[Family Afflictions - Promise of Comfort - Further Visits to Hertfordshire and Shropshire. 1838-1843.]
AFTER being absent three months, on returning home with great sobriety of mind between St. Albans and Hertford (where I purposed staying awhile), I was greatly cast down and troubled with a heaviness of spirit beyond what I had felt before, without any evident cause. I mentioned it to the friend at whose house I lodged, and told him I feared there was something hanging over me that would cause me much sorrow. I could not get relieved from it. It abode several days, till I received letters communicating the intelligence of serious illness in my family. I immediately returned home; and when I found my afflicted daughter was too ill to know me,* I was filled with dismay, and began to sink, and sink, until there seemed no bottom; and for two or three days I found no relief, till I feared I had lost my way, and that the Lord was come down in great wrath and judgment to crush us all to ruin.
* The malady affected her mind, and several circumstances combined to add poignancy to the affliction
At midnight, about four days after my arrival at home, my sinking spirit seemed so near the point of despair, that I exceedingly feared all was over with me, and I greatly trembled at the thought. And here the Lord came and filled me with the greatest awe, and made me to understand that I must learn to stoop very low under his mighty hand, and stand in awe of his judgments. I cannot describe the language he spoke upon my heart, nor my dreadful feelings under it; but it removed my despondency, though it did not bring comfort. It made me to feel that I was in the Lord's hands, and that it became me to put my mouth in the dust, and cry for mercy for myself and my family. The next morning, finding an increase of spiritual life and energy, I was crying for help and mercy, and these words brought great relief, "This is as the waters of Noah unto me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee" [Isa. liv. 9]. This brought great quietness into my mind, and I could look upon my child with more composure. I found a great part of the chapter very encouraging to me, and I hoped that I should see a favourable change; but many relapses took place.
Though I was so sorely cast down as not to be able to show my face, yet I am sure it was not an enemy that did this, because I give myself up to the word of God and prayer, and found the public means very profitable. To add to my sorrow, however, I was often found fault with because of my absenting myself from company; but none knew how I was daily tried with the feeling of shame, sorrow, and confusion of face. The reproach we fell into, though I can scarcely tell wherefore (except as the Lord suffers it to fall upon us all), added much to my sorrow; but some extraordinary scriptures were given me with such amazing power, that I dared not set them aside. On one occasion (being at the time sorely bowed down by reproach) the Lord spoke these words upon my heart - "What shall be done to the man whom the King delighteth to honour?" [Est. vi. 6]. How this wiped away all the reproach which I felt! At another time, when greatly cast down, I was comforted by these words, "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait I say on the Lord" [Psalm xxvii. 13, 14]. Once, being in a large company, I was accused of improper bearing in my affliction. I shall never forget how I was secretly warned not to contend, but from first to last it kept sounding in my ears over and over again, "Wait on the Lord, and he shall strengthen thine heart." This was a great support and a means of composing my spirit. But the Lord only knows how heavily I was borne down by my affliction at home, my reproach abroad, and by my own desponding spirit. Once, being in the country, I received a very heart-rending letter from a friend; but, to my surprise, the Lord most tenderly whispered in my heart these words, which I never remembered noticing before, "Say not thou, I will recompence evil, but wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee" [Prov. xx. 22]. This was a sweet relief, but still I perceived the faces of many were not towards me as they had been, which was a perpetual cause of grief to me. While still labouring under the heavy weight of all these trials, these words, which seemed a thousand times too big for such a miserable creature as myself, were, nevertheless, a source of the sweet and heavenly encouragement - "The Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord fighteth the battles of the Lord, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days" [1 Sam. xxv. 28]. These inconceivable words were at first from the fear of presumption put away, but the Lord would not suffer it, but, gave me some sweet intimations that I should see better days, and I began to hope that my afflicted daughter was included in the blessing.
During these exercises, all friends stood aloof, and I believe it was that none should ward off the blow which the Lord was determined to lay upon us for our humbling, and that in love; for how often in my way to Kilburn have I had this passage sweetly applied to me - "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time;" and my heart while now writing receives the report with credit, and is comforted.
