Part I - The Preparation of the Heart
4 - Young Men of Cambridge
R. BERNARD?" Yes, the little boy who arrived at Pulverbach aged four is now Mr. Bernard, a young man of twenty-three and ready to be ordained deacon in London at St. Mary-le-bone Church in May of that very year. Like his father and grandfather, he had taken an M.A. degree at Cambridge. In the eyes of the family he had stepped into the place of the dear William who had died there. Oh! what an interest this must have been to Matilda. The family was familiar with the Cambridge scene. Their uncle, Professor William Parish, was still there and the Rev. Charles Simeon was still Rector of Trinity Church.
The influence, indeed the whole life of Charles Simeon had made a powerful difference to the divinity schools of Cambridge, and his name was known and reverenced far and wide. He had, by this time lived down years of persecution from students and dons for the faithfulness with which he proclaimed the Gospel in its fullness. He says himself, "I remember the time that I was quite surprised that a Fellow of my own College ventured to walk with me for a quarter of an hour on the grass plot before Clare Hall; and for many years after I began my ministry I was "as a man wondered at" by reason of the paucity of those who showed any regard for true religion". "A few men of influence," says Dr. Moule, "were in essential agreement with him from the first, particularly Isaac Milner, of Queens", and William Parish of Magdalene. Parish, the Senior Wrangler of I778, gentlest of men but having a noble courage of convictions, was an able scientific student, and became Jacksonian Professor in 1813." [One of his old pupils tells the story that Parish was examined before an early Parliamentary Committee on Railways. He gave it as his opinion that steam-carriages might run at sixty miles an hour, though thirty miles would be a better common pace. He was questioned no further; and he heard afterwards that the Committee were unanimous in a private verdict of unsound mind]
Professor Parish remained a close friend of Simeon all his life. In 1815 we find Simeon was visiting the Parish relations at Scaleby Castle, near Carlisle, where Margaret, Mercy, and Catharine Gilpin went at different times. When a young man Simeon had counted among his friends John Berridge, of Everton, and Henry Venn, of Yelling. Simeon "deplored the coldness and slackness of Church life in the country generally, and he looked on its real resuscitation as one of the sacred objects of his own labours." In a word, he was the father of Evangelicalism. He said at one point, "I am not much afraid of true religion getting too fashionable, for I have been too long in the fore-front of the battle, and I know the enmity of the human heart to it. But I do stand amazed at the marvellous change which is taking place all round in all ranks".
As a result of the training of divinity students under Simeon there went out from Cambridge in those days a stream of earnest, devoted young clergymen, though Simeon knew, none better, that training could not call down grace upon them. The names of three such come within the range of these researches - Charles Jeffreys, Watkin Maddy, and Bernard Gilpin.
Bernard had grown up into a clever and charming personality. "His natural disposition was kindly and he was remarkably considerate for the feelings of others. These qualities, combined with his general knowledge and more than common taste for the natural sciences, together with his conversational powers, made him always an interesting companion and greatly endeared him to many." He took his vocation seriously and always saw the hand of God in it. This comes out in one of his letters written years later,
"I thank you for putting down the short sketch of the manner in which you were induced to take Orders. All such points as you refer to ought to be remembered: the true fear of God will make us reverently to regard the least matter, even as "a sparrow falling", in which we may believe His hand may be traced. I remember on a certain day when I was a child and thought childish things, in consequence of a word which my uncle Professor Parish, of Cambridge, spoke to me, I was led to consider, and I think to pray to know what I should be; and I was surprised at the clear steadfastness with which I was brought to this point, "I will be a clergyman". During my second year at Cambridge I heard a sermon on these words. "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" It brought me to such a state of religious feeling and a sort of humiliation, though scarcely more than a kind of Babel worship after all, that I often look back and think that though all was without form and void the Spirit of God moved there. At the time of my ordination I felt nothing worth noticing; you know what your heart is, and such is mine."
