Chapter Nine Tramping the Emerald Isle

Chapman was always keen to promote the Lord’s work in Ireland. It was actually as early as 1848 that he left Barnstaple for a preaching tour in that country. This tour took him around the greater part of the Irish coast and occupied between two and three months. He must have covered over six hundred miles in Ireland itself. For the greater part of this distance he travelled on foot and, if time had permitted, would always have preferred to do so. Nothing pleased him more than to walk along with some casual acquaintance, speaking of the things of God. Indeed, he found that this was the most fruitful form of evangelism, for in heart to heart conversation on the open road the peasants lost their fear of the priest.

It was early February when he set off, but the weather was delightful for the crossing. Landing on the South coast at Cork he was welcomed by the Queen Street assembly. Here he found a happy fellowship obtaining, and was refreshed in spirit as he broke bread with them on the Lord’s Day. The unhappy divisions which were then disturbing many assemblies were not without effect in Ireland, and questions were being asked at Cork on these matters. One brother in that meeting had many talks with Chapman, and they discovered that their views differed, but there were no harsh words. “We rejoiced in our unity, as far as we discerned it,” Chapman wrote, “and judged it a cause of self-humiliation that we could not fully agree, but not a reason for strife and separation. God would soon make His children one, did they always set their faces like the cherubim, towards the mercy-seat.” These two sentences are typical of Chapman’s attitude to differences which in some instances have brought a capital “B” into the word “brother,” and taken a great deal of the real meaning out of it. Whether in England or Ireland, Chapman practised the love and patience which marked him out as a brother indeed!

The assembly at Cork was like an island of light in a sea of darkness. The Romanists seemed to hold absolute sway over the hearts and consciences of the people in the city. It was difficult to make contact with the ordinary person, even in the open air, for to hear a Protestant read the Bible or pray was regarded as a sin which had to be confessed to the priest. But through the failure of the potato crop there was much poverty and hunger, and in doing something to relieve this in the poorer parts of Cork, Chapman found a way to reach the consciences of many. He discovered that there was real concern beneath the outward opposition. “Here is a vexed and troubled conscience,” he wrote to Grosvenor Street, “seeking rest and not knowing how to obtain it. I reckon myself favoured of God to speak to such consciences.”

Friends at Barnstaple had been sending money for a year past to support children in the neighbourhood of Cork, who had lost their parents in the famine. This work was centred at Donoughmore, and was carried on by an Anglican rector and his wife. Chapman had cordial fellowship with these friends and stayed at the rectory. It was a delight to him to see the fine spiritual work that was being carried on amongst the orphans, and he promptly determined to encourage his English brethren to contribute further to its support despite the fact that it was not directly connected with any Brethren assembly.

Leaving Cork, Chapman began his long tour by walking westwards, and his first stopping-place was Mallow. Here he was welcomed by a small company of believers. He found them concerned by news of the serious illness of J. N. Darby, and joined them in prayer for the recovery of this man of God. To believers at Barnstaple, who, like himself, were by no means entirely in agreement with Darby’s conduct, he wrote: “The Lord grant us his restoration to health. His name is very dear to children of God in Ireland.”

During his stay in Mallow, Chapman obtained permission to preach to the soldiers in the local barracks. He also visited the jail and spoke to the prisoners. On the Sunday, after breaking bread in the morning, he took up a position in the marketplace near a Roman Catholic church and preached to the crowd that came streaming out of Mass. He was listened to attentively by many, and a good number came into the Gospel meeting that evening when they were told that he was to be the preacher. Some weeks after, a young man lay dying in the Mallow Workhouse, and he was asked if he wished the priest to be sent for. “No,” he replied, “I heard a stranger preach Christ in the marketplace the other Sunday. That Saviour is all-sufficient for me.”

The next places on his route, Kanturk, Newmarket and Millstreet, had no Brethren assemblies, but in each he found a few of the Lord’s people and encouraged them in their witness. He was pleased to find a young clergyman preaching the pure Gospel at Kanturk, and made it his business to call upon him and have fellowship in prayer.

The following week-end found him at Castleisland where he could not find a single born-again person. It was a strange Lord’s Day for him, yet he wrote cheerfully: “I have not been alone, and have been the rather making intercession for saints and the world, because I have not had brethren with me.” Without supporters, he stood in the open air and preached the Gospel, and as he turned towards his lodgings, his heart oppressed by the darkness of this town, he saw a rainbow arching the sad streets of little houses. “Had I turned another way I should not have seen it,” he said simply; “it spoke with the voice of God to my heart.”

Between one town and the next he found plenty of opportunities of speaking for Christ, and only eternity will reveal how many souls received God’s gift of eternal life through these wayside conversations. Farmers, policemen, beggars—people of many walks of life—listened eagerly to his witness. He was amazed at the ignorance of spiritual things and the deep, dark superstition which characterized them all. Many to whom he spoke appeared never to have heard the Gospel before, and hardly any of his hearers were quick to apprehend the meaning of the things he told them. Throughout his tour he had no large audiences, except now and then in the open air, but his real aim was to “talk” the Gospel to all who would listen. There was nothing spectacular in his method. No dazzling results could be shown. But he left at least some knowledge of the Gospel behind him through almost the entire course of his six hundred mile journey. And at various points in his tour he left converts who became centres of Christian influence. The assemblies which he visited were inspired by his zeal, and profited greatly by his teaching and advice.

