[Spiritual Trials and Consolations. 1828-1838.]
THE next trial I was brought into, which was about five years after the affliction mentioned last, was also very humbling to me; yet I have always found the Lord has put down the mighty and exalted them of low degree. And though it has been painful in the exercise of this coming down, yet, as Bunyan says, "He that is down needs fear no fall." Seeing my proud and stubborn heart had need of heavy strokes, the Lord was pleased thus to make full proof of my son-ship, and not let me escape the chastening as a bastard and not a son.
As I was one day meditating on the path I was then in, thinking I was too free of trouble to be quite in the footsteps of the flock, something seemed to whisper, You need not mind that circumstance; you are too well established to need the perpetual furnace. But having often been suddenly overtaken by trials, a fear sprang up, and I said secretly, Who knows but trouble is near? and I felt a caution on my spirit that kept me from lightness. That very evening a circumstance took place in which I perceived I could not but be involved in trouble; and from the serious caution on my spirit, I feared it might turn out more important than it appeared at first. As it continued and increased, I soon fell into deep exercise and trouble of mind; and one morning, whether awake or asleep I could not tell, there appeared before me a smoking furnace, such as metal is melted in. I seemed to hear these words distinctly - "Son of man, what seest thou?" I replied, A smoking furnace. I awoke with much fear upon my spirit, and had many serious thoughts, and continued some days to watch what this furnace should prove.
In a few days I had to hear further particulars concerning the same matter, which I did with firmness though much grief, fearing what the Lord intended to do. But I had not left the room many minutes, when I was overpowered with such a flood of grief, and had such a painful sensation at my heart, that I thought it would terminate my life; yet while this lasted, I had a sweet supporting hope in the Lord, that if I died he would be my Friend, and that I should be for ever with him. But heaviness of spirit soon again overwhelmed me, and I sank into great despondency, yet laboured much with the Lord in spirit to see what he would condescend to do. I was some days before I could obtain any sensible help from him, but in reading Psalm xcix. my spirit was greatly moved with divine awe. "The King's strength also loveth judgment; thou dost establish equity; thou executest judgment and righteousness in Jacob." . . "Thou answeredst them [Moses and Aaron] O Lord our God: thou wast a God that forgavest them; though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions. Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the Lord our God is holy." The meditation upon this kept me steadily looking to the Lord, and very sober minded; and some few days after in reading Psalm cxxvi. I was greatly surprised by the inflowing and power of God's love to my heart, and for the first time had a distinct hope concerning the trial I was then under. "The Lord hath done great things for us;" I had no view as to the time when these great things should be done, but that the Lord would yet look upon us. And when I came to the 5th verse - "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy" - I had the sweetest, clearest, tokens that mine were the tears here spoken of, so that I could but rejoice with all my heart and soul and strength; and on further reading these words, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, BEARING PRECIOUS SEED, shall DOUBTLESS come again with rejoicing, BRINGING HIS SHEAVES WITH HIM" - they caused an, inexpressible revolution in my soul, and made me willing to bear the cross, until it should please God to bring to pass his purposes of humiliation. I think I never found my spirit so broken, meekened, and humbled, for so long a continuance, in my life before. Oh, how hateful sin appeared, how loathsome I felt myself, how great his salvation appeared to me! The sweets of this visit supported me for many days, perhaps a fortnight. The word preached, my family worship, and private reading, meditation, and prayer, all so sweetly harmonized that I now understood what it was to walk with God in peace and equity.
Notwithstanding all this, the trial was not removed as yet, and I gradually sank again into despondency, fear, and sorrow, and almost into despair. One day wandering up and down in the park in this disconsolate state, these words shot like lightening across my mind and passed away - You shall see better days. It seemed to take me by surprise, and for a short time comforted me, in spite of all my misgiving fears. My wife referred me to some verses in Judges X., and when I went home I turned to the chapter, and found some heavy threatenings and judgments which filled me with dismay, such as "Ye have forsaken me, therefore I will deliver you no more." I was greatly cast down at these words, and knew not to what extent the Lord would leave me, but in reading on, I was astonished at the relenting of the Lord so soon. He says "his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." This came with a sweet personal application that I was that Israel; and I replied, How wonderful, Lord, that thou shouldst be touched with the feeling of our infirmities! I perceive that thou wilt not utterly forsake me, but wilt plead my cause, and make me still hope in thee. This stayed my soul for some days, but one night losing sight of all my hope (and a dark night of affliction it was), I seemed to sink almost to utter despair, and could not rest in bed or up. Now, it was suggested to me that though the Lord was grieved for the misery of Israel, yet mine was not to be relieved; he could only grieve for me, he could not help me. In this distressing state I lay for nearly two days, but returning to the chapter to know more minutely what the Lord could mean by it, with a trembling heart I ventured to look at the marginal references. The first led me to Zechariah, where it is written, "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." This once more warmed my heart with hope, and brought into my soul much contrition and sensible abasement before the Lord for his great kindness and condescending, care of me under such distressing circumstances. I continued the search, and was next referred to Exodus ii. 23-25, which shone like diamonds with such lustre and sweet invitation to take them, that I dared not say nay: the sweetness, the power, the meekness, the contrition they brought in, afforded me unspeakable support. "Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them." Precious words! they afforded me sweet saving health, and my heart was broken to pieces under a sense of the unheard of unexpected relief the Holy Spirit afforded me in them. My family perceiving that I was richly entertained, continued reading to me chapter iii. When we came to the 7th verse, I was still more astonished, not knowing where to hide my face, nor contain my feelings of great humiliation before God - "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows, and I am come down to deliver them." I shall never be able to express the inconceivable sensation I felt of God's mercy and condescension in stooping so low as to help me in this despairing place.
