A SERMON PREACHED AT CITY ROAD CHAPEL, LONDON,
ON MONDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 17th 1877.
BY THE REV. G. BOWDEN.
The Scriptures which are illustrated in the life and death of my friend,
and which I shall take as texts this evening, are
Titus iii. part of verse 3, and 4, 5, 6; illustrated by his conversion.
2 Cor. v. 11 and 20; illustrated by his ministry.
Psalm lxix. 1, 2; Isaiah lxvi. 2; James iii. 17; illustrated by his character.
Titus iii. 3-6 For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
ROBERT BALSHAW was born at Altrincham, Cheshire, on January 7th, 1828. He was one of a family numbering ten: seven brothers and three sisters. His father, a member of the Church of England, was a man of large build and of somewhat severe manner, whose will was law in his own household; and who, while steadily going about his own business, did not ferret out the offences of his children, yet gave unmistakable evidence of his judgment of them by sharp punishment, when discovered. Under his direction the children were brought up to attend the Church of England. While the fathers presence repelled me, when a youth, from the house, the mothers smile and gentle demeanour attracted me. She was a Congregationalist, and while looking well to the ways of her household, and not lowering the fathers authority, it was her work to shield, to mediate or to heal, when the children chafed under its severity. It will be seen that Robert inherited his mothers character. He received a fair English education at the school of John Latham, a Local Preacher of more than average ability, who maintained his authority among the boys by a force of character which did not shrink from the free use of the ferule, but whose Christian integrity won great esteem from Robert in after years.
When fourteen years of age, Robert set his heart upon going to sea; and so strong was his determination, that the objections of his parents were overcome, and as a sailor he made three voyages to America. His experiences of the forecastle were bitter, and his remembrance of perils in the sea gave him ever afterwards great sympathy with the sailor, who never failed to have place in his public prayers. He has been known, during a heavy gale, to rise and spend the night in prayer for the sailor. His sea-faring life was closed by a fall from the top-mast, and he was apprenticed to his father as a letter-press printer. It was at this time I first met with him. I see him as he leaves the printing-office, a full grown youth of pensive mien, wearing a Scotch cap, with the loose shambling gait of the sailor, not well gathered together in dress or bearing, when pointed out to me as Johns brother who has just come from sea. His brother John had previously connected himself with the Wesleyan-Methodist Society, and his thoughtfulness and musical taste had already created sympathies between us.
At this time, Robert was the companion of a youth whose family were Unitarians. With him he went frequently to the Socinian chapel and school. His mind was first stirred to earnest thought on religious truth by the conflict occasioned between the teaching received there, and the doctrines with which he was familiar. For a time he all but gave himself up to Unitarian errors. He held long and frequent contests with his brother and myself on the great questions involved in the Socinian controversy. Throughout my subsequent life I have owed much to the necessity then laid upon me, to read much on these questions, in order that I might successfully deal with the ever-shifting and subtle forms of objection which he brought, as we tramped, hour by hour, along the Cheshire lanes.
Though once and again, in public, he attributed his conversion to me, I must mark carefully that in his, as in other cases, the providence and grace of God used a number of instruments. I cannot mark the exact time of his conversion. It was not sudden. Jesus to him was as the light of the morning among the mountains in the north, rather than on the plains at the equator. There was a twilight of some length, marked by the sunbeam, the mist, the shadow, the heavy morning cloud, the falling shower; and then came the clear light of day. I mark three periods in this dawning of the Sun of Righteousness on his soul. First: his Fathers Will. On coming home from the Unitarian school one Lords day afternoon he sat down to read a pamphlet on the opinions of the Unitarians, given him by the teacher. His father asked him what it was. He gave it to his father, who looked at it, and said, with a decision which Robert well understood: Bob, if you ever go near that place again, Ill thrash you within an inch of your life; at the same time securing from him a promise that he would not go. From that time he became a regular attendant at the Methodist chapel and school. He passed through a great conflict, first with unbelief, and then with the world before he would yield himself to be saved by grace. While far from approving a severe discipline in the home, a question may well be asked: Has not a lax administration, like that of Eli, wrought more mischief in the Church and in the world? If the fence of discipline be broken down by those whose special trust it is to maintain it, none else can; and the sheep will surely go astray. There are influences enough which render it easy to relay law in the home, but the parents will is the one means for upholding it.
The present generation need seriously to consider this. As God used the fall from the mast to check a young mans folly and disobedience, so now He used his fathers will to prevent his going astray from the truth.
Shortly after this he joined the Society. His attendance at Class was for a short time regular, and then, for a period, intermitted. I remember one of these periods, when for thirteen successive Monday nights his friend went to take him to Class, but had to go sorely disappointed without him. The fourteenth time he came; and no more gave distress by continued indifference. This was the second influence by which he was led to Jesus. Then followed a time of much humiliation and distress of spirit, until as, after the conflict with unbelief, he was led to confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God - so now to him the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared. After this, some worldly companionships acquired in part their old power over him. He had so far yielded to them as, against his better judgment, to consent to go to a ball. On Sunday morning, January the 16th, 1848, in the interval between the engagement and the ball, God sent John Baker, then a student at Didsbury, to preach a sermon in the Altrincham chapel from: Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, etc. In a record of this sermon I note this passage: The new creature does not see how near the boundary line he can come without transgression, but at how great a distance he can keep. The Holy Spirit so wrought upon Roberts conscience in that service, that he resolved to break from the snares which were gathering round him. He gave up the ball, and ever afterwards noted that service as an epoch in his Christian life. From that time forth, through his God and Saviour, he was delivered from the divers pleasures which he had previously served. A month afterwards, during a series of special services, the Holy Ghost was shed on him abundantly, and a period commenced of earnest devotion to his Saviour. At the close of the year he writes: I am happy in the consciousness that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth me from all sin. Hallelujah! I could praise Him for ever. Time appears to me to pass very slowly, for I long to be with Jesus.
