Part I - The Preparation of the Heart
2 - Sukey Harley
SUKEY HARLEY, whose name before her marriage was Overton, was born at Prolimoor, in the parish of Wentnor on the Longmynd. 'she was naturally of a lively, cheerful disposition, particularly frank and warm-hearted. She was prompt and energetic in all her proceedings, truly sympathising to those persons whom she knew to be in distress, and heartily willing to show a kindness to any who needed it whenever occasion served. Her husband, Charles Harley, was a sober quiet industrious man, who gained a livelihood as a day labourer among the farmers."
Some years after the Gilpins knew her, Jane took down an "account from her lips", from which these extracts are taken.
"There were sixteen of us altogether. Two or three died in infancy. I was the youngest but one, that was Winney. My father died when I was only three years old. My poor mother was left in great distress. It was never in her power to put me to school. I was never taught anything about God in my childhood, nor about His blessed Son, Jesus Christ. The only thing I can remember learning when a child was the Lord's Prayer. We were taught to repeat that after we were in bed every night, and they called it 'saying our prayers", but what it meant I knew nothing about. We were often sore clemmed in our childhood and I had many gloomy thoughts. I was always an odd one.
"When big enough to go out to service, I was hired at a farmhouse. I made a good servant. I loved work. The farmers were all glad to get me into their houses, I got through such a lot of work, and was as fond of frolic and play. I gave free licence to my tongue. To my shame be it spoken, I could hardly open my mouth but I would fetch an oath; it was dreadful.
I married very young. My husband was a very quiet, steady, and sober man. He was never fond of drink, nor of levity of any sort like the rest of the young men. I used to despise him in my heart and say, well, what a fool I have got for a husband!
"Once I remember on a Sunday morning he said to me (but very mildly), 'sukey, you ought to get me a clean shirt to put on of a Sunday and a pair of stockings mended, like any other poor man's wife". I was sadly cut down at this remark, and I thought to myself, Well, what an oafish wife I must be not to know this before. I wonder how the other women do? The next Saturday I went round and peeped into all the neighbours" houses. I found all the women busy washing their husbands" and children's things. I was badly hurt to find that I hadna treated my husband as well as the rest of the folks. I went home and washed and mended his shirt and stockings. Ever after that bout I took care to have a clean shirt and stockings for him against Sunday. But we neither of us knew any more about the Sabbath than the beasts of the field.
"We went to live at Church Stretton, where my child was born. Afterwards we lived for a short time at Dorrington, and then removed to Ryton. We were at this time very well off - mighty well to live. We kept two pigs; we had enough and to spare no lack of this world's goods. I made a sight of money - that was all I cared for in this world. I made acquaintance with all the idle, frivolous girls in the village. I should think that there was not the like to be found in all the country - hooting and bawling, shouting, gam-mocking, and romping. On the Sabbath morning we used to collect together in a large barn, dancing and revelling and fooling away the time. I was a very good tuner on the fiddle and they used to dance. This is the way my Sabbaths were spent.
"But for all this I was proud enough of my moral conduct. I never went further than what I have named in profligacy. I thought I was a mighty good sort of woman and very moral. I never told a lie, so far as I remember; it must have been the Lord that kept my black tongue from telling lies in the days of my ignorance. My word would settle a dispute amongst the neighbours, I had such a character for speaking the truth. There was the same black deceit in my heart as in any other, but it was the Lord who gave me a real abhorrence of falsehood.
"I never thought about such a thing as religion. To be sure I used to hear talk sometimes, but it was with deaf ears. I used to answer it to myself - Well, it's for the gentlefolks to mind religion and for such as are fine scholars. I used to wonder sometimes on a Sunday what the folks went to church for. I used to see 'em pass to and fro and I would like puzzle my mind a bit. Then I would consider, well, this is for the gentlefolks. I was not suffered to take any formalist ways. What I was I was, out and out before all, brazen-faced.
