Sometimes a river’s sudden bend discloses a prospect of unsuspected beauty, and is the portal to a vista strangely and gloriously wide. Sometimes, too, along the narrow water-way of life, like changes are disclosed as suddenly; the channel widens, the vision travels far, and appropriates privileges that rise beyond each other as mountains in a spreading landscape. Such joys as this must be included in the story
of the noonday years of Gawin Kirkham’s life. One by one they held out welcome gifts, enriching and enlarging the treasuries of memory and experience. The rounding of the river bend was thus. An invitation to attend the General Conference of the Evangelical Alliance, at Amsterdam in August, 1867, was providentially accepted. Arriving there, Mr. Kirkham was requested to address the Conference on the congenial theme of“ Preaching in the Open-Air.” Nothing loth, he did so in the Master’s name, discoursing to the interest of an audience quite unique in its representative character. Turning his utterances to the consideration of the practical, he ventured to express his ardent desire to preach in the streets of the very city where they were assembled.
Conference of the Evangelical Alliance Amsterdam 1867
The Public Prosecutor, who was present as a delegate, afterwards came to the speaker, and begged that the idea might not be carried out. He said, “ I am a Christian man, and a member of the Alliance, and should like to have preaching in the streets ; but it is our duty as Christians to be obedient to rulers, and it is part of our law, incorporated in 1853, that no crowds shall be gathered in the streets either for political or religious purposes. It would grieve me to do it, but if I found you preaching in the streets, it would be my duty to bring you before the Court, and you would certainly be sent to prison.” Readily assenting, Mr. Kirkham imagined that the matter was concluded, and contented himself with preaching in the public park, where meetings were permitted. To his surprise, however, six weeks had hardly elapsed after his return to England when a letter reached him, asking, on the part of several Dutch friends, that he would repeat his visit ; and giving as a reason that the English preaching, during the Alliance Conference, had led to the conversion of some souls and the awakening of others. Placing this invitation before the Committee of the Open-Air Mission, it was decided that he should go. So, on January 30th, 1868, accompanied by Robert Craig, a remarkable working-man evangelist, the story of whose conversion while a street-conjurer is of deepest interest,* Mr. Kirkham for the second time visited Holland.
A Visit to Holland
A prolonged series of revival meetings followed, of a nature profoundly cheering to the two evangelists. The first assembled in the Scotch Missionary Church at Amsterdam. It was attended by an audience of about one thousand persons, to whom both preachers spoke through an interpreter. For two full hours the people listened with every sign of interest. Numerous other gatherings followed throughout the city, among all classes of the people. Of one meeting Mr. Kirkham says :— “ God can work in spite of the slowness and difficulty of translation. Our Friday evening meeting was a remarkable instance of this.
* Robert Craig was a Scotchman, who ran away from home when a lad, and led a wandering life for many years. He married at twenty-four, and for five years his young wife shared his wanderings, during two of which he earned his living as a street-conjurer. One Sunday morning he was in a common lodging-house in Sheffield. A quack doctor, while assorting his goods in a box near the window, turned out a small gilt-edged Testament. The gold flashed in Robert’s eye, and he called out, “ I say, Scottie, what’s that ?” “ Only a Testament, which I bought for four-pence.” “ I’ll give you four-pence for it.” “ Done ! ”So the bargain was struck. Strange feelings came over Robert, who had not had a Testament in his hands for about fourteen years. He immediately went upstairs and began to read; how-ever he soon closed the book and tried to pray, but could not. He immediately sold off his conjuring books, and six months afterwards found peace under the teaching of a City Missionary in Manchester. He at once went out into a court and began to tell what the Lord had done for him, and for many years was a useful evangelist, meanwhile working at his occupation as a brace-maker. [Written by Mr. Kirkham in 1868. Robert Craig died some years ago.]