O! how happy I shall be,
When my Saviour I shall see,
Exalted on his throne!
I wish, George, I had, as Squire Brooke would say, an archangels tongue to shout Hallelujah with.
At this time he hungered and thirsted after righteousness, read and conversed much upon the doctrine of holiness, sought all possible guidance to the experience of that blessing, was as a merchantman, with the true merchant spirit, in every market seeking goodly pearls. With a friend, he again and again spent from eleven at night till two and three in the morning in earnest pleading with God for sanctifying grace. He realized it, and became at once fully consecrated to the service of the Master. During two winters and a summer, he and two friends met once a week, between six and seven in the morning, for an hour or upwards, to plead with God for a revival of religion. At the end of that time, the Society, after it had been long proverbial for coldness and sterility, was visited with a rich baptism of the Spirit, and at least one hundred and fifty persons were converted to God. The success of this religious movement was due, under God, to the unflagging diligence, wise guidance and thoughtful, spiritual ministry of the Rev. William Elton, whose preaching was a continuous power in Roberts religious life. In connection with cottage Prayer meetings, held in different parts of the town, by house-to-house visitation, he went to seek that he might save the lost. For two years, every Sunday morning, with a frugal dinner in his pocket, he and a friend walked three miles, to teach in a little country Sunday-school, and to evangelize the village. Tracts were distributed at every house on the way, cottage-services opened at some of them, the fruit of which is found today. After noon-day refreshment, every farmhouse and every cottage for a mile round were visited, and the people reproved, entreated and prayed with. This was the school in which he formed those habits of earnest thought and feeling which marked his ministry, and gained that wonderful power in prayer which was a distinguishing feature of his after life.
My young friends, be whole-hearted in your early Christian service. See to it that you get your whole soul satisfied with Gods mercy; that the sanctifying grace of God reaches the roots and the springs of your life; the very foundations of your character, deeper than your tastes, your opinions, your training, your intellectual qualities; until it forms and regulates the whole and then, without stint of strength or time or means, with an ungrudging denial of self, give yourselves up to hard, continuous work, that you may form habits which in after years will be to you as a second nature, making it easy for you to live a life of earnest service. The warmth of first love is given to us that our character may be fused into a clearly defined Christian mould. Such a character had he, and so was it wrought. Such his school of religious life; now as to some of his school-masters.
In the fore-ground stands the plain, good man who was his Class Leader. A hand-loom weaver, spare and short, illiterate, but with good sense, with a marked Cheshire brogue; his piety, vigorous and consistent. His mind was richly stored with Scripture, and with Wesleys Hymns. His range of thought was otherwise very limited. But he brought with him the presence of his Master, and to the thoughtful young man that weekly meeting was a time of refreshing; and to the last year of his life nothing would more light him up than singing one of the old Class-meeting hymns.
Brethren, we make a great mistake, if, in the guidance of youthful minds, we make more of a little social position and culture, than of homely but sterling religious life. The strokes of a simple, earnest man upon character chisel it out into bold relief; while the more educated, but less spiritual, may only leave a pencil line, which the first passer-by will rub off.
Next was the tall, genial, gentlemanly and spiritually-minded Edward Boyer, also for a time his Class Leader, for whose brotherly counsels, and the example of whose earnestness, he owed a never-forgotten debt of gratitude.
A third was a servant of my mothers, who lived in the enjoyment of holiness, and whose frequent warm-hearted testimonies of Christian experience were at once a stimulus and a guide, which he deeply felt, and to which he referred in one of our latest conversations.
The next was a dear Christian, upwards of seventy years old, who dwelt in a little room about ten feet square, supported by the charity of the Society; yet lived so closely on the border of the better land, that her child-like faith, abounding hope, holy joy and sun-like love, constituted a perpetual brightness, which led the pensive youth to sit at her feet that he might sun himself in the heavenly light of her words about her Saviour, and of her spirit, as it manifested His.
Mark the encouragement to be gathered from this grouping: James Dean, the hand-loom weaver, Ann Baddeley, the servant, and poor old Mrs. Sparkes. Do I speak to some decrepit woman in extreme poverty, who, in her lonely life, thinks she is nothing, and can do nothing? to some servant, not known beyond the family circle in which she works, and whose chief communications are with the children of the house and their companions? or to some plain, unlettered Class Leader, who has been abashed in the presence of his better educated members? let me remind you that you may possess a power greater than the energy of youth, than the influence of social position or of. expensively acquired knowledge, in a close walk with God and a bright altar fire burning in your heart. Keep that glowing; you may be shaping the character of more than one Minister.
