Morning; and Full Surrender
Meanwhile, Gawin Kirkham had received from his brother William a letter proposing that he should seek admission as a member of the Manchester City Mission. It was received with devout seriousness, and a deep desire to ascertain the will of God concerning this proposal. “ What am I,” he writes, “ that Thou shouldest confer upon me this privilege ? Enable me to count the cost before I enter upon this great work ; pardon my backwardness to engage in it; and, O my God, do with me what seemeth Thee good ; let thy most holy will be done in me and by me, that I may daily proceed in all virtue and godliness of living ; knowing that ‘ He which converteth a sinner from the error of his ways shall save a soul alive, and hide a multitude of sins.’ ”His brother, however, encouraged by the tone of his response, now proceeded further, and ventured to suggest that the foreign mission-field might be his appointed sphere of labour. He himself was a candidate for acceptance by the Church Missionary Society, and it was evidently his strong desire that in this respect Gawin should follow his example.“ This is indeed a greater call than the other,” wrote Gawin in his diary on October 14th, 1852 ;“ but ‘ if God be for us, who can be against us ? ’ I answered this letter with a heavy heart, though it was very encouraging; but I felt that the difficulties were greater than I could overcome—in fact, I often feel that I want faith in the promises of God. Yet, nevertheless, I told him that I was willing to try what could be done ; and on Saturday I received one from his friend, Thomas S. Inman, and the encouragement he gave me to proceed in the work raised my soul to a more willing and cheerful determination to engage in it. He says, ‘ Has the Lord brought you out of darkness into his marvellous light? Have pity, then, upon the thousands of heathen who are still living in darkness.’ He urged that, as I had freely received, I ought freely to give. If Thou, O Lord, hast chosen me to be a messenger of the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen world, leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation I Thou hast promised to give strength to the weak ; grant me the powerful assistance of thy Spirit to lay hold upon this promise. For
"Weaker than a broken reed,
Help I every moment need!"
And now came the glorious tidal wave of spiritual blessing which has been described in the previous chapter. Let it not be supposed, however, that the sense of sin was minimized ; or that, less than before, were constant watchfulness and prayerful wrestling needful. Ah, no! for with a closer intercourse with God came still deeper views of human guilt, and still more abhorrence of every evil principle yet resident in the flesh.
Longing to be used by God
Often from the depths of his spirit came pleadings to his Heavenly Father for overcoming grace, and earnest confessions of shortcoming in his daily walk. We are not surprised it was so ; for the holiness that fails to discover and rebuke the subtlest motions of the carnal nature is but superficial and misnamed. But, on the other hand, there followed a stedfast outgoing of the soul’s vision toward the fainting and shepherdless multitudes afar. Deep within him stirred the desire to labour for the Lord—away among the heathen, if it might be ; but if not, then anywhere his guiding hand might lead. Here grew the longings, nurtured by the gracious Spirit, which to the end of life he cherished—to “ do the work of an evangelist,” and to make full proof of the ministry which it seemed to him he was about to receive from God. That he might be used in the rescue of perishing souls—this was the burden of his hope and prayer. On Saturday, November 6th, he wrote :— “ I obtained leave to go to Milnthorpe ; my object being to have my brother’s advice, together with that of my friend, Mr. Inman, as to the best mode of setting to work to study for the great and glorious work to which I had received a call. I found in Mr. Inman a most valuable friend, and I now proceed to note down some of the advice which I remember, in order that I may have it to look at afterwards.”Then follow Mr. Inman’s suggestions, too long to quote, but of a nature so spiritual and so tender, that we do not wonder at the high value Gawin set upon his friendship.
To these succeed a page or two, containing a record too important to be passed over. If it were possible, it might be said that Gawin Kirkham’s soul is here inscribed on paper. In the presence of God, and in view of the wondrous vista of possibilities on which his gaze was set, he offered to his Heavenly Father the following most touching:
“ O Lord, my Heavenly Father, behold with an eye of tender compassion and love thy unworthy servant. I bow before Thee at this time with the deepest humility and reverence, and with an earnest desire to know thy will ; and to beg of Thee to bestow upon me grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same to thy glory. Thou knowest all my desire ; Thou knowest that I desire to serve Thee with a greater faithfulness than I have ever yet done. “ I have thought over the great and important call I have received to engage in the missionary cause ; and have resolved, with the aid of thy Holy Spirit, that I will engage therein. “ The eye of faith within me is dim, so that I can not clearly discern the way wherein I ought to go ; but if Thou wouldest have me to engage in this glorious work, I beseech Thee to show it to me by granting to me the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, and to enable me to pursue my studies with unwearied diligence.“ Therefore, having considered these things, I here give unto Thee my whole spirit, soul, and body; beseeching Thee to accept of me, and all I am, and all I have, and all I hope for.
