Back in Barnstaple again, Chapman settled down to his regular pastoral duties. He was, in fact, pre-eminently a pastor, vigilantly tending the flock of God. He worked lovingly and patiently to “seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and…bind up that which was broken, and…strengthen that which was sick.” He was careful to enter where he could into the joys and sorrows of those whom he served, remembering the injunction to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
The work of a pastor is never spectacular. The true pastor toils on month after month, year after year, dealing with the special difficulties of God’s people, seeking to lead them on in the grace of God, “in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” To the onlooker his work seems much the same, year in, year out. But though the general pattern of it varies little, the details are constantly changing, for an observant pastor finds that no two of the Lord’s people have exactly the same problem. Since, however, these details are nearly always confidential, the full story of a man’s pastoral work cannot be told.
Mr. Chapman’s evangelistic work in Spain and Ireland, and his conference work in England, all serve to mark him out as a trusted servant of God; but the centre of his whole ministry was Grosvenor Street, and his pastoral work there. The warm fellowship, sincere reverence for Scripture, and Scriptural order which existed there at his death, provided the best monument of his seventy years’ labour. It illustrated the fact that a man’s work can be consolidated when he exercises his gifts largely in one district.
It must not be thought, of course, that he acted alone and exercised an exclusive ministry. He was one elder among several at Grosvenor Street. He did not accept Darby’s assertion that it was no longer possible to obey the Scriptural injunctions regarding elders. He refused to believe that such passages as 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, were now only of historical significance. He had come to Barnstaple, in the first instance, determined to teach all that he found written in Scripture, and he found a recognised oversight in the inspired Word. He did not stress the recognition of deacons, though this was done at “Bethesda,” Bristol, where it was felt that the pattern revealed in the New Testament could not be wrong. The Barnstaple oversight were not men recognized because of their social or financial standing. They were men whose gift to instruct and powers of leadership were evident to all their brethren. It is true that Chapman stood out from among them because of his remarkable combination of gifts. He was pastor, teacher and evangelist—the ideal combination for founding a work of God. Some took it upon them to criticise him for this. They said he had never ceased to be “the minister” of the assembly. But his fellow-elders at Grosvenor Street knew how anxious he was that all should exercise their gift. They would have been the last to wish him to grieve the Spirit by holding back in a false humility from the full discharge of the work to which God had so manifestly called him.
He was greatly used in visitation. In the afternoons he made it his business to move amongst God’s people and seek their welfare. As he passed along the back streets he would be respectfully saluted by those whom he met, for even those in “Derby” who normally greeted people of a different class from themselves with insulting remarks, felt that he was a man who had their interests at heart. Women standing at their doors would receive a gracious smile and a helpful word, given so gently that it was rarely resented.
When he entered a house he would usually have some Scripture in mind, and would wait his opportunity to introduce it into the conversation. But he did not do this in any ordinary way. For example, one day, upon being asked how he was, he replied that he was burdened. With some concern the enquirer said: “Burdened, Mr. Chapman!” “Yes,” he replied. “He ‘daily loadeth us with benefits.’”
On another occasion he solemnly remarked that it was a pity there were so few D.D.’s. “Surely not!” returned a somewhat shocked brother. “Yes,” was the reply. “We want more people in Psalm 119, 25: ‘Down in the Dust.’ Then we would also have more quickened ‘according to Thy Word.’” This method of arousing new interest in a familiar text was characteristic of him, and his friends learnt to expect some instructive quotation whenever he made a remark which shocked them.
Another method he used to bring home to the soul the real point of a text was to quote part of it, and wait for the person addressed to complete it. He would greet a friend in the street with the apparently conceited remark: “I can do all things,” expecting the other, of course, to reply: “through Christ which strengtheneth me.” All this he did in such a natural and pleasant way that what might have seemed an odd affectation in another, was accepted and valued in him.
One day he visited a Christian lady who was much cast down. She spoke gloomily of the future. Her mind was oppressed by the contemplation of the hardships which she felt lay ahead. She refused to be comforted. “Let us read together,” he suggested. She reached down her Bible, and he pulled out his. He said he would read the twenty-third Psalm. Turning to it, he began “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall want.” “Mr. Chapman,” she objected, “you have made a mistake.” Again he read, still omitting the ‘not.’ “But,” she cried, “it is not like that in my Bible!” “Then read what it says in yours,” he replied. By now she saw what he was driving at, and, as she read “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” her fears were dispelled, and her joy returned.
Chapman was particularly solicitous about the reading of believers. There was not such a flow of wholesome Christian literature from reliable evangelical publishers then, as there is now. In view of the danger of unsuitable books influencing believers for evil, and also because he feared that the reading of books about the Bible might become, for some people, a substitute for actual study of the sacred text, he counselled his hearers to confine themselves to the reading of the Scriptures. He often quoted a rhyme, which stuck in their memory so well that it has not yet been forgotten in Grosvenor Street. It ran:
“Men’s books full oft with chaff are stored,
God’s naught but golden grain afford.
Then leave the chaff, and spend thy pains
In gathering all God’s golden grains.”