At twenty years of age Robert was fully committed to the service of Christ and spiritually equipped for a life of usefulness. My young friends, from what sins may you be saved, from what bitter, life-long regrets, and from what waste of time, by early consecration to Christ! Says one:
If I must choose that part of the Christian life in which there is most joy, next to the land Beulah, I think I would prefer that tract of Christian experience which lieth toward the sun-rising . . . If I would have an auspicious time to work for Jesus, give me the blessed morning hours, when my heart is hounding lightest, and joys pure sunbeams tremble on my path.
What may early earnest service do for you? Poor is the friendless master of a world, etc. God gave me this friend of thirty-three years; what wealth of confidence and affection now and evermore, for a little earnest service. Seek the conversion of your companions.
2 Cor. v. 11 and 20 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. As though God did beseech you by us we pray you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God.
These words supply a correct and complete description of the character of Mr. Balshaws preaching. All felt in listening to him that he cared first to be accepted of God; that they listened to a sincere man, who - himself deeply impressed with the final issue of a course of sin, and with the abundant mercy of God in Christ - by argument, solemn entreaty and the most tender persuasion, and by the force of his own sympathies, would take hold of men to pull them out of the fire.
About July, 1848, in the village of Ashley, when a Local Preacher had failed to keep his appointment, Robert Balshaw preached his first sermon from: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son; etc. The following September he became a Local Preacher on trial, and in March, 1849, was fully accepted. In relation to his trial sermon, he writes at that time: I would that I could get my soul thoroughly imbued and overwhelmed and crushed and in agony with the remembrance of the fact that God will be the Judge of it; that He in heaven will try it, and that I in the Judgment-day shall have to give an account of it. His purpose in his preaching is thus told: Above all the music of the masters, rendered by the most exquisite vocalists, is that music which angels accompany, and which the Spirit of God Himself inspires - the groaning and sighing of a penitent sinner, feeling himself under the wrath of God. 0! it makes my heart leap for joy to hear this kind of music. The roughest and most uncouth voice then sounds to me the sweetest of all sweet sounds.
In March, 1850, he was proposed by the Rev. James Rosser as a candidate for the Ministry. The only objection in the Quarterly Meeting was, that the Circuit could not spare him. He was accepted by the Conference of 1850, and sent to the Didsbury Institution, where he continued for three years. In relation to this period, he writes: I find that it is only by untiring industry that I shall ever attain to mediocrity as a student and a Preacher; consequently, I must either he industrious or else perish. Not liking to perish, or to sink lower than my brethren, I am determined to endeavour to be industrious in my studies. He greatly profited by his term of residence there. He gave attention to each branch of study. He writes: I covet earnestly the best gifts; to use, to increase in knowledge and in the happiness of a cultivated mind. Of Mental Philosophy and Mathematics, he says They possess more interest for me than any other study I have here. He was not afraid of thinking; and so preferred the studies which, while giving healthful discipline, stimulate independent thought. Again Mr. Balshaw writes:
Excellence is stamped upon everything around me. God has manifested excellence in all His acts, redemptive and creative and He demands from me, if not a perfect manifestation of, yet an earnest struggling after, the same principle. The times in which I live, the Church of which I am a member, the work in which I am engaged, condemn mediocrity: excellence is demanded in the market, and depend upon it, the time is fast approaching when nothing else will sell.
Mr. Richard Green writes of him at this time:
He used to question everything. He had not a traitorous spirit of disbelief, but he had a hesitation which arose from the honesty of his spirit, and distrust of his own ignorance. He was timid. This gave rise to circumspection in dealing with moral and spiritual problems. We used to debate almost every topic of enquiry that came in our way. It grew to he a mutual endeavour to arrive at truth. . . The Scriptures he truly did read, mark, learn and inwardly digest. He pondered Divine truth almost constantly. He says himself: There is one thing that gives me so much pleasure: my Bible is precious to me, and its glorious truths unfold to me for my own great comfort.
At the time of his writing thus he was frequently preaching before the venerable Thomas Jackson and the Rev. W. M. Bunting, both of whom became his friends, and appreciated his fine spirit.
Mr. Tetley says: He was an adept at a twenty minutes Bible-reading, or an outpouring of his heart on some theme identified with the souls inner and higher life.
Mr. Randles says: His gifts and attainments were considerably above the average of our Ministry. His preaching was remarkably unostentatious, but intelligent, earnest and directed to saving results.
He had great natural refinement, his tastes were high, he appreciated what was best in literature, music and art. He revelled in the grand and beautiful in nature. During his student days he made a most economical Continental tour with two of his fellow-students, which greatly enlarged and instructed his mind. In after years these tastes gave him close links with the most intelligent of our Societies, and fostered some precious friendships.
Looking forward to his ministry in a Circuit, he says:
I wish to be a good Preacher, although I am conscious that the character of great will never he ascribed to me, neither will popularity ever be my lot. My desire is not to be either of these, so much as a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, to show myself approved unto God. I am more and more convinced that usefulness ought to be our object. God has called us for this; the Church supports us for this; we profess to preach and labour for this, and I am tired of preaching without this. The ministry we have received is a ministry of reconciliation we are to persuade men to be reconciled to God. I would that we could always keep this fact in view. . . That I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak - I often think of this last expression - as I ought to speak. Considering the glorious subject of the Gospel, the immense advantages of a right exhibition of it, the fearful loss resulting from any imperfect putting of it, how ought we to speak it? May God make us wise and strong and good, that we may faithfully and tenderly speak to men of this wonderful work of love.
