A Tribute of High Esteem and Love.
By J. C. Philpot, 1844
When the Lord called to Himself the soul of our dear
friend, William Gadsby, with truth it might be said, "There is a great man
fallen this day in Israel" (2 Sam. 3:38). We believe we are but speaking in
full unison with the feelings and sentiments of the living family of God in
this country when we say that, taking him all in all, we have lost in Mr.
Gadsby the greatest minister that God has raised up since the days of
Our remarks we may conveniently throw under two heads—what
he was viewed NATURALLY—and what
he was viewed spiritually.
His natural intellect
seems to us to have been singularly clear, sound, penetrating, and
sagacious. We have in our day met with men of more capacious mind, greater
reasoning powers, and more varied and versatile talents—but with few
or none so quick-sighted and ready-witted. He seemed at once intuitively to
penetrate through the folds of delusion and error, and with a glance of his
eye to look into the very heart of everything that he turned his attention
to. We venture to say that few people ever spoke to Mr. Gadsby without his
knowing pretty well the end of the sentence before they had got halfway
through it, or before his quick and humorous eye had not already deciphered
the character of the speaker. His quick, ready witted replies, embodying so
much in a few words, will be long remembered by those who heard them from
the pulpit or in the parlour.
Though not possessed of much
education (an advantage, by the way, much overrated), he was a
man of much reflection, and may be said in this way to have educated his own
mind far better than school or college could have done for him. His mind was
of that class which rises according to the emergency. Some minds sink and
fail when unusual circumstances and pressing difficulties arise. ... But
there are other minds (and Mr. Gadsby's was one of that class) which rise
with, and are called out by difficulties and emergencies, and shine most
conspicuously when weaker minds give way.
The Lord had appointed Mr. Gadsby to be a
leader, and to stand for half a century
in the front rank of His spiritual army. He therefore bestowed upon him a
mind not to be daunted with difficulties and dangers, but to rise with and
to be ready for every new emergency. He was to occupy a post also in
keen-witted and energetic Manchester—where, perhaps, of all places in
the kingdom, strength, decision, and soundness of mind are most required;
and to labor much in the North, where brains or the lack of them are quickly
perceived by its sagacious inhabitants. The Lord therefore gave him a mind
eminently adapted for his post. Classics and mathematics, grammar and
history, and all the lumber of academic learning were not needed; but an
acute, sagacious, clear, and sound understanding was required for such a
commanding post, as Mr. Gadsby was to occupy. We only knew him when his
mental faculties were guided by grace, and made to glorify God; but, viewed
in that light, we consider that his mental endowments were admirably fitted
for his post.
Benevolence and sympathy with suffering,
in every shape and form, we believe to have been natural to Mr. Gadsby; and
though it may be hard to define to what extent and in what direction grace
enlarged and guided his natural disposition, we do not doubt that, even had
he lived and died in a state of nature, the character of humanity, kindness
and affection, would have been stamped upon his memory.
But we pass on to view him
SPIRITUALLY, and here we freely confess our inability to do him
justice. We shall briefly mention first what strikes us as the prominent
features of his ministry, and then what we have observed in him as connected
with his Christian profession.
Thorough soundness in every point seems to
have been peculiarly stamped upon his ministry. Whether he handled
doctrine, experience, or precept—his speech and his
preaching were sound, clear and scriptural. We know no preacher who was so
equally great in these three leading branches of the Christian ministry.
Some may have excelled him in clearness and fullness of doctrinal statement;
others may have entered more deeply and fully into a Christian's diversified
experience; and others may have more powerfully enforced the precepts of the
gospel. But we never heard anyone who was so uniformly great in all—and
so clearly, ably and scripturally gave to each their place, and yet blended
their distinct colors into one harmonious gospel tint. In doctrine he
was not dry, in experience he was not visionary, and in precept
he was not legal—but, in a way peculiarly his own, he so worked them
up together that they were distinct and yet united, relieving each other
without confusion, and like the three strands of a rope, strengthening each
other without cumbrous knot or loose tangle.
In handling DOCTRINE he showed "integrity" (Titus 2:7),
and was singularly free from fanciful interpretations, strained and mystical
views upon dark texts, and that false spiritualization which passes with
many for wondrous depth, but which he valued at its due worth. In reading
his published sermons we have been much struck with the soundness,
clearness, simplicity and sobriety of his interpretations. He saw too
clearly that his doctrine was the doctrine of the Scriptures to wrest any
part of the Word from its connection, or to rest a truth upon a text which
did not clearly declare it, when there were so many passages in which the
Holy Spirit had plainly revealed it.
