An Account of the Last Sickness and Death of James Bourne, in his Last Years Minister of the Gospel at Maney, Sutton Coldfield.
- (December, 1857.)
Religion in our day is not very unlike the description which the sacred historian has given of the crowded meeting at Ephesus: "Some therefore cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together." (Acts 19:32.)
Ask most persons who are usually considered by themselves and others as exceedingly religious this simple question, "What is religion?" some will cry one thing, and some another, for the whole assembly of them is confused; and the more part know not wherefore they are come together, except that "there is no small stir about that way."
Twenty-four thousand people went down on the Fast Day to the Crystal Palace, professedly and on purpose to humble themselves before God in that Temple of Art on account of our Indian troubles. Now, we do not say a word against a day being set apart by authority for public confession, humiliation, and prayer. God accepted the repentance of Ahab and the fasting of Nineveh; and a day set apart by Government for the purpose of humiliation is so far a public recognition that we have not, as a nation, yet cast off the Lord as our Ruler; and it also gives an opportunity to the praying people of God to meet together and seek his face, as Joel exhorts, (Joel 3:17,) and as Daniel did. (Dan. 9:3.) But viewing the whole matter with a spiritual eye, independent of, and distinct from, that public occasion, may we not fairly ask, How many of that vast multitude knew, in the things of God, their right hands from their left? Let not our meaning be misunderstood. We view that vast assemblage as a kind of huge mirror in which we may see reflected the present state of religious profession in the great metropolis. The Crystal Palace, that unrivalled triumph of science and art, the pride of London, the prized resort of every class of society for recreation and amusement, that light and airy, yet, noble and commanding structure, which standing on a lofty height gleams beauty for miles around - that this, of all places, should be turned into a dissenting chapel, that a Baptist pulpit should be erected in its very heart and centre, that the gay and giddy crowd, with all the lovers of music and mediaeval courts, should be driven from their feast-day that the lovers of preaching and religious oratory might have it all to themselves for a fast-day! none can deny that this is a significant fact, let them seek to explain it how they may. Many will view in it the triumph of religion over the prejudices which have so long assailed it; others will see in it almost a Pentecostal effusion of the Holy spirit for the conversion of innumerable sinners and the edification of innumerable saints; and others, who cannot take so sanguine a view, or raise up their faith so high, will hail it as a pledge that the Lord is now doing, or is about to do amongst us a mighty work, such as he wrought by Whitefield a hundred years ago. Our faith may be very weak in this matter, and we may be sadly bigoted, narrow minded, and prejudiced; but we cannot help, if we advert to the subject at all, freely expressing what we see and feel. We hope that we have not now for the first time to learn what is true religion and the power of vital godliness; nor have we here to confess to God and man that we have hitherto understood nothing of what the Bible teaches, and the Holy Ghost makes known in the hearts of the saints of God. Weighed then in the balances of the sanctuary, though we would ever desire to hold them, if with a faithful yet with trembling hand, we feel that Crystal Palace religion is light indeed. There may be those who would compare such preaching as was heard that day with that of Whitefield.* Do such persons know anything of the religion which Whitefield possessed and preached? Are they at all acquainted with his experience, life, and labours? Whitefield preached the new birth with tears of heavenly life, liberty, and love streaming down his cheeks; did not open his lips before the Lord had put him into a vital possession of a deep and blessed experience, which, in his public ministry, gushed as a living spring from his heart and mouth; was weighted down with a heavy load of inward and outward trial; lived a life of faith and prayer, of union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ; and was sometimes so blessed in his soul as to dwell on the very confines of heaven. Whitefield was persecuted and pelted by the rude mob; was hated and abhorred by the higher classes of society; was generally disliked and suspected by the lukewarm professors of his day; and was loved and esteemed by none but the afflicted people of God. Whitefield's eloquence was one of feeling, not of words, - of heart and soul, not of mere lips and tongue; and if he had great natural gifts, such as a most exquisite voice and a most expressive countenance, they were all subordinate to the grace of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and were wielded by him almost as if he were unconscious that he possessed them. Besides which, there is another striking feature which seems much overlooked by those who are rejoicing in the return of the days of Whitefield. His preaching was but a part, and indeed but a small part of that gracious revival with which the Lord favoured and blessed his church in this country during the latter half of the last century, and was but one shower of the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit in that