I cannot but acknowledge with thankfulness the good effect this affliction from the first to the present time, has had on my family, and the awe which at different times has penetrated their souls. I am sure whatever may be the final issue, I must adore the infinite wisdom of God in this long and painful dispensation. How good and profitable it has proved to us all; and though little esteemed of men, the Lord has often told me that our blood shall be precious in his sight. By this terrible dealing in righteousness he has answered many a mournful cry with such sweet assurances of his loving-kindness and tender care, that I have many times said, Though the Lord should crush me under his feet, I would yet cry unto him; and in this posture I have found him such a defence against all my troubles and fears as I cannot express.
In the midst of this affliction a young gentleman (an officer of the Bengal army, who was then residing with his friends in London) called upon me to declare his attachment to one of my daughters. At first I felt obliged to refuse my consent for many reasons; but it brought me into great exercise of mind and trouble, and I was very earnest in seeking the Lord; and as I was walking across Hyde Park, it was plainly given me to understand by the Lord that I must not put my hand upon this. I was much surprised, but felt sure it was the word of the Lord, and was led to watch the event.
Heavily laden with these two burdens I was led to cry very earnestly to the Lord; and one day as I was going through Dorset Square on business, these words were spoken most sweetly and powerfully upon my heart - Comfort on every side, [from Psalm lxxi.21 . Without considering any point particularly I was led to rejoice, and immediately settled in my mind a temporal fulfilment of the words, namely, the happy event of my daughter's marriage, and the restoration of my sick daughter to health and spiritual enjoyment. For a little while things seemed to turn into this (as I then thought) happy channel. But God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor his ways as our ways. His design was otherwise, for a very few days after this my young friend was taken seriously ill, so that fears were entertained for his life; but the Lord had more to manifest in him, and for a little time he partially revived. Yet it began to be evident that his illness was not to be cured either by medicine or change of air.
These things, together with my sick daughter, weighed heavily upon my spirits, and brought me many a mournful hour. And as I was accustomed to pass through Dorset Square, I remembered the spot where the Lord had so greatly encouraged me, and again asked the Lord, with many fears and tears, Lord, was I deceived in imagining that those precious words were applied to me? O Lord, let me not be deceived! And to my great surprise they were repeated again, with additional assurances that he would fulfil them. This again satisfied me for a short time. But every thing (outwardly) seemed against me, for I found at length there was no prospect of my young friend's recovery. As however his hopeless sickness increased, he manifested more and more spiritual life: though now all prospect of outward relationship was gone, yet I found with him that divine and spiritual union, which never ceases.
It is by repeated afflictions we learn that God's Word is spirit and life; so now I found that the comfort on every side was not the happy wedding, as men are always ready to suppose, but included the happy death of our young friend, who finished his course in holy triumph. This certainly was a part of the comfort which the Lord had promised me, though I did not all at once perceive it, and was sometimes at a loss how to answer when asked how I could make good the words; for my daughter still continuing in her sickness the comfort was lost sight of. Nevertheless something often said, "Let patience have her perfect work."
Amongst these various changes I was often sent for to different places; and in my correspondence also my exercises were very sharp; but I was as often comforted and encouraged to hear how profitable my troubles were to the afflicted. This made me to see I was in the footsteps of the flock; but the comfort on every side did not yet appear, except that I could bear witness to the faithfulness and tender care of the Lord towards me in all my troubles, so that I was enabled by the mercy of God to pass through good report, and evil report, and was made willing at times to bear the heavy cross of reproach, even from such as fear God.