"The first thing that gave a turn to my manner of living was being called on by two women, neighbours, who wished me to go with them to meeting. I refused, but when they came again and pressed me very much I began to fear they would call me a bad neighbour, so to please them I went. I paid no attention to what was going on there. When I came home I found that a currant cake I had made for my brother, who was sick at the Black Lion, had been stolen out of my house. This made me so angry that I said I would ne'er go to meeting any more. The next day came round and they came again. I was still afraid of being called a bad neighbour so I yielded and went along with 'em. When I came home I found my husband and house and all had like to have been burnt! Charles had set his shirt sleeve on fire and the flame rose up and caught the timber, and it had all like to have been burnt. Now I was determined I would go no more to meeting, and when the two women came next time, I said, "The devil has been at our house, I will ne'er go with you any more".
"The meeting used to be held at one of the women's houses. But these two would come and pester me to go to church or chapel. I put them off a good while but they kept teasing me. At last I said, "Well, I must have a new gown and a new bonnet and a new shawl, and then perhaps I may go". I sold my pig and bought these things, and I went with the women to church next Sabbath. I went two or three times in my new things. The women were almost ashamed of my company, I had dressed myself out such a sight, but they dared not say a word to me, fearing I should leave off going. "Ah!" thought I, "I am now godly, I'm a right good neighbour now." I made a god of these women, but I hated them. I kept thinking all the while that they were gathered together against me, and so I feared them, so feared of bearing a bad character with them. But I was ignorant of a holy God.
"I followed the women two or three times to church and chapel in my new things. It was now my trouble began. I soon flung away the new things. I went such a sight to church, with my cap all collared and the strings dangling about. Well, the women were ashamed of my company then, just in the other extreme, but they durst not speak about it, I was such an odd woman.
This was my trouble, the thought that these women had got something that I hadna' got, this was it that troubled me. All day long my thoughts were hampered, my mind was tossicated about this thing - "What have these women got? I wish I knew what they have got." Oh, I was weary in mind to know somewhat about it. Nothing that ever I heard in church or chapel at that time ever struck my mind. I never paid attention there. My trouble wasn't brought on by the word of man. I could tell no man what ailed me, not even my husband. I didna' know, I couldna' find out myself what was the matter. I would for ever make some light excuse to know what they two were about. I would peep into old Nancy Smith's door. She would come out, the big tears in her eyes and the book in her hand. Well, I hated her. Then I'd go to the other. "sukey," she'd say, "do come and sit down and I'll read to you a bit." Well I'd say and think to myself I do hate to come nigh 'em. Then I would look upon her countenance - Oh, what a blessed look I thought she had in the midst of all her poverty and outward wretchedness. She is a deal worse off than myself, thought I, though I am miserable and she is blessed. What does it mean?
"I began to think there must be a God. Then I thought, these women know that God. They used to tell me I must pray, so in hopes of knowing their God I did pray, that is, I said the Lord's Prayer o'er and o'er and o'er again. (This was all the praying I knew.) I used to take great notice of the clouds. Well, I'd think, what can it be? Is it smoke out of all the chimnies gone and settled up there? Then again I'd think it canna' be smoke; sometimes they be all cleared off. Well, there must be a God to make these. I now began to be in great terror. It's impossible to say what confused thoughts I had at this time. But this was the way my God was leading me to Himself.
"One Sabbath when I was at church this thought came to my mind, suppose those great big clouds should burst and fall upon my head? Suppose this church should fall upon me? Well, I began to be in such terror. Then I thought, it will not fall down upon those two women, I'll get close against Nancy Rowland, then I shall be safe. I made a great clatter in the church, changing my place. All the folks would stare at me, I was such a poor crack-brained thing.
