Philip Sharkey, The Converted Blacksmith
by John Dickie
PHILIP Sharkey, the subject of the following narrative, was a blacksmith at Kilmarnock. He had been brought up a Roman Catholic, but had long abandoned the creed of his early days. He had become an infidel in his opinions, and profligate in his habits. Moreover, with a vigorous but undisciplined mind, and warm affections, Philip was one of those who are naturally fitted for being ring-leaders in their little circles. His influence in this way was accordingly very great. To use his own words, he had been "for three and fifty years the deevil's honest servant." His reputation among his comrades may be judged from what one of them said to me. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "I see through you; you want to convart me. But try your hand ou Sharkey; he's a merry one, and you won't go without your answer from Phil."
Our intercourse, which continued for two or three years, was barely tolerated on his part. He would gladly have dropped it; but poor Philip's kindliness of heart did not permit him to be rude; and he never took any step more decided, than quietly to slip the bar in the door when he saw me coming. My one object, never lost sight of, was in the gentlest way to awaken his conscience, while at the same time, I kept ever before him Jesus as God's gift to him, and as available for him now, and here, just as he was. His one object was to keep these subjects far away, and to waste no time on unprofitable topics; or, worse still, to pick out little holes, as he thought, in the Scripture story. But though he struggled hard to resist the truth, it was the sword of the Spirit, "quick and powerful."
"Man," said he one day, "you make me miserable. You don't speak to other folk that way, do yon?"
The eye of God had been following all the windings of this poor wanderer, and the set time for his recovery was now come. God himself did it all It was something to hear the story; the second morning after his conversion occurred, from his own lips, trembling with emotion, while the tears trickled down his blackened cheeks; but it is comparatively nothing to read it here on paper, without the feeling and without the tears. I will try, however, to give it as nearly as possible in his own way.
"Who was speaking to you, Philip?" I asked him one morning in his little workshop, where I had found him, with open month and enlarged heart, praising his Saviour.
''There was naebody speakin' to me at this time; but I'll tell you't a'. On Tuesday morning, after my breakfast, I took my Bible, and read a wee bittie o' the third o' John. Weel, as I was reading, there was an awfn' thocht took a hand o' me; it stanged me just like a bee, an' put me that I couldna read ony mair."
" What was that thought, Philip?"
" Weel, it began wi' this. I saw that Nicodemus was a guid man, a saint beside me, and yet even he couldna be saved, unless he was born again; and my conscience said to me, 'What 'll come o' a dyvour [a worthless fellow] like yon?' I kenned I had tried to be guid; and, though I hadna managed it yet, I expected to manage it sometime; but to be born again, born ower again, I had ne'er tried that. I had ne'er thocht o' that ava,' [at all,] an' didna understann hoo it was to be dune; and yet, unless I was born ower again, I couldna see the kingdom o' God. I was dumfoundered, an' ha'ena mind whether I let the book fa', or flung it frae me; but I got rid o't, and gaed oot to shake aff the fear and trouble that it had brocht on me. But it wadna shake aff. 'Hoots!' said I, 'it's a 'nonsense.' But something in my heart said, 'It's no nonsense, but it's a' true.' I gaed in to the smiddy, and began to work, and tried to forget it; but no, it grew waur and waur, till I couldna' bear 't. I never was in such a state in my life. If ever onybody had a taste o' hell, it was me on Tuesday, staunin' wi' the hammer in my hann before the studdy there, an' the sweat breaking on me in perfect horror. There was hell opening its very mouth afore me, an' there was I just steppin' into 't ; an' a' that I had been doin' for three and fifty years was only heapin' up sin on my ain head. 'Oh,' said I, 'if I never, never had been born!' It was awfn'! I couldna bear't; so I creepit doon on my knees in the corner, ower among the coals there, (it's a braw while since I was on my knees before,) and cried oot for mercy.
