Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
9 - A Friend for Bernard
IN case Bernard's troubles seem to twentieth century eyes to be unduly magnified, let us try to visualise life in the 1830's in a small county town like Hertford. The localised range of interests meant that everybody knew everybody else. In London the troubles of Mr. Bourne, Watkin Maddy or Mr. Burrell passed unobserved in the wheeling life of the metropolis. In Hertford every movement at St. Andrew's Rectory was becoming a matter of gossip. The unorthodox views of the young rector [the church is in the middle of the town] made endless talk. The long-resident families of the town, some of whom took umbrage and removed themselves to another church, would have much to say over the tea-table, over the dinner-table, and not just for a day or two - it went on for years. There was also the overpowering disdain of the Church towards non-conformity of any sort.
The moment there is a stand made for the truth in Christ, Oh! how sharply the world, and especially the religious world, watches the daily behaviour of those who try to so stand. Looking back at that time Bernard says, "You know some of the things that happened. They were enough to frighten me in the foresight: the indignation of the congregation and the contempt I was treated with [and Bernard was not an aggressive type, but a "kindly man, remarkably considerate for the feelings of others"]; the alienation of some of my dearest friends and relations; my long conflict about the Church, because by the grace of God I was fully purposed that I would not stir except He made my path clear. Yet now I can acknowledge that all these trials were good: they did me no harm at all, except that they wounded my pride incessantly, and they brought me more nearly to be nothing that Christ might become all."
But his Lord did not leave him to battle entirely alone. Just at this very time a young man about his own age was drawn by divine Providence to come to Hertford, and thus began a friendship that strengthened the hands of both of them for the rest of their lives. The friendship had a quiet beginning. The young man was William Lockwood Maydwell. Educated at Harrow, and trained as a solicitor, he arrived in Hertford in 1834 having heard of a suitable professional opening. He had no acquaintance in the neighbourhood, and was greatly dejected immediately on his arrival, so much so that he decided to leave again, and took some steps to that end, which were, however, frustrated. His friends and family after a short time found for him a far superior situation, and pressed him to accept it, but this also he declined.
Mr. Maydwell later gave a slight sketch of his early years before coming to Hertford. "How deeply I had felt for years," he says, "the natural pride and conceit of my heart. I remember in youth that my sister to whom I was much attached was at one time very anxious that I might be converted, and would often reprove me for my evil ways, but I refused to listen to her. At that time I was both proud and immoral, and she used to speak to me of the power of Jesus to save, saying He is both God and man. It seemed as if I had never heard this before, for I had lived like a heathen, and I replied to her, "Do you really believe this? I never will believe it".
"The first thing that effectually roused me was the sudden death of my mother. My sins were then set in order before my face and I felt certain that hell would be my lot. That winter was a dreadful time to me. I was indeed in intense soul-trouble and was too proud to own my feelings. I have often sat with my sister, pretending to read a newspaper held before my face lest she should see the anguish on my countenance.
"About this time I went with my father and sister to my uncle Lockwood's house at Lowestoft, of which place he was rector. Here my father was taken ill, and I was in a grievous state of rebellion against God. I remember one day going upon the beach in great agony of mind, and seeing no one there I resolved to try to pray once more, and if God would not hear me to throw myself into the sea. But my heart was like brass. I knelt down upon the sand, but could not pray a word, and nothing seemed to hold me back from self-destruction but the fear of distressing my sick father."
Mr. Maydwell had gleams of comfort at times, but as they were unaccompanied by any spiritual discovery of Christ in His blessed Gospel, he did not understand the ground of them. He said he often felt an intense gloom come over his spirit and over every object he looked upon. This was especially so when joining in parties of pleasure, which he frequently did, and though inwardly sad he made himself appear the gayest of the company.
As he thought over these things and sometimes spoke of them he began to be considered a religious man, both by himself and others. He had many religious friends, to some of whom he was much attached, looking up to them as far more advanced in faith than himself. They were such as easily persuaded themselves that they were right, and wanted to persuade him he was right also, so the only fault they found with him was that he was unhappy. "We have faith," they said, "and it makes us happy, and you have nothing to do but to believe and you would be as happy as we are." He would sometimes tell them a little of his gloom, but none of them were willing to enter into his feelings, and they represented this gloom as the result of his wilful unbelief alone.
He sometimes seemed sensible that the fault was not wholly on his own side, their conduct often leading him to say, "How is it that their strong faith does not influence their life and change their state, as I am sometimes sensible that my little faith influences and changes mine?".
This was the state he was in when he came to Hertford, a lonely young man of thirty-two, deeply in earnest to attain the true power of religion, conscious that he had never found it, and much dissatisfied with himself, and fearing he would never find what he was seeking after.
He found one prayer in his heart, but being ignorant of the dealings of the grace of God he did not at the time recognise in this the love of God to his soul. The prayer was the third verse of Psalm 43, "O send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacles". He said that for several months - nine at least - these words were present with him by day and by night, waking or sleeping. Spending most of his leisure time alone, he would over and again repeat the words, but felt notwithstanding that his heart was hard and dark.
