[The Exercises of his Mind Before his Second Visit to Sutton Coalfield. 1846.]
IF it be inquired how I was led to take this second journey to Sutton, I had many days of darkness, fear, and sorrow, feeling as if the Lord had forgotten to be gracious; everything within and without seeming work against me. I thought I looked most earnestly to the Lord to help me. Often in pondering the prospect before me, I sunk very low, and innumerable objections were set before me like so many high mountains - no accommodation; no friend to welcome me; no place to meet in; no prospect of meeting expenses; leaving my family; my age seventy-three; sickness and death the consequence of going; and many more such things. One morning the Lord led me to meditate on the last verse of John xvi. Here I found I must expect tribulation, I knew I was in the midst of it; but the Lord said to me, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world," and all that they put in the way to hinder my people and my work; for as in the days of old, "The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew;" so it shall be now. As I advanced in my meditation, I saw much beauty in the 13th verse, "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." This heavenly truth I found to be glorifying the eternal Son of God; receiving out of his fullness and showing unto us all that the Father hath. What is it that the Father hath? Love and mercy; and this for me, in spite of all opposition. Notwithstanding all this, there shall be both times and causes for weeping and lamenting, "Verily, verily, the world shall rejoice, and ye shall be sorrowful." But this shall prove a godly sorrow, which shall be turned into joy. In all this I felt sweetness mingled with many fears, not quite knowing which way the scales would turn. But when I came to these words, "Ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" - Oh, my God, who could have thought of such mercies? What can I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? The power of the Lord's love was such as to remove all my fears; and it looked directly at my concerns at Sutton. I felt no longer any care, but quite sure the Lord both could and would provide; for it went on sweetly, "Verily, verily, I say unto YOU whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." Perhaps some will say, Now was your time to get plenty of everything. O no! I neither asked for a bishopric, nor for a good living, but for the blessing of God, which is eternal life; and the Lord filled my soul with unspeakable joy. Then when I came to the 27th verse, "The Father himself loveth you because ye have loved me," I knew not what to say, because I felt so ashamed of my manifold shortcomings and continual departings in affection from the Lord; but the constraining power of God's love to me, now felt, healed all my backslidings. I found the word freely (so often used) very precious, sweet, and true; we are justified FREELY - he offered himself FREELY - with himself he FREELY gives us all things - he gives of the water of life FREELY.
This made me willing to venture a second visit in spite of all opposition; still I was kept in great fear, very watchful, and looking for many changes.
After this I sunk very low, and thought all things were against me within and without, combining to bring me to nothing; but the inexpressible power of God's love in my heart again brought me up from these deep places, "set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings." It made me sweetly willing to be his servant, at his command, and ask for no conditions. I wept tears of joy and thankfulness for my portion - "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction."
In Genesis xxxii. we have an account of Jacob's fears, and how he pleaded what the Lord had promised - Thou saidst, "Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee." "Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good," and now my brother threatens to murder me. So it is with us all. No sweet promise, no token that accompanies salvation, is intended to screen us from a path of tribulation, which often removes from our confidence all former hopes and promises for a season; nevertheless, the Lord abides faithful. We must, as Jacob did, seek to be alone and wrestle with God in prayer; and I am sure I have found the sweet advantage of this. In all my troubles the Lord has never failed me.
Notwithstanding all that had passed, I was again brought to conclude I had been mistaken in the things which I had expressed as received from the Lord, and thought I must remain at home. All things seemed to go against me, and what was worst of all, I could get no comforting visit from the Lord. This continued one whole week, and I began to think I should be heard no more; but early one morning, while engaged in meditating for my family reading, something turned me from it, and led me to look at Ezekiel ii.; which I did, and read "Son of man, I send thee to a rebellious nation; . . . they are impudent children and stiff-hearted. I DO SEND THEE UNTO THEM; . . . . Be not whole afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks . . . . Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear; for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee, Be not thou rebellious, like that rebellious house; open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee." And then these words were added [Jer. i. 17], "Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise and speak unto them all that I command thee; be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them." All this struck me with astonishment, and a great alarm sprung up lest I should be deceived; but the Lord came in, with such an inconceivable power, and drew my heart out in such nearness of access in prayer, that I felt quite sure that the Lord was with me, and would stand by me. I cross-examined myself (as it is called) as much as I could, for I thought it was awful to be deceived; but was obliged to weep it out before the Lord in many acknowledgments of his great condescension to me.
