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"The love that would not let me go"

A testimony of God's amazing grace


My name is David Brown and I was born in 1940. Raised in a Christian home I worshipped at an open brethren assembly where my father was an elder. Saved and baptised in my early teens and called to preach a few years later I attended Moorlands Bible College then at Dawlish and under the leadership of its founder/principal David Clifford.

I served as college evangelist for a few years conducting tent and open air missions mainly but not exclusively in the West Country.

I later served as Pastor to independent mission churches in North London and Kent. Whilst in Kent I attended and enjoyed the fellowship at the Westminster Fellowship under the chairmanship of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones.

In January 1975 I moved to south London to serve as Pastor to an FIEC affiliated congregation. During my time there I formed a liaison with a female member of my congregation (I deluded myself with the argument ‘this feels so good it must be of God’!) until in September 1978 I left my wife and 4 young children, abandoned my flock, and betrayed my best friend by leaving with his wife. Not only did I harm all these people but I gave the enemies of the Lord the means to make life difficult for the wider church as the News of the World gave it publicity.

On a number of occasions the Lord graciously called me to repent but I refused and from that time onwards I carried on in what I now look upon as being held in the Devil's POW camp.

Many years later at the end of January 2004 (approx 25+ yrs later) and the Lord had allowed me to get to an end of myself. With everything in a complete and utter mess, and on the verge of taking my own life God stretched forth His loving arms and rescued me.

How did it all happen?

One evening back in 1978 a member of my church received a ‘phone call from his wife, who had spent the previous week staying in a south coast guest house run by relatives. “I’m not coming back” were her heart breaking words.

What that person did not know, was that for 3 years his pastor; had been having a relationship with his wife.

However this ‘phone call on the eve of my family holiday took me by surprise and was going to force my hand, either by making me acknowledge, confess and repent or to desert and hurt my family, flee my ministry, cause havoc among my flock and distance myself yet further from the Lord who for so many years had been my joy and delight.

Almost 4 years prior to this, with my wife and family, I had left the pastorate in a small market town where we had been so happy to take up a new ministry in a London suburb. Within days of our arrival and before my induction service had taken place one of our young sons had been hit by a car, tossed into the air and lay in a hospital bed unconscious. One Saturday night in January, the church packed to its doors, the induction service went ahead, whilst my wife lovingly sat at my sons bedside, waiting for a glimmer of hope that would say he was coming round. One Sunday three weeks after the accident a nurse, a member of our congregation, called at the manse on her way home from night duty. “He’s coming round,” she said. We were delighted; our tight knit family was intact. Nothing would ever divide us, or so we thought.

Several months later, I received a ‘phone call from a female member of the congregation, saying she had some domestic and spiritual problems she wanted to talk to me about, could I call to see her? I was wary about seeing her on my own, but later felt fine.

Over the following weeks and months we met quite frequently, she told me that our conversations were helping her. She also seemed to be taking a real interest in various church activities and began attending more services. I ought to have questioned her claims to being spiritually helped especially as it showed no corresponding improvement in her relationship with my friend and her husband. As time went on our meetings got longer and occurred more often and looking back I can see that I was flattered by her interest in me and my work as well as by her remarks which served my ego and made me feel good about myself.. By now I should have noticed where all this was leading and put a stop to it.

Many years ago Martin Luther, is reputed to have said, “You cannot stop a bird resting on your head but you can stop it nesting there.” But what could be wrong in talking and praying together, it seemed to be good for us both!

The affair deepened at an alarming rate, and we began to lie and deceive to cover up what we were doing, and I began to misappropriate funds entrusted to me, in order to finance outings and presents.

The wife’s declaration to say she wasn’t coming home was forcing my hand. Eventually I could take no more of the pressures of living a double life. One day I met her and we decided that I wouldn’t go home and she wouldn’t return to her Aunt & Uncle’s and we headed toward Devon and my beloved Dartmoor.

During the next few weeks, I was getting torn apart with inner conflicts whilst she seemed bothered by none.. There were so many occasions on which I almost went home in repentance, but she didn’t want to, and I couldn’t leave her alone with no one to support her, and I caved in. In any case, what we had was beautiful and precious; I couldn’t just give it up. I was being torn apart, There was this tremendous conflict raging within; between Christ and this woman I had fallen in love with. I saw it as a battle between love and duty, where love at the last minute and final hurdle always prevailed. Of course I now know that although we thought it was ‘perfect love’ whatever else it was ,it was not love as defined in the New Testament, for love which was of God would never have led us to break the commandments and come between us and Him.

