Memoir of JOHN GIBSON, of Salem Chapel, Barnsley.
by J. Doughty
We are daily reminded that those of our Church members who have a quiet and retiring disposition are not the least useful or influential; for with such, there is often more constancy and consistency than is usual with the forward or brilliant. And amidst so much of the ceremonial and merely professional in the present day, a desire to live consistently cannot be cherished too much. Holy living is truly the best picture of Christianity, and there is beauty in the life, however humble, in which Christian profession and practice harmonise. And because a correct representation of the Gospel is necessary, before ever we can succeed in convincing the world, we commend the following memoir, though imperfect, to the careful attention of our readers.
Ninety years ago, in the village of Shafton, near Barnsley, John Gibson was born. He grew up a rough, careless, indifferent young man. He was a farm servant; married early—too early. He did not attend the worship of God, or Sunday school. But such are not neglected by God's Holy Spirit, though neglectful of themselves. He who is not confined to temples made with hands, and who sends His Spirit often before it is asked for, led this young man to hear Jeremiah Gilbert, of Cawthorne, a well-known preacher of that enterprising body the Primitive Methodists. The text was that one so full of threatening to the sinner and encouragement to the saint, viz., "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death." His hard heart was shattered by this powerful attack. He was thus constrained to yield to Christ and was truly a sinner saved by grace. He commenced to show his faith by his works by making himself useful, and joined a class held in a house in the village. Whether the bereavement he at this time suffered in the loss of his wife was the instrument used, in conjunction with the sermon, we cannot say, but for five or six years, he was a widower, in the commencement of his Christian life.
Leaving Shafton for Dodworth, with his present widow as his second wife, he was there enabled to be useful. As there was no preaching-place, he opened his house, and though very often, but few came, and he was repeatedly urged to give up the preaching, he persistently kept his house open, and said until there was another and a better place he would do so; and for nine years, the old, old story was told beneath his roof. He was not afraid of the trouble and inconvenience so often arising from cottage meetings, and of which so many complain. He was of opinion the Gospel ought to be preached everywhere, and not allow so many portions of our towns and villages to perish without taking to them the Word of Life; and his self-sacrifice was, doubtless, rewarded.
Again he removed, but only once, and this time to Barnsley; and though still amongst the Primitives, he was often heard to say, if he could find a denomination still poorer, he would join them. It appears the force of sympathy with the needy, was in him so strong, that he would endure any personal inconvenience to be useful. However, whether this was so, or whether he was the unhappy subject of some of those thousands of trifling offences which daily and unnecessarily occur, we know not; but he left his old mates, and joined the Reform Methodists at the commencement. Now, if the main inducement was a charitable feeling for the poorest, we shall most of us believe it was not altogether misplaced.
He was never so happy as when the cause was in prosperity, and to secure this, he would willingly do what he could. There are many who choose their work and would rather see a church droop and die than step out of their way. We want the willing-hearted men, who will try at anything to do good. Although he was not brilliant, yet he was practical, and, as such, he had no sympathy with long speaking, long singing, or long meetings. 'Sing short, speak short,' he would say; being of opinion that some of the best meetings in our churches are sometimes made more injurious than otherwise, because of long and irrelevant speaking, instead of that hearty and spontaneous talk which fires the heart and brings our souls to bear one on another. This reminds us of the noble founder of Primitive Methodism, who gave the class-leader one to two minutes to lead off, and each member only one minute. Of course, one minute is not much for a speech; but then speeches are scarcely needed in class and band meetings, especially in the former.
As a constant and harmless member of the Church, he was exemplary. He strongly denounced the vacillating conduct so common, and very much admired beginning well, going on well, and finishing well—not at all a bad creed either.
There is no possibility of leading such a life (either with education or without, and he had not much of the former) without Divine help. Now, this brother was remarkable for prayer. He was known towards the last, even to exhaust himself in this exercise, and then, whilst panting for breath, but hungering and thirsting for more grace, he would beg his wife to continue the medium of communion with the Invisible—the chain that joins us to the Eternal.
As we admire his respectable character—thirty years with one master, who pensioned him at last, and who now remembers his widow—his humility, constancy, earnestness, harmlessness, willingness, and devotedness, we sincerely believe, if more had his spirit, so many disturbances and offences would be unknown. He was so liberal, that often he gave to the cause and the poorer than himself, what they needed themselves; yet they never wanted bread. Though he had not a weighty position, he had a weighty character, which only needed to be known to be felt. And as he lived, so he died, waiting for his Lord. From his conversion to his grave, he followed that Lord, to whom he said shortly before his death, "Come, Lord Jesus!" and these were the last words understood. And when too weak to speak, he three times raised up his hands in triumph, and clapped them together, showing his victory.
He had his weaknesses, and he was imperfect, doubtless; but his humility, thoughtfulness, and meekness are qualities we all may wisely seek after. Do we seek human applause and worldly praise?—how little is such without the honour which cometh from God only. We are better with one talent, surely used to do good, than with five doing harm, rather than good. And we believe this humble life was spent in doing much good, and little harm. After a pilgrimage of ninety-one years, he arrived home on March 13th, 1875, and his remains were interred at Felkirk Church, near Barnsley.
"May we triumph so, when all our warfare's past,
And, dying, find our latest foe under our feet at last,"
"Christian Words" 1874