Section navigation

Joseph Painter (1843-1926)

Category Articles
Date May 14, 2010

I was born of godly parents on November 9th, 1843, in the village of Hankerton, Wiltshire. My father was a carrier and small farmer, and I was the youngest of nine children.

My parents taught me that if I lived to be very old, and then died without repentance, I should go to hell and be punished for all my sins. This caused me many thoughts. I used to tremble when I heard the bell for a death, and resolved that I would be good. My dear mother used to take us all to chapel, and tell us if we were not good children, the Lord would know, and be very angry with us. I resolved that I would be good, if I lived to be a man. As I got older I got wicked and hardened; sometimes I swore and told lies, and after I got to bed at night, I used to cry about it, and promise to be better. I remember my sister teaching me two verses, beginning, ‘There is a dreadful hell and everlasting chains,’ and I feared at times I should die in my sleep and go to hell, for I felt even then I deserved it, as I could not be good.

When I was old enough, my father sent me on Sunday mornings with horse and trap to meet the pastor, Mr. Beard of Malmesbury. He would sometimes talk a little to me on the way. One Sunday I met him, he never spoke until just before getting out. Then he said, ‘Now Joe, I have been asking the Lord to put thee on the high horse when I am dead, and proclaim, “This is the man whom the King delighteth to honour.”‘ I told my mother, and said, ‘What did he mean, Mother?’ She commenced to cry, and did not tell me. The next day I told my father. He said, ‘You may know some day, my boy; don’t ask me.’ But I said, ‘Why did mother cry when I told her?’ Many years after, I repeated the question. My father then told me that before I was born, he would quiet my mother by saying, ‘It may be a boy, and grow up to stand up in the name of the Lord, and preach the gospel when you and I are dead.’ And she lived to see it come to pass, but she had to wait twenty-eight years before she saw any signs, and thirty-three before it came to pass. Then she would say, ‘How many times I prayed for that boy, and the Lord did not seem to notice my prayers, for the more I prayed, the further he went into sin.’

When I was about eighteen years old I left home, and lived in the world, and went after the pleasure of it. I became passionately fond of theatres and music halls, and was determined to go my own way. Now and then I felt a little remorse of conscience; then I would go to Gower Street chapel once or twice, but it was to no purpose. I found my nature was sinful, and became a lover of those things that were bad. In the midst of all my wickedness I always had a great respect for God’s people, and at times wished to be like them. I could not endure to hear anyone say anything against them.

After a few years, I returned home, as my father wanted me to manage the business. I went to chapel for a few Sundays, but it was too dull for me, so I took to going to church and learned to play the organ. During this time I became very fond of dancing and theatricals, comic song singing, balls and parties. Every now and then my conscience told me I was wrong, as I was sinning against light and knowledge, but that soon wore off, and all my good resolutions went for nothing, and I went further into sin. But prayer was made for me, with little signs of its being answered. I was as far from God as any poor sinner could go.

My father felt his time would be short on earth, and prayed much for the Lord to raise up someone to take his place. He had always cared for the ministers who came to Hankerton to preach, the dear old pastor having gone the way of all flesh. I remember in my boyhood days those good old ministers coming, such as Warburton, Kershaw, Tiptaft, Key, Knill and many more. I was mixed up with everything that was God-dishonouring, but went to church on Sundays, and played the organ.

But God has a time for all he does; none can hasten it nor prevent it. One evening my father said to me, ‘I wish you would come to chapel tonight. We have a good man coming. Come, it won’t hurt you.’ I replied, ‘Father, I know quite as much when I go into your chapel as when I come out. It is something I cannot understand.’ He replied, ‘No, my boy; I could not at one time. The Lord can give you an understanding heart.’ I said, ‘I cannot come tonight; I have to go to a rehearsal, but I will walk to the chapel gates with you.’

We got to the chapel gate, when a flash of lightning came and a loud clap of thunder, and in a few moments very heavy rain. I ran into the chapel for shelter. My father saw me, and brought me a hymnbook. This annoyed me very much, as the people looked round. Mr. Knill was the preacher. When sermon time came, he said, ‘I have had some solemn words following me all day; I must read them for a text.’ He opened to Malachi 3:18, ‘Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.’ He commenced a most solemn discourse, pointing out the character that served him not. He seemed to speak of all my thoughts, desires and practices. He said of one that should answer to this description, ‘What an awful end when death comes, if grace prevent not!’ The cry of my soul was again and again, ‘What must I do?’ I feared I should soon go to hell.

