“He lives what I teach,” said John Nelson Darby of his friend Robert Chapman.
I just finished reading Robert Chapman, a biography by Robert L. Peterson. I did not know much about Robert Chapman (1803-1902) before reading this biography, but I have read biographies about George Muller, J. Hudson Taylor, and C. H. Spurgeon, and it was upon the recommendation of these three men that I picked up Chapman’s biography. Robert Chapman was a mentor to Muller, an advisor to Taylor, and was referred to by Spurgeon as “the saintliest man I ever knew.”
Chapman was a brilliant young lawyer from a wealthy, respectable family in England. But after his conversion, he was invited to pastor a troubled church in the small village of Barnstaple. He wholeheartedly accepted that invitation, choosing to give away a modest fortune, abandon his profession, and live humbly amongst poor, uneducated people for the rest of his life.
What is most notable about Chapman’s life is not what he did, but who he was: a Spirit-filled man with Christlike character. Here are some of his character traits that are worth emulating:
Trust in God. “Our Father knows all about it.” With these words he comforted his agitated fellow traveler, after Chapman had given his train fare to an elderly lady in need. “What are you going to do now?” his friend asked. “Our Father knows all about it,” Chapman said again. As the train drew up to the platform, a friend of theirs hurried up and handed them a sum of money that more than covered their fares. That was one of the many stories from Chapman’s life where he calmly trusted in God, believing He would provide, and found God to be faithful. Indeed Chapman’s father did know all about it.
Humility. One of Chapman’s unique ministries was that of hospitality. Throughout his long life he hosted visitors in his humble home and offered them encouragement, refreshment, and spiritual counsel throughout their stay. “One of Chapman’s customs was to clean the shoes or boots of his visitors. After showing guests to their rooms, he would instruct them to leave their footwear outside their doors [at night] so that he could clean them by the next morning. Typically they objected to his doing such a menial task, but he was quite insistent. One guest recorded Chapman’s answer to his objections, ‘It is not the custom in our day to wash one another’s feet; that which most nearly corresponds to this command of the Lord is to clean each others’ boots'” (82).
Intimacy with God through prayer and Scripture reading. Chapman would regularly rise at 4am and spend much of his morning in prayer and in the study of Scripture. Of Scripture he wrote, “Men’s books full oft with chaff are stored; God’s naught but golden grain afford.” He prayed constantly and made it the business of his life to please God.
Love. “My business is to love others and not to see that others shall love me.” As you read the book, you read illustrations of Chapman showing love to whomever he might meet. He might express that love by making a kite for a child or by caring for a friend in her old age. Page 174 relates the story of one man who had been excluded from Chapman’s church because of sin or doctrinal error. As Chapman said, “If love sees a fault, love will reprove” (189). But Chapman had continued to pray for the man even though “the excluded man became bitter and vowed never to speak a word to Chapman again. Sometime later they found themselves approaching each other on a street. Knowing all that the man had been saying about him, Chapman embraced him and said, ‘Dear brother, God loves you, Christ loves you, and I love you.’ This action broke the man’s animosity; he repented and was soon breaking bread [in the church] again.”
Evangelism. Chapman was regularly involved in spreading the gospel both in his own town and overseas. In his own town of Barnstaple, Chapman would regularly practice open-air preaching in the town square. He used his height and deep voice with great effect and many people came to know the Lord. In addition to this normal work in his own town, he undertook extended walking tours through both Ireland and Spain, where he simply walked through the country, preaching the gospel in the open to whoever would listen. “Of course not everyone liked Chapman. Some people were greatly offended by his plain preaching on sin and the need for repentance…A grocer in Barnstaple became so upset when Chapman was preaching in the open air that he strode up to where Chapman was standing and spit on him. Later one of Robert’s wealthy relatives came to Barnstaple to visit him…the relative at first would not believe that Chapman lived in such a simple abode in such a poor neighborhood [and]…asked if he could purchase groceries for him. Chapman gladly assented, but stipulated that he must buy the food from a certain grocer. The relative went there, made the large purchase, and paid the bill. When the grocer learned that the food was to be delivered to R. C. Chapman, he said that the visitor must have come to the wrong shop. Chapman’s relative, however, replied that Chapman himself had specifically directed him to that shop. The grocer, who had viciously attacked and castigated Chapman for years, broke down in tears. Soon he came to Chapman’s house, asked forgiveness, and yielded his life to Christ” (147).
The pictures here say it all. I just have to get my wife to sign off on this.
There is so much more in the book. Go get yourself a copy, read it, and then follow Chapman as he followed Christ!