"Weel, I believe I got it. When I was on my knees, saying I dinna ken what, a strange licht filled my mind. I saw things clearer than ever I did before; na', things I never saw afore. I had aye kent I was bad enough, and had aye ettled [intended] to be better sometime; and though I had never managed it yet, I blamed mysell for no being earnest enough, and thocht that the next time I tried I wad pit out a' my pith, [strength,] and mak' a richt reform. But I never saw till I was on my knees there, that it was a' far past that already; that, even though I could mak' mysell better, I wadna be a bit nearer the mark, for I was lost already, and a' my strivings, reform or no reform, couldna alter that. Bnt alang wi' this I saw anither thing: that salvation was a' settled tae for me by the Lord Jesus; that afore ever I had sinned ava', He himsell had ta'en the sin, and suffered for the sin, and sae completely settled salvation for me ; that naething was left for me to dae, but just thankfully to tak' Him at His offer. Oh, man, hoo my heart gripped at it! and I rose filled wi' wonner that tho Lord Jesus wad hae onything to dae wi' a creatur' like me. It 's wonnerfu'; but it is the blood of Christ that cleanses from all sin. If I was in hell afore, I hae been in heaven ever since. I never was happy till noo, an' I believe that I hae never stoppet praying nicht or day sin' syne. I prayed a' nicht yestreen in my dreams."
It was with the deepest emotion that Philip told this, and with wonder at the grace that could stoop so very low as to reach him. "But," said he, "ye 'll no tell ony body."
"What! Philip, are you ashamed of the Lord Jesus?"
He was slightly hurt at this, and said, "No, I was nane ashamed o' Satan when I served him to my ain sorrow; and do you think I'll be ashamed o' my Saviour? No, no ; but to tell you the truth, I'm no just suro that it will stann'. Wait a wee, an' see. I hae mony a time tried to be guid, but it aye wore aff in a day or twa ; an' oh, if this should wear awa' tae! But I hope no, for I ne'er felt onything like this; but still I'm a puir weak creatur', and if I canna dae the canse ony guid, I wadna like to dac't ony ill." I encouraged Philip to trust in God for His keeping, and after prayer we parted.
But he could not keep the secret himself. God's candle in him shone out through the crevices of the crazy bushel with which he would have covered it, and refused to be hid. That very day he was at the prayer-meeting; and as soon as his old companions visited him, they found him a new man in word and spirit. God's Word was in his heart like a burning fire shut up in his bones; so it burned its way out in spite of his plans, and like the prophet Jeremiah, he could not stay, (Jer. xx. 9). He was regularly at the daily meeting. One day he said, "Hoo comes it that folk pray sae different frae what they used to do? Lang syne a prayer used to be the dullest thing I ever heard, but noo it's a perfect treat."
"Ah, Philip," the reply was, "the difference is less in the prayer than in yourself."
He was a most eager student of God's Word. His two great subjects of regret were that he had wasted his life in sin, and that he had never till now seen the glories of God's Word. Of his past life he said, "It seems to me that I hae been a' my days like a man castin' his coat to grip butterflies."
A few days after the great change, he told me of a little struggle he had had on a point of conscience. In his work an opportunity had occurred by which he could have made a few shillings in some way, which, though justifiable on the principles and practices of his class, was certainly not so on those of God's Word. Still it had been a little struggle, especially as the tempter strove to bewilder his conscience with sophistries; but, in answer to prayer, he had got direction as to what he ought to do, and also strength to do it." But," said he, "if it had been a fortnicht since, it wadna hae cost me a thocht; but noo I hae naething to dae but please the Lord Jesus in everything."
Six weeks after his conversion he canght cold, and his illness, four months after that, issued in death. All this time he delighted in God's Word. The Psalms were exquisitely sweet to him. The Gospel of Luke was as much so. As for the Epistle to the Romans, he could not get through it. Verse by verse, he hung over its golden treasures; and, unwilling to lose any of them, [instead of pushing forward, he turned back again and again to the beginning.] "Have you got through Romans yet?" I said to him one day, having before that left him about the twelfth chapter.
"No," said he, "I'm fear't I'll no get through 't here; I hae begun't ower agan.
He would have been quite as fond of other scriptures; but he was not spared long enough to enter so fully into them. The rich and glorious exhibitions given in the Epistle to the Romans of God's free grace as reigning over man's utter ruin, were the food on which Philip's hungering soul delighted to feast. His only confidence was in grace—free, full, unbounded grace. Unless he were dealt with in mercy, mere mercy, nothing but mercy, mercy that was ready to give him free and complete forgiveness of every sin, he felt he could have no hope. But he saw with unusual clearness how such mercy reached him through the Saviour's blood, and he found perfect peace in resting with confidence on the strong statements of God's Word about Jesus and His work. His favourite text was, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Not long before he died, his wife said, "But, Philip, are you no fcar't to dee? I declare I'm fear't when I think o't."
