Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
15 - Two Enter Life External
O SIR, what shall I do when you are gone?" Sukey Harley had said, and without doubt that was the feeling among the little congregation at Pulverbach when the faithful "prophet in Israel" had left them again. Although they persevered in meeting together on Sundays in one house or another, they still appeared to have no leader, and the exposure to contempt, week after week, continued to be a most keen trial to the two Rectory ladies (and Catharine when she was there; but she was often with Matilda in London).
Only two months or so after his return to London Mr. Bourne is again writing to them in the same strain: -
"Your present affliction has entered deeply into my mind, and I can truly feel for you, and find much encouragement in my prayers in your behalf. The intercession of Christ is never more needed, nor given, than when we are surrounded with perplexities. Where would be the glory of God's grace, if we were always in very easy places and very slight difficulties? May the Lord continue to give you that prudence, discretion, and silence, with which he has hitherto armed you, and you will find your safety in turning this battle "to the gate" for it thus becomes not yours but the Lord's . . . Tell your sister (Jane) not to be disheartened if she fears she has scarcely bodily strength or spirits to go through these dark valleys; tell her, if she seeks the Lord and watches the effects of her petitions she will soon perceive that the Lord has not said in vain "As thy days so shall thy strength be". You are soon cast down because you too often look at the danger, and not at the strength that is in Christ Jesus. Everything seems to make against you. Read very diligently Deut. 4. "Ye that did cleave to the Lord your God are alive every one of you this day." In that chapter is set before us the great necessity of spiritual attention and diligence; and it shows us we cannot have a better token of God's favour than a secret watchfulness of the Lord's movements within and without, attended with prayer."
Early in 1841 the London congregation had to mourn the death of Mr. James Abbott. He had often visited the Gilpins at Hertford and in a letter he wrote to Mrs. Gilpin the week before his death he concludes thus, "My kind and grateful respects to Mr. Gilpin. May the Lord bless him with the best of blessings; may he see the Lord's hand with him in the work of the ministry, and may the few among whom he labours make it manifest that he does not labour in vain: and may they be of one heart and of one mind, united together in the bond of perfectness, walking together in the fear of the Lord. My sincere thanks to those who have shown such kindness to me, and finally my love to all the little flock".
Four days before his death Matilda called on him, and to her he said - "I was writing out that letter for Mrs. Gilpin last Thursday, and sat so close at it that I quite fatigued myself; but my heart was so warmed with the love of God to her soul that I could not leave off. But afterwards about five o'clock I was very ill; I think I never felt so ill in all my life; my head became so confused with the pain I had in it that I really thought I should lose my senses. After some hours I felt a little better and went to bed much as usual. But in a few hours a state of spiritual darkness came over me such as I cannot describe. The pain in my chest came on violently and I thought I could not live till the morning. I never remember being in such terror of mind, darkness and confusion as I was that night, I could lay hold of no evidence of my salvation; all was gone from me, and something said "There now, you have been all your lifetime speaking or writing to others about the things of God and now you see you are nothing but a hypocrite; and all day yesterday you were writing that letter and now you can't send it". And I thought, No indeed, I can't. For I really did believe myself a hypocrite altogether. I think I never was reduced so low in all my life.
"I continued so for several hours; but towards the morning had some little power given me to question the truth of all this, and said, "Lord, is this true? Am I only a hypocrite and have I never known Thee?". In a moment my captivity was turned, and the Lord gave me a sweet and powerful testimony from Himself of the truth of His work upon my heart from the beginning of my profession to the end of it, even to that very hour. All my evidences from first to last shone brighter and brighter; indeed I never saw them so bright in all my life, for the Lord shone upon them with double lustre and brightness and many were brought to my remembrance which I had never recollected before, and I had such a time of communion with the Lord as I can't describe - the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, just as Mr. Burrell described himself to have had the other Sunday, when he said he had addressed the three Persons in the Trinity distinctly and got such a sweet deliverance and a glimpse (as he said) of the glory of heaven. O that sentence in Mr. Burrell's sermon! It did me good, indeed it did, to hear him say that. And what I experienced the other day showed it more clearly to me than ever I had seen it before. For the Lord was with me to show me everything, and I thought I could send my letter then, only I wished I had not finished it for I would give an account of this sweet manifestation while it was fresh upon my heart. And so I think I will as soon as I receive her answer, for the glow of it has not left me, and it makes my heart to go out in love to the Lord and to His people wherever they are. Remember me to all of them, here or at Pulverbach or at Hertford, and tell them I can wish them no greater happiness than I felt that morning, and which still warms my heart and gives me a sweet sense of His mercy. Several times he repeated whilst she was with him. "No. I never had such a bright manifestation of the love of God as I had that morning, and I never saw my evidences so bright - no, never. There was a lustre in them I never saw before".
His death took place rather suddenly, no doubt from the chest-pain he was subject to, early on Saturday morning, February 6th, 1841, while he was alone in his solitary lodging at 16 High Street, Hoxton Old Town. He was in the seventy-third year of his age.
