[The Beginning of his Ministry - Visits Hertfordshire and Shropshire. 1838.]
I HAVE before stated how I was led into my professional employment, and that when it was clearly impressed upon my mind what I had to do, I immediately began to practise drawing. Not having the means of paying for instruction, I was obliged to work hard to attain to any degree of skill. I have often wondered how the Lord blessed me in my endeavours to sketch from nature, which was one essential point. My first attempt was at the Lakes, where I made a hundred sketches, which were very profitable to me in various ways for forty years - the subjects being so well chosen. The following year I went through Devon and Cornwall, and was equally successful there, and in this way I became well supplied with materials to work upon. It was very surprising to me that my first employment was in families which, though of high rank, were as little acquainted with the arts as I was; but as it pleased God to increase my talent gradually, so I gradually rose to be employed by those who were better acquainted with the arts. It has often been a wonder to me how the Lord maintained my lot with so very little talent, making me to be well received and respected for thirty years; and how he also preserved my spirit so that I was enabled to keep up communion with him; and how evidently he made a way for my escape, though often in the midst of temptation. The way of escape was frequently made by his bringing upon me a heavy affliction, which kept down my propensity to levity and foolishness, and sometimes by his showing me how dependent I was upon him.
Before there appeared the least decrease of business, these words were impressed upon my mind as spoken by the Lord expressly to me - All these shall go into captivity. I felt assured it was spoken in reference to my business, and that I should outlive my employment, and soon afterwards it gradually began to decline. From one after another of my principal employers I received very kind letters to say that they should have no further occasion for my instructions.
But as this declined, there appeared an opening in a new line of things. Family afflictions brought a stricter attendance on family prayer; and the portion of time allotted to prepare for this was often a source of great comfort and communion with the Lord, and this brought great savour in our worship to those who heard it, and several friends living near became constant attendants. This led to much correspondence with distant friends, and opened a field of employment which I had never before thought of. I have often wondered at the great sweetness which I have felt while writing, insomuch as I have scarcely been able to proceed for the tears of contrition that have often flowed from my eyes under the sweet and powerful sense of the Lord's presence. What has often surprised me, and also filled me with awe, is the weight that the Lord has given my exhortations, both for instruction and reproof, as well as consolation; and how at length I have been brought from these small beginnings to be more publicly exercised both at Hertford and in Shropshire, where I have found the peculiar presence and power of God supporting and enlightening me to proclaim the wonders of his Son. Although I have had many sore conflicts in these exercises, yet in the end the Lord has always appeared and brought me clearly through with a sweet sense of his approbation and the blessings of many poor souls. So that the loss of my business did not prove the loss of employment, but it pleased God to turn it into another channel, and thus to sanctify my many afflictions to the good of others. I believe it has pleased God to withhold all human help, knowing that there is nothing more dangerous than independence of God. Our eyes and our hearts must be up unto the Lord, and our expectations must come from him. Living in this way is profitable to those we have to speak to, as well as to ourselves. Nothing less would keep me humble - this, and the sanctified effect of my various sharp afflictions, makes me come down to my proper place, and gives efficacy to the word preached to the afflicted people of God.
I believe it was the Lord who caused me to lay to heart the welfare of some people in the village of Pulverbach, in Salop, and led me, after many prayers and some sweet encouragement, to visit them; and I think by his mercy I was a weak instrument made useful to them in expounding the Scriptures, and setting before them the word of life.
For two months before I took my first journey to that place, it was much impressed upon my mind that no good could come of it, unless like Paul, on his dangerous voyage, I was found in the exercise of the same means; namely, abstinence from self, and prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord put great tenderness into my heart, and much spiritual anxiety to know his mind and will, and I searched for him as for hid treasures; and these words first claimed my attention and greatly warmed my heart - DRAW NIGH. "Behold I send my angel before thee to keep thee in the way; beware of him, and obey his voice" (his secret teaching) "and provoke him not" (by making light of that teaching). "But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For mine Angel shall go before thee .. . . And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee. There shall nothing cast their young, or be barren in thy land; and the number of thy days I will fulfil . . .. and thou shalt make no covenant with them " (the inhabitants of the land) [Ex. xxiii. 20-32]. This continued many days, and the Lord also led me to plead with him in these words, and talked with me by them in infinite condescension, as a man talks with his friend "Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now, therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight." These words wrought such contrition and weeping before the Lord as I cannot describe. I paused and wondered; I thought I had never seen such kind words before. At length, not knowing what would follow in the reading, I was surprised with these words - "MY PRESENCE SHALL GO WITH THEE." This brought me down in the dust before the Lord, and made me lower than I can possibly describe. O the infinite condescension of our God! His ways of judgment and mercy are past finding out. I still continued to feel as if I dared not to go anywhere, or take any step without him. I said, How can I go without such a Friend and Counsellor? "For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth." And the complete answer came in the next verse - "I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name." And again, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" [Ex. xxxiii. 12-19]. These things afforded me the sweetest assurance of the Lord's blessing and approbation, and removed all my anxiety for the time, and made me quite willing to be at God's disposal, and entirely leave the event of my journey with him.
