Family Lessons 3: Losing Christ, Losing All

Jonas Windle was my 5x great-grandfather. He lived around Gisburn, leaving the parish church to worship at the Horton-in-Craven Congregational Chapel sometime between 1815 and 1818. As he was arranging his children’s baptisms there, other folk from that chapel were founding Martin Top; perhaps he attended the opening service. So what went wrong?

In the next few decades, he and my 5x great-grandmother separated, he ending his days at the Bolton-by-Bowland workhouse. Readers of previous Family Lessons blogs will note that my ancestors kept the workhouses in business. While he was toiling for meagre lodging in that austere institution, his estranged wife was living with her daughter and son-in-law at Horton Hall Farm and Yarlside Farm near Bracewell (evangelicals from Barnoldswick may remember George and Marjory Lawson who called that farm their home in the twentieth-century). Why didn’t they take him in, also? Perhaps he was too hard to live with, an awkward house-mate, a drunkard, a gambler? At Bracewell church, my 5x great-grandmother lies buried close by her prosperous Hartley descendants. Her husband, in contrast, lies in an unmarked pauper’s grave (probably at Holden Chapel, funnily enough).

Historical records seldom offer more than dates and dry facts; reading between the lines and filling in the gaps is mere speculation and conjecture. Still, from what we do know, I observe the following: as a young man, he had a spiritual awakening, deserting the relatively staid spirituality of the state church for a growing and outward-looking evangelical chapel. At some point in the future, he stopped attending, his marriage fell apart, he could not support himself and he died in a hard and lonely place.

When people leave church, their life does not automatically become one of unmitigated disaster, the roof blowing off, the wolf waiting at the door. Indeed, those who forsake Christ, like Demas, acquire many of the world’s pretended riches. Yet Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Putting it another way, neglecting our spiritual life may cause shortages and deficiencies in life’s other sectors. Jonas Windle started with much- a living, a family, a chapel. He finished with nothing.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Mark 8:35

Poor Jonas lost his whole world, and maybe more beside.

Image: The respectable Hartley family grave, Bracewell Church