Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
14 - Mr. Bourne's Second Visit
THE summer following all these troubles, 1839, Mr. Bourne was again invited to Pulverbach. This time he brought three of his daughters and stayed with Mrs. Oakley at Moat Farm, Stapleton. Mrs. Oakley, into whose troubles Mr. Bourne had entered most sympathetically by letter and conversation, had had a very heavy burden to bear most of her married life. Mr. Oakley, a farmer, had been under some serious religious impressions in his young manhood while attached to Stapleton Church (where there is a plaque to his father). But after this he had been for a time "entangled in the pollutions of the world; and while going on in that course was seized with dreadful despair, in which he continued for twenty-four years, with only short intervals of relief. He would cry out in an agony that he was going to hell - others might have hope, but there was none for him. Yet he did not altogether give up crying for mercy, and would sometimes say, "O Lord, I would give thousands and thousands of pounds to know Thee! Hast Thou not all power both in heaven and in earth? Be pleased to have mercy on my poor benighted soul." When he recovered a little in mind he used to be led away by worldly and light-minded companions, who endeavoured to divert him from these gloomy subjects; but they never could succeed long".
During many of these years Mrs. Oakley had had to manage the farm as he was quite unable to render any assistance. Looking at the picture of this charming old Shropshire house one might let the imagination play upon scenes of tranquil pastoral life in a kind of Arcadia, but it was by no means all so picturesque. It had only been in the winter of 1830 that bands of starving farm-labourers roaming the countryside had terrified English farmers by smashing threshing machines and burning hay-ricks. In the spring of 1831 more riots broke out, particularly in the Midlands, owing to the rejection of the Reform Bill. The Oakleys, comparatively near the the Severn Vale and the busy town of Shrewsbury, must have trembled at much of this news, even if it did not actually touch them (which we do not know). There was much unemployment and poverty.
Mr. Bourne wrote once to Mrs. Oakley, 'search daily for this Friend (Christ Jesus), as you would for hid treasures, and you will surely find Him from time to time. His presence will compensate for all your bodily pain, family troubles and worldly anxieties; and while it lasts you will be able to see all things in their right aspect, and that He can do you no wrong. It has pleased God to put a worm to every gourd that you have planted, so that all things in this life wither, and it is a mercy to you that they afford no shade nor repose for your flesh".
Mr. Bourne wrote to his fellow-deacon, Mr. Nunn, about the Oakleys: "We had, by the blessing of God, a favourable journey. [It would be two days by coach.] Our friends were ready to receive us, and glad of our arrival. Poor Mr. Oakley (in whose house we
lodge) is in a most distressing state; his faculties are very weak, but not so bad as I expected. He tells me he has been almost in despair for nearly two years together. "O, Sir, I am the vilest sinner that ever was on the earth; there can be no hope for such a sinner". I asked, "Do you pray for mercy?" "Yes, Sir, but I am too great a sinner to hope; there is none like me." I said, "The Lord came to save sinners not the righteous; it was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel He was sent". He seemed to pause, and I asked him if he ever had hope? He replied, "Now and then a little transient hope"; and then burst out crying, "O that I could but be saved! There is nothing I want but mercy".
"He is a farmer, seventy-three years of age. In conversation with his wife he said, "I do think I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world". She said, "Can you pray?". He then prayed, "O Lord, show me the light of Thy countenance and Thy salvation". After this there seemed a gleam of light upon his soul, and for a little while he saw the way, and Christ the living head directing him.
I never spent such a sixteen months as the last have been; the first six or seven in sweet assurances of the Lord's presence and help; the winter in one continued scene of changes, in the deepest despondency and fear, and now and then very comforting promises of help; many terrible fears respecting my coming here, but some of the kindest assurances of the Lord's approbation and presence. He gives me sweet liberty in His word in the family worship, so that I am satisfied the Lord is my Guardian and Counsellor, and I hope my visit here may not be in vain to the people I converse with. Mrs. Oakley has just been telling me how profitable she has found our morning readings, and how she feels that it is the Lord who is instructing her by His servant. Her sons will not attend."
Then again, "I cannot help beginning at once with a visit I had from Mrs. Oakley. She had been upstairs to see Mr. Oakley, and found him in a very meek and peaceful spirit. He said, "Where is it in the Testament about the crumbs that fall from the Master's table which Mr. Bourne spoke of to me?" She read it to him and he then said, "I have such a hope that I shall have some of these crumbs; I have been pondering this ever since I heard it, and am much encouraged. I have been reading the Psalms, and Psalm 116 has been very sweet to me, and has made me so comfortable that I want you to stop and let us talk these things over. I am a great sinner, and have been a devil to you, but these crumbs have made me very peaceful".
