Wednesday, 23 March 2016

William Haslam - a cautionary tale

The Rev William Haslam (1818-1905) was an English country parson whose story is told in two autobiographical volumes - 'From Death into Life' and 'Yet not I'.

One Sunday in 1851 following a period of deep conviction of sin, Haslam ascended into the pulpit of Baldhu church near Truro with the intention of telling his congregation that he would not preach again to them until he was saved and to ask them to pray for his conversion.

However, when he began to preach on the text 'What think ye of Christ' he saw himself as a Pharisee who did not recognise that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. At that moment, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into him and the effect was so obvious and marked that a local preacher who was present stood up and shouted 'the Parson is converted' and the people rejoiced 'in Cornish style'.

Others were also converted on that day, including members of his own household, others fled from the church in fear. A revival followed that blessed Sunday that lasted for three years during which time souls were saved weekly, often daily. Here is his story:

William Haslam from early days was very religious.  As a young man he was stricken with a severe illness which affected his lungs, and the doctors pronounced him a dying man.  In this condition, he constantly read his Prayer Book, especially the office for the Visitation of the Sick, finding comfort in the prayer for a sick child.  This petitioned that if the person died, he might be taken to heaven.  He says in later years, "I little dreamed if I had died in that unpardoned and Christless state, I should have been lost for ever for I was profoundly ignorant of the necessity of a change of heart - perfectly unconscious that I must be born again of the Spirit".

Being strangely impressed in his heart by what he felt was the dealing of God, that he was going to recover from his sickness, he took an important step.  He says: "In the gladness of my heart, I gave myself to God, to live for Him ... I did not know at that time that faith does not consist in believing that I have given myself, even if I meant it ever so sincerely but in believing that God has taken or accepted me."

With returning health and strength, he forsook the ways of the world.  His own words reveal the state of his life.

"I turned over a new leaf, and therewith covered up the blotted pages of my old life.  On this new path I endeavoured to walk as earnestly in a religious way as I had before lived in a worldly one ... I did not see, as I have since, that turning over a new leaf to cover the past, is not by any means the same thing as turning back the old leaves, and getting them washed in the Blood of the Lamb."

In this state of mind, his thoughts were turned along one particular avenue: "I was absorbed for the time, not so much in the Bible as in the 'Tracts for the Times' - these Oxford Tracts suited me exactly, and fitted my tone of mind to a nicety ... I read those writings with avidity, and formed from them certain ecclesiastical proclivities which carried me on with renewed zeal ... I did not look to the Bible, but to the Church, for teaching, for I was led to consider the private judgement on the subject of Scripture statements was very presumptuous.  I got moreover, into a legal state, and thought my acceptance with God depended upon my works, and that His future favour would result upon my faithfulness and attention to works of righteousness which I was going.  This made me very diligent in prayer, fasting and almsdeeds ... I took it for granted that I was a child of God, because I had been baptised and brought into the Church and having been confirmed and admitted to the Lord's Table, I concluded that I was safely on the way to heaven.  I see now the error of this earnest devotion, and that I was going about to establish my own righteousness instead of submitting to the righteousness of God."

As his health improved, Mr. Haslam was led to give his life to the Church.  He was examined by Bishop Philpotts of Exeter in the year 1842, and then by the Bishop of Salisbury (Denison) and ultimately was ordained.  He says that the Bishop's address moved him very much, especially the thought that he was to take care of the souls of his parishioners.  He felt the burden of responsibility very greatly, and asked himself, "What could I do with souls?"  He was rather distressed over this, because, as he says, "My idea of ordination was to be a clergyman, read the prayers, preach sermons and do all that I could to bring people to Church; but how could I answer for souls which had to live for ever?  And what was I to do for them?  ...  I felt that, notwithstanding my ardent desire to serve and glorify God, I had not the remotest conception as regards winning souls."

Appointed to the parish of Perranzabuloe, he applied himself diligently to his labours, not only ecclesiastical, but intellectual, archaeological and architectural also.  Concerning his ministry, he says, "From the commencement of my ministry, I did not as a general rule, preach my own sermons, but Newman's, which I abridged  and simplified, for in that day I thought them most sound in doctrine, practical, and full of good common sense ... I can see now, thank God!, that, with all their excellencies, they were utterly deficient in spiritual vitality.  Their author ... was a man who was searching, not for God, but for a Church.  At length, when he grasped the ideal of what a Church ought to be, he tried by the Oxford Tracts, especially No. 90, to raise the Church of England to his standard; failing in that, he became dissatisfied and went over to the Church of Rome."

After a while he was appointed to the parish of Baldhu, and here he applied himself with great diligence to the work.  Through his efforts a church was erected, he himself doing a good deal of the artistic work.  One day he was painting a text over the gate of the Church, "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."  A man (probably a Dissenter) was standing near the foot of the ladder and he remarked, "Heaven is a long way from that gate".

His preaching at this time was all about the Church.  To him there was no salvation outside the Church, and there was no Church without a Bishop.  His description of this matter is as follows.

"I preached that forgiveness and salvation were to be had in and by the Church, which was as the Ark in which Noah was saved.  Baptism was the door of the Ark, and Holy Communion the token of abiding in it and all who were not inside were lost".

This teaching sometimes gave him considerable trouble of mind, as he wondered what would happen to all those people outside, especially the Methodists, who spoke so much about the forgiveness of sins, and seemed to have a far greater joy on this matter than his own people.  Then there was John Bunyan.  He was a dreadful schismatic, and yet, would he be lost?