This made me ready and willing to go; yet it was followed by fresh exercises, and fresh intelligence from Sutton that there was no room for those who were desirous of setting forth the truth as it is in Jesus. I was at times sorely cast down, but was kept constantly, night and day, crying for wisdom and understanding; and the Lord often visited my soul with an assurance of his help and protection. I am not able -to express all the fears and encouragements that came into my heart.
Sunday, March 2, 1846. While sinking in spirit, the Lord broke in with these words, "On whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee?" I could but say, " Wherefore speakest thou so to me?" I would gladly have given this up for many reasons, but could not resist the power with which the words came. But in less than an hour the grand adversary most ably attempted to prove I should fall in the very way Saul did, and that my sin would be presumption.
Next day, being alone, a divine power broke my heart in heavenly contrition, and wrought a complete willingness to give up everything contrary to the Lord's mind and will; either to go to Sutton or stay away, to look for no accommodation but the very plainest, and to leave all in the hands of God, only desiring he would lead me in a plain path; and here nothing would come into my heart to forbid my journey, but every encouragement to pursue it, and to leave the event with him.
After this, some who had promised accommodation sent a letter to say they would not receive us. Again I feared lest all I had written on this occasion should come to nothing; yet a hope would arise that surely it could not be a delusion. I cannot tell how closely I endeavoured to hold these hopes before God in secret; and I never had a testimony from him that they were not genuine. I never passed through such difficulties and conflicts but the Lord has, sooner or later, appeared, and there has been a clearing at last; and this gave me a little hope in the midst of these dark clouds. While thinking over what I had written, I was led to look for the passage, in which it is said, "The Lord hath forgotten to be gracious." In doing so, my eyes caught these words [Psalm xii. 5], "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; " and they broke my heart with a wonderful feeling of his compassion and care, and carried me above all my fears. But, alas! I am worse than Gideon, with his wet and dry fleeces. The heavy cloud soon gathered again, only a little hope now and then from Psalm xii. I thought there would be nothing but reproach and accusations against me - part of my family going down to Sutton, and no open door; all darkness and opposition.
March 9. I had much fear and trembling, and some keen desire to have my way clear. My prayer was, O Lord, am I not one of thy poor and needy which are greatly oppressed, and do I look anywhere else but unto thee? I felt no contradiction to this, but a great watchfulness of spirit to see what the Lord would answer. While thus pondering, I turned again to Psalm xii., and these words looked sweetly at that part of my family who were going on the morrow - "Thou shalt keep them, O Lord; thou shalt preserve them." A little faith in my heart replied, Surely thou wilt. While thus engaged, the question was proposed to my mind, Have you considered who are your enemies? They are the wicked who walk on every side. I replied, Then Lord, THOU art not against us? No. Has it not been from the very first that MY enemies have opposed? When did you hear ME say that your proceedings were wrong? Is not all this tumult against the truth? The Saviour met with the same. "Gird up thy loins like a man." O Lord, help me!
I was much broken in spirit with this; it opened a new field, and showed me many things, and enabled me to believe that the Lord would appear. I was encouraged by the evening's discourse at chapel, on the certainty of finding answers to prayer by those who seek with their whole heart. "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." The entrance of this word gave life, and my heart was set upon a lively token from the Lord that he heard my prayers. I said, Lord, thou knowest I have been calling for some weeks, and thou hast made me do it honestly in secret, for I have longed for thy salvation. It came with a heavenly power that the Lord would save me, and that I should see his salvation at Sutton. My heart overflowed with holy awe and spiritual liberty; I felt like a bird that had escaped the snare of the fowler.
March 10. Before my family set out for Sutton, I read Psalm cxxvi., and, to my surprise, the whole was so peculiarly blest to me, that I could scarcely proceed; especially these words, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." In this holy confidence we parted, looking for the blessing and protection of the Lord.