It was held in the Constantia, a mission house in William Street, and was attended by about five hundred people, while many went away for want of room. I have rarely, if ever, seen a meeting so closely packed ; and the Spirit of God was undoubtedly at work, convincing of sin, and taking of the things of Christ and revealing them to souls. Many appeared to be deeply moved ; and when the meeting was over we could hardly get away. Scores of hands were stretched out towards us, and both our hands were grasped by several persons at one and the same time. And such hearty grasps they were ! Many burdened souls wanted to tell their sorrows, and it was heart-breaking to see their anguish and to feel their tears drop on our hands ; but we could only press our hands upon our hearts, point to heaven, and repeat the name of Jesus.” Leaving Amsterdam at length, the mission was continued at Zeist, at Zaandam, at Rotterdam, and at The Hague. At the latter city, which is the seat of government, and of the royal residence, Mr. Kirkham was privileged to become acquainted with many Christians of high social rank, of whom he says: “ I found such genuine, simple, earnest piety among some who occupy high positions, that my soul was very much refreshed and cheered,” and he continues : “ I acknowledge, with deep gratitude to God, that my own soul was revived at The Hague during the two days I was privileged to enjoy there the communion of saints. The fruit of Lord Radstock’s preaching is clearly seen here in the conversion of some and the revival of others. Prayer Meetings and Bible Readings
Preaching at The Hague
are held, and one gentleman has commenced a weekly meeting for the soldiers. “ I found in this town an effort similar to our theatre services movement. Mr. Esser, who very kindly interpreted for us on several occasions, preaches every Sunday in a Concert Hall, and succeeds in drawing together a large number of people of the class not usually found in the churches.” It was with an intense desire for the salvation of their hearers that these labours were accomplished. In nineteen days forty-three meetings were addressed, attended by fourteen thousand people. Concerning these gatherings Mr. Kirkham wrote: “We aimed at the conversion of sinners at all our meetings. For this we laboured and prayed, Robert and I spending some time in prayer together every day. I cannot put the results down either in figures or in words. But although we saw very many who were deeply convinced of sin, we only heard of one soul actually finding peace. However, I am sure God had a mission for us to accomplish, and will yet permit us to see the fruit of our labours. Our own souls were revived, and we were permitted to be used in strengthening and refreshing the souls of others who were already Christians. Our Dutch friends were very, very kind. Not only did they meet all expenses, but they gave Robert a silver watch, and sent £4 for the poor of London, and £10 for the Open-Air Mission.” Thus gladdened, they returned. And faith and labour were soon rewarded. Letters came across the sea which abundantly confirmed their hopes of blessing, and which filled their hearts with gratitude and joy. One wrote:— “It was such a blessing to have you and Mr. Craig among us. We hope you may be encouraged to repeat your visit many a time. We felt at the end of your closing words that a good friend of our souls was leaving us. We wanted you to abide with us for a long time, as we felt our hearts were drawing nearer to Jesus at the blessed description you gave of his precious love. . . . My sister wants me to tell you that you were the means to bring her to Jesus Himself. She had found the way to his cross, but did not know Him yet in his glory. Ah ! how well we remember every word you said on that subject. I can say as much for myself, for we could not hear more of Him through the preaching of Lord Radstock, as we only found light several days after his departure. I very often bless God for Mr. Craig’s comforting words. . . . I believe that many hearts were brought to Jesus by your repeated invitations. Ah ! we Dutch never jump at conclusions ; we are very slow in making sure of anything. So there is a second visit wanted, to give you a true impression of what the Lord has got for you to do here.” Another said : “ I am very happy to tell you that your labours were not in vain in Amsterdam. I assure you many souls that were troubled about their sins have found peace, and have been comforted by the words the Holy Ghost gave you to address to the people. Yes, I have met with persons who have told me that formerly they could not realize their sins forgiven through the blood of Christ, but now they are rejoicing, having the peace of the Lord in their hearts.