One day a friend (E) of mine found us in our caravan, and pleaded with me to go home; another (K) found my car parked in the centre of Newton Abbott, waited to see me and said, “David go home”. One Sunday night we attended a church where I had often been as a visiting preacher, another of my friends (P) was there, and got to the door before we did, and all I could say was, “Get lost and mind your own business”.

About 18 months later we had divorced our former partners and remarried, and for almost 24 years remained together. For most of that time we were happy and enjoyed our lives together, except for the voice that kept troubling my soul.

I tried several business ventures, most were successful for a while, and then I’d do something or something would happen that caused them to end in failure. At such times the voice would say, “I never called you to make money I called you to preach.” I found I could deaden the pain and silence that loving voice, if I hit the whisky bottle, something I’d never touched before!

I thought there would be no problem, I wouldn’t be troubled or resort to the bottle, to silence the voice that kept coming to me, if I could accept that God didn’t exist, so I tried to write a book disproving that He did. The reality was, I never could get to the point where I could deny the existence of the Triune God or the deity of Jesus Christ.

I tried positive thinking and began to tell myself, “You don’t need God, you can succeed at whatever you like if you believe you can.” Positive Thinking doesn’t help much if you are fighting God. That voice haunted me; it wouldn’t let go, “I called you to preach”.

Then I found just what I wanted, a book in which the author reasoned that God was the Universal, powerful, creative subconscious mind, and was in everybody’s subconscious. Wonderful stuff this! The subconscious is subjective, but the conscious is directive. The powerful creative mind that flung the stars in space was at my service! You don’t need me to tell you that there was one problem; it didn’t work.

Eventually a few years ago I began to lose my sight, the company I worked under contract for went into liquidation within weeks of my being registered partially sighted. Now I had no income, and no job and a number of loans. Now I was in real trouble and without telling my wife the extent of my financial difficulties, I began to use our joint savings without her knowledge, to sustain my repayments. My vision was getting worse; I was registered blind. My life was falling apart.

Strangely, I didn’t know why, I began to listen to Songs of Praise. When my wife was out, I dug out the few old records we had of hymns I used to love. Once or twice I took my Bible off the shelf and opened it at random.

One day I attended my daughter’s wedding; she didn’t know, but her mother did, that one of the hymns had always been special to me. Forty-six years before, my local church had sung it at my valedictory service, before my going to Bible College. My friends referred to it as “Dave’s hymn”. I was choked; how could I sing this: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father”? I remembered that faithfulness. There was the day I was to return to college after a vacation, where instead of getting a job, I had conducted some tent and open-air missions. I had enough fare to get me from North London to Paddington. I now had to get to Dawlish in Devon. Close by Paddington Station I called on a customer of my father’s, so far as I’m aware the man wasn’t even a Christian but he gave me an envelope saying, “I don’t know why but I have to give you this.” I walked up to the ticket kiosk and asked for a ticket to Dawlish, and inside that envelope was the exact amount I needed to purchase it. He, praise His name, had always been faithful, but what about me?

It was January 2004; I had to come clean, creditors were pressing and our savings had all gone. I told my wife. She went away for the weekend to consider her position, and returned on the Sunday afternoon to tell me, that as our flat went with her job and I had deceived and lied to her, she wanted me out.

Even now this is really painful, yet wonderful to recall. I can’t forget it. It still fills me with wonder and awe.

Throughout that long weekend, starting on Friday night I went through a hell I have never experienced before. I seemed to be descending deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit of tormenting flames. I wanted to die but I was scared to take my own life. Would I be changing this present torment for an everlasting one?

The devil was stoking the flames, and it was unbearable. I guess he was having a good laugh, and thinking it doesn’t matter if she dumps him, he’s had it now, he can’t do anything to save himself, and thinks he’s beyond redemption. He’d got it spot on! My wife might have finished with me, and I certainly considered myself finished and beyond hope; he didn’t need to bother with me anymore, I was his for eternity. Or was I?

