An extract from the book by John J. Murray.
John Marshall considered that his first responsibility was to care for the flock that God had committed to this trust. Although he had a comparatively small congregation he felt deeply responsible for them. His faithfulness to his own people over forty-five years can have few parallels in our day.
For most of that time he laboured in comparative obscurity. Had his local work been larger it is probable he could never have achieved what he did elsewhere. He rested in the knowledge that God gives to every servant his own work.
In the last sermon preached at the Leicester Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference, when speaking of having to give an account of our ministry at the Day of Judgement, he told of John Brown of Haddington’s response to a minister who complained that he had only twenty-eight people in his church: ‘You will find that quite enough to account for on the day of Judgment’.
Keeping in touch
John Marshall saw to it that he kept in touch with his people. As well as visiting their homes, a regular component of his ministry on the Lord’s Day was an ‘open house’ reception of any members of the congregation who wished to join him and the family in the manse lounge after evening service. A matter for debate might arise out of the preaching of the day or it could be a question introduced by one of the company.
His son Jeremy recalls, ‘Although to some outside the congregation my father may have appeared to have been a stereotyped grim Calvinist, unwilling to allow any discussion of “the party line”, the reality was the complete opposite’.
He was always ready to prompt a lively discussion. Visitors were encouraged to share their views and sometimes conclusions were reached which rather surprised them. But the warmth of the handshake with which they departed was not to be doubted.
It might well be accompanied with the gift of a book and such words as: ‘I hope I wasn’t too hard on you … I do so hope to see you again’. Jeremy adds, ‘the “winningness” of his ways lay not so much in what he gave, or what he said, but in how he gave and said it’.
A born preacher
Preachers are born not made, and this was certainly exemplified in John Marshall. He had a natural gift of oratory. He spoke with great enthusiasm and made his audience feel that what he was saying was well worth their hearing.
An outstanding characteristic of his preaching was the way in which he would plead with sinners. This is illustrated in the testimony of Andrew Doggrell who sat under his ministry. ‘It was when I was four years old that I can vividly remember the first words that the Holy Spirit said to me through Mr Marshall. I remember him saying, “Children, did you know you can come to Christ?”
‘Then he paused and his manner changed. With a stern look on his face he cried, “Do you know you are a sinner? – lost, without God, bound for eternal punishment in hell – where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth?”
‘He went on with words of entreaty that I cannot remember. This brought a tear to my eye, which I was quick to brush away for fear any member of my family might see. There was then another, deafening pause which I could not bear, as the silence gave my heart time to ponder eternity.
‘Then he leaned forward in the pulpit and said softly, as he reached both arms out wide, “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Christ Jesus welcomes you to come unto him, did you know that? You, yes, you!”‘
I never heard the like
‘He concluded by inviting sinners to pray for a repentant heart and, as though reading our thoughts, he gave us this dialogue: “Oh I want to come but I don’t know how to pray! Well, tell Almighty God – I am a bad, bad man, I hate all the wrong things I have done. I need you so much but I don’t know you, help me Lord! I know you said whoever comes to you I will not cast out.” Come to him before it is too late.
‘This is my earliest recollection of the impression upon me by the preaching of John Marshall when he was in his prime. He sought as best he could to bring the very youngest in his congregation to see their need of a Saviour.
‘It was truly preaching to the whole congregation without regard to age or gender. I believe at four years old I was truly awakened, although not converted until twelve years later. Since then I have sat under the preaching of many capable and godly men but never heard the like of John Marshall.’.
John E. Marshall, Life and Writings,by John J. Murray, is published by The Banner of Truth Trust, ISBN 0851519024, 320 page hardback, £14-50.