Witnessing in the Workplace
This is part of a lecture ‘Witnessing in the Workplace’, given by the writer at the Barton Conference on Saturday 15th November 2008.
A meeting at a carpenter’s bench at Ramsgate about 1895 was the means of the call by grace of my late grandfather, John William Walley. Working beside him for three months was Robert Brooker, later pastor of the Gospel Standard (GS) chapel at Hastings. My grandfather was the only one of eleven brothers and sisters to be converted. He had been brought up in a Congregational Church, but had never heard the truth. He offered Mr Brooker a Congregational magazine. Mr Brooker declined to take it and said to him, ‘This is more in my line,’ and gave him Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It was the means in the Lord’s hand of opening his eyes. Some of Robert Brooker’s letters to him were published in the Gospel Standard for 1970 when S. F. Paul was Editor. The witness of Robert Brooker bore fruit. Grandfather later went to work in Southampton and attended the Strict Baptist (SB) Chapel, where he was baptized and eventually became deacon for 53 years until his death in 1956. The first thing he did when he became deacon was to invite Mr Brooker for the Anniversary Services. His co-deacon for 20 years was Caleb Sawyer, later pastor of Mayfield.
The Lord called me by grace in September 1952 in my 2nd year at university when I was deep in the world. The words in 2 Corinthians 6. 17, ‘Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing . . .’ came with great power into my soul and separated me forever from my worldly companions. That year I had to share a room with the university football captain. Now I knew that I had to kneel by my bedside and it was no easy task and sometimes if another student came to our room when I was in prayer I found it even harder.
In November 1952 I took exams at London University and had to go to Senate House in January 1953 to get the results. Leaving Senate House having passed the exams, the Lord blessed my soul with the words, ‘In blessing I will bless thee’ (Gen. 22:17) and traveling away shortly afterwards from London by train, I felt constrained in a carriage full of people, to take out my Bible and find the words. But fear and embarrassment took hold of me, and my witness failed and the sweetness of the words left me. I feared to take out my Bible.
In June 1954 I went on a three-week course in Roman Archaeology to Corbridge on Hadrian’s Wall just outside Newcastle. On Sundays, coach trips were arranged along the wall. But I left and went into Newcastle to our chapel there. On one of those Sundays I was greatly blessed under the ministry of Mr E. G. Rowell, but I came in for constant mocking from one of the lecturers on the course.
I joined the Army to do National Service in August 1955. I was in a billet with sixty men my own age, none of whom I knew. I was aware that if I never got down by my bed that first night, I never would. In great fear and trembling I knelt by my bed expecting that someone would throw a boot at me. But to my utter amazement all was silence and in the two weeks that I was there six of the young soldiers came to me to confess that they had prayed secretly in their beds that night, and one approached me to ask what I believed.
In December 1955 I was posted to a Regiment in Germany and was among complete strangers. I wondered if there were any of the Lord’s children in these godless surroundings. I made gentle enquiries, and one of the soldiers told me that there was a ‘chap in C Battery who had a big Bible by his bedside’. When I found Norman Reading (a graduate of Oxford University) I found a real work of grace in his heart and we were companions for fifteen months in that Regiment. He had purposely brought a big Bible with him so that he would not be tempted to hide a small one in his pocket. It was the means of my finding him in those dark surroundings.
As a witness in the Regiment he and I felt we must attend Sunday mornings at the Regimental Church even though the ministry was awful. We later escaped to take the padre’s Sunday School, which included about forty children of regular soldiers in the Regiment. Later the padre (a most ungodly man) allowed us to use one of his vestries on a Friday evening where we held a prayer meeting and were joined by a godly Scripture Reader, Jim Kirk, and another soldier who eventually went to Cambridge University.
My job was in the Regimental Office, and when I was eventually in charge I made it clear to the five soldiers who worked there that I would rather they did not swear, and swearing ceased. At weekends, sometimes soldiers from other Regiments visited us and the officers expected us to entertain them in the various Regimental Messes. I knew that there would be an immense amount of drunkenness and felt I could not attend these occasions. I was called to see the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) who ordered me to attend. I refused on grounds of conscience and told him he could strip me of my rank and put me in the guardroom, but I would never attend. He again ordered me to attend and so I appealed and asked to be taken to a commissioned officer. I knew he could not refuse this. This officer showed great restraint as he knew it was matter of conscience. He said, ‘If you will respect my wishes I would be glad if you would go’. But I never went and afterwards the RSM did everything he could to make my life a misery.