The Hertford friends must have grieved for the loss of godly Mr. Abbott, though they would rejoice to hear the account of his last days. Bernard was by now well settled in his ministry. The opposition, "and it had been very stormy", had died down, and he was accepted in the town with an ever-increasing esteem. "Absence from home for several days together for the first time for more than four years," he writes, "led me to reflect upon all that had passed during that period. I know not when I have felt more happy in the sure belief of God's guidance, and that what has passed has been His doing. He has overthrown and established also, and has broken a thousand snares in pieces before me, and at times secretly guided me though I knew not His intention. I thought of the very kind but really ensnaring offers made me by some of my friends, and yet I had escaped them. My heart was filled with the spirit of praise and I was encouraged to commit my way afresh to the Lord. My little flock seems bowed as one man to seek the Lord. I cannot set down all the things which have surprised me among them."
He did, however, set down many things in his diary which make most interesting reading. One of the remarkable features of his ministry, says one, was "the power granted him of discerning spiritual life from its earliest manifestations in the soul, drawing out the expression of that life with tenderness and discretion, and nourishing it by the word of God and prayer. In this way he became a true shepherd to watch over and feed Christ's lambs and sheep in his private as well as his public ministrations". These notes, as years went on, he drew together in narrative form (for instance the two cases quoted in Chapter IV), and found a value in reading them to one and another. A conspicuous case was that of Joseph Boulter, a young man, who, throwing up a superficial religion, had taken a beer-house, but, becoming ill reluctantly allowed Bernard to visit him, and presently was deeply impressed with the diary-notes about a one-time companion, Samuel Dack, who waded through spiritual deeps before making a good end.
There was, too, Isaac Clark, a youth who wished to pray and was astonished when Bernard suggested he pray there, where he was, sitting ill before the fire at mid-day. Isaac's history, true faith in its simplicity, was blessed to poor Alice Shettlewood, a vagrant who had been running away from God for years. She and her husband had come at length to Hertford and she heard Bernard read this artless account at a cottage meeting. The revelation of Christ's work in the souls of their very neighbours stamped a reality on Bernard's teaching, and was used of God to seal it.
Bernard was tireless in visiting wherever he was asked- every day if necessary, and he was able to record some striking proofs of the Lord's work of conversion and mercy. It was always his custom when Mr. Abbott, Mr. Bourne, or Mr. Burrell (who came once) visited him to take them to see such of his flock as were needing special attention at the time. He published some of these narratives in pamphlet form and others appear in detail in his Memorials. Perhaps it was his influence that suggested to Jane to get Sukey Harley's story from her in her own words. That, too, was published, the profits being surreptitiously made over to Sukey. (After Sukey's death Jane enlarged the account and included some of Sukey's conversations. This booklet eventually sold two or three thousand copies.)
About his friend Mr. Maydwell Bernard says, "As my ministry began to unfold and the members increased in number (though they never increased largely), Mr. Maydwell found much delight in becoming intimate with many of them. His spirit was tender and loving, and nothing more effectually soothed his own sorrows than communion with such as could enter into his feelings. He particularly sought out and cleaved to the tempted and afflicted: he loved to cherish the "little ones". Those who know how assiduously the great enemy of souls 'sows discord amongst brethren" and in every little community of believers as surely as in the Corinthian Church of old foments "debates, envyings, wrath, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults", will appreciate the cause I have for thankfulness that Mr. Maydwell continued as a healer of all such things and, as one well expressed it, proved "a centre of unity to the whole Church".
"Early in our friendship he was asked to exercise the talent God had given him in exposition and prayer. This he was at first very unwilling to do; but later he compared himself to the son who said to his father when told to work in the vineyard, "I will not: but afterward he repented and went". He would often say, "I was that son". After this he found much encouragement in undertaking this service, from the words "Feed my lambs; feed my sheep". His bodily infirmities, and most of all, the natural weakness of his voice, hindered this in a manner; but through all these disadvantages, his ministrations were greatly valued, not only in Hertford, but (later) at Pulverbach and a few other places."
Bernard found it remarkable that his friend's spirituality did not prevent him from taking a keen interest in his legal profession. "One might have supposed that a man subject to such deep spiritual exercises could not have endured such intricate and often perplexing labour. He pursued it with much mental vigour, and has often told me that the subject was scarcely ever in his thoughts except during the hours of business. On a Saturday evening he has often closed his books in the middle of perplexing calculations and never been troubled with a thought respecting them till seated at his desk on Monday morning. "I am able," he said, "to go on with a better employment much of the time I am engaged in this secular work. It does not keep me from secret prayer and communion. Whenever I find an intricacy I say, "Lord help me in this also" and I find He hears and answers. Nevertheless I long for the day when by His kind permission all worldly things shall come to an end." "
Bernard's family was very fond of Mr. Maydwell. Annette called one of her sons after him, using the whole of his name.