"I give myself to Thee".
I am thine by every claim ; Thou freely gavest me my being, and madest me capable of knowing, loving, and serving Thee; and hast in a wonderful manner preserved me in being until this day. Therefore,
“‘To Thee, O my unerring Guide,
I would my steps resign ;
In all my ways acknowledge Thee,
And form my will by thine.’“
From this moment, O Lord, I give up myself to thy guidance. I will forsake the follies and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. I will follow Thee through good report and evil report; through temptation and affliction ; through persecution and imprisonment; yea, if it be thy will, even unto death. I give myself to Thee, and I beseech Thee to guide me. I desire in all things to do thy will. “ But, O my God, Thou knowest that I have no strength of my own sufficient for these purposes. Nay, O my God, I do not presume to say what I will do in my own strength ; but by thy help may I live and act as I have here resolved. May I depend entirely on the mediation of thy Son for acceptance with Thee, and for salvation at the last. Therefore, O Lord, take me, and do with me as Thou wilt. Accept and bless me for the sake of Jesus Christ, my only Mediator and Redeemer. Amen. Even so, Lord Jesus. Amen. “And now, O Lord, having dedicated myself to Thee, I do cheerfully and with all my heart put my hand to this covenant, this tenth day of November, 1852, being in the twenty-first year of my age. “Gawin Kirkham.”
The spectacle of this youth of twenty, engaged in humble domestic service, yet with a soul filled with the ardour of an intense desire for missionary work, compels our admiration. It is at once humbling and inspiring. Rising every morning at five o’clock to pursue his studies, and seizing every spare moment during the day for the same object; giving himself to constant prayer and meditation ; and seeking to glorify God by a life surrendered to his will in all things—these are the witnesses of a consecration in which we cannot but discover the abundant grace of God. He was manifestly under the Divine training—for a lifework, indeed, as yet beyond his vision, and not more so than beyond his petition or his thought. Oh that many who read these pages may be emulated, encouraged, and ennobled, by his holy and unique example 1
Three months elapse before the entry of the next record. It opens with a testimony to the preserving grace of God, and a complaint of his own unworthiness ; and then proceeds :— “ I cannot allow this evening to pass without recording the lovingkindness of God towards me, in preserving me in being, and in giving me all things richly to enjoy. For the last seven years and five months—that is, from the 4th of September, 1845,to the 6th of February, 1853—I have been servant to the Rev. W. Stratton ; and this evening I have left his service, and so have, as it were, entered upon a new period of my life.
And I have great reason to bless God that I ever lived under his roof; for I humbly believe that through his instrumentality, with God’s blessing upon the word spoken, I have been brought from a state of blindness and darkness to a state of light and salvation. . . . And now that I am entering a fresh sphere of labour, oh, vouchsafe thy blessing upon me, and upon all my humble endeavours to do good in thy name ! I know not what is before me, and therefore know not what provision to make. But Thou knowest; therefore do Thou inform and teach me in the way wherein I should go, and guide me with thine eye. Yea, do for me abundantly more than I can ask or think, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen. Even so, Lord Jesus, Amen". We find him next at Milnthorpe, in Westmoreland, whither he proceeded on May 9th, 1853—a significant date, for it was just thirty-nine years before his death—to enter the service of Miss Mason, an invalid lady resident there at a house named “ Harmony Hill.” Thus he relates the purpose which constrained the change : “ Soon after the last entry, I was engaged to come to the station I at present occupy, believing that I could obtain more time for study than I could at home. But though I earnestly desired this situation, for the above reason, yet I have not found so much leisure time for study as I expected ; but I fear, nay, I am sure—that I have not improved what I have had to the best advantage.” A serious accident followed eight days after he entered upon this engagement, in which, not for the first time, he narrowly escaped the loss of life. In company with Miss Mason’s maid, he was driving in the pony-carriage, when the pony shied and ran away. “ God mercifully preserved me,” he says ; “ but a fellow-servant was much hurt. I consider my life only spared to be more actively employed in my Master’s service.”* The sequel to this story, however, possesses special interest ; for the “ fellow-servant,” who sustained such serious injury on this occasion was Frances Yates, who afterwards became his wife. Indeed, the accident itself had no small share in leading to their subsequent attachment. “ On the 4th of June,” he writes, “ I again made a solemn dedication of myself to God, in order that I might receive larger supplies of his Holy Spirit to help me in the work.” And he joyfully adds : “ My views arc now far more clear as to what I am aiming at ; and, for ever blessed be God, I now feel no reluctance whatever in giving myself up to this work. I do it cheerfully, willingly, freely. At first all seemed dark and impossible ; now God is making me sec by degrees that with Him all things arc possible towards those who seek Him.” With the 9th of August came the attainment of his majority, and it was signalized by the adoption of certain self-imposed resolutions relating to his progress in the Divine life and his efforts to obtain a better education.