In January 1959, as part of my Diploma in Education, I went to Worthing Boys’ High School for a ten-week teaching practice. I entered the Headmaster’s study and sat down to be interviewed. I noticed that there was a Bible sitting in the centre of his very big desk. He first put his hand on the Bible and looked me in the face and said, ‘What is your attitude to this book?’ I instantly replied, ‘I believe every word of it.’ His response was, ‘We shall agree then.’ He was a Brethren. He himself took Scripture in the first forms and he took me along to watch himself teaching, using Gideon New Testaments, comparing accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. Later he left me to take these lessons myself and I had a free hand to witness among these young boys to the truths in the Gospels.
In September 1959 I commenced a teaching post at the Trowbridge Boys’ High School where I was to stay for twenty-seven years until I retired in 1986. A short time after my arrival, as I was going into town one day, the lines of Samuel Rutherford’s hymn, The sands of time are sinking, dropped into my heart with great power,
Oh! if one soul from [Trowbridge] Meet me at God’s right hand,
My heaven will be two heaven
In Immanuel’s land.
I was already carrying the burden of the exercise of the ministry at this time and had carried it since 1954 while at university. I was not to be sent to preach until 1969. So my thoughts very much turned on opportunities to spread the truth in the High School. My subjects were Latin and History, but the Headmaster asked me also to take Scripture. When I saw the textbooks that they were using, I told him I could not teach from them as they were liberal and erroneous. I asked him could I be allowed to cover the same ground using only the Bible and he consented, and said, ‘If any parents complain, I shall be on safe ground, if you are using the Bible.’ So for the next ten years while he remained in the Headship I went through various books of the Bible. I look back now in wonderment how I was enabled one year to take the Prophecy of Isaiah with a class of 15-year-olds, pointing to all the references to Christ in that prophecy.
After I had been there several years, one evening at a staff meeting, the Head said, ‘I am growing tired of searching for subjects for morning assembly and would be glad if any member of staff were brave enough to take some assemblies.’ I at once felt I ought to heed his request, but I felt afraid to do so. For a long time my conscience kept telling me that I ought to venture. One morning on my knees I felt liberty in prayer and vowed that if ever the Head asked again I would agree to do it. That very evening at a staff meeting he repeated his request and that night I rang the Deputy Headmaster and agreed to do it. But it was a great mountain. The first subject laid on my mind was Fear. I wrote my address out in long hand and read it. I told the whole school that I had been afraid to take assembly and went on to say how fear leads to prayer for God’s help. Soon I was exercised to scrap my notes and speak extempore. This was a great mountain. Now my mind was directed to John 3.16, ‘God so loved the world . . .’ I spoke for eight assemblies on this verse, one word at a time, trusting in the Lord to help me. It was quite a test in front of the whole school and staff but the Lord helped. One of the sixth form said to me after one assembly, ‘I have never heard anything like that before.’ Then one of our GS ministers heard what I was doing and said to me. ‘You cannot do this. Wait until you get to “perish” and you will never be faithful.’ This was a challenge and I got one of the sixth formers to read Mark 9 where it comes in three times, ‘Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.’ Then I spoke on hell, and I left that platform that morning with a clear conscience.
Not long after I came to the High School I approached the Headmaster to see if he would allow me to take Bible Studies in the Library after school and he agreed. Thus commenced a Bible Study every Thursday evening after school to which eight or ten pupils came of varying ages. Later when some could not come on a Thursday evening I started a second Bible Study after school on Tuesday evening. Later still I started one in my own home on a Sunday afternoon. These Bible Studies consisted of going through particular books of the Bible, the Gospels at first and later the book of Job and prophecy of Isaiah, expounding about ten verses at a time. Most of the pupils who came were from godless backgrounds and had never attended a place of worship before. In the summer holidays I took parties of boys, sometimes up to fifteen at a time, away on Christian holiday camps organised by David Fountain, pastor of Spring Road Evangelical Church, Southampton, and they heard the simple gospel preached by such ministers as old Mr Brehaut of the Channel Islands and Mr Teague of Goronhaven, Cornwall. I bought a collection of large Trinitarian Bible Society posters and the members of the Bible Study put them on the inside walls around the school. I remember the Ten Commandments being displayed at the bottom of one of the main staircases for several weeks.
Some of the boys from the Bible Studies began to come to our little chapel at The Halve, one remaining with us there for seven years. Two (Roger Mortimer & Martin Collyer) married girls from SB Chapels. Both now attend other evangelical churches but I hope there is a work of grace begun in their hearts.
