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Toiling With Rowing on the Sea of Life

Category Articles
Date November 8, 2017

Robert Cecil Rayner, a beloved deacon and member at Salem Chapel, Braintree, Essex, for twenty-six years, passed peacefully away on February 9th, 2017, aged 73 years.

After a severe illness he wrote the following, dated November 2014. The heading was this: ‘Toiling with Rowing on the Sea of Life’.

* * *

My first recollections of anything of a religious nature occurred at the age of fifteen years. I remember coming downstairs in the night for a glass of water and almost tripping over my father who was on his knees in prayer pleading for mercy. I do not think he even noticed me, so intense were his pleadings. This instance had a profound effect upon me, making me realise that there was perhaps something real in the things I heard from the pulpit Lord’s day by Lord’s day at the chapel.

After this, the teaching was here a little, there a little. I began to pray; my prayers were very formal, centring mainly on temporal matters. Over the years that followed, I was gradually shown that there was a never-ending eternity before me: ‘Eternity, tremendous sound!’ My calling and election became an important and solemn matter to me. The Holy Spirit taught me of the things of Jesus, and how needful His precious, shed blood was. He showed me my hope for heaven and eternity could only be found in the merits of Jesus Christ. I could come in with the poet saying:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

The time of love did come when the Lord showed me that He had died for poor, sinful me. I was wrought upon to follow the Lord in believers’ baptism. This was accompanied by much opposition from the devil. I was baptized by Mr. Robert Buss on August 7th, 1991 and received into the church by Mr. P.J. Cottingham. I was elected to the diaconate on November 18th, 1991.

The Lord’s word to Israel of old was: ‘And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no’ (Deut. 8:2).

I proved that trials and afflictions came in life’s journey to effect these changes in me. The means used were much disliked by the flesh. I remember in a trial to do with church matters (members leaving), being very cast down, not wanting to go to chapel on service days, and tempted to give up all. My wife and I struggled through flood water one Tuesday evening to get to a service at Mount Bures. Roads were blocked and I was about to turn round and go home, when my wife said that there was one more road to try. ‘Let us try,’ she said. ‘There might be something for you this evening.’ We got to the chapel. Mr. Cornwell was preaching and the text was, ‘And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest’ (Gen. 28:15). Immediately the load lifted and I was enabled to carry on, believing the Lord was with me.

On another occasion earlier in my life, I was trying to decide whether or not to take early retirement. I was in felt need of guidance from the Lord. Mr. Paul Crane came to Braintree with a text from Psalm 37: ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.’ I felt encouraged to press on with this important decision.

One Lord’s day, Mr. Richard Field took for his text: ‘We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you’ (Num. 10:29). The Lord’s servant was truly helped by the Holy Spirit to lead us up Nebo to the top of Pisgah and there by faith we were enabled to view the promised land. I had to say at the end of the sermon, ‘Lord, may I be amongst those journeying to this land.’

Many have been the helps by the way. I have to say with the poet:

Thus far my God has led me on,
And made His truth and mercy known;
My hopes and fears alternate rise,
And comforts mingle with my sighs.

Affliction has abounded. I have been brought nigh unto death four times in my life and each time God has seen fit to raise me up to a measure of health and strength, proving: ‘How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ (Rom. 11:33). Also:

Not a single shaft can hit.
Till the God of love sees fit.

These events have caused me to be much at the throne of grace to be made ready to go in with the Bridegroom when He calls. The older I get, the less the things of this world attract me. So I can come in with the hymn writer:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!

I am what I am and where I am by the power and mercy of Almighty God.

Early in my recent affliction (2013) and while in hospital the Lord sweetly led me to David’s Psalm 23, especially to part of verse 5: ‘My cup runneth over.’ Indeed my cup did run over with the goodness and mercy of God in preserving me from a deserved hell.

Sadly, I was not left long on the mountain top; darkness followed. I was unable to find ‘Him whom my soul loveth.’ I felt downcast but not forsaken, encouraged by the poet:

Though I seem to hide My face.
Very soon my wrath shall cease;
’Tis but for a moment’s space,
Ending in eternal peace.

During my hospital stay and afterwards the Lord indeed tried my patience, but I had a hope that He would recover me in His time. The text on Lord’s day, August 11th, 2013 did me good: ‘I know all your sorrows.’ The week passed in darkness. Then on September 3rd, 2013, the Lord’s servant came to Braintree with a text from the penitential Psalm: ‘Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation.’ How needful to me! Then wonder of wonders, the Lord broke through the dark cloud in the early hours of September 4th, 2013. He reminded me of all those precious promises He had given me in time past.

‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’ (Heb. 13:5).

‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee’ (Josh. 1:5).

‘I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest’ (Gen. 28:15).

The Lord then followed with words of encouragement confirming to me, I was in the same way as the people of God of old.

‘And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no’ (Deut. 8:2).

‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep’ (Psa. 107:23,24).

‘By these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit’ (Isa. 38:16).

Then the Lord seemed to come in with a reprimand: ‘Would I have done so great things for thee to cast your soul away at last?’ O how I had to blush and seek the Lord for forgiveness for my wretched unbelief.

