A BROTHER BELOVED
A Short Appreciation of the life and work of Stanley Delves who died on March 3rd 1978.
Stanley Delves was born in 1897, the youngest of four sons of a Sussex craftsman, at Rushlake Green in the parish of Warbleton. His childhood memories of rural Sussex with its marked social classes in days before the First World War, and its sturdy Protestant tradition in the country chapels, remained vividly with him through his life. The Lord was pleased to call him by grace early in life, but as some account of this has already appeared, it is not repeated here.*
He saw Army service during the First World War, already being exercised in soul about the things of God. Posted to Russia, he saw the Lord’s hand remarkably delivering him from death suffered by the rest of his platoon in an ambush. On one occasion, many miles inland amid deep forests, his captain and he spent one night in a primitive home in an isolated village where he felt such a difference from other dwellings he had visited; there was such an order and quietness as he had not seen before. In one room he found the Book, the only Russian Bible he ever saw, and was able to indicate to the cottagers his delight in that Book, and they by sign and manner indicated likewise that they loved it too.
At the end of the War, Mr. Delves was posted in God’s providence to Scotland. In the quiet solitude enjoyed during that period of leisure, the Holy Spirit was pleased to favour him with spiritual teaching in the deep things of God, the blessed wonder of the Trinity, and the scheme of gospel truth in its salient branches, which was so evidently a preparation for his later ministry.
Returning after demobilisation to his native county, the Lord continued to develop the work of grace He had begun. After one good hearing time, he said to the minister in the forwardness of youth’s first love, “I do love the grace of God.” The minister pausing at the unlooked-for confession, replied, “That’s a great thing to say, young man!”
His employment in Tunbridge Wells brought him under a settled ministry at a time when the streets were crowded each Lord’s Day with people thronging to the sanctuary. At length, those inward and as yet unmentioned exercises about the ministry were met by an unexpected invitation to preach. After mentioning
this to his pastor, who had anticipated it and approved, he served first at a little chapel at Golden Cross, regarding himself as but a ‘helper’ for that single occasion. But those who now had a taste of his gift were eager and pressing to hear more, and by degrees he soon became fully engaged. Almost immediately, he was called to assist at Forest Fold chapel, Crowborough, where Mr. Ebenezer Littleton, pastor there for 52 years, was ailing. After his death, Mr Delves served more regularly, and was invited to accept the pastorate. His trembling exercises over this matter extended over months, the culmination coming one sleepless night in his lodgings overlooking the Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells, when the Lord impressed on his heart, as midnight was striking, the words of Psalm 137, verses 5 and 6. “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember Thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” With that he was directed to accept their affectionate call.
Moving to Crowborough about the time of his marriage, the Lord blessed his home with a family, and he commenced the long years of loving labour among his people. His affections were set on things above. For a time he took a great interest in bee-keeping, becoming quite engrossed in the hobby, until he felt the bees were beginning to steal overmuch of his time and interest. That was the end of the matter; the bees had to go.
As a Christian, he displayed a most affectionate nature, and as a preacher his gospel was warm with love. He was an early riser, and spent the day’s first waking hours in meditation and communion with the Lord. From the outset, it was his daily custom to plead that the Lord would grant him wisdom and His gracious Spirit in attending to the affairs that would present themselves: “And,” he said, “I have seldom found it to fail.” The Lord granted him his request. He was always approachable, and many proved they could share their personal problems with him, being assured of a sympathetic ear. He would not always answer one’s query immediately, but, pondering for a few minutes, would then give his view of what scripture had to say on the matter.
He felt his whole calling was as a preacher. The Lord had appointed him to ‘preach the Word’, and to that object he stedfastly set his face. He exalted Jesus Christ, and magnified His precious blood in the redemption of the children of God. “Keep near the blood of Christ”, he would say to younger ministers, “that’s where the blessing is.” He did not give undue prominence to his own experience, believing that though undergirding a man’s ministry, such things should usually be out of sight. He avoided barren debate and controversy, though sometimes he alluded briefly to his own view of what scripture said on current issues. Throughout his life he knew multiplied afflictions and manifold temptations, which, as Luther says, contribute to the being of a minister. Soon after the commencement of his pastorate, he was taken gravely ill with tuberculosis, and in that sore trial, not
knowing whether he was near his end, grappled with Apollyon most severely. But he was restored and brought through, to the thankful satisfaction of his people who had wrestled throughout his illness in earnest prayer for him. Again, when unable to eat for a period, he felt the trial keenly, and asked a friend visiting in the hospital to read the 51st Psalm as exactly expressing his feelings then.
Though not an extensive writer, he was a most informed and discerning reader. He ‘gave attendance to reading’, and this contributed to maintain and nourish those clear views of truth which marked his ministry from earliest days. When for a period he was unable to read, owing to the development of cataracts (which were later successfully removed so that his sight was almost completely restored), his ministry remained as fresh as ever, fed by mature meditation. Taking a wedding at that time, he was able to go through the whole service word for word without faltering.
He had a good grasp of Christian history, of God’s work in former days. Once accompanying a party of his own people to Westminster Abbey, his clear description of the monuments and the lives there commemorated soon attracted a large number of other visitors to the fringe of his own group as they clustered around the outstanding figure of the ‘guide’.