Men, women, and also children, are longing for the time when they may hear you again. Robert Craig is living in their hearts. His true and simple manner of addressing the people has made a deep impression on their minds, just because he was a working man speaking to the working class.” All this, however, is but as the prelude to a burst of long-continued praise. Two great results, permanent in their nature, and blessed in their influence, followed on with swift and certain steps. The first was the realization of Mr. Kirkham’s great desire to inaugurate street-preaching in Amsterdam, and in Holland generally. The practice was, as we have seen, judged to be illegal, and yet, such was the great effect of Mr. Kirkham’s visit on the mind and heart of his new friend, Mr. Isaac Esser, that, seizing the opportunity afforded by an annual fair, he boldly commenced to preach in the following May. Recounting the circumstances of this remarkable and God-directed undertaking, Mr. Esser wrote to Mr. Kirkham :— “You may be curious to know how it is that although Open-Air Preaching is not allowed by law in this country, as stated in your report, street preaching is going on at The Hague without any serious opposition. I will explain it unto you. We continued to give in the Concert Room four short addresses every week with prayer at the close of the meeting, and the Lord blessed our efforts ; twelve persons were brought to visible new life, and almost a hundred acknowledged at the close of the winter that they had received a blessing. “ Summer setting in, it became difficult to get large audiences, and so it came to my mind to ask the police if it was allowed to have short addresses in the
streets on useful topics, as for instance, ‘ The Pilgrim’s Progress' The police at once granted permission, the law being only against prayer, psalm-singing, processions, and other religious performances; but speaking in the streets is free, and the law makes no difference between speaking about a sinner’s history or a saint’s history. “ Meantime the usual May fair came round, and some friends having resolved to sell Bibles and books at a booth or stall, we combined the two things, and I was enabled to tell the story of sin and grace for seven days, with my dear friend Wilkens, an evangelist. We had twelve addresses every day, and distributed during the week thirty thousand tracts and good books to some. We hope at least sixteen thousand or eighteen thousand persons heard the glad tidings of salvation, including about two hundred Jews. Some good fruits were gathered in at that time. After the seven days’ hard work we felt tired and nervous enough, I assure you, this being our first effort in street preaching. We do not call it 'preaching,’ however ; the word ‘ address ’ seems to us the right one, to avoid difficulty.“ Since then we have gone on with the work, two, and sometimes three of us addressing perhaps five thousand persons every week in different streets in The Hague, and in Scheveningen. The average of the auditory may be two hundred every time ; some-times we had a thousand hearers.
Third Visit to Holland
In general the people listen quietly, and approve the new thing ; occasionally a large number of people have followed us, and we have sometimes had thrown at us potatoes and dirt, and once a stone; but these disagreeable things are disapproved of by many, and hitherto we have not needed protection. “At the fair we had a remarkable proof of Satan’s opposition spoiling his own work. Some of the sellers in the fair complained at the police office that they could sell nothing, because of the crowd of listeners to our addresses ; so the police asked us in a friendly way to remove ; we did so, and succeeded in having a kind of pulpit at some distance, where we could speak to much larger crowds, in the meantime going on to sell and speak to the buyers at the stalls. “So l think your visit to Holland has given the impulse to a good work ; and if you come again with Weaver or Craig, I may be able to be your translator to a crowded auditory in the streets or markets.” These delightful tidings had the inevitable effect of quickening a desire to see the movement for himself. Accompanied by Robert Craig, he journeyed to Holland for the third time in August, 1869, being privileged again to conduct a series of Gospel services in Amsterdam, and also in Utrecht. But the charm of the visit lay beyond all else in the street preaching at The Hague, which by this time had been in successful operation for fifteen months. Mr. Esser kindly allowed us to try whether it was possible to preach in this way by interpretation. He took us into one of the worst streets of The Hague, where he translated for us; and the people listened as if they understood both what we and our translator said. Yet that was a very bad street. There was no mistaking the purpose for which the house immediately before us was used. There were the poor, abandoned girls laughing at the door, and smoking cigars in the house! On either side were public-houses. Jews and Gentiles listened, yet no insult was offered. But we had no singing or prayer. This would bring the work within the power of the law, and so it is omitted. He next took us into the New Market, where we had another meeting. And in the evening to Scheveningen, where we addressed large numbers of the poor people. What an interesting sight it was to see those curiously-dressed, but scrupulously clean, women and children, listening with the most devout attention. Thank God! Open-Air Preaching has commenced ; may it also spread all over the country.” Thus again, the glorious Gospel, preached in simplicity and power, won its own resistless way. The very street described above as the abode of the abandoned and depraved became completely changed in character, until even the Burgomaster of The Hague himself exclaimed : " One good street preacher is worth ten policemen ” As a result of these events, open-air preaching is now legal from one end of Holland to the other. But another memorable issue of these visits has yet to be described, though to measure or to limit its potency for good were difficult indeed. This was the discovery by Mr. Kirkham, during his second stay in Amsterdam, of the picture with which, almost ever since his name has been associated—“ The Broad and the Narrow Way.”