As the torment intensified and the agony was indescribable, I heard a whisper, I listened again; there it was, the voice of the Psalmist, “Whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” It was beginning to penetrate my mind, and then it changed: “If I descend into the depths of hell behold thou art there.” This must be my mind playing tricks on me, or it must be the devil tormenting me, but it was being repeated. I can remember at last, hardly daring to believe it could be true, saying, “Lord after all these wasted years is it really you? It’s been so far and for so long. I’ve been so disloyal and untrue, scorned you, ridiculed you, rebuffed you wanted nothing to do with You surely You can’t still love me” By now the tears were streaming down my face; “Yes David,” He said “I still love you; I’ve always loved you, I’ve never stopped loving you.”

It wasn’t instantaneous, but slowly, everlasting arms were lifting me up; gradually I was being gently lifted from those tormenting flames. I was home, safe in the arms of Jesus. “O love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.”

On the Monday morning I sent an email to my daughter (who at 14 years of age I had baptised in 1976.) who was now a missionary in Kenya. I telephoned my sister in St. Albans and asked if I could go to them for a couple of days, and then rang my other daughter in a south coast town to arrange to stay with her from the following Thursday, and until I could get myself settled. As it happens, her husband decorates flats for a letting agent and the very morning of my call had taken the keys of a ground floor flat that would suit me fine. When he mentioned my plight to his boss he was told, “It’s his if he wants it.”

That Monday night my brother-in-law drove down from Hertfordshire to collect me; as we drove through the darkness the only voice that couldn’t sing in tune, and wasn’t allowed to sing in the college choir 46 years ago, began to make a joyful noise, as it remembered well loved hymns and spiritual songs.

I had left home on the verge of bankruptcy with less than £20 in my pocket. Apart from my office equipment my wife wanted most of our furniture and possessions herself and felt that as I had spent our joint savings I only had a right to what she considered surplus to her requirements. I was in no state to argue!

Help has come from all manner of sources, and I have not needed to ask; my Heavenly Father has known my needs and supplied them. Brief examples will have to suffice!

On my return to Christ friends I hurt and wronged so long ago bought me a large print Bible.

A little later I went to Devon and stayed with some friends (E & M) I hadn’t seen since they pleaded with me to return 26 years ago. We threw arms round each, we prayed together and another friend (K) who visited me there put his arm around me and said, “I do love you my brother.”

The mother of friends of mine had been contemplating selling up her home and moving in with them. Just when I needed to furnish my flat she decided to do so and generously gave me most of my furniture.

The friends to whom I said “Get lost ” 26 years ago had not seen me or even known where I was until I found their address and wrote to say that I had returned to the Lord. They shed tears of joy and said to one another, “The devil won’t take this lying down, he’ll be hitting him hard, we must send him an encouragement from the Lord.” They wrote me a letter enclosing a cheque they said He had told them to send.

My God is both God of the Impossible and God of Surprises. “Great is His faithfulness.” His provision and His timings are perfect. This is the same God who term by term provided my college fees and provided all my needs as I conducted tent and open-air missions over 40 years ago. He has not changed. His faithfulness and love are as steadfast as ever they were even toward me who for 26 years fled His service and denied Him so often.

Jesus, in prayer to His Father, said, “Those that Thou gavest me I have kept. None of them is lost.”

“O love that wilt not let me go”

I have just skipped very quickly over those first 6 months and although they were wonderful, and so full of abundant blessings, they were not always easy. There was so much to rejoice in as the Lord had restored unto me “the Joy of His Salvation”, but there were many tears also.

To take you back for a moment to that painful yet glorious weekend when “Jesus Himself drew near” and rescued me.

As the relationship that led me away from Him, ended in painful rejection, He graciously restored the one with Himself in which today, I so much delight.

When I first left home in 1978 my wife and best friend helped and supported one another through those dark and painful days so that after we divorced and I married the one I had abandoned all I once held dear for, they also married one another. It was they who within hours of hearing from my daughter bought me a large print Bible, who helped get the flat that my daughter’s husband had arranged for me to rent, furnished and ready for me to live in. To one who caused them such anguish they have shown nothing but loving kindness and forgiveness.