day. His gallant ship might have been the first to heave anchor, and leaving the dull and stagnant harbour, been the foremost to breast the winds and waves of the open sea; but Toplady, Berridge, Newton, Romaine, and above all the immortal Coalheaver followed hard in his wake. So that it was not the pulpit eloquence of one man, or a mere gathering together of people to one place, all which, like Jonah's gourd, may perish in a night; but the Spirit of God in the hearts and lips of many choice and eminent saints and servants, men of faith and prayer, sound in the truth, and specially taught of God; men, whose name and memory still live in the affections of his people; and who, in life and death, in preaching and practice, in walk, conduct, and conversation, gave every evidence that they were sent, furnished, and commissioned by the Holy Ghost to hold forth the word of life. And as the ministers, such were the hearers; at least, that portion of them who were called and blessed under their ministry, for "like people like priest" will ever hold for good and evil. They were not a Crystal Palace assemblage, but such saints of God as Tanner, Serle, and Mason, in the days of Whitefield and Romaine; and such tried and experienced men as Keyt, Rusk, and Dore, in those of Huntington. What God may be now secretly doing, or what he may mean to do by all that is now going on we cannot say, for his way is in the sea, his path in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known; and good may arise from men being led to read the Bible and think about religion. But we feel ourselves placed just in this position - willing to hope, and ready to accept any true marks of the work of God, but not willing "to put darkness for light and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter;" nor desirous to say, A confederacy, to all who say, A confederacy. We do not speak with the least unkind or prejudiced feeling against any man or any people; but what we feel in the still, calm depths of our own mind, as desirous to view the whole subject with spiritual eyes, and to handle it with cautious and trembling hands. But we must say for ourselves that the more our own soul is led into the sacred power and holy unction of the life of God, the less do we see of the stamp of the Holy Ghost upon the matter. We have read many of the sermons that have been published, and though, as is to be expected in every man, they are very unequal in ability, we cannot but admire many striking things that may be found in them, and freely acknowledge the vein of faithfulness and honesty that runs generally through them; but however we may admire them as human compositions, and even as such they are often coarse and defective, both in thought and expression, yet we look in vain for the life and power, the unction and savour of the Holy Spirit in them. There is that in them which is eminently adapted to touch the springs of natural feeling, and to gratify those who admire originality and strength of expression, and a line of vigourous and sometimes humorous thought that strikes hard and indiscriminately, but who are utter strangers to the operations of divine grace. But what impression do they leave upon the soul that is feeling after, and looking up for the power of God to melt and soften, comfort and bless? Should we make them our bosom companions on a bed of sickness and death, or in moments of deep trial and affliction? The secret and sacred power that communicates pardon and peace, the oil of joy, the unction from the Holy One, the rain that drops, and the dew that distils the gracious touch from the Lord's own hand, the word of life from his own lips, is what the child of God is looking for under the ministry; and if he cannot obtain this, or any measure of it, in hearing or reading a sermon, be the preacher who he may, he loses that for the loss of which nothing else can make up. Can we find this in the New Park Street sermons? We have not found it. We ask our gracious readers who know for themselves what this divine power is, if they have felt or found it. If not, let us not be led by others. We must hear for ourselves, as well as be saved for ourselves. The grievous point in the whole matter is to see so many persons, and among them old and experimental professors, deceiving themselves in these deeply important matters, and mistaking the mere workings of natural feeling, and the excitement of pulpit eloquence for a religion that will take their souls to heaven. It is a vital, saving religion that we desire to possess and contend for; for if we have not that, we had better be in the world altogether. And we must say that the more we breathe toward the pure, vital breath of God; the more that we stretch eyes, ears, heart, and hands to see, hear, feel, and handle the Word of life; the more that we desire to live under the power and influence of divine blessings; and the more that we seek to realise union and communion with the Lord Jesus, the less we turn to, and the more we turn from, Crystal Palace religion. We call it by this name, because we view it just now as a standing type of the religious profession of the day in general, and of London profession in particular; and we so name it not with a view to wound or injure preacher or people, or distress any tender, feeling child of God, who, in the simplicity of his heart, went down that day with a desire to serve the Lord, but as generally expressive of our views and feelings upon a subject that engrosses so much attention both in the Church and in the world.