Charles Jeffreys and Watkin Maddy were both senior to Bernard by about six years. Maddy was born at Hereford, and confesses that "in his youth he was very fond of castle-building, and dwelt for days and weeks on imperious imaginations". When he was very young the sight of one eye was nearly lost by an accident, and the other developed such a weakness that he became very shortsighted. He went to Cambridge in hopes to get a Fellowship and become a clergyman. Unlike Bernard, who was unperturbed at his ordination, Mr. Maddy was made to fear the questions that would be put to him, "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministry, to serve God for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?" Answer, I trust so". This fear increased as the ordination drew on, and he made great struggles to stifle it. He also feared if he became a Fellow of the College it might render him independent of God. These two fears are the only things I remember," he says, "which bore any resemblance to the fear of God in my younger days."
Two things he wondered at. First, that he was kept industrious at College, thus being delivered from much evil, and second, a prayer he used to add to the formal ones, "O Lord, strengthen and preserve my eyesight and my mental and intellectual faculties that I may obtain a decent living". Both were wonderfully answered. On the Sunday evening before the Senate House Examination his anxiety was extreme. All the money that he could expect from home had been spent on his education and his eyes had been weakened by reading, so he thought he would never be fit for anything needing their use. If he got a good degree he felt he would be provided for; if not, he had nowhere else to turn. Two friends came into his room and tried to hearten him with loud mirth. This, he says, sent him nearly wild and he told them to go. He was in a fever of excitement and said to himself, "It's all up. I shall get no sleep tonight and be fit for nothing tomorrow".
In this state he picked up a Bible. Although he had studied it so much he had never before consulted it for direction or comfort to himself. He opened on Psalm 37, "Fret not thyself . . . Trust in the Lord . . . Commit thy way unto the Lord . . ." He read it all through and it fell like balm on his fevered spirit. His pulse subsided and he had a good night's rest. He came out Second Wrangler, much higher, he says, than he had any right to expect. His mind was kept perfectly free from anxiety all the first half of the examination. He remembers acknowledging God in this and thanking Him."
After this, he says, he lived in "luxury, sloth, and forgetfulness of God", but the fear about going into Orders increased, as he could only hold a Fellowship for a certain time without doing so. He felt unfit, and believed there was a something to be experienced which he had not got. A friend once said to him, I would not go into Orders if I felt as you do". He kept having qualms and stifling them, and at last he took Orders, deliberately against the light of his conscience. Then hardly a day passed but he wished he had not taken them. He thought of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and felt it was a crime to have said he was moved by the Holy Ghost to preach the Gospel.
In a state of misery he went to his friend Charles Jeffreys, whose rooms were near his and whose friendship he had courted when his troubles came on, and told him all, asking him to pray for him. Then he went back to his own room, fell on his knees and prayed desperately. "Take away my stony heart and give me a heart of flesh," was part of his prayer. To his astonishment light poured in on his sad heart, joy came, and he blessed and praised God. He felt too, what he had long prayed for, a real love to God's people wherever they were.
The feeling of guilt now gone, and sincerely hoping to take a curacy he went forward to Priest's Orders and retained his Fellowship. He toiled along with much Pharisaic fasting and prayer, until he began to feel a hypocrite. Ministerial duties became irksome. He neglected no duty, however hard, he says, though he seemed to have strength for none, however easy! The Bible opened up and awed him and drew his heart. The covenant of grace appeared glorious and secure, and he was sure God would fulfil all His promises to members of Christ - happy people!
The strain of his preaching was that none should shut themselves out by despair for the Covenant would meet all cases. He tried hard to find a support for his own hopes, at first in an Arminian way, then as one prop after another fell by the discovery of the lack of all good in himself, the doctrine of election became sweet. There he saw a hope independent of his own efforts."
He now took the curacy of Sparkford in Somerset, and bid goodbye to his friends at Cambridge. We will hear some more of him a few years later on.
Charles Jeffreys was the son of the Rev. R. Jeffreys, for many years Chaplain to the Honourable East India Company. The family - a large one - came home to England after the death of the mother, about the same time as the Gilpins were settling at Pulverbach. They moved from one rectory to another before settling at Throcking, near Buntingford, in Hertfordshire.
