Chapter Eleven Eight months in Spain

From the start, Chapman was keenly interested in missionary work. Two of his earliest converts, William Bowden and George Beer, went out to work for the Lord in India. Chapman had invited Anthony Norris Groves to speak at “Ebenezer” on his return from India in 1835, and these two young stalwarts were held spell-bound by his description of the needs and opportunities that abounded in that land. Finding that Groves was bent on gathering a party of workers to return with him to the Indian field, they had felt that this was God’s call.

Chapman himself was specially interested in Spain. As early as 1838 he had visited that country, travelling mainly on foot and risking his life to take the message of Christ to the peasants. Then a young man of thirty-five, he had knelt with a companion on the summit of El Castillo, near the town of Vigo on the Atlantic coast, and had poured out his heart in supplication that the light of the Gospel might penetrate the darkness of Spain. In faith he had risen from his knees and written home to Barnstaple, saying: “We shall establish our evangelists here.” Many years later he could look back on that prayer of faith and say: “Surely God is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think.” But first there were great discouragements.

The years that followed Chapman’s first visit to Spain saw much suffering among the few believers in that land. The priests were determined to stamp out Protestant teaching as soon as it revealed its presence in a town or village. All efforts to distribute the Scriptures met with determined opposition. A certain amount of good work was done by Dr. Rule of Aldershot and Dr. James Thompson of the British and Foreign Bible Society, but Spaniards who attempted to spread the Gospel were silenced by every possible means. Things reached a climax with the imprisonment of Manuel Matamoros. Great sympathy was felt in England for this young and courageous Spanish believer, whose only crime was that he had led others to Christ, and the matter was raised in Parliament. Palmerston, whilst unable to promise any good result from the representations made by the British Government to Spain, made a shrewd remark upon Roman policy. He said: “Although in countries where they form a minority they are constantly demanding, not only toleration, but equality; in countries where they are predominant, neither equality nor toleration exists.”

In 1863, Matamoros was sentenced to nine years in the galleys, but later the sentence was commuted, and he went to live at Bayonne, just over the French border. Here Chapman found him when he travelled out to Spain in 1863 with Gould and Lawrence, who intended to settle in that land as missionaries. Matamoros was a Presbyterian, but Chapman had precious fellowship with him, and was specially struck by his zeal for the spreading of the Gospel in Spain, despite his feeble health. Three years later, Matamoros went to his reward, confident that the Lord would send Gospel light into Spain. Gould and Lawrence laboured under difficulty for two years and were then obliged to flee the country. Chapman, who was of course unable to remain with them after they had settled, had followed their work with constant prayer, and yearned to be able to minister freely in Spain. The opportunity came in 1871, when as a result of a change of government, conditions had become much easier in that land.

Travelling in Spain was not exactly pleasurable in those days, and Chapman was sixty-eight. But his health was excellent, and he faced the prospect of spending a good part of a year there, with joyful anticipation of God’s blessing.

He entered the country through France, and made his way at once to the cathedral city of Saragossa. Walking through the streets he saw the great size of the population. Everywhere there were signs of Virgin worship, for the city was one of the most important centres of this idolatry in Spain.

It did not take him long to discover the existence of a fairly large Protestant church in the city. He found out the address of the pastor, a Spaniard named Jose Eximeno, and called upon him. In a very short time they were fast friends. Eximeno revealed himself to be a truly born again man, unspoilt by his popularity amongst the local Protestants, and humble and anxious to learn. Chapman soon realised that the man knew little enough of spiritual things, which was not surprising, considering the conditions of the land in which he lived, but he was hungry for the Scriptures. So Chapman gently led him on in the things of God.

There was much unemployment in Saragossa, and Chapman, always practical, arranged for his landlady to make soup for distribution to some needy cases, doing with one meal less a day himself to make this possible. In this he showed that his love for men was genuine. Indeed, this was recognized by all who met him, and as he visited in the streets and alleys of Saragossa during the week or two of his stay there, his reading and expounding of the Scriptures was listened to with great attention; so much so, that when it was known that he intended to hold a private meeting at his lodgings on the last evening of his stay, so many people expressed the wish to be present that the place of meeting was changed to the hall where Jose Eximeno ministered, and although only one hour’s notice was given of the change, a fine company of people gathered. To Chapman it was a marvellous experience to be able to preach freely in a city where the Gospel had for so many centuries been virtually unknown.

