Robert Cleaver Chapman The Rich Poor Man

“Leave Robert Chapman alone; we talk about heavenly places; but he lives in them.” These were the words, to a critic, of J. N. Darby, contemporary of George Muller and a leader in the Christian Brethren Movement in England, at a time when the clouds of controversy were very dark indeed.

And true it is that R. C. Chapman shines out above all parties and differences, as a man of God; loving, but uncompromising; gentle, but searching; humble, but one who spoke with authority; gifted, but utterly childlike; self-effacing, but never-to-be-forgotten.

What was his secret? In the few available accounts concerning his early Christian life, apart from his conversion, there is an utter dearth of personal testimony. The purposeful destruction of his papers leave on display the “fruit of the Spirit” dangling before us most appetizingly, but tending to keep the branch out of sight. The key to the secret of his beautiful Christian life is evident, however, for his passion was, whatever the cost, to be a Bible Christian. And that cost was the Cross of Christ.

Robert Cleaver Chapman was the son of Thomas Chapman of Whitby on the Yorkshire coast. The father was a wealthy merchant, whose family boasted an ancient coat of arms. At the time of RobertÂ’s birth, in 1803, the family was resident in Elsinore, Denmark. The lad grew up surrounded by luxury, and no one could have imagined that his mature years would be spent in a small house in a poor working-class district; and that he would be utterly dependent upon God for the supply of every temporal need.

Upon the return of the family to England, RobertÂ’s education was continued at a respectable boarding school in Yorkshire. At fifteen, he left for London where, as an apprentice clerk, he studied law. The surroundings and the daily tasks were far from congenial to an out-of-doors lad from the north. But young Chapman determined to make a success of the legal profession and, by long hours and diligent application (qualities later applied to his study of GodÂ’s Word), he became an attorney at the early age of twenty.

Being a Chapman of Whitby, he was admitted into fashionable circles and often invited to select parties. His rapidly developing poise and confidence bid fair to make him a popular and much sought-after young man in society.

However, he was not immune to thoughts of religion. He had read the Bible carefully and, convinced that it was the Word of God, endeavored to keep the law and to find salvation by good works.

In a letter written to Mr. Gladstone when Chapman was ninety-one years of age, he said, “The undersigned, in his youth, sought diligently and with strong purpose, to establish his own righteousness, in hope thereby to obtain eternal life. In the eyes of all who knew him, he had become a blameless young man, and devout.”

Gradually he began to see the hopelessness of obtaining God’s approval in this way. “I hugged my chains,” he said. “I would not – could not – hear the voice of Jesus. My cup was bitter with my guilt and the fruit of my doings. Sick was I of the world, hating it in vexation of spirit, while yet I was unable and unwilling to cast it out.”

Churchman though Robert was, he accepted the invitation of a deacon of John Street Chapel to hear the eloquent and godly pastor, James Harrington Evans, a former clergyman of the Church of England. Reluctantly the young man assented, wondering what type of service was conducted by the nonconformists.

“What shall we think of him who is building his hopes of pardon, acceptance and salvation upon his own wretched and miserable doings?” queried Pastor Evans. “What shall we think of him who, instead of building on the safe and sure foundation of a crucified Saviour, is building on tears, on prayers, on almsdeeds, on religious, or rather, irreligious services; who builds his expectations of Heaven upon the ruins of God’s holy law, and thinks that in order to save him, God must undeify Himself?”

“All this is sand – treacherous, yielding sand; for it is as possible for God to cease to be, as to cease to be just. ‘A just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.’ An unjust God is no God, and he who tramples on His own law is no better.”

As he listened to pastor Evans’ message, the young lawyer felt his edifice of good works crumbling around him, and he was enabled by divine grace to trust only in the merits of his Saviour. What peace and joy flooded his heart! In his own words, “In the good and set time Thou spakest to me, saying, ‘This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing.’ And how sweet Thy words, ‘Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee!’ How precious the sight of the Lamb of God, and how glorious the robe of righteousness, hiding from the holy eyes of my Judge all my sin and pollution!”