The Broad and the Narrow Way
A singular providence led to this event. Together with his friend he became the guest of Mr. H. de Hoogh, the leading religious bookseller of Amsterdam, and on the day following his arrival, looking through the shop-window, his attention was immediately directed to a lithographed wall-print of an unusual description, of which Mr. de Hoogh was the publisher. Its meaning was evidently allegorical, and its teaching that of the Gospel. More than this, however, he failed to understand, and repeated examinations added little to his enlightenment. Returning to England, he brought with him a copy of the picture, together with a printed “ Explanation ” in Dutch. Friends to whom it was shown speedily became deeply interested, the more so when, at Mr. Kirkham’s request, the task of translating the “ Explanation ” was accomplished by Mr. Frederick Emmighausen, a young Dutchman then resident in London, and it became possible to grasp the design with accuracy. From this apparently unimportant purchase grew results that affected the whole of Mr. Kirkham’s subsequent life. No long time elapsed before, perceiving that the picture contained elements of living power, he conceived the idea of expounding it in public. For this purpose an enlarged copy was painted under his direction, and later this was succeeded by another, and still another, each larger than the preceding one, the largest being nine feet wide by twelve feet long. Following this again came, in later years, the publication of the picture in English, and its sale by tens of thousands, together with the “ Explanation.” In a word, the God-given enterprise of presenting sacred and saving truths to the people by the aid of this production lent new joy and blessedness to life, and threw new and glowing rays of colour round Mr. Kirkham’s later days. The task, renewed during many succeeding years, of discovering the origin of the picture, was at length concluded to Mr. Kirkham’s unmeasured satisfaction. To Mrs. Reihlen, the wife of a Stuttgart merchant, the design was traced, and to her the original publication of the picture in German was found to be due. Hardly had the grave closed over the honoured remains of that saintly lady ere, in the city of Amsterdam, Mr. Kirkham’s eyes beheld for the first time the Dutch edition of her work. To him the hand of God transferred the object of her prayer and hope, and with marvellous faithfulness he held the sacred trust.
A Sunday Ramble
His ordinary and usual work at home often included what he denominated “ A Sunday Ramble in the streets of London.” Rambles indeed they were, but undertaken with high and holy objects, and including always an amount of toil which to many would have proved utterly exhausting. But Mr. Kirkham was ever deeply interested in the Christian service of his brethren. Nothing delighted him more than to reconnoitre their strategic posts, to cheer them in their earnest warfare, to study their methods, and to rejoice with them in their success. Leaving his home at an early hour, he would make a tour on foot lasting the whole day, to districts far and near, and among surroundings the most varied, from the quiet of the fashionable west to the bawl of Spitalfields. One Sunday in the year 1869, for instance, was occupied as follows :—Kingsland Road was reached at eight o’clock, and a Workers’ Meeting of the Christian Community attended. Next an open-air meeting at St. Leonard’s Square, Hoxton, under the auspices of the same society, and a similar one in Tabernacle Square were seen and helped. “ Crossing the City Road, I made my way to Banner Street, St. Luke’s. Here I found another band of open-air preachers from the Christian Community, surrounded by an attentive audience of very poor people. This preaching station is at the corner of Whitecross Street, a locality well known as one of the most crowded Sunday markets in London. Many of those who listened had been purchasing, and were on their way home. The preachers are found here every Sunday, winter and summer.” Clerkenwell Green, a well-known resort of politicians, was this morning found deserted. Thence to dinner with a friend, and afterwards to a service in his company in Trafalgar Square. Next, crossing the Thames, the open-air service in front of the Wesleyan Chapel, Waterloo Road, was witnessed with keen interest. From hence to Highbury Corner, and the hour of
seven was reached. A service here of sympathy and help, and this was followed by one at Caledonian Road, held by young men from Vernon Chapel. Still another service in the same great district, and then the final effort of the day. “ Returning to the Caledonian Road again on my way home, I was attracted by the singing at the corner of Stanmore Street, by the Great Northern Hospital. By this time I began to feel fatigued, but could not help stopping to the close of the meeting. In some respects it was the best of all. It was conducted by one of Mr. Spurgeon’s students, who has gathered a small congregation together in Thornhill Hall, Richmond Street, close by, and who frequently comes out here with his congregation. The singing was very hearty, harmonious, and consequently attractive. People could not help stopping to hear such sweet melody. And I would fain hope that the sounds wafted into the wards of the hospital would comfort and soothe the spirits of the afflicted inmates, and lead their thoughts to higher and better things. “I had been wandering about for fourteen hours, and had walked more than fifteen miles. What a variety of sights, sounds, and thoughts, had occupied my attention during that period ! It was now half-past nine. I retired to my home with mingled feelings of joy and sadness. I was grieved to have seen such open disregard of God and his Word in the chief Christian city on the face of the earth; but greatly cheered to think that the Lord had so many of his servants willing to testify for Him—willing to take up the cross, to go forth without the camp bearing his reproach; and who persevere, amid many discouragements, knowing that, as they go forth bearing precious seed, they shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them.”