So great was his own fear on the matter of Baptism, that one day he baptised himself Conditionally in the Church, for fear he had not been properly baptised in his infancy.

Talking with a lady in the parish one day, she told him, "Ah! you went to college to learn Latin; but though I don't know a word in the Book, yet I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies".

Talking to another man as to why people did not come to his Church, the man replied, "Cornish people are too enlightened.  Only unconverted people and backsliders go to such a place".

All this served to disturb his peace of mind.  He wondered what this "conversion" was that the Methodists spoke so much about.  The crowning event came when his gardener fell ill.  The doctors pronounced him a dying man.  Then faced with eternity, all the teachings of the Church and sacraments that the vicar had given him failed to console him and give him an assurance of peace with God.  In his distress, the poor man sent for a converted neighbour.  This man, instead of giving him false comfort, proceeded to show him that he was a lost sinner in the sight of God, and that he needed to come to Christ just as he was for pardon and peace through the precious Blood.  The gardener was brought under deep conviction of sin, and found peace in believing on the Finished Work of Christ.  The news spread all over the parish that the "parson's servant had been converted".  In great distress, Mr. Haslam called upon the sick man, to try and reclaim him for the Church.  When he called, instead of finding him lying upon his bed, a dying man, he was walking about the room in a most joyful manner.

With overflowing heart, he told the vicar of his new found peace and joy in the Saviour, and then declared he was going to pray for "his dear master" to be converted too.  This was too much for the distracted cleric, and he left the house in a disturbed frame.

In such a state of mind he paid a visit shortly afterwards to the Rev R Aitken, the evangelical vicar of Pendeen, and the following conversation took place.

"You are working hard at Baldhu, but are you satisfied?"

"No, I am not satisfied."

"Why not?"

"Because I am making a rope of sand, which looks very well till I pull it, and then, when I expect it to hold, it gives way.  These Cornish people are ingrained schismatics."

Mr. Haslam then spoke of his gardener's conversion.

"Well," said Mr. Aitken, "If I were ill, I certainly would not send for you.  If you had been converted you would have remained at home to rejoice with him.  It is very clear you are not converted."

"Not converted?  How can you tell?"

"Have you peace with God?"

"Yes."

"How did you get peace?"

"I have it continually.  I get it at the Daily Service, I get it through prayer and reading, and especially at the Holy Communion; I have made it a rule to carry my sins there every Sunday, and have often come away from that sacrament feeling as happy and free as a bird."

"How long does this peace last?"

"I suppose, not a week, for I have to do the same thing every Sunday."

"I thought so," he replied.  Then opening the Bible he read from the fourth chapter of John, "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him shall be in him, a well of water springing up into eternal life".

Mr. Aitken then pointed out the difference between getting water by drawing from a well, and having a living well within, springing up.

I never had heard of such a thing, so I asked him: "Have you this living water?"

"Yes, thank God, I have had it for the last thirty years."

"How did you get it?"

He pointed to the tenth verse, "Thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water".

"Shall we ask Him?" said Mr. Haslam.

Together they knelt down and prayed.  Mr. Haslam was overcome, and wept, while Mr. Aitken shouted and praised God.  Mr. Haslam then took his leave, and on the way home was greatly troubled lest he should be one of those spoken of in the Scripture, who had thought they were all right, and yet to them the Lord said "Depart from me; I never knew you".

His mind was in a turmoil from Thursday, and when Sunday came, he felt totally unfit to take the service.  However, he nerved himself for the effort.  He did not know what to preach on, but when he was reading the Gospel he thought he would just say a few words of explanation, and then dismiss the people.  He took from the Gospel for that day, the text "What think ye of Christ?"  He explained how, when Christ put this question to the Pharisees, they did not understand that He had come to save them.  In his own words, he then describes the marvellous happening that took place:

"Something was telling me, all the time, 'You are no better than the Pharisees.  You do not believe He has come to save you any more than they did.'  I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not.  Whether it was in my words, or my manner, or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden, a local preacher, who
happened to be in the congregation, stood up, and putting up his arms, shouted out in Cornish fashion, "The parson is converted!  The parson is converted!  Hallelujah!"  In another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred of the congregation.  Instead of rebuking this extraordinary 'brawling' as I should have done in former time, I joined in the outbreak of praise, and then gave out the Doxology - "Praise God from whom all blessings flow", and the people sang it over and over again.

At least twenty other people that morning found real peace through the Saviour.  The news spread in all directions that "the parson had been converted, and that in his own pulpit, and by his own sermon".

The church could not hold the crowds that came in the evening.  I told the people that if I had died last week I should have been lost for ever, but now the Lord had "brought me out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a Rock and put a new song in my mouth".

The Church was filled with praise, and many were saved.  The glorious work that God had started spread, and revival broke out in many places around.

This was in the year 1851.  Mr. Haslam lived for over another thirty years.  The blessing that everywhere followed his preaching was amazing.  Revival after revival broke out.  Thousands of souls were brought into the kingdom of God through the simple message of justification by faith in the precious blood of the Saviour, and the work accomplished by the Lord through his servant was such, that eternity alone will reveal the full results.

Reader may this wonderful record of God's dealings with William Haslam search your heart.  Many, like him, are resting for their salvation on Church sacraments.  Multitudes have based their hopes for eternity on their morality, whilst thousands more are trusting in their works of righteousness to secure their entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.

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