The people at Grosvenor Street followed his itinerary with intense interest. In fact he became a little alarmed lest too much time should be given to the public reading of his letters. “Beloved Brother Heath will take heed to the time, when he reads my journal,” he counselled, “that greater matters may not give place to it—I mean the worship of God and the ministration of the Word. If portions be read on a Friday evening, or if need be on a Monday evening, the rest may be read in private at leisure.” One of his letters from Ireland reveals the remarkable humility of the man. He had passed a crowd returning from Mass on Ash Wednesday. “I am humbled to think that I passed the crowd at Portumna without addressing them, and without asking of God whether I should speak or hold my peace. My strength, that is, my spiritual strength, needed recruiting … but I might have found especial help from God by looking to Him. I did not enquire of Him, but pressed forward, hoping to meet others further on. I met none, and I name this that beloved ones who think of me before God may the rather put no confidence in me, and that they may ask the full and soul-assuring guidance of the Holy Ghost for me in all things and at all times.”

The weather was not always kind to him. One day he had to cover forty miles, and there was a strong wind in his face when he set out. He asked the Lord to turn the wind, but it continued for the whole of the journey, and his plight was sometimes made worse by gusts of rain, snow and hail. “His answer for that day,” he says, “was that His grace sufficed me, so I was happy in Him and preached His Word to a few on the way.”

In some towns the opposition was very bitter. Once, while preaching in a public square, he was struck on the ear and temples with a football. But a Roman Catholic lady stepped forward and offered him the use of her handkerchief to wipe off the mud. Incidents such as these did not worry him. He was much more distressed if he saw well-meaning Christians taking up the cudgels on his behalf. At one place, when he was speaking in the open air, a boy came up to him and offered him a penny. Of course, the onlookers laughed, and Chapman was treating the matter as a boyish prank, when a brother stepped forward and began to deal with the boy in a way that upset the crowd. “My chief difficulties in out-of-door preaching,” he said afterwards, “have been occasioned by friends who did not understand, or did not remember, that it was my glory to suffer for Christ’s sake, and who therefore have dealt with my revilers not with the mind, and contrary to the precept, of Christ.”

On passing into Northern Ireland, Chapman observed the different conditions which obtained. It was true that both Roman Catholics and Protestants in the North were much quicker to grasp the truth than those in the South, and the priests had far fewer disciples. But where they had power, the priests were not slow to forbid the reading of the Scriptures; whilst the Protestants were often merely formal in their professions of faith and acts of worship. “In labouring among them,” he wrote, “I am cast upon God for help as elsewhere. ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.’”

During his itinerary Chapman had much happy fellowship with Christians of various denominations. Whenever he heard of a man who was maintaining an evangelical testimony, he sought him out and encouraged him. He rejoiced in the zeal of some Wesleyans whom he encountered, and he made friends of many Presbyterians in the North. In one town, a Presbyterian came to Chapman’s host and asked to have the privilege of assisting the preacher financially. On being assured that nothing was needed, he pressed the matter, saying that the traveller would find many on whom he could bestow the gift. So Chapman gladly took it, and was greatly comforted by this token of love from a brother whose judgment in some matters did not coincide with his own.

It is clear that journeys such as this involved considerable expenses. All was provided for by the Lord, and faith was the sole principle of finance. While the Irish tour was largely done on foot, Chapman travelled great distances by train during his life, and again and again he proved the Lord. On one occasion, Mr. James Mansfield, a son-in-law of Mr. John Bridgeman, came on to a railway platform and saw Mr. Chapman sitting in a carriage. Chapman had come to the railway station without a penny, confident that the Lord would provide for his ticket. But nothing had happened up to the time he reached the booking-office, so he passed on unchallenged and sat down in the train to see what the Lord would do. After a few moment’s conversation Mr. Mansfield felt constrained to ask to see Chapman’s purse. It was produced with a smile. Before the train left it contained a ticket and a liberal gift.

Chapman wound up his Irish tour at Dublin, where the Brethren movement had started some twenty years before. It had been a gruelling journey, and the fact that he was able to cover so much ground, alone and on foot for the most part, reveals the extent of his stamina and spiritual resources. His experiences led him to believe that there was great scope for evangelical work in Ireland. In after years he kept closely in touch with Irish believers. Mr. William Gilmore in his book “These Seventy Years,” tells of Chapman’s visit to Belfast in 1893 for the 12th July meetings. Chapman asked which would be the biggest meeting in the city, and he was told it would be Ahorey. “How many will be there?” “Oh, about 700.” “And what will be the smallest?” “Newtownards.” “How many will be at Newtownards?” “150 or 200.” “That is where I will go, I like to help small ones.” Today a considerable number of assemblies in Ireland, both large and small, owe a great debt to Chapman.