[Ministry at Pulverbach, Hertford, and Sutton Coalfield. 1844-1845.]
April 24, 1844 (at Pulverbach, in Shropshire). I am this day entered into my seventy-second year. I have had many times some sweet tokens of the Lord's special favour - passing glimpses of his shining face, which gave a divine light upon my path, and showed me that all the way in which he has led me has been in infinite love, mercy, and wisdom. He never laid a cross upon me but he bore a part of the weight, and made me, sooner or later, to see the need of it. In his all-wise providence he brought me here six years ago, the account of which has been already inserted in this book. I believe the Lord gave me both grace and utterance to set forth before this poor people the path of tribulation; and I have had many blessings pronounced upon me by those who heard me, and who have since manifested the true fear of God. This evening the Lord enabled me to speak upon these words "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" [Eph. 8]. The Lord was with me, and gave me an understanding to know what it was to feel less than the least, for here I have found his grace bestowed upon me, which was none other than the immeasurable love of Christ, the height and depth of which can never be fathomed.
April 25. My morning reading was from John vi. 37 - "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me, and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." I have found many fears and much dismay from the various occurrences of the day, and have been much cast down from a forgetfulness of the importance of my charge; and when covered with a cloud, and the Lord withdrawn, I have been made to tremble; but in meditating and speaking upon this subject, I have found, after some diligent search, that he will in no wise cast me out. The hope that this creates gives me subject-matter for speaking; and the display of the Lord's mercy to me, reaches the hearts of the hearers as the work of his own hands.
On the 16th of November, 1844, I left Pulverbach, after seven months' visit. The Lord had been with me there in a peculiar manner; he had been a very present help in my many sore conflicts, and had blessed the word to many souls. I dreaded the long journey home, but found the Lord's gracious help, and arrived in safety, with his blessing in my heart.
Immediately on my return home I was unexpectedly called to take Mr. Gilpin's place at Hertford for a month. A few of the people there were in the furnace of affliction, and these showed much appetite for the word, but I did not find the same simplicity in all; myself being in much trouble and conflict, it made the word appear too sorrowful for such as were at ease; nevertheless I felt an amazing power upon my own heart, and though often very low yet I was much supported, and more than usually clear in setting forth the absolute necessity and certainty of a path of tribulation. I often felt much depressed in the onset of my discourses, but always found the sweet supporting power of God defending and comforting me before I finished. After my concluding discourse I sank into many fears lest I had presumed in speaking at all; and I went into my room alone, and poured out all my trouble before the Lord. I think I had never felt so much abject sorrow and such a falling down in spirit. I did from my heart beg pardon of the Lord; and to my surprise he came into my heart with such an immeasurable feeling of his love and sweet approbation as quite overwhelmed me. This took me home in sweet peace.
I am often tempted and harassed to know how far the word has been profitable; but this is not being NOTHING. I find it better to leave the effect of my preaching with the Lord, that he may have all the glory. I know that the enemy seeks in all possible ways to dishearten; and the more faithful it pleases God to make a man, the more hindrances will the devil put in his way to prevent the profit, as well as to bring reproach in many ways upon him. The Saviour had the most and worst of it; but I perceive many, who have the root of the matter, often, through ignorance, bring heavy charges upon the afflicted.
Now I have returned to my family, and have many things to be thankful for; yet the many afflictions I have known make me to, stand in awe, and to have much fear and trembling in my heart; and I desire to found my hope upon the free sovereign mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and not upon the things that are seen.
