John Nelson Darby rebuked some young brothers who, in his presence, criticized Mr. Chapman. In his rebuke he is reported to have said, "I don't want to hear anything said against Mr. Chapman. He practises the things that I preach". An excellent testimony from a man of God to a man of God. Frank Holmes in his life of Mr. Chapman describes him as the 'Barnstaple Patriarch'. In the mouth of two witnesses the worth of Mr. Chapman is well established.
Mr. Chapman was born in Elsinore, Denmark. His wealthy father, Thomas Chapman of an ancient family of Whitby, was engaged there in a profitable business. When Chapman was still a boy, the family returned to England, and at the age of 15 he began to study to be a solicitor. He was diligent in his studies and soon qualified in his chosen profession. It was reported that he had a brilliant career before him, but God had other plans for this wealthy and successful young man. Chapman was an accomplished linguist. He could speak fluently in six languages.
Invited to a preaching of the gospel of the grace of God by a preacher called James Harrington Evans, Chapman went to John Street Chapel in London with mixed feelings. He was a loyal son of the Church of England. However, his doubts were overcome when he heard Mr. Evans preach a faithful message. Chapman's conscience was reached and he was genuinely converted to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Not long after he was converted, he told Mr. Evans that he wanted to be baptized. When Mr. Evans advised caution, Chapman replied, "No, I will make haste and delay not to keep His commandments". Following his baptism, Chapman saw the need to separate from his worldly ways. This brought him into conflict with many of his influential friends and his own family. He used much of his time visiting the poor in their wretched hovels. He helped them in spiritual and material ways.
After much waiting upon the Lord, Chapman decided to sell all his precious possessions, sacrifice his personal fortune, and devote his life to the interests of his Lord and Saviour. At that time he had not given any evidence of possessing a gift for preaching. When he was told that he didn't appeal as a preacher, he said, "There are many who preach Christ but not so many who live Christ; my great aim will be to live Christ.
When Chapman went to live in Barnstaple, he did not look for an imposing mansion in which to live. He, a cultured and intellectual gentleman, chose a tiny cheap cottage for his residence. In his preaching in Barnstaple, by which he brought blessing to many lives, he gave due emphasis to correct doctrine, and the necessity for good works to accompany their salvation. He also stressed the need for separation from the world and holy living. Christians were obligated to be doers of the word and not hearers only.
Chapman had many visitors to his humble home. As their host he insisted on cleaning their shoes. He said, "ln former days it was the practice to wash saints' feet. That is no longer the custom. I do the nearest thing and clean their shoes".
Chapman was a man of good fixed habits. He generally rose early in the morning at 3 am and had a cold bath. He would then go for a twelve mile walk and return for his regular prayer time and Bible study. He was a good visitor and was often engaged in pastoral activities. His day ended with a hot bath and into bed at 9 pm.
Chapman had many pithy sayings. One day he was asked how he was and replied, "Burdened — He daily loadeth us with benefits". He once said that it was a pity there were so few D.D's. "We want more people in Psalm 119:25, 'Down in the dust'. He often quoted this poem:
"Man's books full of chaff are stored,
God's, naught but golden grains afford,
Then leave the chaff and spend thy pains,
In gathering God's golden grains"
These valuable sayings are worth remembering:-
Much self-judgement makes a man slow to judge others; and the very gentleness of such a one gives a keen edge to his rebukes.
If I have been injured by another; let me bethink myself — how much better to be the sufferer than the wrong-doer!
Col. 4:10 is a testimony that Mark was restored and established after having forsaken Paul and Barnabas. We find him not with Barnabas, but with Paul, who had so gravely judged his fault. "Rebuke a wise man and he will love thee". (Prov. 9:8).
Chapman died in his hundreth year. It could be said of him, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches". (Pro. 22:1).
Chapman wrote at least 165 hymns. His "Meditations" were much appreciated and "Choice Sayings" too. After his death "The Good Shepherd" and "Goodly Words" were published. They contained many extracts from his writings and addresses.
Chapman has five hymns in 'Spiritual Songs':-
71 Oh, my Saviour crucified
143 King of Glory, set on high
223 O God, whose wondrous Name is love
229 O happy morn! the Lord will come
255 The Prince of Life, once slain for us.
For those who desire a fuller account of Robert Cleaver Chapman's life, the biography, "Brother Indeed" by Frank Holmes is recommended.