About this time my young friend Mr. H. H. fell sick, and my my constant visits and anxiety respecting him seemed for awhile to set aside the exercise respecting my journey into Shropshire. But it made me very prayerful and tender, and proved a sweet preparation both for the sick room and as well as the weighty importance of my message. At this time I was favoured with much intercourse with the Lord, and sometimes my joy so abounded that I began to wonder what the Lord was about to do with me, my spirit became so meekened. I found great profit in my visits to my dying friend. Various circumstances combined to sober my spirit, and the Lord often conversed with me in the reading and hearing of his word; but at times I was cast down with fears, expecting to meet with much opposition at Pulverbach; and yet it occurred to me that if the Lord really meant to confound me, he would not have shown me such sweet and precious things as I have described. My hope was (upon the whole) steadfast; and when I seemed ready to halt, the Lord comforted me with a fresh token of his favour.
The time was now arrived when I must begin my journey, which I did July 3, 1838; and though with much trembling, yet not without intimation of the Lord's favour on the way. "Happy is the man that feareth always." This happiness the Lord granted me, and it caused me to be much in prayer, and I was comforted with these words - "They shall not be ashamed that wait for me" [Isa. xlix. 23]. I went to rest after my tedious journey, but presently awoke in great terror and much confusion upon my spirit. The enemy told me I should be driven out of the village, exposed to shame, and reproached by all for a fool. All this brought me to a great extremity, and I feared it would all come upon me. I arose at three O'clock in the morning to pray and to plead all that had passed before respecting my journey. I told the Lord I would not, for all the world, have come here if he had not cleared my way. He knew he had made me very tender, and I was more afraid of offending him than of anything that could happen. I entreated him to show me his way, and to compose my troubled spirit; and these words came with a divine and comforting power, and relieved me - "When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him;" also he met me in these verses, - "The battle is not yours, but God's " and "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace;" and when I read this also, "The Angel of God which went before the camp removed and went behind," my soul melted at the goodness of the Lord. I now felt power to return to rest, and fell asleep. I arose early in the morning; and though my spirit was composed, I felt I had received a great wound. But the word of the Lord was sweet; it shone into my heart; and here it was he told me what I named before, "They shall not be ashamed that wait for me."
This gave me courage in the Lord; and thus equipped, I was enabled to begin my spiritual labours. We found the presence of the Lord in our meeting together for hearing and reading his word; and though something of an unruly spirit was at first manifested by some who had not been accustomed to the discipline of the word, yet was the power of the Lord present to heal, and to give efficacy and divine authority to the gospel of the kingdom which he had sent to a poor and afflicted people. These words greatly comforted me; being applied with a divine power, they entered my heart, and made me wonder at the love and condescension of the Lord - "He showed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them" (the world understands nothing about them). "Praise YE the Lord" [Psalm cxlvii. 19-20]. This brought a song of praise, because I was sure the Lord was with me here, though I moved in continual fear. O the sweet power of these words! how can I express it? - "There will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat " [Ex. xxv. 22]. Thus through Christ I found access to the Father by one Spirit.
I cannot describe the sweet confidence this gave me in the Lord, and the repose it brought in, though continually exposed to outward difficulties - everything being done (through the malignity of Satan) so as, if possible, to extinguish God's fire, and that, too, by some who professed the name of Christ. But in seeking the Lord in all this opposition, I continually found some comforting words to relieve me, such as "Be not afraid;" "It is I"; "Be of good cheer." It is such visitations as these that preserve our hearts from fainting. It is in the daily exercise of these things my soul is kept alive from withering. In this way the Lord "
Gives courage to worms,
How should a soldier stand in the day of battle without his armour, and especially his shield? O what should I have done without this shield (which is Christ) against all the attacks and heavy charges that were laid against me? But the Lord was my stay; and I found his power to arm me with such invincible courage, as always made me to come off more than conqueror through him.
Thus the Lord stood by me, and so instructed me by all these various changes, as that others also reaped the benefit. For here I must acknowledge that the Lord made the word profitable both to the conversion and establishment of many poor souls in that place, some of whom have borne a happy testimony to the same in a dying hour. All praise and glory be ascribed to Father, Son, and Spirit for evermore.