This scripture followed me after I returned from Shropshire, "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler" [Ps. xci. 4]. It comforted me for many days, and from that psalm I was furnished with four discourses. But I felt a mourning in secret, because I had now returned home, and was set aside (as I thought) as a useless and fruitless branch. I told the Lord of my great love to the people at Pulverbach and Hertford, and said, Lord, thou hast made me faithful, and I have still a longing desire to tell thy people of thy faithfulness and truth, but I feel now shut out from all hope of ever being profitable to any. While I was thus mourning, it was kindly whispered in my heart, Have patience and you will see an opening by and by. I was much surprised at this, and pondered in my heart in what way it would appear. In a few weeks a letter was received from a distant friend, expressing the anxiety of some who were under much darkness for want of a teacher, and the confusion of their minds through the false and wrong teaching of the professing gospel ministers in the neighbourhood. When I heard this, I said to myself, This is the opening I have had some intimation about. But after pondering it over some days, I felt I lost all desire for it, and my thoughts were quite turned away from it. I often thought of Samuel being sent to Jesse to anoint one of his sons to be king. I thought, like Samuel, that the first looked like the right one; but not so. Then I heard of some of the colliers at Pulverbach about to leave that place for want of work, and to go to the neighbourhood of Abergavenny. Finding that there were amongst them some of the families whom I loved in the Lord, I began to feel my heart drawn out to go and see them; but I presently found that this also was not the one appointed of the Lord, but I must wait and watch further.
Not many days after this, I was informed by a relative of the late Mr. E. C. Willoughby, of Sutton Coldfield, that he was seized with a fatal illness, and sorely alarmed at the prospect of death, though now and then cheered with a little hope. His conflict increased as he drew near his end, and excited much anxiety in his mind for those whom he had to leave behind. He cautioned and warned them much of the dreadful snares and vanities of this life, and especially of the danger of a false profession, and of those who preached a false religion under the name of evangelical. His hopes and fears followed him to the end, and the last words he was heard to say were, "The Lord has drawn me through the STRAIT GATE."
The moment I heard of this, something seemed to say, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he." The friend who gave me the account pressed me to go and set before them the truth, as the Lord should enable me. But many difficulties arose, and sinking fears surrounded me; still I could never quite get rid of the feeling which sprung up in my mind when I first heard the proposal - "THIS Is HE; ARISE" [1 Sam. xvi. 12].
I now began to be deeply exercised to have a clear testimony from the Lord respecting the part I had in the whole thing. The darkness became thick darkness; but, to my surprise, I found that God dwells in the thick darkness, and often softened my spirit and wrought great contrition, so that I could lie at his feet and watch to see what he would in mercy do for me. Sometimes I found (as Luther says) a thunderstorm of tribulation, and feared the Lord would never appear for my help. How often, under these sharp conflicts, have I found the sweetest compassion from the Lord, and the sweetest contrition, being made willing to be anything or to go anywhere, if only I might have his blessing and his presence. But I am slow to understand the humbling which must take place before the lifting up.
Mr. Burrell said to me, with great tenderness and affection, "Be sure you have CLEAR WORK in this affair;" which made me ponder what could be considered as clear work. Luther says many are not satisfied without some sign to assure them that the good things they look for will come; and adds, "This is tempting the Lord with unbelief." This did not satisfy me; I still kept pondering what clear work could mean. One morning, I had an intimation that the sensible presence of God would clear my way; and these words looked straight at me, "Who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me" [Psalm iv. 6]. This, I perceived, opened both my heart and my mouth; and I felt assured, if I found this, I should not be proceeding in a wrong course. I was then led to Psalm xxi. Here the Lord was pleased to speak a plainer language upon my heart; and though greatly opposed in the application of it, the enemy continually roaring out, This is a prophetic psalm and only belongs to Christ, yet I could not be kept from it, because the Lord tells us he will make us kings and priests unto God; and the joy broke forth, and my heart was ready to break with the amazing power of the Lord's love to me. I went on to these words, "Thou hast given him his heart's desire." I remembered my mournful feelings, thinking the Lord had set me aside as a broken vessel, and then his telling me to exercise patience; and now I saw that he did indeed remember me. I continued speaking in my heart, "Thou hast not withholden the request of his lips . . . . Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness... He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it to him;" even eternal life. I kept crying out, Lord, all this is too good and too great for me; and the more I cried, the more the Lord heaped upon me his love and mercy. I did not know how to express myself, but my glory was indeed very great in his salvation. "Thou hast made him most blessed for ever." I said, This is thyself; but something replied, There is no blessedness in Christ but as united with his mystical body therefore, whatever blessedness is in Christ Jesus, the true and living head, the body must be a sharer in it. I could not resist the power and sweetness of these things. Then this seemed to crown them all, "Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance." This was my sign; and this I felt to be as clear as the sun at noonday in my behalf and in the thing in which I was about to be engaged. I am not able to describe the overflowing sense I had of the Lord's presence, and how low it laid me in the dust. The next verse seemed to meet my utmost wants, namely, MERCY; that through the mere mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, I should not be moved from my hope. I have cause to be thankful that our minister cautioned me to seek for clear work, and still more that the Lord enabled me to attend to the caution, and ponder it over with much prayer. It is a sweet source of encouragement that the Lord will fulfil the desire of them that fear him, that he will hear their cry and save them. Who has greater cause to praise the Lord than myself, though of all men most unworthy of his mercy?