* There is a marginal note in pencil which runs :-“ Mem.- Read this with gratitude. May 17th, 1876, G. K.”
Definite Christian Service
They were carefully written down on two pages of his diary, and bear marks of that devotion to order and to method which was becoming increasingly characteristic of his diligent and self sacrificing life. “ To-day,” he observes by way of preface, “ I attain my twenty-first year : and when I glance back at my past life, and see how very little I have done of the great work which I was sent into the world to perform ; the precious hours I have wasted ; the opportunities of doing good to the souls of others which I have neglected ; I am made to fear lest I should come short of the prize of my high and holy calling in Christ Jesus. I have long felt the want of some regular mode of pursuing my studies, which want I purpose now to supply by drawing up certain rules and resolutions which, with the assistance of the good Spirit of God, may help me to gain knowledge, and retain what is gained.” And now the little barque began to push forth gently from the shore in the direction of definite Christian service. With much fear and trembling, but also with much holy perseverance, his enterprise commenced. Mainly it seems to have consisted of tract-distribution, house-to-house visitation, and Sabbath-school teaching. On October 8th he writes:—
“ Blessed be God! through his grace enabling me, I have this day enjoyed calmness and peace. I have been in a great measure enabled to resist the temptations which usually beset me. Rose early, and enjoyed calmness in prayer; and throughout the day had a tender sense of God’s presence, which kept me from sinning. In the afternoon visited a sick person, but felt a great backwardness in talking on spiritual things ; and yet I could not but think that all was not well with his soul. When shall I overcome this backwardness in the cause of Christ! ” The following day was the Sabbath ; and for the first time the diary records his attendance at an early morning prayer-meeting of the teachers, and his efforts in Sabbath-school itself“ of the first he says: Attended a prayer-meeting in the school-room at half-past six, with two teachers. Did not feel much spirituality in devotion, but was enabled to plead for the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom.” And of the second : " In the school-room in the afternoon felt a great want of some means of drawing the boys'' attention." Another gracious deliverance from peril awaited him on the succeeding day, and again he was constrained to adore the protecting care of God : “ In the afternoon had a narrow escape from being surrounded by the tide; but God mercifully preserved me, and I am still of the living to praise Him. ‘ Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ! ’ ”The next entry, however, is in a decidedly minor key :— “ October 11th :—In a dull, cold, and careless state most of the day. When, oh, when, shall I awake to greater earnestness, in not only spiritual but temporal things! At noon felt so overcome with my own unworthiness that I cast myself down, almost in despair, and cried for mercy. I wanted to shed tears, as I sometimes do at other times ; but I never can shed them.