I dare not deny that these labours and changes of sorrow and comfort, for more than four years, were in some measure for the furtherance of the gospel, as the Lord had before intimated to me that they should be; and I found the word of God to be true - "through honour and dishonour;" for I was often called to visit Hertford and Pulverbach, and when there I have many a time under a heavy load expounded the word, and my trouble has been a source of encouragement to some of the cast down pilgrims, who heard me, and I have had many a blessing from them for the word spoken; so that I must acknowledge that in this valley of humiliation, there are many fragrant sweets, though few can believe (until they feel it) that the Lord is there. "Before honour is humility." Humbling is very serious work, because when once the Lord puts his hand on the neck of our pride, we know not when nor where his judgments will end; and I know there is nothing left for us but to stoop very low. All contention is vain; and if we feel we have no power to stoop, we must unceasingly cry to the Lord, that he would teach us that absolutely necessary lesson which he himself learned so painfully when on earth, for us sinful worms.
I feel I have not yet arrived at the end of my troubles, but I am tenfold more easily moved to fear than formerly; and my happiness is when I can meet with an oppressed and cast down soul to compare notes; and I am often surprised how we understand one another, and have so many things to thank God for, that all our tribulations are forgotten for a season. I must acknowledge I have not fully known how bitter a thing sin is, and I am daily discovering many causes for the rod; and if the Lord were extreme I must be cut off, but he does so sweetly set forth in the whole of the word, that not for our righteousness, but for his own great Name's sake, he displays his sovereign mercy, that it breaks my heart and humbles me in the dust, and I often cry, O Lord, have mercy! I beseech thee pardon my sin and blunders, and my mistaken judgment! In all things I am "as a beast before thee" in misery and ignorance. And while I am thus deploring my wretched condition, he comes and pours in the oil and the wine, and cheers and encourages me to press on in the face of all danger.
At this period I also laboured under another burden respecting my youngest son. He had often grieved me by his light spirit, which I was not able to control; nevertheless, I was continually watching over him, and found many very peculiar marks of tenderness in the midst of all his levity, which led me to many prayers. He was now ill, and we began to despair of his recovery, and I was much engaged in seeking the Lord for him; and as I was walking in a lane at Stapleton, in Shropshire, to my great surprise, for the first time in my life, the Lord drew near respecting him, and gave me many sweet encouragements to hope that he would protect him; and more I dare not say now. A few nights after this, in the dead of the night, I was praying for him, and I am sure the Lord heard me, and told me "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." I could sincerely appeal to the Lord that I truly feared him; and the pity expressed in the above scripture set forth to me that the Lord would protect my son according to my prayer. I knew in my very soul that he could help me, and that I had not a friend upon earth, but made him my refuge. I did not come to him because my son was better than others, but because he was my son, and I looked to the Lord both for mercy and a blessing; and in this way the word was applied. About the age of twenty-one he left us for New York, and afterwards went to China. O, how often I have found my heart comforted in seeking a blessing for him, and how assured I have felt, at such times, of the Lord's watchful eye and tender care, though I may never see him more.
Besides all these things, I have many more mercies to be thankful for. I never expected to see so much of the fear of God in my family; but God is a Sovereign, and he will have mercy because he will have mercy; and I desire to stoop to the lowest place as a guilty, wretched sinner, who could naturally look for nothing else but misery; instead of which the Lord has marvellously displayed the riches of his grace to my children also. So that I must acknowledge the comfort on every side seems very nearly accomplished; only the case of my sick daughter serves as a maul upon our pride, that none of us should boast in the flesh.
This scripture still remains - "I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait I say on the Lord." I have been many times fearing lest I should not live to see the fulfilment of these promises, or lest I had mistaken their meaning and extent; but one day under these fears, the Lord sweetly and powerfully applied these words, "I will not leave thee till I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" [Gen. xxviii. 15]. I began to reason and express my fears in this manner - Hezekiah was left in the case of the Ambassadors; David was left in the matter of Uriah; and I greatly fear that, through my foolishness, I shall be left in some way to provoke thee to leave me as those good men were left. Then the same scripture was applied with a divine authority and sweetness - "I will not leave THEE." This has often encouraged me. Sometimes, I fear, I look too low and think of earthly preferment, where nothing else but divine, spiritual, and heavenly preferment is intended. Yet the Lord at times gives me full power to leave all my concerns at his disposal as a faithful Creator and Preserver.