth had long since passed. And they may fitly stand, these incisive and characteristic sentences, as the keynote both of this chapter and of the consecrated years that were to be. Without them, this record had not been penned ; for the joyous flow of busy days, the sweet harmony of devout experience, the clear depth of unfailing sympathy, would have been unknown. Sixteen years of the young life had gone, and with the year 1848 came the advent of that “ life indeed ” which is of God : the bursting of the tender leaves ; the waking of the soul; the breaking of the light.
A Consecrated Hay Loft
Slowly, solemnly, came the wondrous change. It was in this wise. Gawin was one of twelve lads who presented themselves as candidates for confirmation. They were called together to meet the vicar in the
vestry of the church. Their names and ages being taken, he proceeded to address them. Very simple were the opening words: “Twelve young men; enough to do a great deal of good in the world if set going right, enough to do a great deal of harm if left to go wrong.” But the utterance, severely plain as it seems to us, acted like a ploughshare in the heart of one at least who listened. The Spirit drove it home, laying bare the soil for the precious seed of eternal truth, and preparing the way for yet deeper work. Then came the visit to the neighbouring church of Hornby ; and the administration of the rite, which in many cases, it is sadly to be feared, conveys no blessing, and is but a delusion and a snare. Not so with Gawin Kirkham. In him were born resolves which arc from God alone. There was a definite turning from sin to righteousness, and from the power of Satan unto God. Henceforth, for him old things had passed away, and with deep earnestness of purpose he sought to serve the Lord. His religion was intensely real to him, and hence the outward evidence of its existence soon appeared. An old hay-loft behind his home was early consecrated by gatherings of the brothers for prayer and praise. Here they drew near to God ; here their strength was frequently renewed ; and here the flame upon the altar of the soul was fanned and fed by intercourse with the unseen and the eternal. Thus the toilsome way grew brighter; life’s little duties were transformed ; and power for service was imparted. They prayed, and they prevailed! The experience was so sweet that Gawin longed to share it with his parents; and the desire grew within him to ask his father to establish family worship. But how might this be effected ? He feared his father’s anger, and his almost certain refusal, and hesitated long ere he ventured to approach him. The writer well remembers how, one evening late in life, he related this incident, describing the trembling fear with which at length, walking home with his father on a night so dark that his agitated face could not be seen, he made known the long-concealed request To his surprise and joy his father raised no objection, and henceforth sweet incense of daily prayer arose within the home. Other opportunities for Christian service were anon presented and eagerly accepted. In the village smithy, under the auspices of some local Methodists, and especially of the blacksmith himself, Gospel meetings were conducted; and here one Sabbath afternoon, amid innumerable fears and much trembling, Gawin delivered his first public address from the text, “ I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” The stirring words themselves assisted and encouraged him, and though we have no available account of the address itself, we may be sure that the young preacher’s utterances were acceptable, and that to his own heart the occasion was inspiring indeed. Yet, though his soul had thus received illumination from on high, it was as though the sun had hardly risen above the brightening horizon. Light there was, but not, as yet, the glowing rays of perfect day ; life there was, but not the unbound and unfettered life that is perfect freedom ; knowledge there was, but not the calm assurance born of perfect trust.
In a word, he possessed the spirit of a servant rather than that of a son. Painful were his soul struggles ; constant was the warfare and the discipline ; frequent were the doubts and fears that swept like keen and searching blasts over the soul that was emerging as from the chill night of winter into the spontaneous activities of spring. The months and years came and went, the duties of his station were scrupulously fulfilled, Christian ordinances and privileges were his delight; and yet it seemed as though the Voice that spoke emancipation to the risen Lazarus delayed to utter like effectual commands for him. And, looking back, the lesson is not hid. “ Therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you.” Sharp and painful were the Master’s prunings, but they issued in accelerated fruitfulness ; dark and sombre were the laden clouds, but their rain was blessing; chill were the eastern winds, but with every shock the roots went deeper down, and secured themselves more firmly in the hidden soil. Assuredly to this, the solemn and prolonged discovery of the evil of his own heart wh’ch formed at once the cause and the effect of constant introspection, do we owe in measure the enduring Christian character, woven with textures of the finest excellence, that so soon appeared in public life. Many Puritan elements combined to form its fibre when manhood came: his Christian seriousness, happily mingled with the calm brightness that betokened a steady and well-protected light; the reverence that was so widely removed from present-day sensationalism ; the unwavering faith in the Word of God that neither feared nor countenanced the prevailing spirit of scepticism within the Church—all this we trace to the days when from his inmost soul the constant prayer ascended : “ Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts : and sec if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” There lies before us as we write an old account book, long and narrow, in which, between the years 1852 and 1854, he inscribed the record of many of these soul-conflicts. Couched in a strain of consistent self-condemnation, and of earnest searching of heart, this diary possesses deep and pathetic interest, and its abrupt conclusion is much to be regretted. After the first few entries, however, a decided change in tone is apparent, the cause of which will shortly be explained. It is obvious that these heart-confessions were written in absolute unconsciousness of their future publicity. October 3rd, 1852.