Mr. E. S. Pearce, who lived with Mr. Chapman for some years, wrote to a friend that the latter dreaded printer’s ink. Yet there is little doubt that, if he wished, Chapman could have won distinction as a writer. He always knew where to find the right word, and his compositions are, for the most part, exquisitely worded.
In his earliest days he was not afraid of publication, and only five years after he came to Barnstaple, the first edition of his hymnal appeared. One of the loveliest verses in this ran:
“My soul amid this stormy world
Is like some fluttered dove;
And fain would be as swift of wing
To flee to Him I love.”
Other hymns were: “With Jesus in our midst,” “The Lord of Glory, who is He?” He wrote at least a hundred-and-sixty-five hymns and other poems, including some sonnets. The most striking of his sonnets is “When late I saw the moon at dead of night.”
His “Meditations” are also very lovely, and they belong to that early time. But in later life he consistently refused to publish, and while we respect the humility which led him to take this course, it does seem that the Church is the poorer for it.
The most helpful of his books, “Choice Sayings,” was originally published without his consent. Two sisters conspired to take notes of his addresses and bring together a volume of extracts under this title. After a long time he was persuaded to acknowledge the book as his own, and revise its pages. C. H. Spurgeon, who thought highly of Chapman, was much impressed by “Choice Sayings,” and remarked: “The gold of that land is good.” After Chapman’s death another volume of extracts was published under the title “Goodly Words,” whilst a small volume called “The Good Shepherd” appeared, containing fuller notes of some of his addresses.
Chapman was always watchful of the interests of young people. He did all in his power to encourage young Christians to grow in grace. He knew the art of leading the young, rather than driving them. He would listen to their hopes and aspirations with unfeigned interest. He believed that he might learn something from the youngest believer. As he grew old he did not forget that he himself had been exercising a full ministry as a young man. It is a man’s gift, and not his age, that determines questions of service… In Barnstaple the young were set to work as the Lord gave opportunity, and the result is still evident today. Moreover, when they embarked on any new venture, such as marriage, they would come to Mr. Chapman for advice. One young man was emigrating to Canada, and Chapman invited him to breakfast on the morning of his departure. When they were alone, Chapman expressed the hope that the young fellow would be successful in the country to which he was going. “I give you the first Psalm, and the first chapter of Joshua,” he said. “If you follow these, your success is sure.” Taking these passages to heart, the young man was blessed abundantly in his new life, and returned in later years to be a respected elder at Grosvenor Street. Truly the Word of God is given “that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:7) and where a man’s life pleases the Lord “whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3).
Chapman had time for the children. It is a poor shepherd who has no interest in the lambs. W. H. Bennet relates that once, when Chapman was staying with him in Cardiff, a party of Sunday School teachers came to tea to meet him. Speaking to them of the importance of their work, Chapman said: “Remember that these little children in your classes will be the fathers and mothers of the next generation, each the centre of ever-increasing circles of influence, whereby the Gospel may be spread abroad and souls blessed.” He then spoke of a lady whom he had recently met in London who had told him that she remembered meeting him at a friend’s house when quite a little girl, and that he had given her two passages of Scripture, which were the means of winning her for Christ in early years. At this, one of the ladies who had come to tea said that her conversion was under somewhat similar circumstances. She was passing along the street one day as a child when Mr. Chapman stopped her and asked what seemed an odd question: “Can you tell me, dear, why Jesus was led as a sheep to the slaughter?” She was too confused to answer, and Chapman was too wise to press her further. But she thought about the strange question, and asked her mother about it. She was advised to read Isaiah 53. Here she found the answer, learning that Jesus was wounded for her transgressions. This spoke immediately to her soul, and she was saved.
One day Mr. Chapman and some other brethren went to tea with a member of the flock. There were several children in the house, and how to seat everyone was a problem. The good lady of the house laid a special table for the distinguished guests, and provision was made on a less sumptuous scale for the children. When Chapman came in he sat down in the place indicated at the best table. Having satisfied everyone by doing this, he then told his brethren to sit at the other table, while he called the children to share the comfort of his board. There followed an amazing scene in which, to the embarrassment of the mother, and the delight of the youngsters, the grave elders had to maintain their dignity in the children’s chairs, and with the children’s crockery and cutlery, while the young people themselves revelled in the unheard-of luxury of the “glass-cupboard china,” and enjoyed the good words of the favoured visitor.
The children of his great friend, Henry W. Soltau, loved to talk to Chapman, and they told him that they had trusted the Lord Jesus for salvation. “Children,” said he, gathering them close around him, “some day—it may be years ahead—the great enemy Satan will certainly try and make you doubt the love of Christ. But remember: ‘No man shall pluck you out of His hand.’”