Quickened Energy and Zeal
The Psalmist could, so could Brainerd and Martyn ; but I cannot” The Life of Henry Martyn engaged him much at this time. Its perusal deeply interested and humbled him. “ If he had so many qualifications, and yet fell short, how shall I be, who know so little?” “ Finished committing Romans to memory. Read Martyn, and was as usual deeply affected ; and thought more than ever of my own unworthiness and unfitness for so great a work. . . . As I draw nearer the close of Martyn’s memorable life, I become more and more interested in it. In spite of all my backwardness and backsliding, I still feel that I have a work of this kind to do before I close my eyes in death ; though, of course, God only knows. My body is but weak, and I fear my mind is not strong—at least not capable of much study. Although God can do his work without me, yet if I am a chosen vessel, according to my day, so shall my strength be. Amen, and amen.” Deeply abased, as he was, in his own eyes, and sometimes almost overwhelmed beneath a sense of personal unworthiness, the quickening of his energy and zeal continued. He earnestly sought the salvation of his scholars ; controverted the subtle arguments of a sceptic with whom he came into contact unexpectedly ; met his friend, Mr. Inman, to pray for more devotion to the object on which his heart was set; during a brief visit to his native village spoke personally to almost every one with whom he was acquainted on the great theme of personal salvation ; and collected the sum of £1.6s. 10d. in aid of the British and Foreign Bible Society. While at Gressingham, too, he called upon his former master, the Rev. W. Stratton, with whom he had a helpful conversation on the subject of his future ; and returned to Milnthorpe full of praise for grace given to witness for the Lord among his relatives and friends. Let us follow him to London, whither the good hand of God now led him. Remarkable indeed was the providence ; and he used it, as will be seen, in some respects as Nehemiah, when he viewed the miseries of Zion, and surveyed the scene of his future labours. His mistress removed to the great city, and in her service he too proceeded thither, arriving on November 11th 1853. He heartily wished that it had been his privilege to perform the journey on foot, that he might have seen the beauties of the country to greater advantage. Writing at 12, Park Road, Regent’s Park, on November 22nd, he exclaims:— “ What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits which He hath done unto me, for preserving my life, and still giving me the desire to be a missionary ? ... I know not what is the will of God towards me in bringing me here. He may have some mercy in store for me, in giving me an introduction to some one who will encourage me ; or it may be to try me to see whether I will be faithful in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom I wish to shine as a light. We are here comfortably retired in our little house from the noise of the busy world about;
An Earnest Teacher
and my object in leaving my first place of servitude seems now graciously brought about: that is, I have more time for intellectual pursuits, so that a gracious God seems now favouring me, if I would but favour myself. I seem now to have the time, if I would but improve it. . . This morning I rose before five ; dedicated myself anew to the service of God ; and by the gracious assistance of his Holy Spirit, I hope to go on my way rejoicing.” A sojourn of nine months’ duration within the metropolis was used with diligent wisdom. A visit to the Church Missionary House produced an “ indescribable tenderness of spirit”; and similar emotions are recorded in connection with a purchase made at the Depository of the Religious Tract
Society. His attendance at a meeting held in aid of Moravian Missions, at Richmond Street Schools, Edgware Road, was a season of much uplifting. The ministry of the Rev. George Fisk at Christ Chapel (afterwards Emmanuel Church), Maida Hill, was also specially blessed to him, and he soon became a devoted Sabbath-school teacher there. “ When I undertook my class,” he says, “ they were most unruly, spitting at and pulling each other and myself, using filthy language, and throwing their Bibles at each other. But at the end of four months they were no trouble whatever.” Two May meetings—those of the Church Missionary Society and the Ragged School Union— stirred his spirit, and the latter cause so enlisted his enthusiasm that he proceeded to make collection on its behalf. But undoubtedly his most remarkable experiences were connected with several midnight walks, undertaken with the special object of studying the condition of the people. With this desire, and constrained by deep compassion for the degraded and the lost, he penetrated the lowest slums of London, not without real personal risk, walking many miles, and returning home sad at heart after several hours of immediate contact with the sins and sorrows of the metropolis by night. The first of these visits, his diary explains, “ was commenced on a Sabbath evening, after having been more than usually happy in the service of the sanctuary. But I soon forgot the Sabbath. The gin shops were flaring, nearly one hundred being open between Regent’s Park and St. Paul’s ; dissolute women swarming in all the streets ; and drunkards reeling home. But oh, I cannot attempt to describe the sin and wretchedness I witnessed that night! I spoke to several poor creatures—one with the Spirit accompanying me, for she wept very much. I gave her a small Testament—a school prize—the only book I
had with me.” The final walk, and its results, is thus described : “In the last of my night walks I met a poor woman whose husband was ill. Went to see him, and found him in a most wretched condition both of body and soul. Had neither tract nor book with me, but pointed out the way of salvation to him. Prayed with him, for which he appeared grateful. Visited him three times, taking a Testament and some tracts.