He replied, "No, Peggy woman, what wad I be fcar't for frae a man that deed for me?"
"But, Philip," said I. "have you never any trouble at all when you think about your sins? "
"No," said he, "I canna say I have: the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Ye see the view I tak o't is this: God says it, and I just believe it. There arc some men so true that I would actually lippen [trust] my soul to their words. Indeed, they micht be mista'en; and so I wadna like to stake my soul on their judgment; but I could at least lippen my soul to their truth. No, no, they wadna kenninly deceive a puir creatur' to his eternal ruin. Weel, then, is the Lord Jesus waur than them? Ye ken, He canna be mista'en ; and is His word no to be trusted as weel at least as the best o' men's?" Here was the rock on which Philip built his house —Christ's blood, and God's Word.
I never referred to the doctrine of election, but Philip once did, and only once, having found it in the Epistle to the Romans. He said he had formerly abhorred it; but, said he, "There it is, plain enough, in Romans. An' 'deed it's just as plain in my ain case; for I wasna seckin' God at a' when He socht me; and I'm sure if He had let me alane that day, I wad hae let Him alane."
Philip, like the rest of God's children, was no stranger to spiritual conflict. He found the life of faith to be a life of fighting. "It's my ain heart that bothers. me," he would say, "my ain bad heart."
Another passage of Scripture to which he constantly referred was, "Thou art my hiding-place," (Ps. xxxii. 7). "It 's wonderfn' ! most wonderfn' ! my hiding-place! mine ! I used to seek to hide frae God; but noo, I hide in Him. I used to so fear't for Him; and noo, a' my comfort is to be beside Him."
One day I found a young man at his bedside, and spoke to him; but he avowed unbelief.
"Ah," said Philip, "James's great loss is that he is far ower wise. He kens a heap; but, puir man, he doesna ken that he 's a sinner. That's his want. Yesterday he rose and gaed out, saying, ' Hoots ! Phil ; what way are ye aye harping on thae gloomy subjects? Think o' something cheerie, man.' And what think ye were the gloomy subjects he spak o' ? The love o' God, the blood o' Jesus, the blessedness o' salvation, the glory o' heaven. An' he ca's thae gloomy !"
"Weel," said the young man, "they're gloomy enough to me."
"Ah ! James," said Philip, "my warst wish for you is that the Lord may mak' them as sweet to you as to me. Man, they mak' this bed the very gate o' heaven."
His disease progressed, but his confidence never faltered. It was all based on free, full grace, through the precious blood of Christ. One evening a neighbour of his who was ailing in body, and also exercised about his soul, said to him, "Yes, Philip, I believe God is willing to forgive me; but you see, I'm bound to be terribly scourged; I have been such a sinner."
Philip's reply was, "No, no, man, that won't do. Mane o' ye a', ye ken, hae a richt to speak about sin an scourgin' like me. But my comfort is that the Lord Jesus took a' my sins, an' was scourged Himsell for them eighteen hunner years since. It's His scourgin' gets them forgi'en to me. As for this illness o' mine, I look on't as God's dealin wi' me in love for my ain guid."
Philip's end drew nigh; it was perfect peace. Psalm xxxii. 7, and 1 John i. 7, became more and more precious to him.
The last time I saw him he was sorely distressed in body, but calm in soul. With great effort he gasped out, word by word, slowly and painfully, "When—ever—I breathe—my—last here—I just—drap—drap—into—Christ's arms." He clearly wished to say more, but could not. He took my hand, gave it a gentle squeeze, smiled with a happy smile, and glanced upwards. We met no more.
"Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" And is not the gospel of the grace of God still, as in the apostles' days, the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth?
Careless reader! The man whose story is here briefly told was no worse than you; and oh, if his sins so distressed him, why is it that your sins do not distress you?
Troubled and anxious reader! This man was no better than you. Will you not, then, be encouraged by the ready welcome and the abundant mercy which he received to go at once to the same Saviour? Listen to that Saviour's loving words: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John vi. 37).
KlLMARNOCK J. D.