"How often," ejaculates Bernard, writing his Memoir later, "has he in succeeding years encouraged a tender faith in others by his own example, and shown them that such a cry out of a sensibly hard and dark heart is a blessed proof that the true light has begun to shine there! How often also he used to amplify this word of life in his soul, and show us what a fullness there is in it! He would lay a great stress on the word truth. "We must (he was wont to say) not only find light, but the truth itself from the Lord. I used for many years to think it would be impossible to be fully satisfied that I had found the truth in a world so full of conflicting opinions as this is. But, blessed be God, He has discovered to me the Truth itself in His light, so that I have not the shadow of a doubt upon this question - "what is truth?" for I know it. It is Jesus". He would also say, 'see the fullness of David's words, "Let Thy light and Thy truth lead me: let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacles". It is not enough to find a leading except that leading be effectual and so end in our being brought to the right point. Blessed be God for bringing me there!" "
Mr. Maydwell, looking for a church to worship in when settling in Hertford, found that the Rector of St Andrew's was "everywhere spoken against", and soon resolved to go and hear him. "He was too desponding in his own mind to enter into the state of others, but he went induced partly by kindness to one under reproach, and partly by a sincere desire to profit by instruction wherever he might find it".
The effect of the first sermon he heard from Bernard was peculiar. He was surprised to find that, contrary to all religious advice which had been profusely offered him, he was not censured for being unhappy. He found the gist of Bernard's sermon to be, "If you are unhappy it is because you need more of the divine gift of faith to enable you to lay hold upon Christ, and you must ask for this faith, and wait upon the Lord till He works it in your heart, as He surely will do in due time to all who are poor and needy in soul. To abide steadfastly waiting for Christ, however unhappy you may be at present, is better than to heal yourself by the efforts of a self-wrought faith. This last ends only in an unsound healing, which will not stand the trial."
He was at first afraid of taking the consolation which this line of teaching offered to him. He had a high regard for his religious friends, and thought to himself, 'surely they must be right, and they all blame me for not assuming this faith at once, and so being freed from all trouble of soul. My cordial agreement with the sermon I have just heard rather makes me suspect it must be unscriptural, for a man in the bad state I am in is more likely to reject the truth than to love it: I resolve to come here no more".
Still, as opportunity after opportunity offered, he felt constrained to go and hear, and the relief it afforded him became more and more confirmed. Gradually, as he ever afterwards fully acknowledged, the Lord opened his eyes to see that the advice Bernard gave him was according to the Word of God, as in the beginning of Psalm 40: "I waited patiently for the Lord and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my goings".
It was still with difficulty that he consented to a private interview with Bernard, and when this took place he gave him a number of his friends" letters, begging Bernard to read them attentively. I found," says Bernard "the very same fault running through these letters which I had before found in my own early ministry, and which had caused what I may call a revolution in it. The letters were rather persuasives to him to heal himself by the Gospel than to wait upon Christ to heal him."
In exchange, Bernard lent him a few of the MS. letters of his friend Mr. James Bourne. He promptly read these, and acknowledged at once that the simplicity and spiritual power he perceived in them convinced him that the writer had real communion with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In June 1835, he received a letter himself from Mr. Bourne, as follows:
"Dear unknown Friend, - I am glad to see your letter to Mr. Gilpin and that it has pleased God to give you some discernment between the dead professing Church and the true Church of God. I cannot but hope the Spirit of God has made you to feel the inefficiency of the one and the desirability of the other; for the gay professors of the present day are not denied any of the pleasures and fashions of this world, and if you in your measure are dead to these through the fear of death and a broken law, to such the Gospel is sent. You must not be disheartened because you find not abiding peace. Judgment most commonly precedes mercy, and there is pulling down before building up, and breaking the clods and ploughing before sowing. None of these things are pleasant spiritually, though both safe and necessary.
"Be not discouraged if the assurance of salvation does not come about according to your notions of it; nor think that your safety consists in attaining to high things at once. "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word."
"The despondency you speak of is to create a feeling sense of your weakness, and train you not for high things, but for small things; to hear the truth from a child; to think it a wonder of wonders if the Lord should condescend to visit you in ever so little a way by the ministry of a poor despised man. The great and mysterious work of grace in a sinner's heart is not wrought in a day, there is so much to be pulled down, put off, denied, and crucified; and the Lord can do nothing but with broken hearts. O may the Spirit of God quicken you! I hope you will be able by the grace of God to abide by the Word in this time of persecution and disgrace. Christ "made Himself of no reputation". Can you find power from on high to give up your reputation? Or will the love of this present evil world in a profession entice you to betray him? May the Lord greatly enlighten and comfort you, and discover to you more and more the safety and sweetness of that salvation which is treasured up in Christ for all afflicted consciences.
From your unworthy servant in the Lord, B. J."