Few could have imagined the future servant of God in the young man who ascended the pulpit steps one Sunday morning to tell, earnestly and simply, what had taken place in his life. His sky-blue, swallow-tailed coat, with large gilt buttons, marking him as a member of the fashionable set, was startling to the staid congregation. But a solemn hush settled over them, as he told of his newfound peace.

Someone has said that the first twenty-four hours of a convertÂ’s history may well determine the future quality of his Christianity. And Chapman gave immediate promise of becoming a wholehearted, other-world follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his “Meditations” we read,

“The offence of the Cross hath not ceased. No sooner did I know Thee and confess Thee, than I became a stranger to the sons of Hagar, who gender only to bondage, whose child I was by nature. Thy love drew me aside from the path of the worldly, whether wicked or devout. I became an offence to those I forsook, even those of my own flesh and blood. And wherefore were they angry? Because, in taking up my Cross, I became a witness against them by me boasting only in Thee, and counting all who are of the works of the law to be under the curse.”

In all this opposition, Mr. Chapman was helped by the warm, spiritual atmosphere of the Chapel and the keen interest and care of the pastor whom he grew to love and even unconsciously tried to imitate in preaching, but with little success. He especially valued and drew strength from the weekly breaking of bread.

Pastor Evans had early seen the dangers of spiritual pride in his own life and now, through grace, consistently and honestly regarded himself “less than the last of all saints”. Through his influence, a deep hunger to be as nothing, that he might “win Christ”, took hold of young Chapman. As a result, he soon was following his lowly Master in ministering to the poor and grossly sinful. Instead of attending gay parties as previously, he spent evenings, not devoted to the study of the Bible, in reaching the destitute in the districts around Gray’s Inn Lane. This only widened the gulf between him and his former friends, as well as most of his relatives.

For three years, his worldly prospects improved, and he began to practise as a solicitor on his own account. His gracious manner and keen intelligence assured him of much success. However, at twenty-nine years of age, he knew God was calling him to sell all his possessions, give away his private fortune and devote his entire time to His service.

He accepted an invitation to become the pastor of a Strict Baptist Chapel in Barnstable, Devon. Upon his arrival, he secured temporary lodging in a humble house on a side street. Later he rented one in New Buildings, not far from the chapel, but just over the wall from a tannery, which emitted the most disagreeable odours.

A relative of ChapmanÂ’s, in fact, the only one who deigned to visit him in this place, hired a cab to take him there. When dropped off at Number 6, he assured the cabman there must be a mistake, for this could not possibly be the home of Robert Chapman!

But, when converted, Chapman had realized that pride was his besetting sin. So, in his hatred of that evil principle, in the very town where he had once driven with relatives in a carriage with coachmen and footmen, he chose to live in a workingman’s cottage on a side street. “My pride never got over it,” he once admitted.

He most solemnly remarked at one time that it was a pity there were so few D.D.Â’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’.”

The young bachelor, persuaded that God wanted his small home to be a “guest house” for Christian people, threw the doors wide open to any who came. And when, for a period of time, none appeared, he “prayed” them in. The questions of room never worried him in the least, and his observation was, “The Lord takes care of that.” And He surely did, for none ever were turned away.

Chapman took upon himself to polish the boots and shoes of his guests. When some protested, he insisted that Jesus taught us to wash the saintsÂ’ feet; that in modern civilization the nearest approach to obedience to that command was to black their boots.

Such became the reputation of the presence and outflowing of love in his humble cottage that a letter from abroad addressed to R. C. Chapman, University of Love, England, actually was delivered to his door.

An American guest, who took a short “course” at this institution of heavenly learning, wrote of Chapman’s rising at three-thirty in the morning, of his spending the entire forenoon in prayer and Bible study, interspersed necessarily with the preparation of breakfast, lighting of fires and other household tasks.