His object was not that William Gadsby should be admired
for his ingenuity, learning, depth of eloquence—but that the God
of all grace should be glorified. He did not dare to make the pulpit a
stage for 'creature display', still less a platform from which he might
keep up a perpetual excitement by some new view of a passage, some startling
paradox, some dazzling array of figures and illustrations—the whole
sermon being to illustrate this text—"Who so great a man as I?"
In doctrine his favorite topic was the union of the
Church with her covenant Head, and all the spiritual blessings that spring
out of that union. Nor did he ever keep back the grand truths which are
usually denominated Calvinistic, but which should rather be called 'Bible
Election, in particular, was a point he much dwelt
upon, and it usually occupied a prominent place in all his discourses. No
man was less afraid of the doctrine frightening and alarming people, or
being a stumbling-block in the way of the enquirer. He had no idea of
smuggling people into religion, and insinuating Calvinism so gently that
they were made Calvinists almost before they knew it. He knew that the
doctrine was of God—and, as the servant of God, he proclaimed it on
the walls of Zion.
The doctrine of the Trinity too was a darling
topic with him. He well knew that it was the grand foundation stone of
revealed truth, and that out of a Triune God flowed all the mercies and
blessings that are bestowed upon the Church of Christ.
In a word, he held "the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth." No novelty in doctrine allured him from the old
path. For nearly fifty years he stood upon the battlements of Zion, holding
forth the word of life; and from the beginning to the end of his ministry
maintained, with undeviating consistency, the same glorious truths, and
sealed them at last with his dying breath.
"Among innumerable false, unmoved,
Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,
His loyalty he kept, his love and zeal;
Nor number, nor example, with him wrought,
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind,
In handling EXPERIENCE, into which he seemed more
particularly led during the latter years of his life, he neither set up a
very high—nor a very low standard. But he always insisted strongly
upon such an experimental knowledge of the spirituality of God's law as
should completely throw down and cut to pieces all creature righteousness,
and always contended for such an experimental knowledge of Christ as should
bring pardon and peace. No man ever, we believe, expressed himself more
strongly upon the deep corruption of the heart, its deceitfulness, horrible
filthiness, and thorough helplessness.
One point we have often admired in his ministry; he would
touch upon such spots as no other minister that we know ever dared approach.
And this he did in a way peculiar to himself. He did not give glowing
descriptions of human depravity; but sometimes in a way of warning, and
sometimes with self-abhorrence, and sometimes as a word of encouragement to
poor backsliders—he would touch upon sins which would make pious
professors lift up their eyes with mock horror. But he hit the right nail on
the head, as many of God's children know to their soul's joy. Of sin he
never spoke but with the greatest abhorrence; but he was not one of those
who are all holiness in the pulpit, and all filthiness out of it.
Another point which we have thought he handled in a way
peculiarly his own, and with great sweetness and power, was, to use his
favorite expression, "the riches of matchless grace." Were we to mention
a text which seems to sum up his preaching, it would be Romans 5:20-21,
"Moreover the law entered that sin might abound"—(these were his
views upon the law) "but where sin abounded" (what a field for
opening up, as he would sometimes do, the aboundings of inward sin and
filth!) "grace did much more abound"—here he was at home in tracing
out the glories of sovereign, distinguishing grace. The glory of God's
grace, from its first rise in the eternal covenant, to its full
consummation in future blessedness, was indeed his darling theme. When
speaking of the heights of super-angelic glory to which the blessed Redeemer
had raised the Church, he was sometimes carried, as it were, beyond himself.
A grandeur and dignity clothed his ideas, and he spoke with such power and
authority, that it seemed almost as if he had been in the third heaven, and
was come back to tell us what he had seen and heard there!
Great originality, all must admit, was stamped
upon his ministry. His ideas and expressions were borrowed from none. His
figures and comparisons were singularly original and pertinent, and
generally conveyed his meaning in a striking manner. Few men's reported
sermons bear reading so well as his—that great test whether there
is any sterling stuff in them. Very simple, and yet very clear, very full of
matter, and that of the choicest kind, with the text thoroughly worked out,
and that in the most experimental manner.
A friend of ours and his well characterized, we think, in
one sentence Mr. Gadsby's ministry. "It contains," said he, "the cream of
all the preachers I ever heard." We think this is an appropriate expression.