The next day, having shut myself up in my room to seek the Lord, I was led to Psalm lxxi. - "Cast me not off in the time of old age, forsake me not when my strength faileth . . . . O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste for my help." I felt very little prospect of immediate help; I was so flat in spirit and full of fears as to wonder how far that which I had passed through would turn out real and genuine. While pondering this, I felt a very abject falling before the Lord, and a keen desire to show forth the righteousness of God; for I was sure I had seen many salvations in my troubles. I could not say the number of them. This encouraged me to go on in the strength of the Lord, for I had none of my own; and did not know how to express my fears and troubles in prayer, and told the Lord so; but I did most feelingly declare that the Lord had taught me from my youth many lessons, and amongst these some very terrible ones, which make my soul, to shudder at the recollection of them.
But, thanks be to God, these lessons were not entirely useless. They brought me down from many heights, feelingly to acknowledge my sin, and to make mention of his righteousness only. O the wonderful works of God! what an enquiry there is into our spirits and the secret motives of all our movements, and how deeply the Lord searches and tries our hearts and reins, to bring us to the simplicity of a little child! And how this spiritual and divine simplicity ventures to utter the whole truth to the honour of God! and how much reproach this brings upon us, which this divine simplicity creates a willingness to bear! The honour that comes from man sinks in value, and the honour that comes from God is more esteemed. This is declaring Christ's righteousness, and not our own pride and many other things, which are called by pretty names to please the flesh.
I continued the prayer, "When I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not," and felt an ardent desire that this might not be, but that I might show his strength, and the power and efficacy of his grace to all about me; and when I read, "Thy righteousness, O God, is very high," it struck me with a divine awe, and showed that I must not dispute his wisdom in any of his dispensations; for I had already experienced that he had done many and great things for me in all my terrible afflictions, so that from my heart I could say, "O God, who is like unto thee?" I was not aware that I was about to read that scripture which, at three different times, has comforted me - "Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again .. . . AND COMFORT ME ON EVERY SIDE." With these words the Lord entered my heart, and I found a complete revolution there. I felt it was meant to me in my present trouble. No spiritual death should keep me down, no fears should alarm so as to make me give up or turn back in the day of battle. The Lord would quicken me again and again upon every fresh trouble that might dishearten; and into whatever depths I might fall, they should issue as all others that I had passed through; that is, I should be raised up again and comforted on every side.
When this scripture was first applied, I was surrounded with heavy troubles, which seemed to increase and not diminish. This often filled me with fear lest I should never find the promise true; but the Lord showed me that the comfort was not in a temporal kingdom, not in making me wealthy or great in this world, but a spiritual comfort, which has so often abounded in every direction. So now I knew that this did not mean that I should be wonderfully promoted to any temporal good, but that I should see the goodness of the Lord pass before me, that he would keep his eye upon me for good, and not suffer any opposition to rob me of that promised spiritual comfort; and that he would most assuredly make a way for us at Sutton.
O how glad I was to be alone, and that there were none within hearing! The Lord came down in such an abundant manner, that I could not help saying, Lord, what does all this mean? O what awe and fear I felt, while tears of gratitude flowed freely from my eyes for such unspeakable mercy; and while the power was such as I could not dispute, yet I kept crying, Lord, do pardon my fears - I humbly beg pardon; thou seest how fearful I am lest I should be deceived. I do not want to dispute this, but it does seem so great and gracious that I cannot but receive it with a trembling heart! What! (said I) Is the old promise come again with such a heavenly power? I must declare thy wondrous works, thy unspeakable love and pity. I forgot all my ailments, and was entirely like the clay in the hands of the potter, to be moulded according to his own good pleasure. Whilst feeling thus, I remembered many persons and things, and earnestly entreated the Lord for them while the door was open. I had many petitions to present, and knew the Lord was with me and invited me to draw very nigh; and with all my fears and heart-doubts he would not withdraw, but still continued to assure me of the reality of all these wonderful words, which gave me fresh comfort in the prospect of my journey, and kept me spiritually-minded and constantly seeking him to keep my soul alive at his feet.