Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
11 - The Accident
IT was a September day in 1836. Charles, Elizabeth and Mercy had been visiting friends in Bishops" Castle, the busy little town to the South where the stage-coaches from Wales came in. Now they were returning, Charles driving the pony-chaise. They knew the road well, the winding lane that clung to the side of the Longmynd with steep footpaths cutting down into it. At last they saw the roofs of Castle Pulverbach and began the descent of Cothercott Hill. Suddenly the pony took fright and bolted. Charles struggled with it, Mercy clung to her seat, but Elizabeth, with a scream, leapt out. It was only a matter of moments before Charles had mastered the pony, but those moments meant death for Elizabeth. She lay unconscious on the road. Charles ran for help, Mercy to her sister. She was carried into a nearby farmhouse.
Jane tells about it in a letter to Matilda. "I was at Stapleton at Mrs. Oakley's when her daughter came up and said our father's curate wished to see me. I went downstairs, and his face betrayed marks of great emotion. I said, "What is the matter?" He said, "They have met with an accident coming from Bishop's Castle". I pressed him to say no more for I saw he was scarcely able to speak. I got silently into the carriage and we drove gently home. I can only say that during that time my thoughts were as still as stone. During that most solemn drive this verse came with great force and meaning to my mind - "Is anything too hard for the Lord?".
"When I arrived at home I heard the particulars of the case. At about eight o"clock our brother came in. He said he thought before he could hurry back again all would be over. I felt as Mercy was with her it would be my part to remain where I was. She was entirely insensible to every outward thing. O what a night it was! I thought, as I lay sleepless, many things which it would be impossible for me to put down on paper. I think my chief, my only concern was about her precious soul; but I was so dumb I felt no power to pray, only as it were now and then a simple earnest glance was given me to send up into heaven on her behalf. This thought comforted me - her salvation did not depend upon my prayers. If the Saviour is interceding for her is not that enough? I think I had a hope - may I say a good hope for I never felt a hope like it - that He was interceding for her.
Some of Elizabeth's letters, written not long before this event had expressed much searching of heart and perplexity on the subject of religion. Who were they to? Bernard or Matilda? "From some passages in them it would seem that she had at times been favoured with a spiritual hope in the mercy of God through Christ, so far as to say on recovering from an illness that she had sensibly felt the Saviour's intercession to the Father, "Lord let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it", she had felt, too, that time was added to her life wherein He would complete the work He had begun. "And if," to use her own words, "I could not say with Hezekiah "Thou hast" yet I could say "Thou wilt cast all my sins behind Thy back"."
"As the day began to dawn," continues Jane, "I felt wonderfully soothed and comforted by the thought, Who can tell what the Lord may be doing for her at this moment? Who can tell the marvellous work He may be carrying on in her soul? I sent early to enquire at the farm how they were. The message came back, she was still alive and had spoken some words. In about two hours our brother came home. He told me she had said, "It's wonders!". As soon as I heard that I felt still more to hope in the Lord that His hand was upon her for good, and that her soul was precious in His sight. I thought none can tell the wonders that may have been wrought in her, and for her, and revealed in a measure to her during those few solemn hours. For though she appeared totally unconscious, yet from my own experience I can truly say that in that state the Lord may indeed and in truth work wonders. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
"On Mercy telling her that Charles was there, she said during the few moments of consciousness, "O then he escaped?". Charles went to her and spoke her name. After an interval she said very distinctly "It's wonders! Glorify! Mercy!". Her lips still moved, and it was thought she uttered the words, "Jesus! Redeemer!". After this she relapsed into a state of unconsciousness, and in a little more than twenty-four hours after the accident she breathed her last. [She was forty-nine.]
"It was rather a remarkable thing to our minds that afterwards when Mercy and I began to talk quietly over these things and to compare our feelings together, there was a very striking agreement between us respecting that hope about her which I cannot help thinking the Lord gave to each of us in a day of bitter sorrow - a hope which made us feel that though indeed He had visited in judgment yet He had not removed His mercy from her. When her breathless remains were brought home and laid in the study I was able to go and look upon them and kiss them and stand over the coffin with nothing of the shrinking arising from my natural disposition. I did not put the least force upon myself, but those natural and oppressive feelings were at the time taken away from me, and I almost felt that in that solemn chamber of death I could have lifted up my voice and sung, and my song would have been "of mercy and of judgment". Through all the darkness there has been as it were the appearance of a great light, and such support and comfort vouchsafed that for my own part I could never have believed it possible to have felt the like under such circumstances."
This tragedy, a great shock to the whole family, was particularly felt by the second daughter, Margaret, who calls it "an hour of great affliction because of her great loss". Margaret had apparently been especially dependent on Elizabeth. At the age of twenty her life had taken a strange turn. We read this about her. In 1807, while the family was settling in at Pulverbach she was on a visit to her uncle Professor Parish, of Cambridge. 'she was a lively girl, very happy in her expectations from the world and very full of the hope of blessedness in the next world. She attended the ministry of Charles Simeon, and one Sunday in church she was smitten with the deepest fear of the death of her soul. She became, she says, as one who had never known the remission of sins nor obtained that peace the Redeemer came to earth to give to lost sinners. She was as if she had never heard of the righteousness of Christ, so far He seemed to be removed from her. She could not bear the sorrow that came upon her without hope of salvation. Through the pressure and continuance of this sorrow, which was quite overwhelming to her, her mind sustained a shock that left it to the end of her life in some measure impaired in clearness and strength. For" some years she scarcely spoke."