"One day I went to Nancy Rowland's as usual to see if I could find out what she had got. She said, "Sukey, do come in and stop and take a dish of tea with me." I said, "Well, I will". While the kettle was boiling, she read a tract to me. I never paid the least attention to it; not one word could I tell what it was about. Her children came in. She cut 'em each a slice of bread; they took it and seemed thankful. They made their obeisance to me and went off. Then Nancy took and cut me such nice thin slices of bread and butter, honouring me like. I wondered at it and I looked at her poverty and rags. Well, I thought, her has got something. I wish I knew what she has got. When I came home it came into my head to take her some bread and bacon. I cut her ever such a lot and carried it up to her house. I thought she would be glad of it and think me such a good neighbour. She seemed to take so little heed of it; she put her hands on the table and looked up. She was silent. I know now what she was doing - she was giving thanks to God, but I then thought she ought to have thanked me more. Ah! how ignorant I was.
"I went on in this way for three-quarters of a year, all beside one fortnight. I was in a dreadful, tossicated state - the destitutes! creature on the face of the earth. I knew no God - that was the thing that kept me so wretched. I was such a harum-scarum senseless thing, and very wicked. Nancy Smith would often rebuke me - she lived so close up against me so she heard so much of it. How I would curse and swear at the least thing that put me out of the way. She used to put her head out of the door and say, "Oh, Sukey Harley, hell will be your portion". I hated her. I thought she would tell Nancy Rowland and they would think me a bad neighbour.
"I would sometimes think of that word hell. This would fasten on my mind, this must be somewhat dreadful. Some nights I would be afraid of closing my eyes lest I should tumble into hell. One day I was fluttered about two little pigs. I couldna' get them into the sty. I cursed and swore at them as usual. Old Nancy Smith came and said, "Oh, Sukey, Sukey, thee must be born again!". Well, these words confounded me, they clean updid me. What can the old hypocrite mean? I soon clapped the pigs into the sty and went off to Nancy Rowland's. I loved her better than the other, because she was meeker. I said, "What do you think that old Methodist woman says to me?" "What?" "Why," says I, 'she says I must be born again! Now, Nancy, how can this be? If it is in the Bible I will believe it". She was silent, but she reached the Bible and found the place, and read the words, "Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God". Well, did I believe 'em? No. I had no faith; how could I believe? And I say, no sinner can believe, nor do the least thing towards it, till the Lord is pleased to send him that true faith down from heaven. Then he believes, but never till then. I could not believe those words for all they were read to me out of the Bible. I said, "Nancy, how can it be? And which way is it to be done? How is it I never heard this before? Now suppose my mother is dead, why, what a thing this is, and I never to hear this before. Well", I said, "what a lot here is to be done. How am I come to this age, six-and-twenty and more, and never been told this before?"
"Well, these words bided with me - I could not get shut on 'em. "Thee must be born again." I had no more understanding of them than a dead corpse. I was rumpled and ruffled in my mind to find out the sense of these words. I heard nothing of what the woman said about it, but I was led like to ponder them over and over in my mind. I seemed to be all the while, in my confused way, going to God, though for all I did not know Him. I did feel that it was only He that could give me satisfaction. Oh, I thought, if I did but know their God, then I should know all about it.
"Well, He was lugging me to Himself all the while, but I was so ignorant and foolish I was as a beast before Him. I often think of that verse - Psalm 73, 22. Aye, and I am the very same now, just like a beast. Well, I began to grow worse and worse - more full of perplexed thoughts than ever. I was tossed to and fro. What was I to do? The reason I don't know God is, because I cannot read. Those two women are such fine scholars; they can read such a sight of books. They can pray; they have got such a sight of prayers, and I only know this one.
"Then I thought I must have a new prayer, the old prayer won't do. I kept repeating it over and over again, but I wanted a new prayer. I mourned, I cried to God to teach me a new prayer. Yes, I asked my dear Father in heaven - for He was my Father though I did not know Him - to teach me a new prayer. These words clapped into my mind - "Lord, lead me into the true knowledge of Thy dear Son." I never heard that God had a Son, yet these words came into my heart. It was the prayer God taught me Himself; no one else taught me. I never, never heard what those two women ""would be bantering me about. I was so tossicated with my own thoughts I gave no heed to their words. The Lord put those words into my heart. I seemed quite rejoiced that their God had taught me. He had eked out my prayer a little longer, for I still kept saying the Lord's Prayer and added those new words to the end of it. I never coveted any fresh words after this.
