[Trials from Friends in the world and in the Church.1807-1810.]
ABOUT this time I was meditating one day on what the Lord had done for me. I was surrounded by outward difficulties, yet was my heart kept peaceful; and I felt greatly afraid of losing my peace, for I was naturally lively and easily betrayed into levity; and as I was mourning over this, and regretting before God the sad places into which I should fall (if suffered) in consequence of it, these words were spoken on my heart, causing much surprise - Never fear but you will have affliction enough to keep that down. And so it came to pass.
I had some friends who had been very kind to me in many ways; but in consequence of my being much concerned about the salvation of my soul, I became a continual reproach to them, so that they now turned to be my enemies. I dined with them I think twice, and was going a third time in my simplicity, not knowing there was any harm likely to accrue to me, but within fifty yards of their door, these words were whispered in my heart with mighty force - "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats; for as he thinketh in his heart so is he: eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words " [Pro. xxiii. 6-8]. This made me to return home immediately, and as soon as my back was turned to their house, I found such peace flow in as I cannot express. I shut myself up for prayer and praise, and was much comforted with the sensible approbation of God.
This soon led to new trials. My friends had been exceedingly profitable to me in a way of business; but now I found their hearts were not towards me as they had been, and I perceived it must finally grow to a total separation, which I foresaw would be a heavy temporal loss. These thoughts filled my mind with much anxiety; and one night I dreamt I was sitting in the room they usually occupied, and the same candlesticks which were always on the table stood there, with candles not quite new nor far burnt down. My friends addressed me as usual, How goes on business? I fear you get nothing. You will soon come to want; why don't you save a little beforehand? While they were thus speaking in my dream, one of the candles suddenly died out, and then the other; upon which I felt a great alarm, and these words were distinctly pronounced as I thought in my dream - Their lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness. I was exceedingly cast down, but presently these words were put into my mouth - "My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation" [1 Sam. ii. 1]. This made me so happy as to awaken me out of my sleep repeating the words. Herein I saw the sovereignty of God; and in this strength I resolved to cast myself upon the Lord, and leave the profits, pleasures, and favours that constantly accrued from this connexion.
I continually felt something painful in my communications with many with whom I had formerly associated. Though I endeavoured to be very cautious, I perceived at length "He that feareth God, must come forth of them all" [Eccl. 18]; and that it is the Lord who divides the house. All our employments, pleasures, conversations, and prospects, differed so much that I saw it was impossible for me to continue on an intimate footing. Under such feelings, on taking leave of a near relation for my journey home, I said (I scarcely know how), This is a long farewell. I think it must be now nearly forty years since, and I have never had an opportunity of returning.
I now returned to London, and went from thence to Brighton, where I lodged with a poor God-fearing woman whose counsel and conversation, I found to be both sweet and wholesome, Here I began to think of the steps I had taken and the little prospect I had of being supported without the patronage of my friends: I was often exceedingly cast down, finding my money nearly spent and my resources completely exhausted. At first I found the comfort of God's presence and love filled up every vacancy, but soon, darkness and distance, in spite of all my mighty resolutions, would often overpower me, for I had little or no understanding in the Spirit's teaching. When I was in darkness, I felt as if no religion; and when I was happy in the Lord, I neither wanted nor feared anything. God's judgments, on his own people, were far enough out of my sight. The furnace-work and chastening, the rod and reproof, were all misunderstood by me. It was happy for me that the Lord did not leave me in my ignorance, but brought me in the end to some understanding in his wonderful dealings with the children of men. I often feared both my money and my religion would end together. I had closed the means which had been fruitful, and I knew not but that the Lord would take vengeance on this my invention, and leave me to ruin. I used to go in secret and weep bitterly before the Lord, not knowing what would become of me, temporally or spiritually. At length I received a letter from a gentleman in London, promising me immediate employment. This encouraged me much, and proved an opening in providence which did not close for many years. Yet I still found the truth of the apostle's assertion, that we "must through much tribulation enter the kingdom."
I had two friends about my own age, with whom I had often taken sweet counsel, and whom I had often freely reproved for what I saw inconsistent in their conduct. One night in the middle of private prayer in my own room, and not thinking of my friends, I was stopt with these words which seemed spoken in my heart - Suppose you were called upon to give up your friends? (alluding to the above two.) I was greatly surprised, and replied, I could not do that; but I felt seriously disposed to recall my words, and said, O Lord, if thou wilt enable me, I can give them up. Upon which these words followed - You will be called to give them up for ever. This startled me and I was filled with fear, but could not tell what it meant. All this passed from my mind until on the following Sunday we met as usual, but to my great surprise they told me they could no longer associate with me, and therefore begged me to leave them. I was much cast down, and went home very sad and solitary, for the cause of their behaviour at this time never once entered my mind (I was afterwards informed that it was my absolutely setting my face against the intended marriage of one of them with a worldly woman, I believing that he was a child of God), but I concluded, as David did when Shimei cursed him, that the Lord had bidden them; so I feared they had discovered I was an hypocrite, and that I was unworthy of the notice of any of God's people. I sank in spirit, "like lead in the mighty waters." I think I never cried to the Lord in such agony of spirit before, I seemed on the brink of despair, and could think of nothing but a person I had heard of who had died in despair. The people of God (as I believed) having judged me altogether wrong, I thought it was needless for me to eat or to drink for nothing but hell. Yet under all these feelings I never gave up crying to God. My two friends went to Mr. Huntington and gave such an account of me, as to cause him to direct his utmost severity against me from the pulpit, which made all who knew me by sight to avoid me. My health became impaired; I could not properly attend to business, and mine appeared altogether a lost case. One morning I was brought to such an extremity of despair as to fear I should die in it, and be for ever lost. I said in secret, If nothing appears in my behalf before seven o'clock this evening, I am gone for ever. I well remember the evening. While I was in bitter cries before the Lord, lying on the floor in a state of utter hopelessness as to my own feelings, these words were gently whispered in my heart, THOU SHALT RETURN IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT. I said, Lord, what does this mean? and it was repeated again and again seven times, and at last broke my heart to pieces and set my soul free from the misery and bondage under which I had laboured so long. Now I knew by the power of the Word that the Lord Jesus Christ was my Saviour, and my comfort was great and inexpressibly sweet, so that I could not describe it. The Lord was now with me, though my friends had forsaken me. I went to public worship, and the minister preached from these words - "Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it and be ashamed; because thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me" [Psalm lxxxvi. 17]. The whole discourse was so sweetly applied to my heart, and so suitable to my case, that though I believed it was intended to favour them that had taken part against me, yet, I do not know that I ever before had heard with such sweetness and power.