And again, he says: How important is it that the revival of the work of God should be kept before us continually, that all we think and say and do in the service of Christ should intentionally, and of distinct, set purpose, have this for its end! So he entered upon his Circuit work; and for near five and twenty years in this spirit he performed it ready for outdoor services, for house-to-house visitation, for arranging special services, for anything by which he could win souls to Christ; and I have often seen him the subject of severe conflict when, from any cause, he had not full sweep for his Sunday night appeals, or when those appeals, by the terror of the Lord, had seemed to fail in persuading men.
His demeanour in the pulpit was modest, dignified, grave and tender. He gave out his hymns with a full appreciation of their spirit and teaching his first prayer was always remarkable for its ardour, its spirituality, its intense spirit of supplication, and the consciousness that he and his congregation were coming into the presence of the great, yet gracious Jehovah. Mr. Green says:
I scarcely dare speak of his prayers. This is too sacred. They were addresses to the Most High. O what pathos and what pleading! How he cried to God on behalf of men! How he poured out his love and pity for men, and entreated and begged for them! I never heard any one ask life for men as he did. Ah! that is Johns idea. He was like him. He knew that he was of God, and that the whole world lieth in the wicked one. The great detraction from his own free life of happy love was that others lay in chains.
Mr. Randles says I have seldom, if ever, known a man who seemed to pour forth his confessions and supplications with such freedom, force and agonizing importunity. In the Divine presence he seemed to loathe himself utterly for sin, and to mightily wrestle with God for holiness.
In the selection and treatment of his subjects, he suggested to the hearers that he was as one of the old prophets. For years his diffidence prevented him from ever looking at his congregation: he poured forth his appeals with his eye fixed upon his book or a corner of the chapel, seeming to say by every action, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child; and yet with all this he shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God, and was fearless in his practical teaching, dealing out sledge-hammer strokes at intemperance, impurity, commercial wrong, and at those sins of the Church and of the world which were immediately about his path. He spent not his force in fighting extinct evils, he grappled with those of his own time. Now and again he raised some hubbub in his congregations by his trenchant strokes. Like Jeremiah, the passion and pathos of his soul ran over through his lips. He seemed to say, Oh that my head were waters, etc.; or, like Whitefield, to his congregation: If you perish, it shall not be for want of praying for; it shall not be for want of weeping over: if you are damned, it shall not he because my heart is cold towards you.
In this spirit he travelled at Louth as a supply for the Rev. C. Garrett, who says, There he was greatly blessed; at Airdrie, amidst much discouragement; at Newport, where his plain speaking made him a few foes, but where his fidelity and earnest temperance advocacy rallied to him many friends among the working men; at Tiverton; at Dunstable, where he writes of one hundred conversions to God at the beginning of one year; at Manchester, (Irwell Street, etc.,) where for some months he was graciously disciplined by bodily affliction, and which he left at the end of two years, notwithstanding the wishes of the people, because of what he considered due to the interests of the Circuit; in London, (Great Queen Street, etc.;) Kentish Town and Blackheath, where, without any arrangement of ours, we had the great joy of being colleagues. About this he said: How happy we shall he together, I am afraid to think. How precious is his memory there and how numerous his friends among the illiterate and the educated, the poor and the rich! Several of those who had his sympathy and help in religious distress or in domestic sorrow have sought me to testify of his worth.
Subsequently at Chelsea and Westminster he won for himself by his goodness the full confidence and affection of the excellent Principal of the Normal College, for whose wise and loving words at his funeral his best friends are deeply grateful. During his residence at his next appointment, Birmingham, he experienced the greatest sorrow of his life, and his ministry was made more nearly perfect as one of sympathy with the sorrowful.
Previously to the visit of Messrs. Moody and Sankey, says Mr. Tetley, as a member of the Committee, his counsel was very valuable, his time and personal work rendered without stint, the preparatory Prayer-meetings entered into with devout zeal. He threw himself heart and soul into the services during the actual visit of the evangelists. He was present at every service conducted by them; Mr. Moody, who seemed much moved towards him, often calling upon him to pray. He laboured among the enquirers with his wonted tenderness and intelligence, being among the last to leave this hall and the work. When the evangelists visited the town a fortnight after the services closed, to his great grief and disappointment his health broke down the day before the meeting, and he was doomed to be absent from it. His absence was instantly detected by Mr. Moody, who said, I love that man: no one has worked better than he with us in this country.
After the final departure of these evangelists, Mr. Balshaw was particularly anxious to conserve and extend the precious results which attended the wave of spiritual power that swept over the town and district, He was the right sort of leader in such an enterprise. Street services, afternoon meetings, parlour gatherings were all employed; in which he took a prominent and special part. And as to Kilburn, where he closed his career, about his work there the local paper says:
This gentleman, although not a great master of rhetoric, was, nevertheless, a man deeply beloved by his congregation. He aimed more at living up to every word he uttered, and sought to instil this principle into the minds of his congregation; consequently, his power in the pulpit and in prayer was marvellous. . . In the pulpit, he was sound, earnest and practical, often displaying considerable originality in his method of treating Divine truth; and he produced by his discourses an effect not always witnessed in the case of more eloquent and abler men. In his pastoral duties, he was assiduous and unremitting, faithful to his high calling and winning the esteem of those with whom he came in contact by his genial temperament and warm-hearted charity. His life was an exemplification of the Christian graces, and a practical comment on the truths he taught. Some of his latest hours of health and strength were spent in arranging for a week of special services.