"From this time," says Bernard, "all his suspicions left him. He was enabled to choose for himself the way of "patient waiting", though this is really identical with the way of tribulation. From that time to the end of his life, he became more than a brother to me; and I thank God to this day for the great benefit I found, both privately and in my ministry, from his counsel and friendship. I had just then began to stand in need of such a friend, and Mr. Maydwel's cordial approbation of my line of conduct strengthened my hands when reproach, opposition and misconstruction from almost all quarters besides, tended to weaken them. We neither of us felt strong, but weak; yet Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness! "Twice only during this period, I thought I discerned what the eventual direction of God would be after the dissolution of my connection with the Establishment - even the continuance of my ministry in Hertford. On the first occasion I was exceedingly cast down, almost without hope; on the second I found a measure of strengthening peace, as though it were said of me, Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid? and as if in the strength of that great comfort I could say to anyone who should venture to express a wish for the continuance of my ministry, "License a room for me, and I will stay amongst you". I thought also of the door mentioned in Rev. 3. 8, "Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it". Yes, I said, if I may but have grace to stoop so low as to enter into that door."
Bernard received the official communication of the acceptance of his resignation on the day before Whit-Sunday, June, 1835, and the very next day after he ceased to be Rector of St. Andrew's, he was asked to preach in the house of an aged friend, Mrs. Tims. This old lady had arrived in Hertford in 1829 with her daughter: they had asked the young rector to look them out a suitable house, and he had done so. They attended his ministry when it was in a state of "abundance of zeal". The old lady (eighty-five that year) had been for twenty years looking for joy and liberty in Christ and never finding it. The fault had been with her teachers," says Bernard, "rather than herself, and I was just such another of them, "who see visions of peace for Jerusalem when there is no peace". Sincerely religious, she had been induced from long habit to conceal the secret depths of fear and conviction because she found scarcely any who could in the least sympathise with her and direct her how to overcome them in the right way. During the time of Bernard's difficulties, Mrs. Tims had been staying at home through increasing weakness, but she had learnt from her daughter the new tenor of his preaching. Bernard avoided calling on these two for many months, fearing they would scorn him, but one day, feeling a "Peradventure" upon his mind he went to see them. To his surprise the old lady gave him a most cordial welcome, and soon drew from him an account of his hopes and fears. She said they quite agreed with her own. "I used to be afraid," she said, "you were setting forth yourself too much. Your words never touched my inward case".
"No wonder," said Bernard, and then told her of the help he had received from the London friends. "Mr Bourne would always caution me against neglecting or brow-beating any humbling spiritual convictions in myself or others. When any persons express fear or conviction it is so common for the religious counsellor to say, "Don't give way to this weakness. Be diligent in God's service and you'll soon be better", or "Believe - only believe", with no distinction between natural faith and spiritual. It is better to look and wait for a living hope. The Greek word living implies a hope that breathes, desires, expects. And where do we look? Why, to Jesus. Ask! Ask!"."
While Bernard found an increased unity with the mother, he found an increased separation from the daughter. Once when he called he found Mrs. Tims ill and afraid of death. Why?, he asked her. "Oh, it is the conviction of my self-righteousness", she said. Her daughter tried to comfort her. "I'm sure you're not self-righteous", she said, "I hear every day your prayer to be saved by Christ's blood". But Bernard said, "I know what you mean, for your treacherous heart is self-righteous still". She looked at him as one who truly understood and sympathised, but the daughter was not pleased. To his comments she put up the usual common objections which amounted really to the belief that "of course" her mother was right with God by the consistent and religious life she had led.
Bernard tried to avoid seeing the daughter, but presently found that her conscience was being truly enlightened, and her objections were rather to get at the truth. "How patient was the Lord Jesus," he ejaculates, "with the woman of Samaria, showing neither surprise nor disgust at the ignorance of her answers!". By degrees the younger woman's spirit changed; she became poor and needy, and later said that the special means used by God was the example of lowliness, earnest desire and contrition set before her in her aged mother.
"Mrs. Tims gradually emerged out of all her clouds and darkness into a state of great spiritual clearness, and often of the most divine consolation. Her words entered into my heart, and mine into hers from then onwards."
At her house, then, Bernard was asked to come and expound. He did so, taking as a text Micah 7. "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause. . . ." Though "the flint was not turned into a springing well in my heart", says he, "it was in hers; which she afterwards told me. This was, I believe, intended by God to encourage me, and it did so. My aged friend, though she had been all her lifetime a member of the Established Church, and was attached to it, felt no disunion of spirit with me in consequence of what had taken place. Previous to this I had been often tempted to think that my influence with her would now be impaired and my instructions no more prove of use, but so far from this being the case she increasingly felt and owned the blessing of God as resting on her soul through my ministry, from this time till her most triumphant death in the ensuing December. Indeed the whole of her spiritual conflicts and the victories of her faith during those months proved to me like one impressive "Yea and Amen" from the Lord to the truth and power of that Gospel which I had begun to realise." Her daughter remained a true friend to the Gilpins all her life.