In Labours Abundant
His evangelistic interest and experience, however, were not confined to London, but spread widely over the whole land. Frequent invitations from Christian friends, no less than the duties of his office, sent him forth to co-operate in distant scenes of earnest labour, or constrained him to stand alone on village green or by market cross, always telling
“ With a glad heart and free,”
the story of dying and yet undying Love. A communication to The Christian of August 25th, 1870, describes no less than ten immediately succeeding efforts, at Gressingham and Wray, in Lancashire ; Shipston-on-Stour, in Gloucestershire ; Bury St. Edmunds, Higham and Barrow, in Suffolk ; Chevely, in Cambridge ; Ramsay, in Essex ; and Hertford Heath, in Hertfordshire. How widely these labours varied in their character ! Bury St. Edmunds was the scene of the great gala, and to preach amid so much distraction was not easy —some might say, superfluous. “ Even Christians,” he remarks, “ often ask, ‘ What is the use of taking the Gospel to such places?’ For the present, let one fact suffice for an answer, though many similar ones might be given. On leaving the prayer-meeting in Garland Street Chapel on Sunday morning, I was introduced to an old man, who said, ‘ Two years ago, when you came to the gala, and preached on the Angel Hill, I was a careless sinner. I had been quarrelling with my wife, and left home intending to have more drink ; but the words you spoke on Angel Hill stopped me. I felt how wrong my life had been ; and I at once went home, and asked my wife to forgive me for my conduct to her. Soon after we became members of Garland Street Chapel, and I shall have to bless God for ever that you preached on the Angel Hill on the gala day.’ ” Ramsay presented a truly striking contrast to the noises of the gala. “ The miller’s orchard was placed at our disposal, and a quantity of seats brought in from the village schoolroom and the public-house. These were well arranged under a hedge, and a large tarpaulin fastened to the trees, to keep the wind off the preacher. Good, kind souls ! What trouble they took to make the meeting successful—the first of its kind held here for many a long day. Nor were they disappointed. About seven o’clock the people came in rapidly, till there could not have been fewer than two hundred and fifty or three hundred. It is difficult to imagine where they came from. Miss Brooks, the miller’s sister, had the harmonium brought out of the house, and thus led the singing. A bushel was turned upside down, and formed a good pulpit. The boys lay on the grass at the preacher’s feet. Thus a meeting was held which will be long remembered. At its close we adjourned to the street, or lane, in the village, to sing a few parting hymns. Here we completely blocked up the thoroughfare, and the driver of a cart very considerately waited till we had finished ! ”
I have mentioned Mr. Kirkham’s contributions to The Christian. They were very numerous at this time, and also to a less degree in the days of The Revival. Nor were they merely records of his own toil. He ever loved to recognise and honour the labours of his brethren in whatever sphere. Christian consider-ateness marked his character. Did he, at any place, discover others occupying ground peculiarly that of the Open-Air Mission, he would be sure to mention it, and to pay almost exaggerated deference to all such efforts. A selfish or exclusive view of Christian agencies never disturbed his soul. The field was large : all were welcome, and for all there was the genial smile and the loving word that breathed true Gospel fellowship. Thus his writings included more than one appreciative sketch of the earlier efforts of the East London Christian Mission, afterwards the Salvation Army. The Christian Community was very near his heart. At the Homes for Little Boys', Farningham, he was a welcome visitor and preacher. Dr. Barnardo’s philanthropy in action drew forth unbounded admiration. Local missions claimed their share of attention from his busy pen. The Midnight Meeting Movement was an enterprise of which, after sharing its painfulness and joyfulness, he could not but write in words of heartfelt sympathy. And the late William Catlin, and his Cow Cross Mission, were not forgotten through the years. Stirring pleas to Christian workers on the theme so dear to him formed other contributions. One urged the use of midnight singing on Christmas and New Year eves, and of more street singing on winter evenings generally. Another, headed “Go out quickly! ” rang as with a trumpet call in stimulus to more and better preaching in the streets in summer. Still another, “ A Homily on Horse-Racing/’ affirmed and demonstrated that—