[ Continued in the WESLEYAN-METHODIST MAGAZINE. APRIL, 1878, p 241.]
We come now to the description of Mr. Balshaws Character, and there is one prominent feature which must have separate consideration. I call your attention to three passages: Psalm lxix. 1, 2: Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. Isaiah lxvi. 2: To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word. James iii. 17: The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality; and without hypocrisy.
Those of us who knew Mr. Balshaw best have marked how commonly his songs in the house of his pilgrimage were in a minor key.
Upon his face there was the tint of grief,
The settled shadow of an inward strife,
And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
As if its hid were charged with unshed tears.
There were times when he seemed to know a sigh that charmed, a pang that gave delight. He says:
It comes natural to me: there is a pleasure even in sadness after you have become familiar with it, even as great as anothers joy. (And when pleading on behalf of the dreaminess which was associated with it, he says) It is very interesting and startling to see the water roaring down a cataract; . . . but one Niagara is quite enough. Only fancy if every stream were to be as hurtling and energetic as Niagara. Give me the Thames as you have it in Berkshire, that flows ever, but will stop to let the cattle drink, will toy with the willow-boughs, will spread itself as a mirror to the flowery banks, will let schoolboys have a plunge and a swim in it, or the kingfisher wash his shining coat; will do all sorts of good things, and never seem to upbraid by its hurry the lazy lounger who is asleep on the grass.
His times of melancholy musing led commonly to a process of self-anatomy which made his religious life too subjective. All the sea outside a vessel is nothing to that which gets into the hold; and often the waters came into his soul and well-nigh overwhelmed him. This habit of sad musing was associated with a very high sense of duty, and when it had entailed arrears of work, furnished fresh materials for his souls disquietude. At times he was conscious that his torture was the result of an overstrained sense of responsibility. He writes
Mr. Lomas said, Let us look at our responsibilities, look at them truthfully, and as they are, not exaggerating them, nor despairing about them. I think sometimes men are in danger of exaggerating the claim which the holy vocation of the Ministry has upon them, and this to such a degree that, instead of acting as a stimulus, the main result is despair of anything like an adequate performance. It is surely wise to look upon the life to which we are called as a possible life: its broadest engagements possible, its most pressing claims possible, and that because our sufficiency is of God. Blessed word sufficiency ! He Who made the mighty waters of the sea, made a bed deep enough to hold them, and He Who has conceived a great love for our fallen world will find in his Church channels wide enough and deep enough to carry it whither He wills it to flow.
His habit of musing, with the negligences and self-reproach consequent upon it, was, in part, the result of his mental constitution, which rebelled continually against that method in life and work which he admired in others. He would say:
Let me run on in my own way. System you know is not in my nature. System! terrifying word! the very sound of it is like the hissing of a serpent; no wonder I fear it. You must allow me to ramble on in my own way, or I must stand stock-still; for put myself in the power of that monster I cannot. Sometimes the world has tried to get me into a system, but I did not like it, and got out again as soon as possible; Perhaps I should have been safer in one, but if I had missed many dangers I had lost many joys.
Mr. Green says:
His mind was not logical; he had not full control over his mental acts; he was far too greatly at the mercy of circumstances; he abhorred restraint. This was, I should think, the effect of his want of early mental discipline. But, while he lacked the perseverance which gives continuity, there was a doggedness about him which often carried him over difficulties. He was as unmethodical a man as I have known, He had good powers of mind and could learn much; he was fond of knowing scientific facts, hut was too little under control to be scientific in his processes.
Despite my friends feeling in this matter, I say emphatically to the young: Equanimity is very largely maintained by order in the work of life. If you leave many ends loose on the pathway, entanglement, if not stumbling, is a sure result. My friend would have had less to impede him in his walk, had he more resolutely contended with this constitutional besetment.
When he got into the mire of despondency and doubt, he realized the truth of those passages in the Pilgrims Progress which tell of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and the terrible battle with Apollyon. He would say:
I scarcely dare to hope. The future to me promises no increase of gladness; and a hope that it will be no worse than the past is all that lifts me up. Sometimes I think that if it were possible for me to go to sleep, and to sleep for ever, I would gladly do it. I know that my desponding feelings have a very baneful effect they make me unamiable and unloving [Great mistake !] Indeed I am unworthy of the love of any man, woman or child under Gods heaven, and sometimes I think that I am so worthless and insignificant that God cares not whether I get to heaven; and even if I am in hell, the devil would scarcely think it worth while to torment me.
I cannot do anything; I am useless, of no benefit either to God or man The despondency under which my soul has been labouring at some seasons since I saw you has been greater than at any previous period. If the ink with which I write were tears, my words groans, and every single letter a heated dagger piercing my heart, you would have some faint idea of the state of my mind during some seasons lately.
Religiously, I trust I am progressing, though I have a struggling, backsliding, fighting and fainting time of it. Some seasons have been the happiest and the holiest of my life, and others the most intensely, crowdedly miserable. I never so thoroughly believed in the existence of the devil as I do now, nor in his power over the soul. However, as a match for him, I find nothing like confidence in the power and love of Christ. I have learned more from temptation during the last month than from all other influences.