Charles was reserved, quiet and gentle, delicate too, suffering from asthma. "He was a brilliant scholar, taking honours as Second Wrangler when Professor Airey, afterwards Astronomer Royal, was Senior. His talents and success entitled him to expect great things for himself. Being naturally gifted with a remarkable power of elucidating any subject that he handled, his sermons before the University while Fellow of St. John's became deep, clear, and spiritual expositions of the Word of God. The tenderness and deep humiliation of his spirit cannot easily be conveyed." Bernard says, I loved him as my own soul. His simplicity, humility, and the clearness of his mind delighted me; and the depth of his views and feelings in the Scriptures delighted me also".
Buntingford was only twenty miles or so from Cambridge, on the main coach road to London, and Bernard, whose home was so far away, must have visited at his friend's house. For the next thing we find is that Bernard became engaged to Charles's youngest sister, Henrietta, aged nineteen.
About this time Bernard, who was newly ordained, became attached to a Church at Hertford - possibly St. Andrew's, the Rectorship of which he received in 1829. The young clergyman, only twenty-five, soon made a good impression in the town by his zeal and by his conscientious visiting of the sick and dying. But, he confesses later in life, "my repose was partly in the bare hearing of Christ, and principally in my religious feelings, affections, and works, my devotion, zeal, and humility; which I supposed to be all genuine, of course. And as there seemed to be the fruits of faith, the conclusion appeared certain that having faith and works both, I was right on Scripture grounds. Yet I had sometimes a conviction that my faith had no strong influence on my heart. And how could it? For it was really only a shadow, not "the substance of things hoped for". It had no power of God in it. It was, in fact, only opinion, operating to a certain extent on my natural affections. I laboured to overpower this conviction, as being only unsettling, and even unfounded in Scripture, which, awarding salvation (though by grace as I even then owned) to a faith which is accompanied with good works, seemed to my then blind understanding as really witnessing to my safety. This conviction, however, would at times have proved distressing had it met with any encouragement from my religious friends and acquaintances; but they never even examined into the grounds of its rise. Their principal endeavour (and mine with them) was to account and treat one another as truly converted. This is called "walking in love"; and should any seriously-disposed person express the conviction which I felt they seek to overbear it without serious investigation: - "You must not give way to doubts and fears, they are sinful; you must honour God by trusting in His mercy." I received this poison and was lulled to rest by it, and I think, since the time that I had became a zealous preacher I was in a much worse state than before; being almost, if not altogether, one of those to whom Christ says, "The publicans and harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you!"
"Thus was I resting upon my knowledge and zeal. The light in me never effectually discovered the root of spiritual sin in my heart, self-righteousness, pride, carnal enmity, worldly love and unbelief; nor did such faith as I had bring into my soul the power and love of Christ for it stood in man's wisdom (i.e. my own) and not in God's power. There is a great deal of the theory of religion, and resting in the theory, but very little indeed of the inward experience. If a person who has been outwardly immoral or dissipated becomes the subject of serious convictions, this is (very properly) encouraged. The man is then taught that he is to close with Christ, and depend on Him, and so forth. When he thinks he has done this, or other people think so, he is too often encouraged, flattered, made a teacher of. A continual round of outward duties, attention to public charities, etc., very, very often becomes the whole of his religion. But now, people say, he is a Christian, he is not to feel doubts and fears, these would dishonour God. God is his Father; if he should be gloomy he would discredit religion. Thus are persons built up, filled with presumptuous confidence; henceforth their whole religious life is an easy straightforward course, and almost the only temptations they are aware of are temptations to some outward sin of the flesh; if they resist these they are well pleased, and can pray with great confidence. If they are in any measure overcome, in the same degree their confidence in praying forsakes them, and they are not easy until some fresh duty engaged in gives them a renewed hope that they are right with God.
"This was my religion altogether and entirely, except that I did not go so far as many have gone in the practical, the self-denying part; I supplied that deficiency by a very clear and exact arrangement of the Gospel doctrines in my understanding."
Just at that time, amongst his sick-visiting there was a case which interested and perplexed him, and which in later years he was able to analyse and understand. A tailor in Hertford, John Johnson, thirty-one years old, fell ill and his friends asked the young Mr. Gilpin to visit him. He was a man of pleasant appearance, manner, and disposition and intelligent in conversation. But, says Bernard, "I never conversed with anyone who seemed more resolved (though with much courtesy) not to be talked into religion. His buoyancy of spirits made him shun the idea of melancholy reflection, and probably his intelligence enabled him to discern that many who make a high profession say much more than they really feel, which may have excited some disgust in his mind. I soon observed in him a disposition to evade my visits, and more than once his wife gave an excuse for his not seeing me.