Night Walks in London
The utter destitution of this man, both spiritual and temporal, made me long to be engaged as a City Missionary or Scripture Reader. With regard to the body—no fire; a small piece of rushlight; no shirt; only a ragged covering for the bed; broken windows. Had been confined to bed for thirteen weeks. The soul— he had never seen a Bible for twenty years ; and for nearly that time had not attended a place of worship. No tract or book in the house ; no district visitor, City Missionary, or Scripture Reader to visit them. One indeed had come a few days previous to my visit, but had been abused by people in the court whilst going away.” Gawin Kirkham never forgot these visits ; their memory sank into his inmost soul, producing deeper abhorrence of the works of Satan, and a more fervent pity for his victims. The issue we shall see: God was equipping this young and ardent spirit for the effectual service, nigh at hand, though hidden from his eyes. He had fondly hoped, as we have seen, to share the toil and travail of Christian Missions beyond the seas. It was not to be. In the purposes of God he must remain at home ; for, as his brother William now pointed out, it was imperatively necessary for some one to act as the guardian of the younger children in the event of their parents’ death. It was plain. The first indication of his brother’s change of view occurred during a call Gawin made upon him while resident in London. Surprised and disconcerted, Gawin hardly knew what course to take ; but finally, having written to his brother requesting a fuller explanation. “ I received,” he says, “ an answer, stating as his reasons that, as I was the only one to whom my sisters, who are all young, could look in case father or mother were removed by death, I ought for the present to give up the idea of being a missionary. Also that he had spoken to Major Straith, who I expected to be my chief patron ; and upon the good Major’s hearing how family matters stood, he gave it as his private opinion that I ought not to attempt it for the present. This letter was full of kindness, and it was written under a full conviction that it was the path I ought to follow. ... I had not in the least expected so decisive an answer ; but so well were the reasons given, and so well were they applied to my heart by the Holy Ghost, that I at once resolved to act upon them. Therefore I am constrained for the present to give up my fondly-cherished plan ; and I do so from the full and honest conviction that it is the ‘clear, well-defined path of Christian duty,’as Mr. Fisk remarked in his sermon on January 1st. . . . Am I then for ever to give up my project? No, no, not for ever. Time may, in the gracious will of God, so clear my way that on some future day I may be permitted to engage in this work. But if it be the will of God to order otherwise, I trust that my mind has been so stirred up to the interests of the heathen, that I shall never again lose sight of them; but shall not only not cease to pray for them, but endeavour to stir others up to engage in this cause. I leave this affair in thy hand, O God, and by the aid of thy Holy Spirit I will endeavour to serve Thee with a perfect and willing mind ; to cleave more to Thee; to look more simply to Thee; and in the language of thy saint of old say continually: ‘ Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do ? ' ”
A Remarkable Letter
Amid these larger visions he longed and prayed for the conversion of his unconverted relatives ; and on May 25th, 1854, penned a most remarkable letter to a sister who was leaving home to engage in domestic service. It lies before us as we write, and occupies no less than fifty-five pages of note-paper. Writing in a spirit of intense earnestness, he entreats his sister to accept the Saviour ; enforces the duties of the Christian life; counsels her wisely and tenderly concerning her future path ; and warns her of special dangers and temptations incident to a domestic servant’s sphere. It was a notable production, ever cherished by his sister through years in which its fruitfulness was plainly shown. And now came his departure for a season from the great city in which he had learnt so much that was saddening and heart-distressing ; and so much, too, tending to quicken within him the purpose to devote his days to strenuous combat for the sacred cause of Christ. July 19th, 1854, and Milnthorpe! Something lost—the hope and expectation to which his soul had bent itself so long ; something gained—an assured knowledge of the will of God, and the grace that brought restfulness and calm in sweet submission to his gracious guidance. We may not linger here at any length. Let it suffice to mention that his return to the duties connected with the quiet home-service of Milnthorpe was soon followed by marked activity in the visitation of the poor. He learnt to love the work; and by the people themselves his calls became more and more a source of unfeigned appreciation. By November, 1855, he had made three hundred and twenty visits, all of which were recorded in writing with habitual care. The closing words of his diary, to which we must now reluctantly bid farewell, emphasize the spiritual nature of his efforts in this direction, and add :—“ I cannot say much for results. Three or four were induced to attend church. Many received lasting benefit; and I am quite sure that my visits were blessed to most, though not in that decided manner which I so earnestly desired. All expressed unfeigned sorrow when the time came for me to leave.” A new and unexpected direction was given to his thoughts by the appearance, on September 6th, 1855, at Milnthorpc Market Cross, of an open-air evangelist. He was a stranger, and a negro. Gawin Kirkham, standing by, noted that the latter fact itself accounted largely for the preacher’s success in securing his attentive congregation. His heart received and retained the lesson. Legitimate attraction, he perceived, formed an element of effective preaching in the open-air, while there dawned upon his mind larger thoughts concerning a work to which hitherto he had been a stranger. He would, if God permitted, be a Scripture Reader. The purpose, awakened into life by the advice of the Rev. George Fisk, with whom he had consulted while in London, grew and ripened.