* We had the curiosity to buy and read the sermon preached by Mr. Spurgeon at the Crystal Palace. It was indeed a most trying occasion for any preacher to stand up before such a multitude, and all, without doubt, anticipating, from the season and the man, a feat of unrivalled pulpit oratory. We of course cannot tell how it sounded when heard, and as aided by voice and gesture; but as read, it seems to us more like a speech, half political and half moral, and neither of them possessing a high order either of thought or expression, rather than an appeal to the consciences of perishing sinners met to bewail their own sins, and those of the Church and of the land. We could find in it neither Law nor Gospel; and were struck with astonishment when we read what is called "The Invocation," by which the Service was opened; for it is a certain fact that in this opening prayer, God is addressed as "the Supreme being," but his dear Son, the only Mediator between God and men, is not so much as named. It may be pleaded that it was an accidental omission, and that the prayer afterwards does name the name of Jesus. But to omit Jesus in any approach to the Majesty on High; to open a service of humiliation and prayer, in which that all-preveiling name was not so much as breathed; and that the representative of 24,000 mourning sinners never even mentioned that name which is above every name, that name which is the ointment poured forth - how can we think the blessing of God could rest upon a Service, the very opening of which dishonoured him, because it dishonoured his beloved Son? Would Whitefield have opened the service so?
But this is not the only channel in which profession runs. In the days of our fathers it was a river deep and strong, yet hemmed in by high banks from the world at large; but now it is a land-flood that is spread far and wide, and alike shallow and stagnant.
We know not how others may feel, but we can say for ourselves, there are few things more sickening to us than this widespread profession of religion, without the vital power; and the nearer it approaches the truth, the worse it is, because more deceptive, as well as more obtrusive and presumptuous. Profanity is bad. It is grievous to see the sin that runs down our streets like water. The scenes which meet the eye, especially in London, are grievous; but they carry with them their own condemnation, and do not intrude into the sacred precincts of truth and godliness. But a loud, noisy profession, with just enough truth in the letter to salve over the convictions of the natural conscience, but not enough of life or power either to save or sanctify, to deliver from the dominion of sin or separate from the world, like the salt that has lost its savour, is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.
How refreshing to the spirit that is wearied with all this light and empty profession, to turn to something real, solid, and divine; to a religion on which the Lord sets his own seal as his own gift and work! Such a religion as this now lies before us, in the little work the title of which we have given above; and we have to express our regret that, after repeated attempts in London to procure another copy, our efforts are completely unsuccessful. But we will do what we can by our extracts to show what a blessed testimony Mr. Bourne has left to the reality and power of a divine work upon the soul.
If then it be said of or to us, "You poor, narrow-minded, bigoted creature! Can nothing satisfy you? Must you ever be calling in question this and that person's religion, and throw your pen, for want of a sharper and a heavier weapon, against so great a work as is now going on?" Well, we must answer, if you will call us all this, we shall try and bear it. None will rejoice more than we, to find that it is a real work of God. But whilst waiting for this, we can show you something that is his work beyond all doubt and question; and you may compare the one with the other. It is true we cannot give you eyes, but we can and do hold up before you what our heart and conscience tell us is true religion; and we can assure you that it differs as much from the general religion of the day as grace differs from nature, spirit from flesh, and the power of God from the wisdom of man. "Where, where," you ask, "is this wonderful religion of yours?" Why, if you cannot find it in any measure in your own heart, you certainly will not find it anywhere else; but we hope it is to be found, even in our dark and gloomy day, in the hearts of many, for the Lord has still a people whom he has formed for himself, and who even now show forth his praise. But in this little work before us such a religion is to be found - a religion on which the Lord set his own special stamp up to the very close.
