Free Grace from a Free-Will Pulpit
by JOHN KERSHAW
On one occasion I was invited to preach at Keighley during the holidays in Whit-week. A friend was to meet me with a horse, on the road between Keighley and Halifax. One of my friends lending me a horse for two days, the man had the pleasure of riding back on the horse he brought for me. Before I left my bedroom in the morning, according to my usual practice, I kneeled down to thank the Lord for his manifold mercies, and beseeching him that his presence and blessing might be with me through the day. I told him that he knew that I was going to a place I had never been to before, and besought him to give me a text to speak from, that he would make a blessing to the people whom he in his providence might bring together; when the Lord laid upon my mind Romans 8:30: "Whom he did predestinate," etc. From the power and savor that attended the words, I felt this was to be my text, and thanked the Lord for it, beseeching him to be with me in preaching, and bless it to the souls of the people. As the man and I were riding together, he said, "You will have to preach this afternoon at three o' clock in a large Wesleyan chapel, and you will have many people to hear you,--Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans. They are coming for miles round." On hearing this I at once thought of my predestinarian text and the Wesleyan chapel. Flesh and blood, carnal reason, and the devil began to work powerfully on my mind. As we rode along I laboured to get another text, that I could preach the truth from, without coming so decidedly against the system of free-will. But no text could I get. O how wretched and miserable did I feel, until the Lord brought to my mind what had passed between him and me in the morning, when I told him that he knew where I had to preach, and who I should have to hear, and that he gave me the text in answer to prayer. I was ashamed of myself that I should endeavour to give way. Many portions of the word of God flowed into my mind, such as: "If I seek to please men, I should not be the servant of Christ," (Gal. 1:10) with more of the same import. Before we entered the town, my mind was delivered from these fleshly feelings and the fear of man, and a valor sprang up in my soul "the truth of God upon the face of the earth." (Jer. 9:3)
When the time came, there was a great gathering of people. Before reading my text, I addressed them as follows: "It is the practice of some men, when called to preach where they have never been before, to inquire what the sentiments of the people are, and labour to accommodate their sermon to the palates and views of the people. This is not obeying the command of the Lord in separating between the precious and the vile, the chaff and the wheat, faithfully dispensing the word of the Lord, fearing no frowns and courting no smiles. When I look around me at this congregation, it strikes my mind that were I disposed to act the above part, I should fail in attempting to please all, for I have no doubt I have persons before me of various opinions; so that while I was seeking to please some, I should offend others. My desire is to seek to please the Lord, and preach the preaching he has bidden me. I therefore call your attention to Romans 8:30: 'Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified.' This precious portion of God's word the old Puritan divines called the golden chain. Speaking of the first link, predestination, the second link effectual calling, the third justification, and the fourth glorification. When I came to the last link, vindicating the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints unto eternal glory, proving it from many portions of the word of the Lord which are the joy and rejoicing of my soul, the last two verses of Toplady's hymn, which begins:
"A debtor to mercy alone,"
came with power to my mind, and I repeated them with great pleasure:
While so doing, I observed a gentleman in black, who sat in the gallery, hastily take his hat and go away. The impression of my mind was that he could not endure sound doctrine, and would hear no more of it; but to my surprise he came up the aisle to the foot of the pulpit stairs, and there he stood till I had finished my sermon; and then I gave out that blessed hymn of Dr. Watt's:
"Firm as the earth thy gospel stands."
When they began to sing, the gentleman came into the pulpit and sat down, putting his hand on my knee, and saying, "Sir, I hope you will have no objection against me rising to vindicate our own doctrine." I replied, "Sir, you are full of wrath and irritation. Be cool, and think what you are about." He said, "How can I forbear being irritated, hearing a man in our own chapel labouring to pull down what we are constantly establishing. I must, and will, when they have done singing, rise and defend our principles, in opposition to the doctrine you have been advancing." As he was thus speaking, I was listening to the precious hymn they were singing, which was a confirmation of the doctrine I had been preaching. As soon as I heard them begin the following words:
I took my standing in the pulpit to be ready to conclude with prayer. After which I addressed the people as follows: "A gentleman, who is now in the pulpit with me, from what he has been saying to me whilst you have been singing, is determined to rise and oppose the doctrines of free and sovereign grace which you have been hearing, and vindicate the doctrine of man's free will; but as I have already more of that in my fleshly carnal nature than I like, I shall not stop to hear him, and I would advise all you who are sick of self, and love a free-grace salvation, to go home with what you have got, and let the free-will man and his friends have it to themselves." As soon as I left the pulpit, he rose in a rage to pour contempt upon what I had said, and vindicate his own principles. I have seen many congregations disperse, but never saw such confusion as I did on this occasion. As I had several miles to ride over a large common, I got some refreshment and left. As I rode past the chapel, there were crowds engaged in disputation, and the events of that day are not yet forgotten, as will appear from the following: More than twenty years after, I met with three men from Keighley, who had come to hear me at Bradford. One of them asked me if I had forgotten preaching at Keighley, when the Wesleyan minister stood up to oppose me. I told him I had not. He said, "I well remember both your sermon and the remarks you made;" and to my surprise he repeated, almost verbatim, what I have recorded, saying it was so impressed upon his mind, and so appropriate to the circumstances, that he had often related it to his friends.