"One Sunday afternoon I made a further effort, and actually met him at the door, so he turned back and asked me in. I am ashamed when I consider my own unfitness at that time for the work I so eagerly engaged in. I used indeed often to begin to fear that I was talking beyond my depth, and, as it were, setting forth a God unknown to myself, but before this fear gathered force, or rather to prevent its doing so, I would, with eager zeal, speak afresh, and if I could say anything affecting or forcible, would conclude I had done a good thing. I now assured Johnson he ought to attend to religion, that it was highly dangerous to neglect it, that it was necessary that he should believe in Jesus Christ, for his own works could not save him. He showed by his answers that he had neglected the Bible and was careless and ignorant. However, before we parted a few things I had said seemed to have fallen with some weight on his mind, and from then on he was more cordial and seemed really glad to see me. He had an abscess at the knee-joint which got worse and confined him at last to his bed. But he appeared almost from that very time to begin to read the Bible more seriously.
"The concern and attention of this man surprised and pleased me. I did really desire his happiness, yet rather sought how I might approve myself to him and others as an able minister, than how to bring my own case and his before the Lord continually for light and direction from Him. Early in October I went up to Pulverbach, to witness the last days of my sister Charlotte, to whom I was greatly attached. During my absence Johnson appears to have been visited by the mighty hand of God, and thrown into a state of great alarm on account of his sins and lest he should never be saved. His wife sent for me, but I was away; they sent repeatedly, and now Johnson thought my absence was a judgment from God on account of his sins and a token that he should never find mercy. But being thus cut off from the hope of help from me he was led to earnest and continual prayer, and after some time he found encouragement and hope to spring up in his mind, accompanied with much light in the Word of God, which became very precious to him, and was his most constant companion from that time up to the day of his death.
"On my return home I went as soon as I was able to see him. He welcomed me most cordially and related with tenderness and simplicity the trouble he had passed through since we had met, and the happy issue of it. I did not understand the nature of this spiritual work in his heart, but remember that his words left in me a very deep impression of truth. Yet those very transactions he described which had brought him to feel God as present in favour with himself, rather estranged him from me, I having had no knowledge of this secret of the Lord's presence. I was aware (though I would hardly acknowledge it even to myself) that he was describing what I could not understand, the reason being that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God". Though this conviction pressed me, I someway deceitfully shrunk from it, through the unbrokenness of my heart, that I might keep fair in my own eyes and maintain my false peace.
"It cannot surprise anyone that, in such a state of heart, I endeavoured during all my visits to make the conversation as general as possible. I read much to him out of the Scriptures, and when he tried to express the deep feelings which had followed his meditation on particular passages I admired them as well as I was able, but never probed his heart, never endeavoured to trace the operation of God's Spirit there, for I had no knowledge of it myself. I paid some attention to his expressions of joy and confidence, but little regarded those that betokened brokenness of heart and abasement before God. Finding myself encompassed with difficulties, and being afraid (I am sorry to add) of his discovering this I forbore to visit him as often as he expected; for which neglect, being at times pressed in conscience, I would return to him for duty's sake.
"A strong evidence of the reality of his religion was the power, depth, and fullness he often, or rather daily, used to find in the Scriptures. It was clear from what I related at the beginning that at the time of my first visit he neither knew nor revered them; but from the month of November 1828 till his death the following June his whole heart was engaged in prayer and meditation upon them. He searched all parts of them and though he had not the advantage of a spiritual minister, God made him wiser than his teachers; yet granted him such simplicity that he never seemed to be aware of his superior attainments himself. I remember often having observed with surprise (not then knowing the tokens of the true work of grace) that his frames of mind were so exceedingly variable that I never could be sure beforehand in what channel his conversation would run. When he felt the actings of a lively faith and the peace of God in his conscience he was unmoved by pain or anxiety, but I often found him in a low distressed state from a sense of sin and an inability to realise the consolations of the Spirit. In consequence of my own spiritual blindness I looked upon this as a proof of weakness and want of establishment, and I never knew how to examine the causes of these repeated changes.