Mr. Bourne then goes on. There is a great opposition to the truth in this place, but the Lord has said, "Hitherto shalt thou go and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed". Plans of all sorts have been laid to frustrate our proceedings, but as yet they have not been suffered to do so. I hear the Rector was kind when he first heard of our arrival but expressed gladness we were so far off." Moat Farm being a couple of miles or so out of the village, Mr. Bourne's morning readings were probably not attended by the Miss Gilpins or Sukey. Mrs. Oakley was often unwell so the arrangement was that Mr. Bourne and his daughters walked over to Sukey's and spent the whole of Sunday there. Several of his godly letters are dated from the cottage. Notwithstanding all the attacks of the curate, "and the poor man does not know how to show his hatred to us all enough", the ladies went twice each Sunday to the service at Sukey's. "They are very kind," says Mr. Bourne, "but seldom say anything about themselves. Miss Jane has not spoken to me since I came: she is depressed, and I grieve that they do not find that union which I think is necessary for their mutual benefit and welfare."
The weather that summer was very wet. We get phrases like: "Last night through the excessive rains the floods have done great damage to the farm . . .! I arrived at Sukey's very weary, worn out and hopeless, not knowing whether the Lord had really brought me here, and having lost my way I thought I was a strange fool for proceeding in what I knew nothing about. I begged to go upstairs while the poor people waited and there I sought the Lord in much confusion and sorrow. I began in private to read the chapter I was to speak from and when I came to the words, "My son" I shall never forget the endearing sound of them. My heart was then prepared of the Lord and I had much light on my subject and was able to open it up to the people ... I can write no more, I am so fatigued". Another Sunday when they were at Sukey's "the heavy rains came on and I did not know how my daughters and I would walk the four long miles home. The brook at the bottom of Sukey's garden was flooded but with help and contrivance we got over. The flood had crossed the road in many places and at last was so deep that we had to leave the road and go round by a farmhouse. They let us pass kindly and we got safe home as wet about the legs as we could be, but not in the least fatigued, never so little so, and none of us caught cold".
Money was very short. Mr. Bourne gave a few drawing lessons and sold some of his pictures [in Shrewsbury?] and paid Mrs. Oakley for her rooms. He saw a fine pig in the yard and bought it and took her the sovereign her son had asked. She then revealed to him that she had been praying for two pounds that her sons needed to go to market with. She had sent to collect a debt for 18 but had not got a penny of it and knew not what to do. Mr. Bourne had been give a little money from Bernard and one or two London friends for the poor of Pulverbach, and records the pleasure half-a-crown here and there gave. "Betty Mathews said she only had twopence in the house. This old woman is eighty-three, and feared through the effects of the weather she would not be able to come, but this morning she found herself strong enough to attempt it. The comfort in her mind helped her and though with fatigue she arrived and was glad indeed, once more to hear the word. She has the true fear of God and loves instruction. Last Sunday she was forced to wade ankle-deep to get home, a mile away, but she caught no cold and is here again. I had eighteen to hear me to-day, and I feel deeply the importance of what is laid upon me to teach them. They tell me many things. Mrs. Morris is continually under a threat of dismissal from her school but is coming out clearly on the Lord's side.
'sukey speaks all her mind without any reserve; hence comes all her misery, but she quickly returns in the clearest and cleanest manner I ever saw. She has not had the privilege of the word or I daresay she would have been taught what an evil and bitter thing it is so to sin against God. She has no refinement to hide by civility what others can, and therefore she commits herself and becomes a prey through her tongue to the craft of the devil, who is always watching our weak side. But you will see by my accounts of these people that I cannot mould all to my pattern, nor can I frame a pattern by the Word of God that shall suit the precise case of every one. I am led to be very tender and serious that I may not judge according to outward appearances."
Another conversation Mr. Bourne had with Sukey is recorded thus: 'sukey said the Lord had told her of her lacking heart, and that cut her clean across, for, she said, the blessed Redeemer had fed her forty years in the wilderness world, and you told me this present affliction was to humble me and prove me that He might know what was in my heart. Ah! how this got my proud backsliding heart down - how I had turned from Him. Oh, how I felt myself like the forsaken woman you spoke of on Sunday morning. I am grieved in spirit when I read about the Lord's love to us, a peculiar people, to think I should be so slothful. I have been mourning because of my sins, but the Lord came and swept my fears and sorrows away. (She clasped her hands.) I want to tell you all about it. It was joy unspeakable. When you pointed with your finger and said how the people used to point at you and say, "There goes the apostate!" I knew what that meant. I have had all manner of things spoken of me, and how it made me to rejoice to think I had found somebody that had been in the same path of tribulation. While I was praying for you I had such an heavenly feeling of the Lord's presence and it seemed to say, "This is my faithful minister that speaks the same things you read in the Bible". Oh how precious to hear it and how thankful am I for such visitations.