Mr. Chapman was often called in to assist in the solving of family troubles. One young couple who were Christians had separated, and he was asked to help them. But his first approaches were not appreciated. One day, however, the wife attended a meeting at which he spoke on the sins of the tongue, and afterwards she said to him: “It was too bad to expose me before all those people.” But her case had not been in his mind when he prepared the subject, and it was plainly the Holy Spirit speaking to her soul and reproving her for the sin which had contributed to the separation from her husband. Taking the opportunity to point out this, Chapman spoke to her of the necessity to acknowledge her grievous fault, making it clear that while she laid all the blame on her husband there would be no re-union. The husband was living in another town, and one day Mr. Chapman found himself there, and took the occasion to call upon him and go for a walk with him. Of course, the man was expecting some reproof, but not a word was said concerning his conduct in the matter. Yet the company of such a holy man as Mr. Chapman was itself a reproof. The husband felt ashamed of himself, and longed to see his wife and confess his fault. The meeting soon took place and, with many tears, each sought forgiveness of the other. After this sweet reunion they lived a happy and useful life together.
Chapman always discouraged tale-bearing. If someone told him of another’s fault, he would say: “Let us go to our brother at once and tell him of this.” This nearly always silenced the accuser, who would be unready for such a straightforward, Scriptural course. One day a sister called at New Buildings and said: “I am greatly distressed about the conduct of——.” Chapman listened and when she stopped he asked: “Is that all?” “Well, there is another thing.” “Then tell me all.” There was silence when the story was done. Mr. Chapman said: “Please excuse me,” and left the room. After a time he re-entered with his overcoat on, and a Bible in his hand, saying: “I am going now.” “But, Mr. Chapman, I came for your advice!” “I will give it,” he replied, “when you come with me to call on the sister. You see, I never judge by appearances, but always hear both sides.” At first the invitation to go with Mr. Chapman was refused, but after advice and counsel from God’s servant, the sister yielded. When they reached the other’s house and all three were together, a remarkable change occurred. The sister who had brought the complaint completely broke down in grief and repentance, for hers had been the unChristlike conduct, and the Spirit of God convicted her of it. She was forgiven, and all were filled with joy at the work of God in her heart, and the restoration of Christian fellowship.
Chapman acted upon the same principle if someone criticised another’s address. “I didn’t think much of that, did you?” someone remarked to him once when a certain brother sat down after speaking. “Let us tell him so,” said Chapman, making as if to do so. Of course, the critic was shocked, and Chapman took occasion to point out to him that unless the speaker was informed of that opinion, the remark could do no good.
When difficult circumstances arose, Chapman was careful to find the Lord’s way of overcoming them. Trouble was experienced at Grosvenor Street through a brother singing out of tune in a very strong voice. He was asked by the brethren not to do so, but the more they upbraided him, the louder he sang. At last, in exasperation, they appealed to Mr. Chapman, saying: “Something must be done to stop this. Will you please put an end to it.” Chapman’s reply was: “Let us all pray about it.” Next Lord’s Day everyone was amazed to see Mr. Chapman stop short of his usual seat and turn in to sit beside this brother. No one was more surprised than the brother himself. But there was no bawling out of tune that day, and when the service was over the “songster” turned to Mr. Chapman and thanked him for his loving kindness, and there was a full restoration of fellowship with all in the meeting. In this was shown the power of the Spirit of God working in a consecrated life. This was God’s way of solving the problem, and Chapman had waited upon Him until he had found it out. Other methods had only created fleshly opposition.
Chapman had a rare facility for administering rebuke where it was needed. When he called one day at the house of a sister in the assembly who was bitter against him, she did not ask him in, but gave him a piece of her mind while he stood on the doorstep. After listening a while he called another brother who stood on the other side of the road, and said: “Dear brother, listen to this dear sister; she is telling me all that is in her heart.” But the stream dried up.
At a conversational Bible reading, when all were anxious to profit by his presence, a talkative person held forth for so long that everyone was wearied. When at last he ceased, there was a pause and then Mr. Chapman quietly quoted Proverbs 10:21: “The lips of the righteous feed many.” The brother had the grace to acknowledge afterwards that at that moment he discovered that his lips were not the lips of the righteous, for he had not been feeding anyone. The secret of the effectiveness of these rebukes was that they were never administered under any fleshly urge, but by the moving of the Spirit, and through the instrumentality of one who was recognized by all to be a brother indeed!
In his application of discipline, Chapman showed the depth of his pastoral solicitude by the concern he felt for the spiritual welfare of the offender. He hated to see anyone shut out from the fellowship of the saints. If, after many attempts to bring about repentance, it was clear that an erring brother must be “cut off,” Chapman always yearned after him, and prayed and worked for his restoration. At Grosvenor Street the exclusion of such a one was not looked upon with self-righteous satisfaction. The extreme course was only taken with much “anguish of heart” (2 Cor. 2:4).
This long patience under trials in the church was shown when an enquiry was made as to a very difficult brother who had gone to live at Barnstaple. Chapman replied that he was a valuable brother, a very valuable brother; and added: “We did not know our need of patience till he came among us.”
In all his service for the “flock of God,” Chapman had at heart the interests of others. Yet he never attempted the unChristlike task of pleasing everybody. He once said to a friend: “My chief desire is to please Him. If I please my brethren, I am glad. If I fail, I am not disappointed.”