At first I thought it would only be a matter of a few weeks before my wife would also return to the Lord and then to me, so that we could have a combined testimony of restoration. Today I am not sure that it would ever be right for me to have that which I should never have taken in the first place. Anyway at the moment my concern and prayer for her is that she should return in repentance and faith to the Lord.

In those early days I had to learn the importance of repentance and what a painful road it could be. I found that at first my confession of sin was in some ways general, i.e. that I had coveted, stolen, committed adultery, denied Him, been proud, arrogant and utterly self-centred and was therefore totally unworthy. The joy of knowing that I was forgiven was and is indescribable. However, I still find being somewhere, meeting someone or a particular circumstance will remind me of a lost battle or occasion of specific sin. At such times I find I have to relive it, confess it and learn whatever the Lord wants me to learn from it and then view it as He does: cast into the sea.

It is often said, “The hardest word to say is sorry.” For me that has been very true! An essential part of repentance for me has been the conviction that the Lord requires of me to apologise to those I so cruelly hurt all those years ago.

Whilst my flat was being prepared I lodged with my son and one day asked my first wife and the best friend I had betrayed all those years ago to come and see me. This was difficult! Over the years I had tried to convince myself and had told others that what I had done wasn’t wrong, it was the way I did it! Now I had to confess how totally wrong and sinful I had been. They wanted to know if they were in anyway to blame for what we had done, and I had to explain that the answer was No, it was me who was wrong and choked with emotion I asked their forgiveness. To my dying day I will never forget my friend getting out of his chair, crossing the room to mine, putting his arm across my shoulder and saying, “We forgave you a long time ago.”

Some people I met, some I ‘phoned and some I wrote to, people who in one way or another had been involved or affected by what I had done. It is a humbling experience to confess to what I had done but it was an essential path to tread. True, there were two of us involved but I had returned alone, and I was going to have to face all these people alone, so I decided that it was best not to try and apportion blame; whatever the temptations at the time they could not be used in mitigation; I should not have yielded to temptation so I had to accept full responsibility for my actions and their devastating effects.

Repentance is an act of obedience that must follow acts of disobedience; it is an act that not only leads to a restoration of fellowship with God but in my experience, with His people also.

I also went through a period of self-examination in which I asked the question, having lived for almost 26 years without any apparent evidence of a work of grace within, and certainly showing no high moral or ethical values, had I been a true believer in the first place? Until 1978 I had no doubts, but in the light of the following 26 years had it all been pretence and a sham? The Lord was being very gracious with me as I remembered my baptism, my call to preach, His answers to prayer and demonstrations of His faithfulness and the sweetness of the fellowship I enjoyed with Him. Yes, I was His, but I had succumbed to the ‘wiles of the devil’, somehow I had taken my eyes off Him and chosen my own way even to the point of questioning the scriptures and using them out of context to justify what I was doing.

I reasoned on, did that mean I had been saved and then lost? Had I been, and then ceased to be a child of God? No! I had been a foolish, rebellious child, threw off the restraints of home and like the prodigal paid a high price for what I considered to be the freedom to be myself. Many years ago I recall having asked a group of young people in an after church fellowship “When is freedom free?” I had done the exact opposite to what I told myself I had done, I hadn’t walked from bondage to freedom, but from freedom I had become ambushed and taken into captivity. In all that time, like the father of the prodigal, my Heavenly Father never disowned me.

Those who know much about me will know that although born in North London the one place I love (probably because of associations) more than any other is Devon and particularly Dartmoor. When as a young evangelist I had a few days between tent missions, I would visit some dear friends (E & M) who lived in a cottage beside a reservoir in the heart of Dartmoor. I used to climb the hill across the narrow road in front of their cottage and sit with my back to a large grey stone in prayer and meditation. During the years of my exile I had taken my partner to every place of significance to me and several times walked or drove along that narrow road. At times I would wistfully look up that hill but it was like forbidden territory, I couldn’t go up there with her or even on my own. A few months after my return to faith I can remember telling friends “I don’t know why, because I know the Lord is here with me here but somehow I feel the need to go to that moor land spot.”

My first wife and her husband decided to take a holiday in Torquay so that they could take me for a reunion with the friends who by now lived in Torquay rather than out on the moor. Within a few minutes of my arrival, my friend said “I thought we’d go, out to Fernworthy in the morning.” The next morning we drove out and parked by that cottage.