How beautiful it is, how edifying to see, as in Mr. Bourne's case, a life of faith crowned by a blessed death, to hear from the bed of languishing and pain, not the murmurs of unbelief, not the cries of guilt and despair, but the words of faith, hope, and love; the voice of thanksgiving and praise. When nature sinks under a load of pain and suffering, when the things of time and sense drop away like the leaf from the autumn bough, when death draws near and eternity opens to view, when heart and flesh alike fail, then to have the Lord near, whispering consolation and peace, and find him the strength of his heart and his portion for ever, surely this direct and immediate testimony from heaven stamps a man's religion as truly divine. Such was the religion of Mr. Bourne.
O how much of what is called religion bears no such divine stamp upon it, no divine stamp on the beginning, and no divine stamp on the end! But let men take up what religion they please, and be as religious as they may, the Lord will own no work but his own, and smile upon no soul which he has not regenerated by his grace.
We have been much impressed with the little work before us. There is a life, a reality, a power in this account of Mr. Bourne's last sickness and death which came home with solemn weight to our conscience. Such a deathbed is rarely witnessed. No raptures, no ecstacies, no excitement, no rant or noise; all calm, still, quiet; yet oh! how deep, weighty, and solemn! What life, feeling, and power!
We are not at all acquainted with Mr. Bourne's history beyond what we gather from this simple record. In the title page, he is said to have been, in his latter years, minister of the Gospel at Maney, near Sutton Coldfield; and he was much advanced in years; as he died in the eighty-second year of his age. He had also evidently passed through much affliction and trouble, for he said on his dying bed, "Not one good word has failed; all those sweet promises I have had in my deep troubles, they all come now to comfort me."
Mr. Bourne, it would appear, though advanced in years, was in the enjoyment of a fair share of health and strength, being able to preach up to his last illness. This came on very gradually about the end of March, 1854, with a slight cold, and at first no apprehensions were entertained by his friends of a fatal result; but it soon turned to a severe attack of jaundice, which so reduced him that he afterwards sank from debility.
"The following sentences," (we here use the words of the little Memoir,) "written by himself, show the feelings of his mind during the former part of his illness, in which he was, for the most part, in a low and tried state, earnestly waiting for the Lord under darkness:
"My cold leaves me very weak, and makes me feel my end is fast approaching. Last night I fell down very low, and could not find the Lord. I thought I was given up as one too bad to be saved. I could not pray with any feeling, and could not call it praying at all. I could justify God. I knew he was righteous in his dispensations to me; but I was a grievous sinner. I acknowledged and confessed, but all was nothing, hardness, darkness. I greatly lamented secretly that my religion in my old age was come to this; but I felt I had no power to alter it. I feared I was walking in something that would prove the root of the matter was wanting. I was ashamed to own this. I could not lie down in my bed; I had no rest. I dressed in the morning, but seemed very poorly in body, and worse in soul; but it being the day appointed to prepare for Wednesday, while looking for something for the people, these words were put before me, 'Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love.' Here I found relief. His love, I felt, was all I wanted; and when I read what you wrote, 'Edom, and Moab, and Ammon had no such hope, why should Israel hope? Christ was there, (and where he is there must be a good hope,) and in him they had a secret principle of life which should never fail,' the last two words made me again to believe the Lord's love was everlasting. Like the tree whose substance is in it when it casts its leaves, so I found it; the returning mercy of the Lord in my heart is a substance when all outward things fail."
