Mercy that never died
The Bible is rich in passages telling us about the mercies of God. The word ‘mercy’ is wide and comprehensive in meaning, and God’s ‘mercies’ are his ‘goodness,’ ‘love,’ ‘kindness,’ ‘favour’ and ‘grace.’ In both the Old and New Testaments God’s mercies are spoken of as ‘great’ (2 Sam. 24:14); ‘manifold’ (Neh. 9:19); ‘tender’ (Ps. 25:6); ‘enduring for ever’ (2 Chron. 7:3), ‘never coming to an end’ Lamentations 3:22); and by them ‘we are saved’ (Tit.3:5). Christian biography is full of illustrations of how the people of God in every age have rejoiced as they have found and proved God’s mercies in their own lives. One such moving illustration comes from the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr Samuel Parkes Cadman (1864-1936). Between the years 1900 and 1930 Dr Cadman was one of the best-known evangelical preachers in America. For many years he was the minister of the very influential Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York. In his own pulpit and wherever he preached crowds gathered to hear him. Then he began a ministry that gave him even-greater fame and popularity as a preacher. He became America’s first radio preacher. He was the pioneer of this new means of communicating the gospel to millions of homes. In the 1920s and 30s, Cadman’s was the most-recognised voice in every state in the nation. In fact he was so popular that the millions of people who listened to him thought he was an American.
Cadman, however, was born in Shropshire in England, into a very devout Primitive Methodist home. His father, a miner, was a local preacher and class leader. Samuel also became a miner and a local preacher. Later he trained for the ministry in London and then emigrated to America in 1890. As a preacher he was soon a rising star in the Congregational denomination and it was no surprise when he was called to preach in a prestigious pulpit in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout his long ministry Dr Cadman never forget the Christian teaching and example he had while growing up in a Primitive Methodist home. He often told a true story of an event in his home that made an unforgettable impression upon him. He was nine years old at the time and the incident, so full of spiritual power, stayed with him for the rest of his life.
He came home from school one day to discover that his younger sister had died suddenly and without warning. The whole family was engulfed in grief. His little sister was five years old and was the joy and delight of the family. Now she was gone and the house seemed so silent and lonely without her.
That evening his father was due to take his weekly Class Meeting. He didn’t want to leave his family but at the same time he didn’t want to disappoint the people waiting for him in the Methodist chapel. After much heart-searching he decided to keep the engagement and he took Samuel with him to the service. Samuel recalled later how he remembered so clearly seeing his father struggling with his emotions. Was it right to go to the chapel? Should he not stay with his broken-hearted wife? But finally he picked up his hat and coat and Bible and set out to walk to the Class Meeting. He said very little to Samuel as they walked but when they were about half way to the chapel, he stopped. Samuel could see that his father was having a battle with his feelings and he expected him to turn round and go back home. But he didn’t. Instead, Cadman recalled, his father did something that was the greatest expression of faith and trust he had ever seen. He stood on the road, took off his hat – and began to sing! In that hour when his heart was breaking with grief and loss and pain, he expressed his deep and unshaken faith in the words of a favourite hymn. He chose the Moravian hymn, first written in German and translated by John Wesley, and so familiar and beloved with all the Methodist people. It begins:
Now I have found the ground wherein
Sure my soul’s anchor may remain
The wounds of Jesus for my sin
Before the world’s foundation slain.
‘But,’ said Dr Cadman, ‘it was the fifth verse my father chose to sing that night on the road to the chapel, and I’ve never forgotten the impression it made on me. With his voice quivering and tears running down his cheeks, he sang his faith in God’s unfailing mercies in those wonderful words.’
Though waves and storms go o’er my head
Though strength, and health, and friends be gone
Though joys be withered all and dead
Though every comfort be withdrawn.
On this my steadfast soul relies
Father, Thy mercy never dies!
Father, Thy mercy never dies! Samuel Cadman’s father was a devout, Spirit-filled Christian and in his darkest hour he found strength in the sure mercies of God. The love and mercy of God are an ocean that has no bounds. God’s amazing love surrounds us in every circumstance of life. When the worst of life’s calamities and heartbreaks crowd in upon us and our world seems to be falling apart, His mercies never die! He loves us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). As the Psalmist discovered the Lord’s goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our lives (Ps. 23:6). Our faith and hope and trust are in the love and mercy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Such a faith will hold us, and assure us, and strengthen us, and comfort us, in the darkest hours. Today, tomorrow and every tomorrow what Dr Cadman’s father sang about so certainly in his hour of grief is still true – Father, Thy mercy never dies!
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‘Till on That Cross as Jesus Died,
The Wrath of God was Satisfied
‘Nothing in the Christian system is of greater consequence than the doctrine of Atonement. It is properly the distinguishing point between Deism and Christianity…Give up the Atonement and the Deists are agreed with us…But the question is …What saith the Scripture?
It says ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself’ that ‘‘He made him who knew no sin, to be a sin-offering for us.’’ It says “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.” It says “We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the atonement for our sins.”…But it is certain, had God never been angry, he could never have been reconciled…I do not term God [as others, like William Law, suppose] ‘a wrathful Being’, which conveys the wrong idea; yet I firmly believe He was angry with all mankind, and that He was reconciled to them by the death of His Son. And I know He was angry with me till I believed in the Son of His love; and yet there is no impeachment to His mercy, that He is just as well as merciful. But undoubtedly, as long as the world stands, there will be a thousand objections to this scriptural doctrine. For still the preaching of Christ crucified will be foolishness to the wise men of the world. However, let us hold the precious truth fast in our heart as well as in our understanding; and we shall find by happy experience that this is to us the wisdom of God and power of God’
John Wesley in a letter to Mary Bishop, 7 February 1778
Herbert McGonigle is Senior Lecturer in Historical Theology, Church History and Wesley Studies, Nazarene Theological College, Manchester.
METConnexion, Winter 2008, pp.10-11