But Barcelona was to be his headquarters for the greater part of his stay in Spain, and his arrival there was hailed with great joy by the Brethren missionaries. An excellent work was being done by the Brethren in this north-eastern corner of Spain. A change of mind on the part of the local authorities had been brought about when a fever had broken out in the seafaring section of Barcelona, and the missionaries had ministered to the needs of the sick without regard to their own lives. So when Chapman arrived in the city he found that the magistrates were favourable to the work. Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence had obtained a large house for a small rent, and this was being used as a centre for Gospel enterprise. It was a joy to Chapman as he went in and out of this house to see the young and the poor being assisted in body, soul and spirit.

The first Sunday morning of his stay in Barcelona, Chapman went to the breaking of bread, which was held in a school-room. It was a great thrill to hear brethren of that priest-ridden land offering their simple worship as priests themselves. A blind man stood up and prayed with spiritual understanding. Chapman said afterwards: “The eyes of his heart had been opened by the Spirit of God.”

The missionaries had been able to establish three schools in the district, and the work in these was bearing fruit in salvation. Chapman visited the schools soon after his arrival and was delighted with what he saw there. In fact, throughout the five months of his stay in the neighbourhood of Barcelona he kept in close touch with the children of the schools, and sought out their parents in their homes. One day during school-time he knocked at a door and was asked in by a mother. “Here is my little girl’s New Testament,” she said. Chapman took it and turned over the pages. They were well-thumbed and worn. It was clear that it had been read and re-read. Slips of paper were ready to fall out of it, and Chapman picked them out. They were full of verses which the child had found arresting and had written out. “She had a Bible given to her six weeks ago,” said the mother. Chapman handled this also, and found that in that short time it had been read extensively. His heart was singing as he came out of that humble Spanish home. His mind recollected the words of the Saviour: “Greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to the Father.” These indeed were marvellous works that were being done in the heart of the enemy’s stronghold. But he gave God all the glory, and said humbly: “Thou, Lord, hast wrought all our works in us.”

Away on the mountains in the town of Vilaser there seemed to be an opportunity to establish another school, and Chapman supported this venture. One day, soon after the school had been started, he took the tiring journey to Vilaser and spent the evening taking a class of young men. The first part of the evening was given to secular subjects, but when the school books had been put away, he gave a plain statement of the Gospel which was listened to with close attention. There were twenty-five youths present, and some men might not have thought much of the opportunity, but Chapman, with his intimate knowledge of Spain’s past, felt that it was a very blessed sign.

Another happy moment for Chapman was when he baptized five Spanish believers in Barcelona. As he ministered the Word on this memorable occasion, many in the congregation wept. “God was with us,” he wrote to the Soltaus, “and I am assured of the rich blessing of God on this land.”

Each Wednesday evening in Barcelona a meeting was held which Chapman described as “like that on Thursday evenings at New Buildings”—a high commendation, for he prized the Thursday Bible readings at Barnstaple. He was also greatly struck by a meeting held for young women from the factories of the city. Things such as these made him exclaim: “Oh, to think of the pure Word of God being now freely spoken in any one corner of this dark land, which for 300 years has excluded the Scriptures and all the time been putting to death the children of God within its borders. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!”

One day, during Chapman’s stay, the King of Spain was to visit Barcelona, and it was obvious that the streets would be packed with people. It was too good an opportunity to miss, and Mr. Lawrence and one or two others hired a coach to take them to the city centre with a large consignment of Scripture portions for distribution to the crowds. They stopped the coach by the roadside and prepared to begin their work, but the police appeared and ordered them to move. At that moment the procession was passing, and to move meant getting mixed up with it, but the police were adamant, and in a few minutes the distributors found themselves amongst the official carriages and not far behind the King. From then on, all those within the coach were handing out Scripture portions to those who were alongside, as fast as they could move. Even the soldiers broke line to get a copy.

During June, Chapman had paid a short visit to Madrid, and in October, feeling that time was short and he must soon return to England, he set off for that city again. He wished to see the work of God there, and then to journey, right across Spain and back again in an attempt to gain first-hand knowledge of the possibilities of commencing work in other centres.

Mr. Gould had commenced a meeting in Madrid, but he had soon received the Home-call. Chapman found his widow carrying on a school in the city, and there were other encouraging signs. An English brother named Green who spoke Spanish fluently, had secular employment there and devoted his spare time to Gospel work, whilst one of the Spanish converts was showing great promise. But in so vast a place the number of labourers seemed pathetically small.