Preparation for Service
Thus, in January, 1856, we find him back again in London, his sphere of domestic service for ever relinquished, and his soul possessed with the stedfast intent to equip and qualify himself for acceptance as an agent of the Church of England Scripture Readers’ Association. Taking lodgings near his former pastor, who now became his friend and helper, and receiving constant inspiration from his enlightened ministry, he pursued his preparatory studies with the ardent diligence which was ere now so marked a feature of his character. The following letter was addressed to Mr. Fisk at this time:—
“ 20, Upper Park Place, Dorset Square, “ March 11th, 1856.
“Rev. and Dear Sir, —Though I should consider it a great favour to have a short interview with you, yet knowing that you have already far more calls upon your time than you ought to have in your present weak state of health, I have again taken the liberty to drop you a line to acquaint you with my progress, which is, I am thankful to say, as far as I know, satisfactory. “ I have now been to Dr. Spence four times. Each time he gives me a series of questions, which I answer and take in on the following week. His kindness has completely disarmed my fear, and given me greater confidence. He has not yet examined me orally. Last Thursday he said that my progress would warrant his mentioning my case to the Board on the 20th. “ I cannot find words to express my gratitude to God for all his mercies, especially for the assistance of his Holy Spirit, which He has so graciously afforded me while endeavouring to prepare for the great work which lies before me (D.V.). I have been able to feed upon the promises, and lay hold upon the faithfulness of God.“ I ought not to omit to mention, also, that your sermons have been peculiarly adapted to my wants.
On Sunday evening I was comforted by what you said on our waiting on God to know the path of duty, and the assurance that it would be made known to us. I also yet carry with me the impulse I received under those of the preceding Sunday on Prayer. “ That I may still be kept humble, and that you may receive strength according to your day, is the prayer of,
“ Rev. and Dear Sir,
“ Your grateful servant,
“ G. Kirkham.
“ Rev. G. Fisk.”
In the month of April, to his great joy, he was accepted, and his field of labour allotted. 1 his was the parish of St. Paul’s, Long Lane, Bermondsey—a sphere inhabited almost exclusively by people of the working class, and containing many streets and courts that were dark indeed with poverty and crime. The incumbent was the Rev. William Duncan Long, an earnest and faithful man of God, accustomed to visit every house in his crowded parish, and to proclaim the story of the cross as well without as within the portals of his church. Here then, Gawin Kirkham found arduous and exacting exercise for every Christian energy.