"Well, I prayed this new prayer for about a fortnight. On the Sunday night after the fortnight I went with the women to chapel but Oh, what a dreadful state I was in. I thought I was going to hell. What was the use of my praying any more? I was tempted to give in praying. I thought I should never know their God. Before I went to bed I got into the dark corner, and, as usual, I began in my way to pray those words. I thought I felt the devil pulling me by the hair of the head, yet I held fast by the table. I was afeared to go to sleep that night for I thought I should tumble into hell. "On the Monday morning while I was eating my breakfast (but I had no stomach to eat) if was after Charles was gone to work, those words entered my mind - "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me" (Rev. 3, 20). I said, "That is the text the man had for his sermon last night". Well, it was! But I hadna' heard it then. I heard it now, though. All the words came quite plain into my heart. Oh, I thought, suppose it should be their God at the door! Oh, how joyful I would get up and loose Him the door. Now, I thought, I can ne'er give in praying, those words have encouraged me so. I went up the ladder into my bedroom, and began to pray. I made such a noise the folks might have heard me in the street. I was afeared I should frighten my child. I came down and looked at her; she was a little one, eating her breakfast. I went up again and did not stop long. I came down again and filled the child's bag with meat and sent her off to school. I put her out at the door and locked and bolted it.
Then I said with all my strength, "I will never open this door again till I know their God." I stuffed the windows with all the old rags I could find: I could not bear the light. Then I went down on my knees in the dark corner and began praying these same words that I used to do, the same words over and over again - the Lord's Prayer and "Lord, lead me into the true knowledge of Thy dear Son". I felt as if I would have pulled the roof over my head, I went tearing and tearing at it with such vehement earnestness. Well, who put that strong cry into my heart? Was it from myself? No; but He gave it me and forced me to cry out, because it was His own blessed will to hear me and answer me.
I felt Him come. It's past my talking about! Such a wonderful time; it's clean past telling. No words can express the feelings of my heart at this time. He fetched me off my knees. I started up. I cannot find words to express the wonderful doings of that blessed moment. Well, this is part of it. He showed me all my sins that I had committed even from a child. Yes, that bit of pink ribbon I had stolen for my doll's cap, came upon me. Oh, he showed me my black desert, how I had deserved to go to hell - what a reprobate I had been and how like a devil I had walked upon the earth. How I had angered Him with my sinfulness. My heavy sins and my vileness came upon me. Oh, He appeared such a holy God, such a heavenly bright and glorious Being. Suppose He had said to me then at that awful moment "Depart from me, ye cursed", He would have been just, and to hell I must have gone.
"Oh, what a holy God mine is! Well, I was lost; I couldna" tell what to do; lost in wonder, lost in surprise. Yet all this time He kept me from being frightened - I had been frightened, but not now: there was somewhat that held me from being frightened. He seemed to tell me all my sins were forgiven. I had such a sight inwardly of my dear Redeemer's sufferings; how He was crucified, how He hung on the cross for me. It was as if He showed me what I deserved, yet He seemed to say He had suffered that desert. It was as if He made it so plain to me, how that He would save me, because it was His own blessed will to save me. It was as if He had shown me how He had chosen me from the foundation of the world. He would have mercy on me because He would have mercy.
"I never knew what sin was till now, but He showed me what it was - how black, how dreadful. But He saved me till I was so overwhelmed that I didna' know what to do. I can truly say since that blessed morning I have a Saviour and a Redeemer, yes I have. Ever since that blessed time my dear and heavenly Father has kept me in His dear hands, and guided me and counselled me Himself.