I didn’t expect to find the stone but if I could just climb that hill I’d be happy. The sins of those wasted years had taken their toll, my friend took my arm and guided me over the rough terrain; after a while I had to stop for a ‘breather’ and as we did so he said, “We’re about 3 yards from your stone.” I couldn’t see it, so thinking no-one knew of it replied, “How do you know it’s my stone?” “I used to come home for lunch, look up the hill and see you sitting there, I know it’s the right one because it’s the only one in direct line with the cottage.” He was right! I recognised it! It wasn’t a stone to sit on but seemed to rise out of the ground like a tombstone so I sat as I used to, on the ground with my back against it. My friend walked away and left me alone for a while as memories flooded into my thoughts. Several minutes later I used the stone to pull myself to my feet and with arms outstretched shouted, “Free at last”. After all these years I was free to pray, free to read the scriptures, free to worship, free to praise the Lord, free to sing songs of Zion, free from the guilt of sin, free from the devils stranglehold over me. A wonderful moment! My friend returned to my side and before we descended from that place he read Psalm 139 and we prayed together.

A couple of years ago two of my wife’s and her former husband’s daughters married. One of those occasions was particularly difficult as I could hear my wife close by talking to others but ignoring me. I was feeling the pain of rejection all over again! People were offering to buy me drinks and the devil was saying, “Go on, hit the whisky bottle, you know it deadens pain.” Was I going to succumb with the eyes of our children and other relatives looking on? I went into the hotel garden to be quiet and to pray. Eventually the time arrived for my son to drive me home. I ‘phoned a friend in Devon and we prayed together. I felt a little better but later the attack resumed. I walked into the lounge and took a glass and my whisky decanter (which I had not touched since my final Christmas with my wife) but as I went to pour it into the glass I found myself walking into the kitchen and pouring it down the sink. Once again the Lord had protected me.

When I first lost my sight I didn’t cope, had no fight left in me and relied on my wife for everything. After my restoration a friend said they were praying and felt that the Lord would restore my sight. I told them that I didn’t think so and that I had reached a point where I actually thanked the Lord for it. It was part of that package of events that brought me to repentance and although I had not seen it as such before it was really a blessing in disguise.

Later and in the providence of God I was reunited with a friend with whom over 40 years ago I had conducted tent missions. With some other friends we had a reunion in November 2004 where in the evening he ministered the Word to us. The event was another milestone for me as in the afternoon, for the very first time in 26 years I ministered the Word to them. Since then I have joined this friend on several occasions and together in various parts of Devon and Derbyshire we have ministered to the saints sharing testimony and the Word.

I have to confess I do not, even now, find it easy giving my testimony. I want to do so to show how much grace has abounded but it remains painful to show first how much sin abounded. Yet I cannot stop! I simply have to tell what wondrous things God in His grace has done in restoring my faith.

So much has changed in the years of my exile so that in some ways it’s been a cultural shock! In some churches the music and style of worship is vastly different, and in some the sermon seems to be allotted a smaller time slot and has less substance. I am concerned that often we seem to be leaning over backwards, especially for our young people, to reduce the gap between the church and the world so that they will not find ‘accepting Christ too difficult’. Sometimes it seems that our emphasis is on encouraging folk to come to Christ to receive the abundant blessings He bestows and we ignore the fact that mankind is lost in sin and that “God commands that all men everywhere should repent and believe the Gospel.”

As I have needed them I have found Scriptures I thought long since forgotten flooding back into my mind and I thank God for those who in my youth taught me to memorise them. I don’t observe this happening much today. Is this perchance a consequence of the multiplicity of ‘versions’ used? I have found myself with a great hunger for the Word of God I ignored for so long. It was available to me, I chose not to read it, and it is once again so precious that my heart goes out to those living in lands where it is not readily available or even a crime to possess.

There have been numerous lessons for me to learn but the Lord has been gentle, patient and gracious with me.

I have nothing of which to boast for the restoration and transformation in my life has been in no way earned or merited, it is ALL of Grace.

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, Grace unknown
And love beyond degree.

Surely He has not dealt with me according to my great sin and wickedness but according to His great mercy and steadfast love.