After service I got away quite by myself, and walked about my father’s field, afraid to go indoors while my parents were up. I thought they would see what a vile sinner I was, and had been all my life long. I came from the field into the garden. I could not summon up courage to go indoors. I feared I should drop dead and be lost. I fell on my knees on the garden path, and implored the Lord for mercy. I think I slept but little, but I made many promises to God; if he would have mercy on my soul and pardon my sins, I would live a godly and consistent life ever afterwards.

How I got through the next two or three days before Sunday I know not. Had I been free, I believe I should have gone to chapel, but I had the organ to play. But I was not in a fit state to play, so I broke down more than once. After the service, I spoke with the choir. One young man who died in a year or two, said, ‘Tell me what is the matter with you. Are you going out of your mind?’ I replied, ‘I don’t know, but I believe we are all going to hell; we are only God-mockers. The man who preached to us will be drinking tomorrow; he gets drunk and swears, for I have seen and heard him. This is my last Sunday here. I shall give it up from today. I have never received any pay for what I have done, and I can give it up at any time.’ My companion said, ‘Do not do it in a hurry; I have had many thoughts about giving up myself. If you leave, I shall come.’ I said, ‘I shall go to the Baptist chapel’; and seven of the choir left with me, and all attended the chapel afterwards; some became members. It caused great consternation among the church people of Hankerton.

My dear father was taken ill, and died after seven weeks’ illness. This was the greatest trouble I had ever known. I felt certain he was taken to heaven, and now I began to value his prayers, and the greatest trouble was, he will never pray for me again; and my prayers I felt to be nothing. But I have been going to a throne of grace forty-nine years, sometimes with guilt on my conscience, sometimes heavy, providential troubles, sometimes afflictions, bereavements.

But have been upheld till now,
Who could hold me up but Thou?

Well, I lived with my dear mother, and carried on the business. We fetched the ministers from the station and entertained them, until my mother was dead and I was married, and left Hankerton. But I did not know the way of salvation. This I had been praying for for years. I used to be running here and there to anniversaries, and hearing such men as Warburton, Kershaw, Philpot, Vine and many others, but none seemed to show me the way of salvation, and I fancied it must be by something I must do myself. One day we expected Mr. Porter to preach; there was a crowded chapel, and he was late. One of the deacons said, ‘While we are waiting, we will sing a hymn. I am blind, but I can remember it, to give it out:

Great God! from Thee there’s nought concealed,
Thou see’st my inward frame;
To Thee I always stand revealed
Exactly as I am!

Since I can hardly, therefore, bear
What in myself I see;
How vile and black must I appear,
Most holy God, to Thee!

But since my Saviour stands between
In garments dyed in blood,
‘Tis He, instead of me, is seen,
When I approach to God.

Thus, though a sinner, I am safe
He pleads before the throne
His life and death on my behalf,
And calls my sins His own.

What wondrous love, what mysteries,
In this appointment shine!
My breaches of the law are His,
And His obedience mine.’

During the singing of this hymn, the scales dropped from my eyes. I could plainly see Jesus in the sinner’s place, and I wanted to sing,

This is the way I long have sought,
And mourned because I found it not.

Joseph Painter used to cycle miles, we believe on a tricycle, to fulfil his preaching engagements. The old people at Coventry remembered how, when young, they used to cycle out to meet him on the Saturday as he cycled toward Coventry.

Mr. Painter’s dying words were: ‘I want to see Jesus. I want to go to heaven.’ This was his theme for days before his death – speaking of seeing Jesus. He had been a preacher for about forty years.

Taken with permission from The Gospel Standard magazine, May 2010.

Latest Articles

What Can We Learn from John Knox? November 24, 2022

If it were to be asked what is the recurring theme in Knox’s words and writings the answer is perhaps a surprising one. Sometimes he could be severe, and sometimes extreme. Given the days and the harshness of the persecution he witnessed, it would be understandable if these elements had preponderated in his ministry. But […]

Reformed, But Ever Reforming October 31, 2022

It is rather audacious to claim that we are reformed. It can also be misleading when we call ourselves Reformed Churches. For this might imply that we believe that our denominations are truly reformed; or, even worse, that at some point in the past we were or became reformed and that the task of reform […]