"Oh how I did pity my poor neighbours who want to live without such a friend as I have found in the Lord Jesus. I pity those lasses with their pretended soul trouble marrying anybody [alluding to a marriage of this sort that had taken place a few days before] whether they fear God or not. I was in ignorance when I married, but after I knew the Lord nobody knows the sorrow I had to live with one that understood nothing about it, and there was always disunion till it pleased God to bring him down and discover to him his dangerous state about two years ago. Now nobody knows what a help we are to each other! He knows now what it meant by my sorrows and he can also enter into my joys, for since the Lord has taken cause for him we can talk over both our trials and comforts and often speak of the things we hear preached. What one forgets the other remembers and we are often comforted with that unity of spirit which before we knew nothing of. If the people could but lay to heart the dreadful plague of a dead weight perpetually bound to them they would be more serious and cautious how they were entangled in marriage.
"O what I see in my present afflictions! It shows me I am indeed sowing in much weakness and dishonour, but there's a feeling I have sometimes of the Lord changing the scene and raising my poor body up in honour and divine power to be eternally with the Lord. It breaks my heart to see my precious Redeemer dishonoured in this village. Ah! how sad will be the day of reckoning which they never think of, but which will surely come."
"The poor people here," writes Mr. Bourne in another place, "find I am not come to trifle, but that both they and myself are accountable for both hearing and speaking; and our consciences I trust are kept alive by the Lord's making us susceptible of the importance of the word spoken. Mr. Oakley is at times all but in despair, and now and then he seems to catch at something to hope upon. He still remembers "the crumbs that fall from the Master's table" and hopes to get some; but last night and early this morning he seemed past all hope, till at last he said, "I see the Saviour on the cross shedding His blood for me; I see the blood spilt for me; I have hope. I was in hell last night, but the Saviour tells me that His blood is sufficient for all my sins". Mrs. Oakley says that he never had such distinct hope, nor ever such deep despair, before I spoke to him, and that he has never since been so dreadfully outrageous; but his spirit is calm and there seems a great change. He told me he had a soul to save, and then added, "for ever and ever and ever. O Sir, to go to hell is very terrible!". I have been able to persuade him to attend our family reading these last two days. What all this means the Lord will show us in due time." (Mrs. Oakley wrote later that Mr. Bourne's ministry was the means of conveying a spiritual blessing to her husband's soul. The truths he heard seemed to take a deep hold, and he often referred to them afterwards.)
"At this period," he writes in his Memoir, "I also had a burden concerning my youngest son. He had often grieved me by his light spirit, which I was not able to control; nevertheless I was continually watching over him, and found many very peculiar marks of tenderness in the midst of all his levity which led me to many prayers. He was now ill, and we began to despair of his recovery. I was much engaged in seeking the Lord for him. As I was walking in a lane at Stapleton in Shropshire to my great surprise, for the first time in my life the Lord drew near respecting him, and gave me many sweet encouragements to hope that He would protect him. A few nights after this, in the dead of night, I was praying for him, and the Lord heard me, and told me, "Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him". I could sincerely appeal to the Lord that I truly feared Him, and the pity expressed in the above Scripture set forth to me that the Lord would protect my son according to my prayer. I did not come to him because my son was better than others, but because he was my son, and I looked to the Lord both for mercy and a blessing." [This boy recovered from his illness. About the age of twenty-one he left home for New York, and afterwards went to China. Mr. Bourne said he often found his heart comforted in seeking a blessing for him, and felt a complete assurance of the Lord's watchful eye and tender care, whether he himself were to see him ever again or not.]
"My subject to-day," he writes towards the end of this visit, "was Heb. 12. I. I found my heart deeply affected with it, and told the people there was no setting aside dead weights and besetting sins, and no running our race with patience, but by looking unto Jesus; and that nothing else would strengthen the hands that hang down or make the knees to bow before God. Many professions (of religion) are entered into, but in the end prove unsound; for those who hold them look to themselves and not to Jesus, and therefore their faith Christ will not own, being neither the author of it nor the finisher. Look diligently to this, for it is not he that thinketh he standeth that shall prevail; but as Hart says, A wounded soul, and not a whole, Becomes a true believer.
