Lowestoft Bethel/Seaman's Chapel (1864)

The work in the county of Norfolk spread into Suffolk also and has been going on there more or less ever since. A gentleman, who lived near Lowestoft, was deeply interested in the new Bethel, or Seamen’s Church, which was just being completed. He came to invite me to speak at the opening. This I agreed to do with pleasure, and on the day appointed put in my appearance. There was a dense crowd of people inside, and numbers outside who could not obtain admission.

Upon this occasion I took for my subject "the Presence of God," which I said was necessary for the success and blessing of every undertaking. I endeavoured to show that this Presence was already offered and that God was ever a God nigh at hand and not afar off: that He was always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give than we to ask. We invoke his Presence, not because He is not present, but because He has promised to be with us, and promise is the true basis of prayer. But, I went on to say, people through their "ifs" and unbelief miss the blessing.

I called attention to Jacob and his dream, as recorded in Genesis xxviii., more especially to the fact of God’s free offer to be his God (v. 15); to be with him, and to keep him. As He blessed Abraham and Isaac, so God offered to bless him and make him a blessing. Instead of rejoicing and thanking God, Jacob was afraid, and said, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (v. 17). Whereas, it was indeed neither the gate nor the house; but the very Presence of God, though he did not realize it.

We read that he "took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it, and he called the name of that place Bethel. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on ... then shall the Lord be my God!" (verses 18-21). Thus Jacob ignored God’s offer, and said, "If Thou wilt give me these things, Thou shalt be my God." In like manner, people forego their privileges by making God s gift to them, which has been freely given for Christ s sake, depend upon some conditions of their own making. Like Jacob, too many will not trust where they cannot trace, little thinking that trusting begins where tracing ceases. Too often people go to church, or Bethel, as the case may be; and they suppose that if they feel God s Presence, He is there; whereas, He is there, whether they feel it or not. Like the woman of Samaria, they go to the well to draw water, and quench their thirst; but they do not see or know the Prince of Glory, who is sitting at the well, and who can give them living water, which shall be in them a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Jacob's vision was but a dream, and the ladder merely a figure; but we have the reality in Christ. He is Himself here, and the angels of God are ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. He is the very ladder set up on the earth whose top reaches to heaven. His God and ours His Father and our Father says to us, "I am with thee to keep thee, whithersoever thou goest" Do we believe in this real Presence of God and Christ? He is here, and says to each one of us assembled in this building, "What wouldest thou?"

It was a time of spiritual baptism and refreshment to living souls, and of life to many who came there dead in trespasses and sins. We had three services that day thus the Bethel was opened. It has since been a place of spiritual blessing every month, and I may even venture to say every week, for the last eighteen years. Besides this, many fishermen and sailors have gone forth from the place carrying their joyful testimony to various and distant places.

From, 'Tet Not I', by William Haslam, p188/9.