Because, of all opposers worst.
It fights against His love.

I had a sweet night season after this and the devil was noticeable by his absence.

More frequent let Thy visits be,
Or let them longer last.

During my periods of darkness in the trials and tribulations on the sea of life, I have proved my lack of faith in Him. I have realised He has been with me all the time, asleep on a pillow at the back of the boat. But in His good time He has arisen saying, ‘Why are ye so fearful?’ Then He has calmed the storm saying, ‘Peace, be still’ (Mark 4:39, 40). What a God, and what a great mystery it all is.

These are a few experiences of a poor sinner in his life so far. If all could be brought to remembrance and written, a book would be full.

* * *

This is the end of his writings.

A few years ago, he fell ill with pneumonia very suddenly one night, and he became unconscious. The ambulance was called, and as the paramedics were attending to him, he started to regain consciousness. They asked him what had happened and he said, ‘The dear Lord came and He was very sweet to me.’ Then he lost consciousness again.

On another occasion when he had trouble in the church, Mr. Robert Field preached at Braintree from the words, ‘Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me’ (2 Tim:4. 17). This was a great help to him and his dear wife. He said to Mr. Field after the service, ‘You came with the right text this evening; it was just what I wanted.’ Later on he had a very sweet verse in Isaiah given to him. It was, ‘Behold, I will do a new thing’ (Isa. 43:19). The dear Lord wonderfully brought it to pass.

He wrote the following in a letter to Mr. Richard Field on June 16th last year (2016):

I don’t think I shall ever forget Lord’s day, May 3rd, 2009, until my dying day. Your text was: ‘Come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel’ (Num. 10:29). You were led by the Holy Spirit to view the promised Canaan. I felt a little hope that all would go well with me. But how we find we need these tokens renewed. Blessed be His name, He favoured me with a renewal not so long ago. Mr. Gilbert Hyde took for his text Genesis 12. 5, last part: ‘And into the land of Canaan they came.’ May these things be real. I find I have to pray, ‘Lord if I am not right, then make me right while there is still time.’ O to be ready and waiting when the Bridegroom calls. ‘Ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.’

He concluded with this: ‘Our only hope alone is found in that precious, sin-atoning blood of Jesus.’

He suffered a severe stroke on November 13th, 2016 and was taken into hospital. The Lord was with him, though he had no use of the left side of his body, but he could speak and his conversation was on the things of God and the Lord’s great goodness to him. Mr. A.W. Chapman preached at Braintree, Lord’s day, November 6th, before he went into hospital for the last time. The hymns that he gave out that Lord’s day morning were right on the text: 744, 689, 109. He seemed full of the blessing of the Lord and the hymns that he gave out were very sacred. He was favoured with God’s highest blessings, pardoned, clothed in the righteousness of Christ and justified by faith in Him. It was really the anointing for his end; his end was peace.

As soon as I heard of our beloved friend being taken home to glory, the word came very sweetly to me with a measure of power: ‘And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars.’ Our dear departed friend and brother was truly a pillar, in his family and in the church at Salem Chapel, Braintree, and in Zion. The loss is great. He was blessed with wonderful grace and faith and had a very real religion. He walked it out and did not take it off with his best clothes. Now a pillar must have a good foundation. He was upon the Rock Christ Jesus. That is the only sure foundation; all other ground is sinking sand. Then a pillar must be upright. He could not keep himself upright; it was the Lord that made him so. He was upright before the Lord, upright before God’s people and upright before the world. ‘No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly’ (Psa. 84:11). A pillar carries the weight of the souls of those laid upon them, and carries the weight of the church where they worship, and when they are taken the cause is weakened and so is Zion. Like a pillar in a great building has to be shaped and polished, so our dear friend was prepared and polished for glory by the afflictions and trials that he had to pass through. As John Newton said in the hymn:

Where are those we counted leaders,
Filled with zeal, and love, and truth?
Old professors, tall as cedars,
Bright examples to our youth!

Our dear brother stood firm for the truth as it is in Jesus. He ever strove to keep the pulpit clean, free from the blood of any; he would not have any minister that wavered in doctrine or who walked contrary to church order. He was a man of gracious discernment and so real in the things of God. Many of us ministers shall never forget his prayers in the vestry before a service. Yet he was ever willing to be nothing that a precious Jesus might be the All and in all. He would ever seek that the Lord whom he loved might be exalted. His desire was that the name of Robert Rayner perish and Christ be exalted.

One felt it to be a great honour to take the funeral service in the chapel, with the help of Mr. A. W. Chapman taking the reading from the Word of God and the prayer. Mr. B.E. Izzard, taking the committal at the grave, said he felt the two verses from hymn 165 described our beloved friend and brother:

But souls enlightened from above
With joy receive the Word;
They see what wisdom, power, and love
Shine in their dying Lord.

The vital savour of His name
Restores their fainting breath;
Believing, they rejoice in Him,
The Antidote of death.

‘The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness’ (Isa. 57:1, 2).


This article originally appeared in the October edition of the Gospel Standard magazine. It has been reproduced with permission.

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