7. The Racing World is a powerful one.
II. The Racing World is an evil world.
III. The Racing World is opposed to Religion.
IV. Good might be done in a Racing Town, though the soil
But we are approaching a period of Mr. Kirkham’s life which we can hardly regard as other than parenthetical in its character. This included the years between 1872 and 1877. Frequent invitations had come to him—always, we may be sure, welcome from such a source—to assist the saintly William Pennefather, vicar of St. Jude’s, Mildmay Park, in his evangelistic services at the great Conference Hall close by. Thus had arisen much precious and valued intercourse between the two. In 1872 Mr. Pennefather, seeking for a permanent helper in the care of the growing institutions that gathered around the Conference Hall, asked Mr. Kirkham to accept the appointment of secretary. A concurrent movement of varied circumstances disposed Mr. Kirkham to regard the request as an indication of the will of God, and in the autumn, finally accepting it as such, he resigned the secretaryship of the Open-Air Mission.
Association with Rev. W. Pennefather
The keen regret of the Committee and members found expression in the presentation of an illuminated address which ran as follows :— “ At a meeting of the Committee of the Open-Air Mission, held in Buckingham Street, Strand, 17th February, 1873, was resolved on the motion of Mr. John MacGregor, and seconded by Mr. R. Baxter—
“ ‘ That the Committee in accepting the resignation of their Secretary, Mr. Gawin Kirkham, desire to record their sense of the zeal, devotedness, and efficiency with which he has during a period of nearly thirteen years uniformly discharged the duties of his office; and while they regard the severance of his connection with regret, they rejoice to learn that he is entering upon important evangelistic labours in the metropolis, for which his talent and his piety eminently fit him. He will thus continue to be associated with the brethren in Mission work, to whom his Christian courtesy and warm-heartedness has so greatly attached him, and by whom his friendly counsel and judicious guidance have ever been appreciated. “ ‘ The Committee trust that the blessing of Almighty God may in future, as in the past, rest on the labours of their esteemed brother.
(Signed) ‘“HUGH OWEN,
“ ‘ Chairman.”
Such a course, involving as it did the severance of so many strong and tender ties, would not be lightly taken. He ever afterwards regarded himself as led of God to take the step, though deeply thankful for
the temporary character of the change. Mr. Pennefather’s holy influence and example, and their almost daily communion together in the things of God and in Gospel labour, could not fail to leave impressions indelibly inscribed on Mr. Kirkham's heart and mind. All too brief was the fair vision ; for in April, 1873, the saintly founder of the Conference Hall received his welcome home-call, and passed into the immediate presence of the King. But the work, under the superintendence of Captain the Hon. R. Moreton, continued its vitality, and Mr. Kirkham’s evangelistic gifts and business aptitude received a full measure of employment. We may not linger here, except to notice some outstanding points of this new ministry. And first, let us record Mr. Kirkham’s Sunday afternoon lectures in the Conference Hall. These were on many special subjects, a whole course being announced beforehand, such as the following :—
| THE BEACONS OF THE BIBLE.
I.—Adam and Eve ; or the First Transgression.
II.—Cain ; or the Voice of a Brother’s Blood.