She was eventually delivered from this great heaviness, and was also the subject of several remarkable dreams which she felt were given for her comfort. There is no record of her taking any active part in the religious dissensions of the family. Possibly she could not fully enter into them, and preferred to shelter behind her father and elder sister. After the death of Elizabeth she went up to relations at Allonby in Cumberland for a long visit. She was able to write an account of a visit she paid to a lady there, which drew a long letter from Jane full of good counsel, which she hoped Margaret would be able to read to her friend. Indeed Jane's letters since her illness, "when she felt called upon to bear a testimony to the truths that had been taught her were most faithful, though in herself she shrank from trying to instruct others. Several friends found her a most valuable correspondent".
Down in Hertford about this time Henrietta was but just recovering from a severe illness in which she had been afraid of death, feeling she had lost the Lord's presence through the backsliding of her heart. With gradual returning health a hope arose that better things were in store for her, and indeed the Lord graciously returned to her in so clear a manner that she wrote it down.
"I awoke from a rest with these words, "I will not leave you comfortless" very gently whispered, and the next day the Lord did indeed fulfil this promise with much greater power than I had ever before experienced. About noon I went into my husband's study to rest and soon afterwards a feeling came over me that I had never experienced before but once, in a much less degree. As Hart expresses it "I felt myself melting away into a strange softness of affection". My spirit fell down before the Lord, and sweet comfort flowed in from Him. My husband was in the room, and though I knew he would have rejoiced in my joy, yet at that moment I wanted to be quite undisturbed and to hearken what the Lord would say concerning me. So I restrained my feelings, though with much difficulty, and multitudes of passages of Scripture kept pouring into my mind with wonderful sweetness and power. The enemy tried to mar my happiness, by hurling many accusations against me, but they were all answered as fast as they came. My husband soon left me, as he had to visit a friend in Hertford, and would not return till late. He perceived something unusual was passing in my mind, and therefore to avoid disturbing me he went out quietly, and also gave orders to the servants not to go up to me at all unless I should ring the bell.
'soon after he left the power and sweetness I had enjoyed began to subside. I felt sorry for this, but thought to myself we are not to expect such great indulgences to be lasting - to have them at all is a wonderful favour. Then these words were whispered to me, "He made as though he would have gone further, but they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us ... and He went in to tarry with them". Such a suggestion seemed to me a promise of the like happy success, and so indeed it surely was; for on my pleading it earnestly as such to the Lord, He owned it by an immediate fulfilment. All my comfort came again, if anything increased, and tarried the whole of the day. I had no thoughts to spare for my meals. The hours came and went without my observing them, so that, as I did not ring the bell, I saw no one till my husband returned at night. I cannot describe what I felt during the whole of that day. I remember I did sensibly receive answers to petitions long past, and even quite forgotten by me, till recalled to my recollection. These very petitions, at the time of my making them, had, I well remember, seemed to myself as if put up against a dead wall. Now it appeared to me that the Lord had dealt more wonderfully with me than with anyone else; for I could believe none were so undeserving as myself, none so helpless, none so obstinately opposing. I could unreservedly thank Him and bless Him for all that He had done to me, even to the taking away of my two little boys [one at five months, and one, "a dear child of fair promise" at fifteen months - a blow most overwhelming at the time]. My whole soul, filled with gratitude, said, "Lord, I never knew it was for this!".
"Though the enjoyment gradually abated that night, yet a very sweet savour remained with me for a long while. I never afterwards could think of it suddenly without a thrill throughout my frame, and I used to say, "Lord, I know of a truth that Thy love is better than wine - the wine of all earthly enjoyments whatsoever"."
In the following month of that year Port Vale Chapel was finished for Bernard - "a commodious chapel in a very eligible situation". Bernard and Henrietta went to see it. "Everything respecting it was exceedingly to our mind," writes Bernard in his diary, "but all this added to the weight on my spirit. I cried much in spirit that the Lord would not suffer a smooth exterior to lull us into deceitful security, or into pride and spiritual barrenness. I ascended Port Hill with my dear wife to see a piece of ground on which the builder thought he could erect a suitable house for us. Though I long to remove her to an elevated spot I became exceedingly cloudy in my mind, and was afraid of the secular part of the affair, lest we should engage in worldly scheming; and I felt some thankfulness that the plan seemed on examination to be impracticable".
On October 7th the chapel was opened, Bernard preaching from the 66th Psalm, "Blessed be God which hath not turned away my prayer nor His mercy from me". Referring also to the methods by which God teaches and perfects His work of mercy, set forth at large in that Psalm - "Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried . . ." and through all this God brings His people into "a wealthy place". This wealthy place is verily spiritual enlargement in Christ.