"Well, I went and unblocked the windows, cleared away all the dirty rags and let in the blessed light of the sun, the glorious light, the Father's light. I unbolted the door and opened it. I looked out. What a glorious sight! I saw my God in everything - the clouds, those clouds I had so often puzzled over. My God was in the clouds. The trees, the hedges, the fields, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, showed me that I had a God.
"All things were new to me. I was unbound. I was loosed. Yes, I wondered at it. I went to old Nancy Smith's door and looked in. I could not speak. She said, "Sukey, what's the matter?" I could make no answer. Off I ran to the other. I was enabled to tell her somewhat, but very little. I could not find words to express the goodness of God to me. I now understood and believed those words, "Ye must be born again".
"This blessed state continued a good while; I felt the happiest creature, the joyfullest woman on the face of the earth. My God enabled me from that very time to break loose from all my vain companions; they thought it very hard, yes, and so did I too, but my heavenly dear Father called me out from them, and I followed Him, I dared not do otherwise; I was set clean off at a distance from them. Ever since that blessed morning I have been a lone soul on the face of the earth: "A sparrow alone upon the house-top". I often think of that verse; it suits me.
"It was no great while after this, I had a desire to read; I longed to read the blessed Word for myself. I got my little wench to teach me the letters; she used to grow sleepy, so I would give her two suppers of a night to encourage her; all the while I was praying to my God to enable me to learn. She brought me on as far as this: "God is love; God is light". These very words came over me; when I spelt out the words, they came into my heart. I thought: my God is love, He is light, He can teach me Himself. I wanted no more teaching of Mary. From that time I would take my book, and go down on my knees, and look up to my heavenly Father and beg of Him to teach me. I used to spell out the words, and then look up to know how to call them. Oh how I felt at these times! I can give no description of my feelings, but I had this confidence given me, that He would teach me to read His blessed Word; and He did teach me. It was surprising how He put the words into my mind and memory; yea, I can truly say, I have been taught of God.
"It was not long after this time that we removed to Pulverbach, where we now live. I have known heavy seasons of sorrow, great darkness, bitter distress; I have been sorely tempted of Satan and plagued with the corruptions of my own heart. O the fiery darts of the Evil One, they have pierced my soul through and through! Yes, I know what sore temptations mean, yet in all this my God has been with me still. He has never left me nor forsaken me. No, He has never suffered me to loose hold of that blessed hope, the blessed assurance which He gave me that morning, that He had made me His child, and that He would save me. It is my God who teaches me to profit; it is He who brings comfort to me. He sends down His Holy Spirit into my heart and brings my dear Redeemer's sufferings to my remembrance. Then I can bear all. This is the thing that bears me up in the midst of all my sorrows.
"I used to attend the church, but I could find no profit. They used to pelt me with books from the gallery, and the farming men used to throw their sticks from the gallery at me below, but I could get nobody to take my part, so I left the church. If they met me in the lane or in the field they used to do all manner of things, mocking and spitting, but the Lord was kind and I have had my heart full of mercy when all this was going on, glory be to my Blessed Redeemer."
One great sorrow of Sukey's that lasted for over twenty years was that her husband could understand nothing of all this. Though a very sober honest man, yet he was a great Pharisee. He saw no need of my dark times, and if in the comfortable enjoyment of the Lord's presence it was quite nonsense to him. So there was always that disunion. But this is the way my God leads me, and He has brought me to know it. He holds me down with the one hand, and lifts me up with the other. He chastens and cuts me with one hand, and strengthens and comforts me with the other. O, the tender mercies of my God to me! How he has revealed my Saviour to me! He blesses His word to my soul, and He orders my way before Him, and sends down His Holy Spirit to comfort me!
"From the first of my heavenly Father calling me I felt He had a people of His own on this earth, but where they were to be found I could not tell. I longed to find them. I thought I should see they were taught as I was. I seemed to be seeking them up and down. I went to hear all sorts, and for a while I was deceived with some of them, but afterwards I was perplexed in my soul and could not see the real work in them. But my heart is knit to God's dear children whom the Lord has shown me are His indeed."