THE YORKSHIRE WEAVER
It was my happiness, once in my life, to spend a week in the beautiful Vale of Todmorden; preaching daily in the surrounding chapels. On one occasion, I spoke of the various methods which God is pleased to bless for raising up missionaries; and in particular I mentioned family prayer, and referred to my conversion as a proof of it.
Persons from several congregations were present, and among
them was the interesting character whose short history I am about to relate.
John Sunderland heard, and adored, and said, “I also am a proof how greatly God honours family prayer!” A few days after this I saw his minister, who said to me. “Mr. John Sunderland, one of my deacons, and one of the best of men, has a great wish to see you. He was at the meeting when you related some particulars about your conversion; and he says God led him to repentance in just the same way. Would you like to see him?” “Oh, yes,” I replied. “Well then,” said he, “I will arrange for an interview.”
Accordingly, we met. He was a plain, sensible, kind-hearted man, and spoke the broad Yorkshire dialect to perfection. I do not know if he is yet alive; but when I saw him his hair was as black as a raven, his cheek bloomed with health, and his eye was like a rainbow – the tears and the sunbeams sparkled in it.
Nearly twenty years of his life had rolled away before he thought of the salvation of his soul. But then. God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved him, quickened him together with Christ. And the good man, when referring to it said, with much feeling, “By grace we are saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast; for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
unto good works, which God before ordained that we should walk in them.”
After we had conversed for some time on various subjects, I said to him, “Your pastor has informed me that the dealings of God with your soul have been out of the common order. I should like to hear something of your history. Pray favour me with some particulars”. “It is not pleasant,” he replied, “for a man to talk about himself!” “Well then,” said I, “tell me what God has done for you.” “I will, sir,” he replied. So he began:
“I was born near the edge of yonder lofty hill. My father occupied a small farm, on which the family used to work during the summer months, and in the winter we all used to weave cloth for our own use and for the market. There was no church or chapel near us, and we grew up in great spiritual darkness. The Sabbath was our great holiday which we generally spent in playing at cricket and football. In this state I remained until I was about twenty years of age, when God convinced me of my sin and danger, and opened to my view the way of salvation through the merits of Christ Jesus our Lord. The instrumentality which God employed to produce this
great change was very simple. It was as follows.
One winter evening I rambled down from the edge of the mountain to call on a neighbour who lived a few fields below. That neighbour was a pious man. I did not know it when I called, but I found it out soon afterwards. As one that feared God, he was accustomed to have morning and evening prayer with his family;
and when the usual hour arrived for the household to assemble, he said to me, in our dialect, ‘John, tha mun stop to family prayer lod!’
I did not know what he meant by family prayer; but I supposed it some business which he had to transact with his family, and when it was over he would talk to me again. So I sat still. Then a large book was brought, out of which he read. I looked, and heard, and wondered. I had no conception it was a Bible; and when he had finished the chapter he shut the book, and he and his wife and children fell upon their knees. But, as it was no business of mine, I sat still and looked on during the prayer, and I assure you, sir, I felt very strangely – I never felt so before. I thought, ‘What can this family prayer mean? Perhaps this is the worship of God.’ As soon as it was over I left them without saying a word and walked to my father’s house. But the work was done, sir! The scene which I had witnessed could not be forgotten. An impression was made. I was struck to the heart. I seem to feel it even now. And as I ascended the side of the hill, I thought ‘This must surely be the worship of God. This is what I have never done, but it is what I ought to do.’ ”
Here we see the finger of the Almighty arresting this young man and bringing him to feel his danger. The Holy Ghost convinces him of his sin, and then follows the wonderful process until the soul is made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. The whole of the Spirit’s work in the conversion of a sinner cannot be explained; but to trace the manner and the instruments by which the change is produced, is the most interesting study in which we can be engaged.
When my friend came to this part of his story, he stopped and wept. I let him weep, and then said to him, “What followed after this? Did you pray?”
“Why, sir, it may appear strange to you, but I did not pray that night. I hardly knew what to do, and I went to bed as usual, like the beasts of the field.”
“I suppose,” said I, “you mean that you went to bed without kneeling down to ask God to pardon the sins of the day, or to take care of you during the night.”
“Just so,” he replied, “but it was the last night I ever spent so. Almost the first thing that came into my thoughts when I awoke was my neighbour’s family prayer. At the proper hour I went to my loom and commenced working, but I could not get on. I did not know what was the matter with me. I felt as if my heart would break; and I was forced to cover my work with a handkerchief, lest the piece which I was weaving might be spoiled by my tears.”
“Then you wept, my friend,” I said.
“Wept, sir,” said he softly, “wept! the tears ran out of my eyes as if they came out of a bottle. I never saw anything like it!”
