FROM BONDAGE TO LIBERTY
An extract from the republished autobiography of John Kershaw, issued by Gospel Tidings’ Publications.
I hope never to forget the night the Lord brought my soul out of bondage into the glorious liberty of the gospel. It was on a Lord’s day evening. I went in the morning to the house of God in a very distressed state of mind, and remained so all day. The preaching only tended to increase my misery, the enemy telling me that, like Simon Magus, I had neither part nor lot in the matter. Having attended three services, I was returning home (it was a fine summer evening), in my feelings worse than when I set out in the morning. So sinful, miserable, and wretched did I feel myself that I was ready to give all up for lost, the accuser of the brethren harassing me with his temptations, saying it was of no use going any more either to chapel or prayer-meetings. It was folly and presumption to read and pray, for the more I attended to these things the more wretched I grew.
My soul gave way under these temptations, and I said within myself, “I will give all my religion up, for it is nothing but a stench in my own nostrils. What must it be then to the Lord of Hosts?”
So engaged was my mind that I stood still in the road, when this question arose within me: “What am I to do? Go back into the world I cannot. I have tried again and again to do this, and found their society more and more distasteful.”
I then concluded that I would have nothing to do either with the world or the people of God, but be a kind of go-between, or as the sparrow alone upon the house-top, moping and solitary as a dove or the crane in the wilderness, and try to make myself as easy as possible in my present outcast condition; but, alas! there is no comfort for a guilty sinner in such a state of mind.
Whilst pondering on these things, the following words came with such power upon my mind, as though I had heard them spoken by an audible voice: “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
I was so struck with their import that I stood amazed, saying to myself, “These are the words of St. Paul in the seventh chapter to the Romans. He was a good and a gracious man, a minister of Jesus Christ, and the great apostle of the Gentiles. If he had thus to complain of sin and wretchedness, who can tell but I may be a child of God after all my fears and temptations?”
The latter part of the chapter flowed into my mind like a river. I could truly say, “For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. . . For
the good that I would I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do… I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” My soul was greatly encouraged. I found I was a brother and companion with Paul in this path of internal tribulation and Christian experience.
I hastened home to get my Bible, in order to examine the chapter through. I read it with such light, power, and comfort as I had never felt before; so pleased and blest in my soul that I began to read the next chapter, commencing thus: “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” As I read these precious words, their blessed contents were brought into my soul with power and glory. I saw and felt that I was in Christ Jesus, saved with an everlasting salvation. The burden of sin was removed, my conscience cleansed by an application of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. I felt the sealing testimony of the Holy Spirit of God that I stood complete and accepted in the Beloved. I read the chapter through with a joy I cannot describe. I now knew my election of God, and that no charge could ever be brought against me, because Christ had died for my sins, and was raised again from the dead for my justification; that He ever lived to make intercession for me, and would receive me into His kingdom of glory. The love of Christ was shed abroad in my heart; I saw and felt that nothing could separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. How precious and glorious were the truths contained in this chapter to my soul on that memorable evening; and often, in reading and preaching, when I have cited portions of it, I have felt a little of the same sweetness and savour.
Thanking the Lord for the great deliverance He had wrought for me and in me, with the joy of salvation in my soul, I retired for the night, but so ravished was I with the beauty and glory of Christ as my Saviour and Redeemer that sleep departed from me. Many restless nights had I previously endured with a guilty conscience, a broken law, an evil heart, a tempting devil, crowds of doubts and fears and carnal reasonings; but all had now departed. The year of jubilee was come, the prisoner was brought out of the dungeon into the banqueting-house, and the banner over him was love.
I well remember this question passing across my mind: “Where are all my sins, that have so long been a burden and plague to my soul?”
I saw by faith that a precious Christ had put them all away by the sacrifice of Himself, and made an end of sin; as it is written: “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; and I will pardon them whom I reserve.” (Jer. 50. 20.) My sins had
appeared as scarlet and crimson, but were all washed away in the blood of atonement. As I stood in Christ, I was as white as snow or as wool. Such was the joy of my heart in the dead of the night, the family asleep around me, that I sang in my soul-feelings:
“See, here an endless ocean flows
Of never-failing grace!
Behold, a dying Saviour’s veins
The sacred flood increase.
It rises high, and drowns the hills,
Has neither shore nor bound;
Now, if we search to find our sins,
Our sins can ne’er be found.
Awake, our hearts, adore the grace,” &c.
Bless the Lord, this song has been sweet and precious to my soul many times since the memorable night of my deliverance, and I hope will be until I join the everlasting song, “Unto him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.” All my doubts and fears were now removed by that perfect love which casteth out fear. I felt assured that the good work of grace was begun in my soul, and, with Paul, had a confidence that He which had begun it would carry it on until the day of Christ Jesus. No fears of my sins standing against me, nor of the curse of the law, nor of death or hell. I saw that all my foes were vanquished. My soul could now joyfully sing, “Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” These were the things I had long been praying for; and I now proved to the joy of my heart that there is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God.
I lived in the sweet enjoyment of the liberty of the gospel for many months. The word of the Lord was more precious to me than gold; yea, than much fine gold. I saw the declarative glory of the Lord shine forth in the sacred pages, which were once as a sealed book unto me. My delight was in the word of the Lord, and in his law did I meditate day and night. My soul took delight in approaching to God, as my covenant God and Father in Christ. Christ and His finished salvation, all of grace, was the joy of my heart and the boast of my song. The Holy Spirit was in my soul as a Spirit of praise and thanksgiving, constraining me to say with David: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies.”