"On Lord's day, May 14, he preached for the last time, speaking in the morning for about twenty minutes, upon the words, 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness;' (Psl. 51:1;) and described six sorts of mercy which had followed him all his days: preventing mercy, protecting mercy, redeeming mercy, pardoning mercy, renewing mercy, and crowning tender mercy. In the evening he was only able to speak for about ten minutes, and was supported from the pulpit into his house by two of his hearers."
But the Lord was very gracious to him; and before he once more visited his soul with the returning light of his gracious countenance, in answer to his entreaties for mercy, gave him some whispers of his love in these words, "There be some standing here which shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom;" and these, "It was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." (Matt. 16:28; Luke 2:26.)
But the time was now come for the Lord more fully to manifest himself, and bear his own sealing testimony to the truth and reality of his own gracious work upon his heart.
On Thursday, May 18th, his fears and darkness were quite removed, with a powerful sense of the Lord's presence and everlasting love. He said, "I have much awe upon my spirit and encouragement. I have not served the Lord for nought. He is my strong refuge in the storm. 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' It is a heavenly support. Oh, the love, and mercy, and faithfulness of my God! How sweetly he sustains me! Mrs. C., may you find the same sweet support when you come to the same place. O the mercies of my God! It breaks my heart all to pieces. O Lord, make me thankful for all thy tender care of me, but above all for thy mercy. I know all those six sorts of mercy spoken of. The Lord is my friend."
The following extract will be read with interest, as giving a slight sketch of his early experience:
To one of his daughters he dictated a short account of the beginning of the work of God upon his heart, as follows:
"I want to tell you of my beginning while I am able. I was in deep soul-trouble two years. I went on a journey into Wales. In the place where I slept for the night, I was awoke towards morning with a something, saying 'You had better get up.' O the love, mercy, pardon, and forgiveness that flowed into my heart! and this lasted two years. Soon afterwards, when rather losing sight of it, this came with such sweetness and power, 'What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?' Seek diligently, that was the word. Lord, I said, give me that diligence; and he did restore to me the light of his countenance fourfold. I was told it could not be right, because I had no bondage. I did not know bondage then, but by and by I lost my love and found trembling, darkness, and sore conflict; and had to fight the fight of faith. Then the same persons told me I was not rightly delivered, or I should not have that. I was called an apostate and denied their pew; but here lies the apostate with his heart as full of love as it can hold. But their words then had some weight, and nearly sank me into despair, so that I thought all was lost for ever, until these words were repeated many times with great power, and brought me up again, 'Thou shalt return in the power of the Spirit.'"
The above was spoken with great difficulty, and in broken sentences.
One thing in the above extract much struck our mind; his being called an apostate, and denied a seat in their pew, because his deliverance did not exactly tally with what his former friends considered to be God's only mode of delivering a soul. How much of this miserable, and we may say, unchristian spirit, has ever preveiled, and, we fear, still preveils, amongst persons who take a high standing in divine matters. Few, perhaps, go to such an extreme length as to call a man an apostate, and deny him a seat in their pew because they doubt the reality of the work of God upon his soul; but many a child of God has had to suffer from cruel suspicions which the event has proved were founded neither on truth nor righteousness. How often in such cases does the Lord make good his own gracious promise, "Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified; but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." (Isa. 66:5.) Even the painful exercises that these suspicions produce in a tender conscience often blessedly work for good; for, through God's grace, they mightily stir up a cry in the soul for clearer and clearer, more full and powerful manifestations of the Lord's love, with many an appeal to the great Searcher of hearts, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wickedness in me; and lead me in the way everlasting."