'sukey Harley said she found the word searched her beyond expression. "I know," she said, "that the Lord is with you, for I wanted to put away many things, but my Redeemer would not let me; and at last He gave me power to fall, and there I find my comfort. But O Sir, what shall I do when you are gone? I shall feel my need more than ever. O how I pray for you, and that the Lord would bless you at home!" "
So the visit drew to an end - in October - and Mr. Bourne and his daughters returned to London. Soon his pen was busy again, and an affectionate letter went north to Mrs. Oakley:
"I was much comforted to see how teachable your spirit was, and how you were enabled to pass over the weakness of the instrument and to pay great reverence to the word of the Lord. The Lord has given me many advantages by an enlightened and faithful ministry [Mr. Burrell's], and this it has pleased God in a measure to deprive you of. Perhaps on this account I was enabled to discover many things in which you were hoodwinked and wherein you lived very short of your privileges. I had many fears while I was at your house. At one time when I seemed ready to give all up, fearing I was not right to speak as I did to the poor people of Pulverbach, these words came with great sweetness and power, "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction. For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth". In the strength of this I found great liberty to speak, and it assured me that the Lord had directed my way, and that it should not be in vain. Besides I often found the sweet and comforting presence of God when I was with my family in your little room. I was quite sure that the Lord was with us, for I perceived that He opened your eyes upon many things that you had not laid to heart before, some of which had brought you into great bondage.
"I hope Mr. Oakley has not forgotten to ask for the crumbs that fall from the Master's table; tell him despair is the worst of sins, and that the Lord delights in all that hope in His mercy. How I grieved that the enemy should so overpower him as to prevent his joining us in family worship. He ought to know that all sorts of sinners and sins are pardonable; "all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men". Why will he lie in his bed in direct opposition to God? It is most fearful. There can be no good come of direct disobedience to God. May the Lord help him from henceforth to call upon His name; and may God bless you with a daily increase of godly fear."
Perhaps we can best close this chapter with an account of the death of Mr. Oakley, which occurred about five months later. Mrs. Oakley wrote a little about it as follows:
"His case for several months appeared as desperate as ever, until a month before his death, when a change took place. His mind was restored; he became calm, resigned and cheerful, though serious and thoughtful, and bore with patience every acute pain. He seemed constantly engaged in prayer, and would frequently say earnestly, "I know I shall never recover from this illness, but now I believe the Holy Jesus will save even me". Once he said, "I always believed He was able - none could believe that more firmly than I did - but now I believe He is willing. I shall join you in kneeling before the throne of God to praise Him for ever and ever".
"The last day of his life he said, 'shut the door while I endeavour to pray, if the Lord will teach me". After praying for a blessing on us all, he cried, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come", and then in an ecstasy sang, "Holy, Holy, Holy!" till his daughter said, "Hush, father, they"ll all hear you", to which he replied, "O, I shall have cause to shout in heaven, if I am in the lowest place there!".
I never expected," adds Mrs. Oakley, "to witness on earth such a scene as when the poor dying man, in the most serious manner joined with holy rapture, uttered that sacred song. All through the night he continued praying and praising God, and then became unconscious and expired."
Mr. Bourne's letter to the widow is not in his collection, but there is one to the daughter. "What to say in sympathy I hardly know, because the very long and fearful trial that you have witnessed in your father has terminated so exceedingly sweetly as much rather to create thankfulness than the sorrow of this world. The whole of the circumstances had in them the deep and unfathomable judgments of God, so as to make us all tremble. As the Lord declares in Psalm 99. 8, so we perceive He really acts, namely, though He forgives the sin of His people, yet He takes vengeance of their inventions, that all men may see and hear, and fear and depart from evil. This case seems set before your family especially to encourage them to hope, if any of them are led to lay it to heart. See and call to mind what the power and efficacy of God's grace has effected in your dear mother - how she has been carried through all her troubles for full four and twenty years, and though often cast down and hopeless as to the issue, yet how sweetly it has appeared that the everlasting arms of the Lord, though underneath and often out of sight, were nevertheless round her to sustain her. "Who would have thought that all that long and tedious affliction of Mr. Oakley's was the right and only way the Lord chose to take to bring him finally to his spiritual senses and give him such a beautiful entrance into the heavenly Kingdom? Let our troubles be what they may, it shall not prove vain to bring them simply to the Lord. I have often found when all my own hope and strength and every refuge was gone, then the Lord appeared. This is not a fable, but a reality that comforts the soul in all its tribulations, and will be found to be strong as death. So Mr. Oakley found it, and so may you and I.