When the Grammar School eventually became a comprehensive I became Head of Careers Education and a large amount of my time was involved in one-to-one interviews. I prayerfully watched as pupils discussed their future with me and the momentous decisions they were taking, and on occasions, as I felt led, I asked if ever they had prayed about these decisions. Sometimes I received a flat ‘No’ and was told that prayer was a waste of time, but on other rare occasions I received a positive answer. They had prayed about it. On occasions at interview a pupil would open up on the problems in their lives, often sad situations relating to divorce.
Sometimes former pupils would return to see me. I can never forget the morning when Michael Ridout (whom I had taught from the age of 11-18) came into my office and I realised in conversation that he was in deep soul trouble. He had never attended the Bible Studies but he must have known about me and them as the school at the time was only 350 pupils. He had come from a completely godless home. Now he began attending the chapel at The Halve in Trowbridge with us, and in the course of his college work went to Stamford, Prestwood and Canterbury where he attended GS chapels. He was eventually baptised and married a cousin of my first wife. He was married in Canterbury Chapel by Mr Wood and I gave an address at the service. Little did I realise that he would eventually become a member of my father’s church at Southampton, and enter the ministry among our churches. If ever T saw the answer to my desire, ‘If one soul from Trowbridge be found at God’s right hand, My heaven will be two heavens in Immanuel’s land,’ I saw it in him. But I believe there are several others in whose heart a real work of grace was begun (coming from godless homes) though they do not now attend GS Chapels. What seed was sown only the day will reveal.
Another surprise came one night when a student, who was my next door neighbour, knocked on my front door carrying a Bible and asked me to explain the doctrines of grace to him, as he had found them in reading his Bible and could not understand them. I was amazed he had a Bible and that he knew what I believed. We little realise how we are watched and how much people know about us. That boy, again from a godless home, now regularly attends the Evangelical Church of England in Trowbridge with his Dutch wife, whom he met on a Christian Kibbutz in Israel when he was a student.
In school my witness had to extend to other things. There were many things I could not do which often provoked persecution. I was asked to go to a conference of teachers on a Sunday afternoon. When I declined the Senior Physics master shouted at me in the staff room, ‘You bigot.’ He was reprimanded by the Senior English teacher (a Welshman from a Calvinistic background, but now an atheist), and apologised. I never felt able to take part in or attend school plays and operas. This provoked endless questions by the Headmaster’s secretary as to why I would not go. I could never take part in raffles which no one could understand. My Bible Studies sometimes came in for severe criticism from the staff. Two students in the sixth form, who attended the Bible Studies, were both taking A-Level Biology, and both came to see the unscriptural nature of Evolution. In answering a question on Evolution in their mock A-Level examination they voiced their doubts about it. This provoked a vicious attack on me by the Senior Biology teacher in the staff room, and he threatened to go to the Headmaster and have the Bible Studies stopped. Again I was shouted at and called a bigot. But he cooled down, did not pursue his threat, and when some days later I had to call at his home about another matter, his first remark was, ‘I am sorry for the way I spoke to you the other night.’ Scripture says that ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’
If students came to my home I always kept Bibles and other good books which I had ready to give them. They would notice that there was no television in my home and they would know that I kept Sunday. Many times students, especially university students, would call in. While the pupils were students at school I always exercised a measure of discretion in how far I discussed the Truth with them (lest I might be accused by their parents of proselytizing for our chapel at The Halve), but when they left school and went to university I always felt freer to talk with them about the things that concerned their never-dying souls. One poor boy, who had been adopted, had a tumour on the brain at thirteen which when removed changed him from a quiet lad to one who turned to crime, and he was brought to court. He called to see me one evening and in course of conversation said, ‘I curse my parents for letting me be adopted. I curse my adopted parents for not letting me die in hospital; when I need a blood relative I have not got one in the world.’ I remember saying to him, ‘Michael, there is one who can help you. If ever you are in despair, or near the end of your life, pray, “Lord help me.”‘ That boy died at the age of 28 in his sleep after an overdose of drugs and drink and I have often wondered about his soul’s salvation. Samson was saved in the last hour of his life.
But I leave you with these memories of my own experience, witnessing in my own workplace. I say to you, go out into life prayerfully seeking to witness to the fact of the Lord’s mercy to your soul, in opening your heart to a knowledge of himself; and desiring that others may be brought to the same knowledge.
Taken with permission from Perception, Winter 2011, edited by the author.
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