I could write a mental autobiography which would make the wise weep, and the foolish wise. I am like a man afflicted with the nightmare, seeing an impending calamity, but powerless to escape. Are there not many things to make me sad: poverty, crime, suffering, with all the other inexplicable phenomena connected with the moral government of the Father of the human family ?
And again, a year ago:
Yesterday I had a fearful fight on my knees on a subject that I may tell you of when we see each other. One of the storms of soul that come a few times in ones life; but I think Jesus gave me peace. I try to trust and rest in the Lord. He chastens my soul by many means: I think I am better than I used to be, purer and humbler; sorrow and disappointment, pain and loss, have not been without their effect. Unless deceived, I am nearer God, am more disposed to lie in His arms. How good if He is to me!
When under the influence of these feelings he threw the colour of his own. mind over the Church, over the state of society, over his own personal fitness for his work, over the future of Christian enterprise; yea, even over the most joyous relationships of life, when he set himself by congratulations to rejoice with them that do rejoice. He writes: To me it appears the world is wrong, the Church is wrong, and I am the wrongest person in either the Church or the world. Once and again has he begun to ring marriage bells which soon became a muffled peal, that told rather of the bier than the bridal. If the first notes of the song, which at such a time he sung to his Friend, were light and joyous, the later and longer portion of it had the moan of the dirge. But on the other hand, his sadness gave him a quick and close sympathy with sorrow, and as he took the sorrowing by the hand, he rose with them gently but surely to hope and confidence. Then he could write: 'Milton utters a sweet thought when speaking of his blindness: This darkness is but the shadow of Thy wing. There is to me an inexpressible wealth of comfort in it. And so he would rise from trust to Christian triumph. The song which began in the slow minor key, ending in the joyous and confident major. Mr. Green says: All his thoughts of God were good. I think he never lacked either faith or clearness of vision here. Clouds and darkness were often round about the Divine name, but he always believed that righteousness and judgment were the habitation of the Divine Throne.
A wise and gracious God compensated and relieved this Badness, by a sense of humour so quick, and in its play so frequent, that it often broke the snare. It lit up the eye and face; in its contest for a moment with the gloom, it tightened his lips, and then suddenly relaxed them as he burst into a light laugh which completely released him for a little while from the dreary spell: his sense of freedom was all the happier for the previous bondage, and the light of his inner and social life all the brighter for the previous shadow, like the sunbeam bursting through the thunder-cloud after a shower. He says
To have groped and walked trembling and fearful in the darkness awhile makes the break of day a gladsome sight. To cling to a noble purpose spite of dread and fear in many a long conflict with devilish suggestions, to cling to it in prostration in the hours of night upon the bed, to have held it fast when you seemed to yourself only sin and weakness, as well as when you have had the most confident hopes of Gods help, can have only one result to make you noble as your purpose; while the purpose itself, as a new life, possesses you, and accomplishes itself through you.
In the garden of God we have not only the upright fruitful palm-tree, the rugged and well-rooted oak, the elm of luxuriant foliage, and the cedar with its exact horizontal lines, but also the tree with many tendrils clinging, dependent, fruitful as the vine; or as the woodbine, beautiful in the hedgerow as in the parterre, and delighting to intertwine itself in the trellis or in the homestead window. Such was my friend; and by such helps he got himself lifted out of the shadow heavenward. But though clinging and climbing as the woodbine or the vine, it was not because he could not stand alone. He was every inch a man; but when standing alone, it was as the willow, with drooping branches; which yet in their drooping dimpled the stream of life as it passed, and broke it into a thousand wavelets, each bright with the light of love and heaven.
He was thus poor and of a contrite spirit, and to him the Lord looked; and gave him the wisdom from above, which is first pure. He ever read and thought much upon the subject of Christian holiness. He pursued it with an intense hunger, and often preached upon it with singular force. He was pure in conversation. I do not remember any utterances of his not fit for a sisters ear; but I do remember the intense abhorrence with which he said years ago, It is far easier to soil the thought than it is to get the soil out when once there. Mr. Green says: His mind was very pure. To him, more than any one that I have known, all things seemed to be pure. What ever he came into contact with appeared never to pollute him. Mr. Randle says: He never threw away his power of reproving sinners and exhorting believers by indulging in doubtful conduct. The influence of his words for good was largely derived from the consistency of his spirit and behaviour. In public or private, his indignation would instantly take fire at the discovery of what he deemed wrong. He had a very high code of honour, which made him chivalrous in many of the relationships of life, and placed him sometimes in circumstances which spirits of a lower temper would with difficulty understand.
He was peaceable. He loved to be at quiet in the land, and by his spirit often prevented strife among diverse or discordant elements.
He was gentle. He did not drive, exact, demand. He knew nothing of severity in bearing, but was compliant without sin; lenient as to duties owing to himself; always remembering, as he dealt with the faults of others, we ourselves were sometimes foolish. He was gentle in his demands, in his judgements, and in his deportment; often so painfully conscious of the beam in his own eye that he made little of the mote in his brothers eye. Mr. Green says: He had great tenderness of spirit. It was not effeminacy. He was in no sense a soft man. It was a delicate sensibility as of a magnetic needle carefully poised.