"When his illness increased his joys at times rose higher. His spirit seemed to be like a bird let loose. As the spring of 1829 advanced his sufferings became very great. In one convulsive fit which was unusually severe his wife thought him in the last extremity, and he appeared entirely insensible, his features expressing great agony. But he revived, and his wife expressing grief at the severity of his pain he surprised her by answering, "Really I felt no pain at all. I was more happy than I can express. I was only conscious enough to suppose that I was dying, and I kept inwardly smiling to myself at the thought".
"I began to feel a regard for him, and indeed a reverence and esteem which altered the character of my visits. His conversation affected me deeply and at times when he could not speak I enjoyed sitting by his bedside in silence. Whenever on entering his room I found him in such a serious frame that he could scarcely notice me I was glad that I went, but if he met me with a lively smile as much as to say "Come and enter into my joy", I wished I could have left the room unperceived.
On Sunday, June 21st, Johnson drew to his end. "As soon as the evening service was over I went to his room. My wife [This was Henrietta Jeffreys] who felt an interest kindred to mine, accompanied me. He was already past all power of speech, and was at times greatly convulsed, but we continued silently watching him, without in the least shrinking from the scene, till some time past midnight, when he slowly expired. I feel an increasing hope that the mercy of God, Whom I then knew not, guided me in all these things and I felt "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart".
"Alongside this case of Johnson's was another under my close attention. It was a friend of his - J. E. about the same age, and of the same trade; indeed they had worked together. He was a man of quick parts, and being fond of lively conversation he had mixed with profligate and infidel companions, by whose influence and books his imagination had become polluted and his outward conduct immoral. As long as he was in good health he gloried in being an infidel; when visited with sickness he had repeatedly been the subject of horror and remorse. About three months after Johnson's conversion this man was seized with a violent inflammation on the lungs. His illness became desperate and threatened, should he even survive the immediate crisis, to issue in a rapid consumption. Being a single man and utterly prodigal in his health, he was now so destitute that he was removed to the parish workhouse. The terror of his mind was beyond all former precedent. He cried out, even as he was carried through the street, that he was lost for ever, without the least gleam of hope. This struck horror into the minds of several who heard him. Johnson heard of it and immediately sent to entreat me to go to his friend.
"I went. The scene was an awful one. He seemed almost in an agony of death, and kept declaring that he had no hope. I begged him to compose himself and to listen to me. I told him that his friend Johnson had found mercy, and pointed out to him the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. He became silent and listened. I spoke very freely and felt no reserve or embarrassment. He thanked me most passionately for coming, and said he would seek God's mercy.
"I felt very sanguine respecting him, and was surprised to find I could speak much more freely to him than I could to Johnson. I visited him frequently and he assured me my conversations did him good. The horror of his mind was speedily dissipated; he began to drink in my instructions with avidity. He said he prayed fervently and his hopes were continually raised higher and higher. Several persons who came to see him expressed their astonishment at the change. The affection he expressed for me was beyond measure great.
"Contrary to all expectation, he began to recover. He continued devoted to religion and expressed great delight in the hope of attending Church and especially of seeing his friend Johnson, now of one mind with him in religion as formerly in irreligion. His continual desire now seemed to be to study difficult questions in religion and to apply to me for their solution.
"Johnson was highly gratified by hearing from me so favourable an account of his friend and looked forward to meeting him again. As soon as E. was able to walk, they met and talked some time together. Johnson's hopes fell. He found no stability nor sobriety of mind, but a flightly imagination, unbroken heart and fleshly admiration of persons. Alas! I may say that I myself gave to E. all the religion he ever had. All the fire within him was of my own kindling, and he was in the strictest sense my own convert. No wonder Johnson said, shaking his head, "Nothing there, I fear".
"The event too fully justified Johnson's fears. E. began to show less and less consistency. He was gradually drawn away and after a lapse of some months studiously avoided a personal interview with me. I have observed him frequently at a distance turn short round or slip aside the instant he caught sight of me."
These two cases, running alongside each other and with such different outcomes, confounded the young clergyman for a long time. Thus was he, like his sisters, led to ponder upon what a true work of God upon the heart could be.