Robert Chapman : A Biography

4 minute read

Author: Robert L Peterson

I got drawn into reading this book while scrolling through Desiring God’s biographies on various people in the faith. The article title “The Best Leaders Are Often Least Noticed” caught my eye and the content got me hooked.

Robert Chapman lived and served alongside other more well known pastors such as Charles Spurgeon and George Muller, yet few have heard of Chapman. The article’s description on Robert Chapman’s gentleness, love and desire for unity, especially for his enemies, stuck out to me. I had never heard of this man and wanted to learn more about someone who Charles Spurgeon called “the saintliest man I ever knew”.

I highly recommend this biography if you are looking for an easy read because of its short chapters and engaging anecdotes.

One of the things that most challenged me was Chapman’s love for his enemies. There is a story of how he became a pastor of a church and there was a secondary doctrinal issue which he did not agree with. He was pressed on the outside from others to correct his congregation. But he decided he would be gentle, slowly correct them and trust the Lord would do it in His timing. And after many months of prayer, they eventually did.

Another related story was that there was a church split that resulted in half of the church leaving. After a month, the group that had left demanded the church building, even though according to the contract, it belonged to Chapman’s church. Rather than have people think he cheated and coerced them, he chose to be wronged and suffer financially and gave the church building over to the other group. Another example is when Chapman was aware he was being taken advantage of during a scam. He allowed himself to be scammed in order for the opportunity to share the gospel with that man, looking towards heavenly things rather than earthly.

He would also constantly give to anyone who asked and was in need, because in his own words, “they were more in need than I am”. One story that comes to mind was when he was on the way to take the train with a friend and he encountered an elderly lady needing money. He gave the money for his train ticket to her and when he got to the train station he did not have money for his own train ticket. His friend remarked, ‘Now how are we going to get on the train?’. Chapman then prayed that the Lord would provide a way and sure enough a friend who owed Chapman money saw him at the train station and gave him the money he owed him!

Robert Chapman was born rich, but had a love for the poor. He initially pastored in London, but had such a deep love for the poor and uneducated, that he sold all he had and moved to the countryside. He desired to live among the destitute and open air preach the Gospel to any and all he met.

Chapman continuously looked for opportunities in everyday conversation to share the Gospel. One story is when he and another missionary got lost in France. Chapman stopped and prayed that God would guide them as they were servants in this city and that God would give them an opportunity to speak to someone about their soul. He saw a shop with an English name and talked with a man leaving the shop. He asked the man if he spoke English and when he nodded, he told the man “We are here to preach the Gospel, are you converted?” The man then replied “This is the first time since I came into this country that anyone has asked me such a question, or cared anything about me. If that is your errand, you had better come inside”.

These examples of Christlike love have been particularly challenging to me. I know I struggle with loving those who wrong me and often want to retaliate, or at the best be neutral. Rarely will I go completely the other way and love someone who has wronged me. The loving of enemies because Christ loved us while we were yet enemies and this dependence on God in prayer is something I am trying to grow in. Chapman was generous with his resources and desired to be taken advantage of in order to further God’s kingdom. This generosity and desire to do God’s will over mine is something I lack and want to grow in as well.

Overall this biography was a reminder of my need to grow in my desire to love Christ and live a life pleasing to God. Chapman was not ashamed of the gospel and had the desire to share the gospel with all who needed it, is something I wish to also have. These actions of following the teachings of Christ are by no means a way to salvation. The Gospel is Christ paying the penalty for our sins through His sinless death and resurrection. Instead, these things as Chapman demonstrated, should outflow as a measure of Christ’s profound grace, love and generosity towards us.