When he was relating this part of his history he became much affected. The recollection of the first drawings of the Spirit of grace overwhelmed him. After he had given vent to his feelings, I said, “What did you do next?” “I will tell you. I longed for night to return, that I might go down to my neighbour’s house and see the family prayer again.”
“At last night came, and I ran down; and as a kind providence would have it, my neighbour said, ‘John, tha mun stop to family prayer!’ This was just what I wished. It was the very thing. Nothing on earth could have pleased me so much. So the great Book was brought, and the good man read, and they fell upon their knees. But so stupid was I, that I sat still again and looked on. But oh, what I felt! As soon as they rose from their knees, I immediately left the house, without saying a word, and hastened home. But now, sir, came the most important part of it. As I was going up the hill, I felt as if I must go to prayer that moment; but there was no shed into which I could enter and kneel down; and the snow was thick upon the ground, and I could not kneel upon that; so I walked on. But my conscience would not let me proceed. A voice seemed to say, ‘Go to prayer! Seek the Lord! Cry for mercy! Go to prayer! Begin at once!’ Now there was a stone fence near at hand;
so I pulled a large stone from the wall, and placed it on the snow;
and there on that stone I first kneeled down and called upon God.”
Reader! look at him for a moment. There he is, on his knees! Behold he prayeth! Yes, with the snow for a carpet, and a stone for his cushion, and the heavens for a canopy, and the moon for a witness, and angels for his attendants; there he first cried, “Lord, have mercy on my soul!” Oh, what a night was that for my friend. It will be remembered with rapture after the moon has been turned into blood, and the stars have withdrawn their shining.
From that day the weaver became a praying man. When I first knew him he had been twenty years a deacon of a Christian church; and was well-known as one of the most active, and zealous and exemplary servants of Christ in all that neighbourhood.
In my intercourse with him, I inquired, “How did you go on after you commenced a religious life?” to which he replied,
“Why, sir, I can scarcely explain it. My ignorance of Divine things was so great that I knew not what to do. I had not been a wicked youth; that is, what the world calls wicked. I had not been a drunkard, nor a swearer, nor had I kept company with loose young men; but I had been living without God. All my plans and habits and thoughts and desires, had been about this world, and never rose higher; but now, all things were become new. I was afraid to open my mind to any mortal about it, but I could tell my Saviour; yea, I could tell Him all. At that time I thought that all prayer must be expressed with a loud voice, like what I heard from my friend in his family, so I prayed aloud in my bedroom, and that
disturbed my parents. I could not desist, for on some occasions my conscience was so alarmed that I got up two or three times in a night, and fell upon my knees and cried aloud for mercy.
At last I thought of a better plan. My father had a barn a short distance from the dwelling house, and that became my favourite retreat. That was my house of prayer, and it was indeed the gate of heaven to my soul. Often, often, have I entered into that barn, and shut the door, and kneeled upon a heap of straw, and prayed for an hour to the Father who seeth in secret, and who hath richly rewarded me. My enjoyment was very great; sometimes it was joy unspeakable and full of glory: but it was not always so. No, there was sometimes much darkness in my mind, and Satan took advantage of it, and harassed me dreadfully. Sometimes when I have been at prayer in the barn, I thought he was coming to me, and that I could actually hear his approach. Then I have arisen and gone outside the barn door, and kneeled down there, while I kept my eye fixed upon the door-latch, to see if he opened it to rush upon me. It is surprising, sir, what I passed through in the early stages of my Christian experience. I believe it is hardly possible for persons who have been brought up religiously to understand what some poor creatures feel when they are first awakened to a sense of their danger.
Now Satan comes with dreadful roar,
And threatens to destroy;
He worries whom he can’t devour,
With a malicious joy.
But the Bible is full of encouragement to a soul oppressed with guilt; and as my knowledge of the sacred Book increased so did my peace and joy increase; and I have often thought that God intended, by bringing me through these deep waters, to prepare me for to speak a word to heavy-laden sinners. It often falls to my lot now in my visits to the sick, and in conversing with candidates for admission into the church to meet with people under soul trouble. And I always have a word of comfort for them; for I never meet with any so completely dark as I was, and this enables me to cheer them up!”
I had heard from John Sunderland’s minister of his knowledge of the Scriptures, and of his gift in prayer; and now, as I heard from his own lips, his insight into the devices of Satan, and his intimate acquaintance with the human heart, I could not but admire the wisdom and goodness of God, in raising up men in every station in life, to direct the anxious, mourning sinner, to that Saviour who says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11 v. 28)
“Now let me ask you – As you were converted to God by being present at your neighbour’s family prayer, is it your practice to recommend it to all on whom you have influence, to set up an altar for God in their houses, and to offer on it the morning and evening sacrifice?” “Well, I think I do.”
“And are you pretty successful?” “Not always. There are many
excuses ready; and one of the most common is – ‘How can I begin?”
We then commended each other to God by prayer, and shook hands and parted in the joyful expectation of meeting again in heaven.
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.