“ Commune with your own heart in your chamber, and be still.’—Psalm iv. 4.
“ O search thyself, my soul, with care ;
What marks of grace appear !—
What fruits of holiness declare
Jesus is sov’reign here !
Canst thou indeed appeal to Him
Who every thought hath seen,
That ’tis thy heart’s desire and prayer
That He would make thee clean ?”
“The thought struck me to-day very forcibly, though not for the first time, that, as often as I had opportunity, I would retire from the busy world during a part of the Sabbath, and keep a journal, by which I might know my growth in grace, and in all heavenly virtues.............
Therefore, I have resolved,in the strength of God, that I will endeavour to gain a knowledge of myself, and to know my true state before God. I will also endeavour to include the leading points in the sermons I shall hear, that I may apply them to myself, and to ‘ examine myself, whether I be in the faith.’ “ But, as ‘ the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked/ I will not presume to enter upon this duty in my own strength ; but in humble and earnest prayer to God for the Holy Spirit, who is promised to them that ask in faith. Therefore, O Lord, give vie grace to know that of my own self I can do nothing, but that I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth vie. “ It becomes me, then, in the first place, to know my present state ; that is, to know whether I am at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, or whether I am still serving Satan and the world. And here, in the very onset of the enquiry, I am so bewildered that I know not how to proceed. The work seems difficult, and I am almost discouraged to proceed. But where is the use in beginning a work, unless we have perseverance to continue ? “ I feel sometimes to possess a calm and heavenly frame, but soon I have to grieve my departure from the narrow way ; and generally I find that this disquietude of soul arises from slighting the suggestions of conscience when it plainly points out my duty. Sometimes I feel within myself that I am going on well; then some temptation will present itself, and
the ‘ still, small voice ’ will tell me that if I do not resist it, but give way to it, I shall assuredly lose my peace of mind. Notwithstanding which, my fleshly nature often proves stronger than my spiritual nature, and I yield ; and as soon as the false step is taken, so soon do I feel my misery, and am aroused to the consciousness of guilt Then I have to repent, and the repentance is more deeply felt, and my own unworthiness seems greater, from the ingratitude against God, in that, when I knew his will I did it not. ‘‘These triumphs of Satan against my soul I believe to be from my neglect to pray more for the promised help of the Holy Spirit. I feel careless about self-examination, which I believe to be another important point of a Christian’s duty. In my prayers, too, I often feel cold and listless, and generally my mind wanders to other objects. My prayers themselves are generally confessions of sin, and petitions for grace, more than sweet communion as a son with a Father.“ But let me enquire what are my most besetting sins—those sins that have most prevented me from enjoying the support and comfort of religion ; those sins which have deprived me of the light of God’s countenance, and destroyed my peace. At the head of these stands my ashamedness of the Gospel of Christ. ... I mean in this particular, that when I hear idle talking, foolish jesting, and the Name of God in any way dishonoured, though I wish to reprove them, and teach them of a better way, I feel that I have not courage to do it. . . .
Longing After Spiritual Things
Oh, happy hour, when I shall be enabled to overcome this cowardice for the cause of the gospel of Christ! Give me grace to confess Thee, O Lord, before men; that I may be confessed before the angels which are in heaven ! “Next to this stands idleness; then carelessness goes hand in hand with idleness. I find an inclination to read at improper times ; that is, when my ordinary employments demand my time. Many are the hours I have grieved over this, and many are the times that I have endeavoured to overcome it. And it is true I have in some measure succeeded. Yet I often give way to it; and I believe that in this case, as in the former, a neglect of prayer is the chief cause in the difficulty of overcoming it. The more active I am in my worldly calling, the more comfort and peace do I find, as well as a greater longing after spiritual things.“Then I often find myself careless in the pursuit of the things which belong to my peace : careless in reading the Scriptures ; careless in praying over the same; and careless in my daily prayers. Oh that I could feel my spirit stirred up within me to pray with faith ; believing that what I asked for I should most assuredly obtain ! ”But full deliverance was at hand. God’s set time to favour him had almost come ; and the struggling spirit, oppressed and burdened with indwelling evil, and filled with Divinely-wrought longings after holiness, was soon to enter into deep and settled peace. A fortnight passed, and the Lord’s Day had come again. It found him, as ever, in the house of God ;and, this being Communion Sabbath, it found him also at the table of the Lord. Kneeling between his father and his mother, and in the act of receiving the emblems of the Saviour’s passion, the thought, laden with the Spirit’s power, entered his soul as by an inspiration : “ If Jesus has borne away my sins, God will remember them against me no more.” Glad at heart, he arose. The heavy spirit heard the liberating word, and conquered through Jesus’ blood. Henceforth for him there was peace—the peace of assured salvation ; and then followed that filial service which is “ in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Turning to his diary for that day, we are not surprised to read the text that heads the page : “ I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord”; or the verse which follows :—
“Jesus, my soul adoring bends
To love, so full, so free ;
And may I hope that love extends
Its saving power to me?
What glad return can I impart
For favours so Divine?
Oh, take it all—this worthless heart,
And make it only thine ! ”