He had the gift of using telling illustration from facts of nature or incidents of everyday life. “Power alone can crush a block of ice, but the fragments remain ice still; but the sun can warm and cause it all to melt – so grace is not simply power, but the thawing of unyielding affections by the shedding of pardoning love abroad in the heart.” He was once given a gold watch-chain that needed cleaning; taking it to the jewellers, it was examined under the lens. “Yes,” said the jeweller, “every link is stamped.” Returning later, the jeweller was full of apology: “I’m afraid it’s not gold, sir: when we got the acid to it, it all rubbed off.” Preaching shortly afterward from Romans 8.9, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’, Mr Delves recounted the incident, showing how it failed the acid test; thus making the subject live for his hearers, as they considered the vital need for their own souls.
Among his own people he was able to preach several extended series on expository subjects such as the verses of Isaiah 53, at another time those of Psalm 23, on the Miracles of Jesus, on the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, and others. He went through each series, not with the rigidity of a fixed scheme; if another subject of moment was laid on his mind, he would turn aside, to return to the series later.
His whole ministry was marked by much humility of mind; he ‘feared being a disappointment in the ministry’, and when others occupied his pulpit, begged the Lord that He would use them to make up the deficiencies of his own ministry. None was more conscious that any salient aspect of truth left unmentioned in the ministry brought about a corresponding weakness in his hearers at that point, yet none could deny that his ministry covered in regular
and heart-searching manner the whole counsel of God.
As a pastor, he was maintained for 54 years, following on after Mr. Littleton almost immediately; one of the all-but-unique examples of two consecutive pastors whose labours together spanned more than a century. His church and congregation was a family, and he presided over the naming of the newborn babes, over weddings and funerals, as a true father. There was a ready welcome for every visitor. He was the first to moot the possibility of a summer camp to gather young people together to enjoy the happy atmosphere of worship at Forest Fold amidst those beautiful surroundings. Year by year the campers would be welcomed by a large preserving-pan of soup, made with many ingredients (he called it ‘all-and-sundry’ soup).
His people kindly acquiesced in his extensive ministry throughout the land, when he visited annually places as far afield as Somerset and Kent, Lancashire and Suffolk. As he moved about, the Lord approved him as a minister of God ‘by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left’ (2 Cor. 6. 6,7). Everywhere his balanced views, rightly dividing the word of truth, and his affectionate ministry were appreciated as God-given favours. In the home, little children would climb on his knees for a story, and parents would value his prayerful benediction.
The evening of his days drew on, and at the beginning of 1977 he felt constrained by an unseen direction to tender his resignation at the end of the year, thus preparing his people by gradual steps for their final parting ‘for a little while’. During the summer he appeared as well as he had been for some time, but in October the first features of his final illness were seen.
One winter’s day as he lay sleeping, one of his daughters unintentionally roused him, and he murmured a sentence from Pilgrim’s Progress. This led to the suggestion that he might like it read to him; and so piece by piece in the succeeding days and weeks, members of the family and visiting friends read all through the book to him.
To two friends visiting him, he said, “I had some sweet thoughts last night from Hymn 1123 (Gadsby’s), ‘Stretched on the cross the Saviour dies.’ It was a sweet touch. I do not live on these touches, you know -I live by faith in Jesus Christ – but it is very nice to have these thoughts. That is real religion, isn’t it? You know, I think it was Philpot who once said that as he grew older, so his religion grew simpler; and that is how I find it; my religion can be summed up in this,
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.
I do not know what may happen to me, but ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil’ – and I don’t. I do not know if my last days will be conscious or
unconscious, whether they will be filled with joy or not, but you can tell all my friends – any of my friends – that I die ‘clinging to Jesus Christ. I’ve told my people that I want them to sing that hymn at my grave as their pastor’s dying testimony,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing thy power to save.”
A deacon related what Mr Delves had said to him a few days before, about one of his old members: “You know when Mrs King was dying, I went to see her; and she said she had been so blessed with the thought that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms.’ So I said to her, ‘Well, Mrs King, all you have to do now is to leave all your cares and concerns, and lean back completely on those arms’ – and that is just where I am now.” Another visitor recounted how he said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, and that is where I am. When I was in hospital with T.B. about 50 years ago I grappled with Apollyon in the valley of the shadow of death, but it is not like that now.”
To another friend visiting him, he made known his wishes concerning the funeral arrangements saying, “It is painful for my family to discuss my funeral arrangements with them but really, to me, it is no different from discussing arrangements for my bedroom because I feel to die will be just like going to bed and waking up in heaven.”
Thus preserved from temptations, and with his soul maintained in quietness and confidence, he quietly bade goodbye to earth on March 3rd, 1978, to be with Chnst, which is far better.
The funeral was conducted on llth March, all the arrangements being attended to by his own people. The service was conducted by the five ministers who have been sent forth from the church at Forest Fold, and other members were bearers. Thus “devout men carried him to his burial”, and never was there such a sowing in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. Six or seven hundred friends attended on that gentle day of spring, and the proceedings were conducted in a spirit of thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ upon every remembrance of a holy man of God.
*The booklet Unto The Lord published on the occasion of the Jubilee of his pastorate, is a treasured memento of his life, and copies are still available at 60p each, post paid, from Mr. P. P. Barker, Apple Tree Cottage, London Road, Crowborough, Sussex.