Bernard did get a house in an elevated position for his wife the next spring - at Bengeo, a suburb of Hertford up Port Hill, and writes a beautiful petition for a blessing on it in his diary, ending with "That Thou wouldest mercifully fix the bounds of our habitation, blessing and overruling our exertions so that we may be well settled, but not in the spirit of the worldling who says, 'soul, take thine ease"."
To return to Pulverbach. It was in 1837, after she had fully recovered from her illness, and the family had recovered from the shock of Eliza's death, that Jane in her visits to Sukey Harley took down the story of her conversion "from her lips", as she puts it. She wrote this out and sent it to London, where it was handed round for perusal from friend to friend. When it came into Mr. Bourne's hands he could not resist writing to Sukey, which he did as follows: "I have read your Account with great delight and spiritual refreshment; and bless God for displaying His sovereign pleasure in choosing out of a wicked world the least likely in all the village where you dwelt. You can never boast of your goodness or natural wisdom, but can with me say, "It is of His free mercy He has saved us, by the washing of regeneration". True enough, you could not find out how you were to be born again; yet you at last perceived that this spiritual wind blew where it listed, though you could not tell whence it came or whither it went: 'so is everyone that is born of the Spirit". I was much encouraged by your description of the way the Lord taught you to read. Is anything too hard for Him? No. This ought to encourage you and me to come boldly to a throne of grace with all our wants, and not (as we are so ready to do) go everywhere else. We have all a most foolish feeling that an arm of flesh can do wonders: but this is one thing the Lord will be continually striking at all our days, and will never cease to show us by various means that none but Jesus Christ can do helpless sinners good.
"How the Lord in all your ignorance instructed you agreeably to His written Word! [Mr. Bourne in a letter to Catharine says, "Is it not marvellous that a poor creature like Sukey Harley, living in a wood, in that corner alone should be the object of God's care, and that by His grace she should be able to describe the work of salvation upon her own heart, and that her description should exactly agree with the testimony of living saints, and of those that are gone before, and above all, with the Word of God?"]. There is no salvation for sinners but through Jesus Christ. This revelation was made known to you and the Lord the Spirit put that prayer into your heart, "Lord, bring me into the true light and knowledge of Thy dear Son". This prayer was heard, and He came into your heart with all His saving benefits. Thus His coming drove out all other objects - all your fiddling, dancing, swearing, and all other vanities the Lord cast into the depths of the sea of His love, and left you no desire to return to them. "What fruit had you in those things whereof you are now bitterly ashamed?" What fruit? Misery and wretchedness was the fruit. But what fruit found you in the revelation of Jesus Christ to your soul? The fruit was love, joy, peace, goodness, mercy and many more fruits of the Spirit; which are always found when He has possession of the heart. And when we walk in the Spirit and in the sweet enjoyment of these things, what a discovery by the Spirit we often find of the pride of the heart! These evil beasts will show their heads; that corrupt principle called the old man will often seek for the mastery and fight for it too! This is the reason the Lord tells us to endure hardness as good soldiers, and put on the whole armour of God, not our fleshly armour, but God's strength which shall be made perfect in our weakness. This causes hope to abound and courage to increase, and we again press on, and Christ our Captain never leaves us, but leads us on to victory. May this be your happy lot, not to be discouraged because of the way, but rather look at the almighty arm of our blessed Redeemer, and see if we can sink with such a prop That holds the world and all things up."
It seems to be around this time that Sukey's husband began to join with more understanding in her spiritual things. The thought of him apparently lay upon Mr. Bourne's heart, for we find another letter addressed to Sukey beginning,
"What an inexpressible mercy it would be for your husband to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in his old age. Let me ask you, Charles, what do you know of these things? If you say that few and evil have been your days and you feel it a truth, do you ever go and tell this to the Lord? For He only can mend them and give you grace and understanding to come to Jesus Christ for mercy and pardon. If you mean to be happy, be much in prayer; and when you read, search for the Lord in His word as for his treasures, and you will be surprised how He will condescend to speak to you by it. Be not a stranger to the new birth. "Ye must be born again." This is something that Sukey so long sought for before she could find, and yet did not seek in vain. Take heed, be of a teachable spirit, and be not wise in your own conceit; be very especially cautious not to lay a stumbling block before each other's feet, for that would soon hinder your prayers. The fear of God will prove "a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death"."
Then he goes on to exhort Sukey not to lose sight of her sister. "Remember, Sukey, you have been long strangers in a strange land. Watch over her and see what the Lord is doing, and whether you can help her with your prayers. Show her the way to the Lord Jesus Christ. I think I hear you say, But how shall I show her? By telling her of the many years of fears and sorrows you have had and how the Lord made you to write vanity upon all created things; when you despaired of all things, and most of yourself, then the Lord Jesus came to your help and saved you. Tell her to give Him no rest but to cry night and day. Tell her to watch if she ever gets answers to prayer; be sure to cherish such answers and magnify the Lord with thanksgiving for them."
Thus Mr. Bourne's ministry by correspondence began to spread among one and another in Pulverbach.