He was easy to be entreated. Who ever knew him to remember long the faults of another towards himself? How willing to hear and to weigh fairly that which was most opposed to his own views, or censured his own action! Nay, he seemed to rejoice as much in the good retort or reply which wrecked his argument, as in that which bore it along. Self-assertion was foreign to his modest and lowly spirit.
He was full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. His pitiful nature could not pass by misery with indifference Mr. Green says
One of his noblest qualities was his fervent, piteous sympathy with all sufferers. His own sorrows taught him what suffering was. I think he held communion with a suffering, certainly a sympathizing, rather than with a triumphant Saviour. He sorrowed on account of the sins and pains of men around him. He made no mock of sin. To him it was an awful, overwhelming evil, which he did not merely deplore, but writhed under. Sometimes this threw him into the darkest night no one knows what that spirit suffered on account of others. It was in this particular that his ministry was, I believe, most precious. It was especially marked by a power to descend to the depths of his peoples sorrow and to give them strong consolation. I know how he thought of the sufferers of his flock, how he did them little acts of kindness when he could not render them great help, how he prayed for them weepingly in his own house, as well as with them in theirs.
He was a true and loving friend. I do not remember the workings of envy or jealousy in him. His was an unselfish nature. I am distressed for thee my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
He was not like the rainbow, present only with the sunshine or the bee, when there honey; or the swallow, when there was summer; but as true, and even more loving, when the winter and the storm came. He was no parasite in his attachments, he never strangled that to which he clung; but brought to it health and strength and beauty, for he cared most for the friendships where he could talk of Jesus and life in Him, and where he could be stimulated and strengthened in Christian toil. He knew no kinship so close as brotherhood in Christ.
Why did we love him so? says Mr. Green; was it not his own love that begat it in us? Why did we so highly esteem him? was it not because the estimable qualities of the human heart which shone so conspicuously in him were undimmed by contrary vices? If others had known him as we did they would rival us in their love for him. I think one of the most striking instances of his lovable spirit is found in the fact that he formed close friendships in his later life: some who did not know him five years ago now mourn for him as for a brother.
As a husband and a father, he was most affectionate and devoted. Mr. Green writes again:
0, how he loved his home! How he revelled in it! He poured out his full, large heart of love within it in broken song and boisterous laughter. He was perfectly unrestrained; he knew no law in his own house but the law of love, and he imposed none other. How he wept and cried in prayer when sickness intruded! He loved his little children with an almost wildly passionate love. His heart brooded over them.
Bitter was his grief when the companion of his life was taken from him. The shadow of that sorrow he never lost. Of her he said (I give you this that you may give the orphans a place in your sympathies and prayers as you remember their loss): Her love as a mother was a mighty passion; her prayers for the children were pleadings, cries, entreaties, tears; her time, her strength, her health, her life were theirs. They will surely grow up into the possession of the most blessed of all inheritances, those blessings she sought for them from God. God will not forget them for her dear sake. We may say now, for his dear sake, God will not. Shall we? Again he says of her:
The last year of our lives was the happiest of all. her faith strengthened, her hope brightened. O, how sweetly and silently she grew! how bright and gladsome! How little did I think that all this was a ripening for heaven, not for earth; I was going to say, for God, and not for me; but I must not. He gave, He hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. . . . How strange the ways of God! but shall I not say, He doeth all things well? One testimony I will bear of Him and of His grace in his people: He is love; and they are kind. O, the kindness of men! it has been like a revelation to me. Everybody seemed anxious to help me to bear the burden. Now that the first shock has passed and I look round, I think I can say, I see Jesus only. He is with me. I feel myself cast on Him, I go to Him, I speak to Him, I am anxious that He should have His way, and that the end of the Lord should be answered in me.
Such was the spirit in which he bore his great trial. And he continued in this spirit; for ten months later he writes: While feeling still the grief, God is good to me: my home is as happy as that of most in my circumstances. The dear children are as good as gold, and give me no trouble. The Lord has guided me in the matter of servants, and given me those who fear Him. The many prayers of my friends have been heard for me.
Few scenes have been more touching than to see him in these later days surrounded with his six children, whom he regarded with fond affection, seeking to be to them what both father and mother would have been. He was no adept in the details of domestic life; but he was himself greatly advantaged, his whole nature mellowed, enriched and strengthened by the new responsibilities which love led him so deeply to feel. And, as these extracts show, he made in these later years a steady advance towards mature spiritual life, and he now knows the blessedness of the man that endureth temptation. Conflicts with the flesh, (for over this sinful body he often groaned); conflicts with the wicked one, (by whom he was often sore pressed); conflicts with himself; and conflicts with sorrow and trial in his personal and family life: all these and other temptations he endured, and was tried or proved. While we mourn the loss of an earnest and faithful Minister, of a true and loving friend; while we mourn with the little children whose home is wrecked and whose life is overshadowed, we will remember that he receives a crown of life from His hands Whom he loved best, with words of approval that put for ever to flight his fears, his doubts, his gloom. He receives it in relations where he may pour forth the treasures of a wealthy imagination, of a large loving heart, without let or hindrance, without encountering anything that should wound the sensitiveness of his nature; where every fault and flaw is left behind at once and for ever, and where everything that was brightest and best about him is perfected and consecrated. He has received a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
I am indebted to his friend and mine, the Rev. J. D. Tetley, and to Mrs. Sampson, of Kilburn, for the account of the closing days of his useful life:
Mr. Balshaw had been more or less out of health since Conference. An affection of his left hand gave him much pain, and caused him to lose his sleep. Not many days before his illness, speaking of the death of Mr. Perks, he exclaimed, with solemn emphasis, I shall very likely be the next. On Sunday, November 4th, he preached at Kilburn in much pain of body; but while discoursing on Master, it is good for us to be here, a special sense of the joyousness produced by the Divine presence pervaded the congregation. In the vestry afterwards he said to the Rev. S. Beard, I am in such severe pain I do not know what to do with myself. On the Monday evening he complained of pain and weariness; he was worse on Tuesday, and on Wednesday sent for the doctor. On Friday his sickness was pronounced to be a slight attack of typhoid fever. He considered it slight, and did not communicate with any of his friends in London until ten days afterwards, when he supposed himself recovering. On Friday the 16th he caught a chill through coming down stairs too soon, which caused a relapse. From that time he sank rapidly.