Another thing has much struck our mind in reading this simple memorial of the dying saint. The earnest and affectionate way in which, from his own experience, he contended for the substance and power of a heart-felt religion as a divine reality. There is something very affecting and yet very sweet in the following extract:
May 23rd. - On seeing his two sons-in-law he could not at first speak for weeping; but one being about to withdraw, he called him back, saying, "Come, don't go away; I want to tell you both. These are not tears of sorrow, but of joy. It is a broken heart. The Lord breaks my heart all to pieces with his goodness and mercy. It is no fable, but a reality; a substance. 'When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.' Why? Because 'I have redeemed thee, thou art mine.' O those words, 'This is as the waters of Noah unto me.' 'As I have sworn they shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn I will not be wroth with thee;' no nor rebuke thee. No wrath, no rebuke; and for the Lord to swear! How astonishing! But it is no fable; it is a truth, a reality, a substance. Not one word has failed me." The beginning of the Lord's prayer being referred to, he answered, "Yes, He will let me call him my Father, my God, and the Rock of my Salvation. He won't deny this, which Thomas said, 'My Lord and my God.'" One said "How often you have feared this time!" He answered, "Yes, I never expected it would be thus. No wrath, no rebuke, and for the Lord to swear! but the reason is 'I have redeemed thee.' Redeemed, redeemed thee! With what? With the precious blood of Christ. O that precious blood!" One said, "You find an abundant entrance." He replied, "More than abundant; it breaks my heart." One reminded him how he used to speak of that word, "Wait on the Lord, and he shall strengthen thy heart." He answered, "Yes, he shall strengthen. There is the Lord's will in that. I could have no power now to seek for it. I am so weak, I cannot pray, but only just now and then lift up my heart to him, and he is so very gracious and helps me. Not one good word has failed; all has come to pass. Ah, W - , I never thought it would come to this in the end. Never."
We have only space for the closing scene, the solemnity and sweetness of which is such as is rarely witnessed:
In the night his cough became exceedingly bad, and he said much that was indistinctly uttered; but very plainly articulated many times, "He's nigh, he's nigh." About twelve o'clock he sank apparently unconscious, breathing very hard, until about two o'clock in the morning (June 10th), when he distinctly said, "Let me drink, let me drink." When water was offered to him he put it away with his hand, and, after a great effort, said, "No, no; I want to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem." "Come, come! - Let me dwell on high." "Come, come now." "Make haste." "Come, come" - many times repeated, which were the last words he could distinctly utter.
He continued breathing with difficulty, every now and then clasping his hands and lifting them up as if in meditation or prayer, and often pressing them on his head as if he felt something there, until half-past seven o'clock in the evening of Sunday, the 11th of June, when his nurse, who, with his eldest daughter, was sitting by him, suddenly exclaimed, "Look, how he smiles!" and while they both looked, being much struck with the peculiar expression of welcome in his countenance, he ceased to breathe, gently expiring without any struggle in the eighty-second year of his age.
When we proposed to ourselves to bring this blessed memorial before our readers, we were not aware of the difficulty of procuring a copy; and perhaps had we known that circumstance would scarcely have deemed it right to tantalise them by giving them a sip and a taste of such blessed food without their being able to procure for themselves the remainder of such truly savoury provision.
If we are not mistaken, we owe to Mr. Gilpin the preservation of these fragments of a departed believer; and as the work seems now to be out of print, we should feel glad if the notice we have here taken of it should induce him to present the church of God with a second edition. It is in such testimonies that the life and power of godliness are chiefly seen; and few things come more home to the heart and conscience of those that fear God than to see a dying bed so illuminated with the opening glories of heaven. We have reason to believe that the memoirs of Richard Dore and Mrs. Judd have been much blessed to our readers; and though the memoir before us is not of the same varied character, yet we almost think in power and savour it fully equals, if not excels, them both. Its unpretending simplicity is the least of its many recommendations; its faithfulness and genuineness speak for themselves; and though no words can convey what is actually felt in a dying room, by witnessing the speaking eye; and the expressive countenance of a saint, departing under the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, yet so far as words can do it we seem transported to the very spot, where, when heart and flesh fail, the Lord in an especial manner manifests himself as the strength of the dying believer's heart and his portion for ever.