But his lot was brightened by his happy union, on April 22nd in the same year, with Miss Frances Yates, to whom the reader has already been introduced, and to whom he was devotedly attached. She was a woman of faith and prayer ; and constantly, through years of subsequent publicity and frequent absence from home, her husband’s path was smoothed by her ever-cheerful submission to the cross of frequent separation from him who was, indeed, her earthly all. Meanwhile, however, their means were small, and their home no more ambitious than two or three modest rooms in Nelson Square, Bermondsey. But they were supremely happy, in one another and in God. His sweet service made them rich ; and in his smile they found an all-sufficient source of peace. “Gawin Kirkham, Scripture Reader.” Humble, happy title, not excelled by the fairest and greatest of the world’s vaunted dignities. Day after day he bent his eager footsteps to homes where sin abounded, bearing the message of abounding grace. In reeking courts, and squalid streets ; by the bedside of the dying, and among depraved and Godless men ; often in danger of violence, and once at least in danger, from an infuriated Romanist, of life itself—yet ever cheerful, patient, and brave, he laboured for his heavenly Master. Let us magnify the grace of God in him ! How wondrously he was being led ! It was rare, indeed, at that time, for a parish clergyman to reckon open-air preaching among his regular and constant duties. But infinite Wisdom decreed that Gawin Kirkham should assist a minister of God of whom this was conspicuously true ; for every summer saw the incumbent of St. Paul’s proclaiming the Gospel beneath the sky with such consecrated zeal that almost every portion of his parish thus rang with the joyful sound. The interest of the young Scripture Reader was immediately aroused; and though he was never asked to take part in the meetings save by the distribution of tracts and notices, his heart was filled with enthusiasm for the cause. Thus he reasons, in penning a report of these services for 1856—and the chronicle is remarkable as being the first from his pen on a subject so soon to be pre-eminently his own:—
“ All who know the great blessedness of being in Christ are anxious that others should be partakers of this great blessedness. For this they live, and to this end they are willing to ‘ spend and be spent ’ in the service of their Lord and Master. And, as preaching is one of the great means God has been pleased to employ in all ages for bringing sinners out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel, they are desirous of upholding a faithful ministry to the utmost of their power ; and those of them who are called to preach endeavour to be 'instant in season, out of season.’ No wonder that, in an age like ours, when iniquity runs down the streets like water, and thousands upon thousands are ‘without Christ,’ ‘having no hope, and without God in the world,’ breaking his Sabbaths, despising his ordinances, neglecting his Word, ‘ trampling under foot the Son of God, and putting Him to an open shame’ —no wonder that their spirit should be stirred up, and they should......
An Account of Early Work
devise means for bringing the Gospel to those who are yet 'without' Open-air preaching is one of the most valuable of these means, and one which God has abundantly blessed, testified as it is by numerous and well-known facts." Then follows a detailed and graphic description of the services themselves. The immediate object of the record—whether for publication or otherwise— does not, however, appear. But the following is a striking quotation from this account :— “Wednesday, July 23rd. Mr. Long selected the
end of Nelson Street, next Long Lane, this evening. About three hundred attended. His text was Matthew i. 21 : ‘Thou shalt call his name Jesus,’etc - • • • If I can judge from my own feelings, and the remarks I heard, it was in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power. The Spirit’s influence seemed to rest upon the speaker and the hearers very largely. We have not yet had such an interesting service as this. The attention was most marked, especially towards the close. Let it be remembered, also, that the crowd consisted of ungodly persons— men, women, and children, who never use the name of God except in blasphemy, and whose days and hours are almost all spent in the service of sin. I could not but feel that God was with us of a truth, and that impressions were being made of a lasting nature. “ A remarkable illustration of that passage, ‘ I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries shall be able to gainsay or resist,’ was brought out in the course of the sermon. A tall, powerful-looking man—a Romanist—attempted to disturb us. He said, ‘ We don’t understand that. Tell us something we can understand. Speak plain language.’ The preacher took up the words ‘ plain language,’ and said, ‘ My friend, the plain language is that you are a sinner. The plain language is that Jesus Christ is a Saviour. The plain language is that drunkards—the man was somewhat the worse for liquor—shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.’ He spoke at considerable length in this strain, bringing forth text after text, till the man acknowledged its truth, saying, ‘ That is good. That is right.’ And the crowd listened with admiration; and when I met with them for several days after, they said they had never heard anything equal to it. ‘ He must,’ they said, ‘ have been helped by the Spirit.’ ”Similar manuscript reports for the years 1857 and 1858 evidence growing devotion to the work, and constrain us to acknowledge the hand of God as seen in the equipment of his servant for the memorable life-toil that awaited him. Daily and hourly the appalling need of the people, sore stricken with the deadly blight of sin, moved his soul to sympathy, and engaged his warm energies in the service of the Gospel. How best to direct those energies, how to make known and immediately apply among the multitude the remedy of heaven—these were the problems he was being led to discover and confront. More and more his mind reverted to the simple, Christlike, apostolic plan of evangelizing in the streets. Precept and example, charged by the power of the illuminating Spirit, threw light upon his path, and quickened his footsteps into confidence.
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