On Monday the 19th I found him utterly prostrate. He could scarcely bear the sound of a voice. His mind was calmly stayed on Christ. When I sought to cheer him with assurances of the sympathy and all-sufficiency of the Divine Redeemer, he cordially endorsed them, saying, He will not now His servant leave, But bring me through at last. He began to repeat the verse, Though waves and storms go oer my head, Though strength and health and He paused, and did not utter the word friends, But looking at me with one of his expressive smiles, and trying to shake his head, said, No. I said, You can fully realize the precious truth of the last couplet, On this my steadfast soul relies, Father, Thy mercy never dies? O yes! O yes! he answered, thank God, Father, thy mercy never dies.
When the physician was called in, he exclaimed, Doctor, you must do the best you can for me, for I have six little children. The Rev. J. Bonser arrived at eleven oclock, and prayed with him to his comfort. He repeated, My body, soul, and spirit, Jesus, I give to Thee, A consecrated offering, Thine evermore to be.
During the night, Mrs. Sampson, in great kindness, waited upon him, and ceased not her sisterly ministrations until his death. Of the last hours of his life she writes:
After Mr. Bonser left the room he prayed in a wrestling spirit: Lord, remember not our sins and transgressions. Lord, let the sighing of the contrite come up before Thee. Lord, in our manifold weaknesses have mercy upon us. Lord, deliver us in the hour of temptation. I said, The precious blood of Jesus. With great emphasis he replied, Yes, the precious blood of Jesus. I said, He knoweth our frame; he added, He remembereth that we are dust. I said, Like as a father pitieth his children; he completed the verse, So the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. Yes! He pitieth; O yes! He pitieth. I said, You do more than fear, you love Him ; he answered, Yes I do, I love him. I said, And He loves you, and will love you to the end. Yes, to the end; He loves to the end.
Soon after he began to pray: Lord, have mercy upon the young people! Lord, lead the young people to decision! Lord, help them to embrace the Saviour, now, at once!
Soon afterwards he cried out, It is the hour of temptation: Lord, save! Mrs. Sampson observed, Jesus says, I am with thee, to save thee. He repeated, evidently with great comfort, To save thee; with an everlasting love, adding with inexpressible fervour, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, nor forsake thee, I will not forsake thee. He then attempted to sing. When she cited the words, Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in he struck in His own blood, yes, His own blood. After a time of quiet followed by restless moaning, as if from pain, he tried to sing, and the words Hallelujah! Jesus! were heard. Again he spoke of the young, saying, They need so much looking after, so much care. She said, You wish them to be your crowns of rejoicing? Yes, crowns of rejoicing - for Jesus, for Jesus. He was then quite exhausted, and by and by said, Now I think we must say, Farewell. Strength was sinking; he whispered, You wont forget. Then a slight struggle and the words George children were audible. She said, You want them all to be saved? Yes, all to be saved. There were tears in his eyes which she wiped away, saying, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. Yes, wipe all tears away. She said, The Eternal God is thy refuge; he repeated the words many times, adding, Steadfast and true, the Eternal God. The last Scripture quoted to him was Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty. He replied, Yes, see the face of Jesus. From this time he was delirious or unconscious; he lay quietly, being mercifully spared any struggle. He entered into rest a few minutes past twelve on Wednesday morning, November 21st, 1877, in the twenty-sixth year of his ministry, and the fiftieth year of his age.
When dear John Lidgett was taken home, Mr. Balshaw said of his death, now so true of himself:
God is gathering His saints together. Shall we say Nay? He gathers them from our homes, from our churches; we miss them from the world of business, from our social gatherings, but, blessed be God! we know where they are. Shall we when God has justified them, honoured them with His covenanting grace, and wishes further to glorify them - shall we rebel rather than praise? If the Master says to one of His guests, Come up higher, taking him to an inner chamber and nearer his side, shall we grudge our brother the early honour? No I Jesus gathers His saints together. He calls them up to their eternal rest, and as they tread upon the great worlds altar stairs that slope through darkness up to God, shall we grasp their garments and keep them back? O no! Let me go, they cry; the Master calls me, let me go. Angels beckon me away, I hear their greeting cry. Let me go. Jesus bids me come. I go. I depart to be with Him, which is far better. Let who will sorrow for John Lidgett, [for Robert Balshaw,] I cannot do so. For he is raised and crowned. He has gained the summit of his best hopes and has entered into his rest.