His sermons were not 'skimmed milk'—but were rich in unction savor,
and power—and possessed a fullness and depth such as we find in no
other reported sermons that we have seen.
But our limits remind us that we must not dwell too long
upon his ministry, and therefore we proceed to drop a few hints on his
CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, more especially as
it came under our personal observation.
1. One feature we have often admired in Mr. Gadsby's
character—his singular HUMILITY. Who ever heard him angle for
praise? Who ever heard him boasting of, or even alluding to—his
popularity as a preacher—his large congregation—his gifts for
the ministry—his acceptance with the people of God—his
numerous invitations to preach at different places, and the blessing that
generally rested upon his pulpit labors? Who ever perceived him, in the most
indirect manner, fishing to learn who had heard him well, and dabbling in
that wretched love of flattery—which, disgusting in all, is
doubly so in the ministers of the gospel?
We have seen him, after some of the grandest sermons we
have ever heard in our lives, sitting with no self-approving smile upon his
countenance—no mock-bashful looks, as if waiting to receive the
incense of flattery—no self-enthroned dignity of state as king of the
pulpit and lord of the vestry—but like a little child, simple and
humble, the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints. Great
as he was as a minister, and deservedly esteemed and loved, there was
nothing in him of 'the great master'. No man was ever more free from
priestly dignity or fleshly holiness. It was not with him, "I am the great
man to be listened to by my knot of admirers—what I say is law—and
all you have to do is to approve." Such parlour priest-craft the honest soul
of William Gadsby abhorred!
2. His conduct out of the pulpit, as far as our
observation goes, was singularly consistent with all his profession in it.
We do not speak here of mere outward consistency. What but a lying tongue,
ever found a visible blemish in his fifty years ministry? But in the little
courtesies of life, who ever entertained a more courteous visitor than he?
Who of the numerous friends who at different places received him into their
houses ever saw in him an overbearing, fretful, covetous, selfish, proud
disposition? Kindness and friendship, and courtesy to all, sometimes even to
a fault, shone forth in him.
3. And who ever heard him slander and backbite, or peddle
gossip from house to house? Admitted as he was into the bosom of so many
families, who ever knew him to talk of what he must have seen and witnessed
in so many places? Naturally disposed to humour, what a fund there would
have been for his quick and ready-witted tongue! But who ever heard him make
any allusion, except to the kindness of his entertainers, or who ever knew
him carry tales from one end of England to the other?
4. How singularly free, too, was our departed friend from
running down and depreciating brother ministers! We never once heard him
drop an unkind allusion or say a disparaging word against a minister of
truth. His hand never carried a secret dagger to stab his brethren with.
On the contrary, we have thought him too open hearted and long-armed,
and too ready to receive as men of God ministers whose only recommendation
was a sound Calvinistic creed. If he erred, it was that he thought and spoke
too well of some professing godliness—from whom the mask has since
dropped. But of this a minister might be sure, that if Mr. Gadsby received
him as a brother, he treated him as such behind his back as well as before
his face. He never sought to exalt himself by depreciating them, and was the
last to say a word to their discredit, or which, if repeated, would wound
5. And to this we may add, that, as he was the last to
depreciate, so was he the last to flatter. His kindness and brotherly
love kept him from the one, and his sincerity preserved him from the other.
He neither said crude things to wound—nor smooth things to please. He
did not tyrannize with violent temper—nor fawn with canting
servility. He neither took liberties nor allowed them; he knew his place and
kept it; and while, by a calm, courteous demeanor, he preserved the respect
due to him as a Christian man and minister, he was frank, free, and
obliging. In fact, he rather erred, now and then, as we have hinted, on the
side of courtesy. He was desirous of making himself agreeable, and sometimes
this led him to repeat the thrice-told tale, and tell the well-known
anecdote, sometimes humourous, but usually profitable in its intention, and
almost always to depreciate himself.
But we feel we must stop. Our limits do not allow us to
dwell upon his extensive labors in the ministry, his frequent and
long journeyings to preach the gospel—his self-denying and temperate
habits of life—his prudence in domestic and monetary matters—his
kindness and liberality to the poor—the noble manliness of his
character—and his entire freedom from cant, hypocrisy, and whine. We
highly esteemed and loved him, and revere his memory with growing affection.
We consider it a privilege to have known him, and would not be in the ranks
of those who despised or slandered him for a thousand worlds.