Notwithstanding all this, I presently began to sink and to fear many things, and the enemy would crowd upon my mind many other troubles which had no reference to this matter. I asked the Lord very mournfully how it was that I should find such mercy, and yet so quickly feel myself surrounded with griefs; and I think I shall never forget the sweet manner in which it was gently spoken upon my heart, that there was a need for it. From my very soul I cried, Lord, I believe it. Do teach me to stoop; thou knowest I cannot, unless thou teach me! I felt my abject condition, and yet was made sweetly passive to lie at the Saviour's feet, for him to mould me to what he pleased. This humiliation was attended with much brokenness of spirit and assurance that the Lord was my friend; but it pleased God to establish my heart with these words, "Him that honoureth me I will honour."
On my arrival at Sutton Coldfield, I scarcely knew how to proceed; but on the third evening we had a public meeting at my lodgings, and a greater number attended than could have been expected, and much approbation was expressed. I called on the family whom I was told would be most glad to see me. I found them very plain, respectable, God-fearing people. These also came to hear me, and expressed great profit. At length our room became very crowded, and many were obliged to go away. My friend Mrs. W - then opened her large hall, and made it very commodious for all who chose to come, and the word appeared to take some effect. Not only the townspeople attended, but many of the servants from the different parks, and occasionally several ministers from the neighbourhood. Of these a Chartist preacher attended the longest, but at last took offence and entirely left. Then some of the "Plymouth Brethren" came and professed much love, and gave me many pressing invitations to preach to them; but I warned them so sharply, that I never heard of them any more. Then the Wesleyans came, and I pointedly spoke of the fatal error of their doctrine, and set forth the eternal purpose of God in the salvation of his elect people as revealed in his word; this was quite enough, they never appeared again.
The word seemed attended with great power, and many gave very singular testimonies of it; yet all the trades-people who had at first joined us withdrew; but my friend Mrs. W seemed greatly profited, and was most steadily comforted and brought back from the sad backslidings which had taken place during her prosperity. One of her servants, too, was much instructed, and has given us reason to believe there is the true fear of God in her heart.
I found the people generally so bound to the ceremonies of the church, that little regard was paid to the vital power of the truth. Though professors of religion, they thought themselves safe so long as they attended at church; and even some who professed to profit much by my preaching were greatly entangled with dreadful errors, such as that baptism is regeneration, and that people must keep the commandments, and not attend to what is called experience.
I perceived that church people, and dissenters too, set their faces against us. The contest became very warm, and all opposition that could be was made. Two of my principal friends had secretly fixed a day to decide whether to continue hearing me, or to attend the church. That day the Lord led me to speak from these words, "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men; in whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes" [Psalm xxvi. 9, 10]. I found great liberty in setting forth the various snares that are laid for God's people, and how most assuredly they would be entangled by them, if they followed their own counsel, and continued hearing errors to screen themselves from the cross. On my way home, they asked me if I knew what they had been talking about that day? I replied, No. Then, they said, the ministry must be of God; for it has laid open all our plans and entered into every particular of what our intentions were respecting our attendance at the church and your meeting. Mrs. Rose, a young married daughter in the same family, joined them; she had at first delighted to hear me, but when she found the cross heavy, and business fall off, she half repented being among us; however, it pleased God to afflict her with a dangerous illness, and in this she fell into sore conflict and great fears; and here the Lord appeared for her, and brought her sweetly out. This caused her also to be at a point to continue with us.
The time of my leaving was now come, and the friend who had opened her house for the meeting went to reside in another town; but it was not long before I paid another visit to Sutton.