Mr. Lawrence was to accompany Chapman on his journey across Spain—covering more than eight hundred miles altogether. Most of the distance was travelled by train, but conditions were none too comfortable. The journey was made in November. They left Madrid at five o’clock in the morning. The train crawled along, stopping a long time at stations, so that it was night before Ciudad Real—only about 150 miles from Madrid—was reached. But this suited Chapman’s purpose admirably, for it allowed him to make contacts with the passengers, who came from various parts of Spain, and it enabled him to witness on the stations of the various towns through which they passed. He and his friends were carrying a large supply of Gospels and made full use of the opportunities of distribution. All listened readily and were pleased to accept the books, but at one station, matters took an awkward turn. A railway inspector objected that the line was private property and that, therefore, they had no right to give away Gospels. The captain of the guard was sent for, and it looked as if Mr. Chapman would be marched through the town to appear before the mayor. But taking out some money, he said: “Have I a right to throw this to the poor who beg at the station? Here is bread—have I a right to give this also?” Unable to answer this, they allowed him to proceed on his journey.

At Ciudad Real, Chapman and his friends obtained lodgings, only to discover that their landlord was noted as a desperate character in the neighbourhood, an adherent of Don Carlos. “Don’t talk to him about your religion,” they were warned.

Next morning, Chapman approached the man and said quietly: “There is one thing which English and Spanish people need more than anything else.” “What is that?” he asked. “Peace with God,” returned Chapman, simply. “Have you that peace, my friend? I have had that peace through our Lord Jesus Christ for many years.”

The man seemed amazed. He did not rage or blaspheme, but said: “Have you any of those books you were giving away yesterday?” Needless to say, he was speedily supplied with Scriptures, and the party set off for the station with thankful and prayerful hearts.

That day many more souls were contacted as they travelled slowly westwards. A young man who was spoken to said: “Ah, this is just what I want; I have been searching after these books for years.” And everywhere they found interest and a willingness to listen. Not one person refused a Gospel or ignored their witness. They were not even asked whether they were Protestants.

On the last stage of their journey they entered Portugal, and a Portuguese labourer boarded the train. Chapman gave him a Portuguese New Testament and spoke with him about his soul. So readily did he receive the message and so wholeheartedly did he accept it, that Chapman wrote: “I expect to see him in glory when the Lord shall make up His jewels.”

They received a warm welcome in Lisbon from the few believers there. An Englishwoman, Sister Roughton, had kept a school there for many years, much to the concern of the priests, but illness had caused her to close it down. She impressed on Chapman the possibilities of witness, if it could be re-opened. Chapman felt strongly the privilege of fellowship with God’s people in this dark place. Each Lord’s Day during his stay in the city he ministered the Word and rejoiced at the open door.

In December he and his friend arrived back in Madrid, having gained valuable information about spiritual needs and openings in many places. It is noteworthy that the very first number of “The Missionary Echo” contained two letters about this important journey, one from Chapman and the other from Lawrence. This magazine, now known as “Echoes of Service,” introduced the letters by saying: “Mr. Chapman has again been for some months in Spain… and the following letters tell of his journey (on which he was accompanied by Mr. L.) from Madrid to Lisbon, before returning to this country.”

Before leaving Spain, Chapman took leave of his friends in Barcelona, and then returned to England through France, Switzerland and Germany, ministering to companies of believers by the way. From Germany he wrote in Spanish to the Christians of Madrid:

“To my brethren in Madrid, well-beloved in Christ Jesus, our Lord and our Head—the Lord Jesus lives—yes— and according to what He has said, we shall also live; for all the children of God, all those regenerated by the Holy Spirit, are members of Christ, the First-born from among the dead. Christ once on the cross overcame death and all our enemies; but seated at the right hand of God He still conquers, strengthening us by His Word and by His Holy Spirit; and our weakness, by faith sustained upon the arms and bosom of the Lord, is sufficient against the armies of the prince of darkness. Soon will Christ come in His glory, and the resurrection of life will for ever end all the trials of our faith, all temptations and fears; then will be the harvest we have waited for… In my prayers I remember you, brethren in Christ, and I am sure that in like manner you remember me.”

He was always remembering Spain in his prayers, and God’s work in that land today owes a very great deal to his labours and intercessions.