His hostÂ’s combination of authority and humility was most amazing, and it seemed that Mr. Chapman expounded the Scriptures almost as an oracle. And yet, when he accompanied his guest to the station, he hung on his every word, as though he could not afford to miss anything that would give further spiritual enlightenment.

Chapman’s communion and fellowship with God were most intimate. “When I bow to God, God stoops to me,” he declared. Again, “As the father and child do all they can to please each other, so I do all I can to please God, and God does all He can to please me.”

He was told of a “perfectionist” who said he had reverted to the state of Adam, born without sin and with only the possibility, in an unguarded moment, of wrongdoing.

“Adam’s state!” he exclaimed with vehemence. “Back to Adam’s state! I would not change places with Adam before the Fall for a hundred thousand worlds.”

Chapman cultivated the grace of brotherly love. His one friendly relative, while visiting him, looked into his larder and asked if he might obtain some groceries for him. Chapman consented on condition that he purchase them from a certain shopkeeper, whom he named. This merchant, gratified by the largeness of the order, was discomfited and totally incredulous when told it was to be delivered to Chapman, whom he detested. After delivering the groceries, this man, who had formerly made Chapman the target of his abuse, was discovered prostrate on his face before the man of God in tears, begging forgiveness.

When told of the fault of another, Chapman was wont to say, “Let us go to our brother and tell him of this.” One day, a member of the Chapel called on him, expressing distress at the conduct of a certain sister. He listened and, as she concluded her grievances, retired from the room for a few minutes. Returning with his overcoat and Bible, he remarked, “I’m going now.”

“But, Mr. Chapman, I came for your advice.”

“I will give it,” was his reply, “when you come with me to call on the sister. You see, I never judge by appearance but must always hear both sides.”

Most reluctantly the visitor accompanied him, but after the three had conversed awhile, in a most humble manner, she confessed her lack of charity.

When anyone in his presence criticized the public address of a speaker, his reaction was, “Let us tell him so”; at the same time rising from his chair. This attitude, in a very effective way, dampened further criticism. Thus did his parishioners understand his hatred of talebearing.

On another occasion, when he was calling from house to house with one of his church members, he met a woman who felt it her duty to give him a most severe tongue-lashing. He listened for a while, with no comment. Then he called to his colleague across the street, “Dear brother, listen to this sister, she is telling me all that is in her heart.” Needless to say, the stream of vituperation dried up at once.

God granted a long and useful life to His servant. He preached his last sermon just before his ninety-eighth birthday. At the ripe old age of ninety-nine years, Robert Chapman passed away with the words upon his lips, “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”

Doubtless the treasury of Christian literature is the poorer because Robert Chapman, in a spirit of self-abnegation, destroyed most of his papers. However, from the limited supply available, the few we do include reveal the character of the man.

Quotations By Robert Cleaver Chapman

“Our need of prayer is as frequent as the moments of the day; and as we grow in spirituality of mind, our continual needs will be felt by us more and more.”

“It is a great help to us when we see that our prayers and our labours are to be as the grain of wheat falling into the ground. If we look for death and burial first, we shall be able to go on in patience; and in due time shall assuredly reap an abundant harvest.”

“One of the best answers to prayer is to be able to continue in prayer.”

“To be strong in faith two things are needful – a very low esteem of ourselves and a very high esteem of Christ.”

“What is most precious in the sight of God is often least noticed by men.”

“To rise above the first Adam, we must live in the last Adam. We shall then be able in spirit to use the language of the 8th Psalm, and have all things under our feet.”

“The ruin of a kingdom is a little thing in God’s sight, in comparison with division among a handful of sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

“A good workman gains skill by his mistakes.”

“Christ twice passed the angels by. He sank far below them in His humiliation; He rose far above them in His exaltation.”

“To have nothing and to be nothing, this is riches, quietness, rest.”