III.—Noah ; or the Fascination of the Wine cup.
IV. —Lot’s wife ; or the Cost of a Backward Look.
V.—Esau ; or a Warning to the Profane.
VI.—Balaam ; or “ No man can Serve Two Masters.”
VII.—Achan ; or the Miserable Fate of the Covetous.
VIII.—Samson ; or the Weakness of Human Strength.
IX.—David ; or a Dark Spot in a Bright Life.
X.—Solomon ; or the Vanity of Earthly Greatness.
XI.—Jezebel; or the Curse of a Bad Wife.
XII.—Gehazi; or the Sinner his own Tormentor.
Steadily and surely these meetings grew in power, until it was common to see the great hall filled with interested listeners. The people’s hearts were won by the genial personality and by the strong, frank utterances of their teacher, who himself developed marked gifts of exposition.
"Annual Address to Servants"
Nor less instinct with blessing was the Sunday morning Training Class for preachers and teachers, which it was his privilege to commence in the same building, and which continues to this day. The record is on high of the pastors, evangelists, teachers, and other Christian workers who at these meetings have received at once their call and their equipment, and have gone forth to many lands bearing the precious seed which here they laid in store. Then there was Mr. Kirkham’s “ Annual Address to Servants,” unique in interest both for audience and for preacher. For had not Mr. Kirkham, long years before, performed the humblest duties of domestic service ! So, once a year, with only one interruption from 1874 to 1885— a period, it will be seen, much longer than his official stay at the Conference Hall— he discoursed, with a heart full of sympathy for those whose toils and temptations he knew so well, on subjects such as: “ The Faithful Servant ” ; “ Servants of the Bible ” ; “ Servants Wanted ” ; “ Servants’Temptations”; “The Model Servant”; “The History of a Servant ” ; “ Mistress and Maid ” ; and “ Out of Place.” How blessed thus to gather up the lessons of the years, and to transform them all into handmaids of the Lord’s high service ! To the ministry of the streets, however, Mr. Kirkham’s heart beat true. Not for a moment, amid all the varied engagements of the Conference Hall, with their multiplied opportunities for Christian fellowship, did he forget the unsaved multitudes around. It was his joy often to go forth, in company with members of the Mildmay Open-Air Mission, to the surrounding districts, and in the streets and courts to bid the people hearken to the joyful sound. How much these preachers loved him may be gathered from their presentation to him in October, 1875, of a handsome harmonium, bearing an appropriate inscription, and accompanied by an address which read :—“ The members and friends of the Open-Air Mission in connection with the Conference Hall, being desirous of showing their esteem and Christian love to Mr. Gawin Kirkham, as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ among them,- present him with a harmonium, which they hope will be acceptable, and aid him in singing ‘ psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.’But more especially they desire that the Holy Ghost may enable him to make melody in his heart to the Lord ; and, if it be God’s will, to preserve him among them for years to come.” Often, too, requests from the Open-Air Mission for such service as spare time afforded were accepted with the readiness that was born of self-forgetfulness. The old visits to Lancaster, to Peterborough, and to Bury St. Edmunds were thus still paid annually; and in 1876 he journeyed as far north as Aberdeen, seeing Scotland for the first time, and conducting notable Gospel services during the Agricultural Show, helped by many well-known Scottish workers. It was evident, indeed, that his heart lay in this wider ministry, this open battle-field, this Gospel skirmishing. And, in God’s wise providence, the time had now arrived for a return to the work he loved so well. The committee of the Open-Air Mission sought a travelling and organizing secretary, fitted to develop the work throughout the land. Their thoughts turned to Mr. Kirkham. He was approached, and consented gladly to accept the post. His dear friend, Mr. John Kirk, who since 1873 had filled the office of secretary, remained for a time, and thus, hand in hand, they laboured. Once more, then, led back by the gracious and unerring hand that brought him forth, we behold his joyous resumption of toils which, while heavy indeed in a physical sense, possessed in his view their own surpassing and immortal interest. Unfaltering obedience to a call that might not be mistaken ; heartfelt convictions that the cause of open-air preaching was in very deed the cause of God ; unshaken confidence in the Gospel’s ancient and present power—these resistless motives held victorious sway.
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