This comfort abode with me for many weeks, only now and then interrupted by some sudden reproach cast upon me; for no one would receive my testimony, or even hear it. One day a person in the chapel told me that I must not sit where I usually did; I felt in a moment cast down, not knowing what this being forsaken of all meant. But as I was sorrowing and fearing that I must be totally wrong, the Lord comforted me again with these words - "The battle is not yours, but God's" [2 Chron. xx. 15]. This made me again to rejoice in his salvation. Once while walking on my way, I found my comfort abated, and a cloud gathered over my mind, and having for so long enjoyed the sweet savour of the Lord's presence, I grieved sorely after him, and these words were sent to my heart with great power and encouragement - "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?" [Luke xv. 8]. The word "DILIGENTLY" sounded in my heart louder than all the rest, and I said with much earnestness, O Lord, give me this diligence, and I shall find Upon this the Lord was most graciously pleased to return; and though the outward trial continued for a time, and rather increased than otherwise, yet was he pleased to make it up to me in much sweet communion and nearness of access in private prayer.
Every now and then something would occur to open the deep wound which this dispensation had made in my soul; and as often did the Lord pour in the oil and the wine. Those who took part against me drew over many to their side, and I became of small estimation. I used to be pointed out as the apostate; and many would cross the street rather than meet me.
I now believe that God's purpose in all this was to humble me, and to separate me from false professors. It was not long before Mr. Huntington died, and on his death the people were scattered to all winds, and many of those whom I had formerly associated with, separated from the truth; some have since died, leaving no testimony of salvation. But by this affliction the Lord in mercy answered me "by terrible things in righteousness," and kept me from embracing errors, and humbled me in the dust before him as an abject sinner, feeling the utmost need of a Saviour; and I cannot describe how precious his love was to me.
During this sore trial I was visited in my sickness by a medical man who attended the same ministry, and he kindly sent a friend to see me. This friend was Mr. Burrell, and his conversation with me then formed the beginning of that bond of unity of spirit which I believe will continue to all eternity.
[The following letter was written to Mr. Bourn at this period (1809) by his friend Mr. Burrell: -
"Dear Friend in the Lord,
Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word. Your brethren that hated you, and 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. lxvi. 5]. This has been fulfilled in your heart's experience. The more I dive into this matter, the more I am convinced that the hand of God is in it; and instead of being ashamed of your acquaintance I think myself highly honoured of the Lord to be made an instrument of some good towards you. I perceive that the Lord has given me a right view of your state and case; and I have not a doubt but he will bring you out with a high hand.
I am glad to find that you cleave close to your best Friend, and that he also cleaves close to you. Continue still daily to make your calling and election more sure and every fresh manifestation of our ever-blessed Friend to your soul will surely effect this, for the joy of the Lord is our strength. He will bring us to hope in his mercy, and to believe his love towards us, and to lay fast hold upon his strength by faith; though the Minister, with all the Deacons and Elders, and all the Saints, should set themselves against us. I know that reproach will break the heart, but our good Father will heal it. 'No weapon formed against thee shall prosper.' When heaven and earth set themselves against Hezekiah, the good Spirit secretly made him turn towards the wall and pray, and he obtained a glorious victory. Your case is somewhat similar to David's, for God has put your acquaintance into darkness, and they stand aloof from your sore, because they do not understand your case. But woe be to them that are at ease in Zion, and to them also that are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph! I hope that the Lord will still continue to wean you from man. Remember that the most upright among them is like a thorn [Micah vii. 4]; but our good and gracious God has said that he will never leave us nor forsake us, and that he will put his fear into our hearts, and we shall never depart from him.
God is doing a great work in your soul, and, is about leading you in a plain way, where there is no stumbling. Your being able in the strength of the Lord to stand against friends as well as foes, will greatly redound to the glory of God's grace, and you will perceive that the faith of God's elect, the rich gift of God, is not to be daunted by either men or devils; it is, as Mr. Hart beautifully describes it, -
A principle active and young,
I am yours in the Lord,
JOSEPH FRANCIS BURRELL."
After the death of Mr. Huntington (July 1813) Mr. Burrell ministered the Gospel to a part of his congregation, with whom Mr. Bourne joined in church-fellowship.]