The whole of this opened a new line of things to me, and gave me a sweet confidence that the Lord would plead my cause, and encouraged me greatly to bring all my troubles to him. It made me understand that the casting down of my soul so low that I could not even say anything, was yet no token of ruin, but rather of the mighty power of God that could keep me in this deplorable helpless place, and at the same time manifest his grace and mercy another way, which according to his promise made to me, should "turn rather to the furtherance of the Gospel."
The Word has been through all this affliction hitherto a sweet portion, and my only delight - not given up, even when sinking in despair, but constantly looked into, whether anything could be found suitable for such a poor miserable sinner, and whether the Lord would ever speak to me again or no; and thus being found in the way the Lord has every now and then met me with a word here, or a smile there, a pleasant look, or some comfortable persuasion of his favour towards me, so that hitherto the Lord has helped me, and I continue pursuing though faint, to the present day.*
I have to remark to the honour of God's grace that this deep exercise has been particularly sanctified in one especial circumstance, namely, that his supports have been too great to leave room for repining, or finding fault with God's dispensations, or making a tale against any, or muttering perverseness against individuals. I have often been comforted and counselled in reading Matthew xxvii. where our Lord is taken before his judges, and answered them to never a word. Oh the sweet safety of being able to do as he did. I have often feared lest I should be betrayed into the contrary spirit; yet I have had more than once or twice this sweet testimony - "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly."
I have been much melted with godly sorrow in these troubles, those words often being brought warmly to my heart - "Jesus MOVED WITH COMPASSION" - and that FOR ME, in all my calamities. And here I was also brought more sensibly to feel for our Saviour when he expresses himself under pain, temptation, grief, or contempt; "Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow" [Lam. i. 12]. And when at last he cried out under the load of our sins, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and nothing could be extracted from man, but a sponge dipped in vinegar. This vinegar is often suffered to be given to us when in the deepest trouble, and we do well always to remember that our sins procure these things, and to beg for grace to bear the indignation of the Lord, until he is pleased to plead our cause.
Oh, sweet example of patience, and deep sense of demerit in David, when he said of Shimei, "Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him; it may be that the Lord will look upon my affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day." I have many fears that I have not yet got to the end of this affliction, and am greatly afraid lest through pride or impatience I may be left to take matters into my own hands. I know full well by happy experience that safety is of the Lord. "Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established" [Prov. xvi. 3].
In the midst of my tribulation, a friend one day gave me an account of his trouble, and his happy deliverance out of it, in reading Psalm xlvi.; the relation of which melted my heart exceedingly, though I said but little about it at the time. The first words that caught my attention were, "There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." I immediately said within myself, I know where this river is; and at the same moment a sweet draught of its streams entered My soul and made me exceedingly glad.
* The reader will perceive that this was written during the progress of the trial.
The Lord Jesus Christ by this made all war to cease within, and every weapon that appeared formed against me, was broken to pieces, and I then full well understood his power and authority. The troubled sea was still, and I found that the Lord of Hosts was with me, and the God of Jacob was my refuge. Nor did the comfort of this end quickly, but revived again and again for many days, and would come into my heart in various shapes, as "a very present help in time of trouble." "God is our refuge and strength" - so I found him. This also would sound aloud in my heart, so that all my despondency could not shut it out - "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early." These things would be hovering about me continually to counteract despondency; and they did sweetly keep my head above water, but I have since lost sight of this sweet comfort, and am now trembling, fearing, desponding, but sometimes hoping I shall not be utterly cast down, nor finally lose my labour in the Lord.
On going to bed last night after a most distressing, tumultuous, and anxious day, I found my heart so still, I could scarcely account for the change; no enemy assaulted, no fear tormented, but all seemed composure. In this state I soon fell asleep, after the fatigue of many wearisome days and nights. This quiet sensation came over me without any word being applied, but when I awoke in the morning, and found the same composure on my spirit, these words sounded over and over again in my soul, till I was forced to cry out, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he his good; for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." The words - "Let the redeemed," came with such a singular sweetness and personal application to my heart, as if it said, Let James Bourne say so, "whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." I can truly say, "hungry and thirsty, my soul fainted in me," but crying to the Lord in my trouble, he was moved with compassion and delivered me from all my distresses. And though I have found it a path of much tribulation yet I feel with the utmost acknowledgement of God's righteous dispensations, that he hath led me forth by the right way, that I might go to a city of habitation. "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men" [Psalm cvii. 1-8].
In my family reading I was overcome with many feelings when I came to these words, at the end of the same Psalm, "Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it and rejoice, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." They filled my soul with a sweet meditation on the mysterious way the Lord had led me; and now at the age of sixty-five, I am enabled to declare, "He hath done all things well."
I do not look for a cessation in this spiritual warfare while I live; but I have often had this sweet promise made good to me, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." I therefore wish to ascribe the glory of this great salvation to the Lord Jesus Christ, and daily entreat him to be my guide through this "waste howling wilderness."