Throughout the summer of 1841 Henrietta's health was very precarious as she awaited the birth of her last child. During the last six years she had gone through the anguish of having several still-born children and suffering herself almost at death's door. This, she now wrote, was "in the strictest sense the answer to my own petitions this way. In the year 1833 I was under a peculiar influence in prayer for some months. I was groping in darkness and anxiety to find religion in the power of it, and I was made to cry to the Lord to use whatever means He saw necessary to overcome the carnality and self-righteousness I was made so sorely conscious of. I used to pray, All the means in the universe are at Thy command: choose out any, ever so severe, but bring me to the knowledge of Thee. Lord, I know I shall kick hard against Thee in this, I shall rebel and complain and yet pray to Thee to hold Thy hand, but, Lord, do not leave off till Thou bring forth judgment unto victory. I did not plan this prayer nor intend to keep using it, but I could pray nothing else for months together. Oh, as I walked up and down the room with my eldest boy in my arms I would look at his face with dread as to what the issue of that prayer would be, for I doted on him, but I could do nothing but begin it again. Soon afterwards I laid that boy in the grave. The next year his fine healthy little brother followed him, and since then I have sent child after child to the grave. Oh, I did not like to harbour the thought of my having prayed all my darling children into the grave. I used to work up great rebellion sometimes, as if the Lord had made me the destroyer of my own happiness, and it put a most keen edge on my sufferings. But now my heart sings for joy and my trials are quite disarmed of their stings, as I am given the power to number them among the sensible answers to prayer I have received, and it seems as if the Lord wonderfully condescended to obtain my consent beforehand. O what a sweet view I have had of all the way He has led me, of my own exceeding baseness, and His unwearied patience and love towards me".
"But in September she complained of much spiritual darkness which increased till the night of the 27th when she quoted, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Doth His promise fail for evermore?". I felt encouraged to say, "You are near His deliverance". At this she paused, and the thought passed through her, Perhaps I am. And so it proved; for a very earnest spirit of prayer was poured out upon both of us, and the Lord revealed His lovingkindness with great power to her heart, and showed her the tender regard He had over all the circumstances of her case, and made her in the full confidence of faith surrender all, both for time and eternity, to His safe keeping. She said, "The light has broken in! It is like the morning light to me! My hope has laid hold on all things that the Lord has wrought in my soul from the beginning, and it points forward to heaven itself"."
On October 5th they were alarmed by symptoms of inflammation of the brain, and she could neither speak nor be spoken to, but on the 8th and 9th her conversation was full of power. On the 9th the dear Matilda journeyed from London to see her. 'she said "How kind of you to come to see me! but you are come to see me do the hardest thing - you are come to see me die. I have waded through many deep waters, but now I have a hope, a good hope, a living hope which the Lord has given me, and I can put my trust in Him". Another time she said, "Where is that passage, "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion?" Read it, for that is what I feel just now - praise waiteth in my heart. I cannot express how I feel that the praise in my heart is stretching forth its neck; yes, it is ready to burst forth because of the Lord's mercy to me, a sinner". I said, "Do you know that is just what the apostle Paul says of the new creature in Romans 8? The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth Cor the manifestation of the sons of God." That word "earnest expectation" describes in the original the stretching forth of the neck". "Now does it?" she said, "how very sweet that is!"
"Many times she spoke of her approaching death, and once said, "The Lord has dried up Jordan to the bottom before he has required me to set one foot in it". Another time she said, "Oh, what hatred the Lord has given me to Satan, for he keeps hurling in a host of fiery darts to tempt me to think hardly of the Lord's dealings with me, but the Lord is my stay". Again, being fluttered and in pain, when she became calm again she said, 'speak one word to me about Jesus". Her sister quoted the words, "Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else". Shortly afterwards she said, "The Lord sees the heart. He knows that I cry to him without ceasing". Then turning to a friend she said "Now tell my sister that the Lord Jesus Ms-looked upon me, and smiled sweetly".
'she asked for the words to be repeated, "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety". "The Lord," she said, "has often put me to sleep with those words; perhaps He will again." Her brother Julius having arrived, she awoke from sleep and recognised him, and said tenderly, "My tabernacle is being taken down, but I hope it will please the Lord to take it down gently". Her brother having left, she sank into a profound sleep, which increased till we all became aware that she would wake no more in this world." She was thirty-four.
Bernard wrote this account of the death of his wife at the close of her own Account quoted formerly, and later on it was handed round to the friends to read. In his private diary he records a few of his own thoughts: The Lord has clearly shown that He loved her with an everlasting love; and I said, "Lord, thou art the husband of her spirit; let me not contend if it please Thee to take her to Thyself". Moreover, he gave us both to feel that He loved the child, and she had said, "Let my little son sleep with me, for I believe he will wake with me"; and so they sleep together. I have a hope also that the promise the Lord remarkably sealed upon her heart one month ago, 'seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you", He will be pleased to confirm to me: she even thought at the time it was so intended.
"I was much supported on the day of the funeral. My brother-in-law, Charles Jeffreys, was a comfort to me. I have, moreover, had some encouragement amongst my people. It came sweetly to me very soon after my trouble, "Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord" (I Thess. 3). There are living ones amongst them; and surely the good Shepherd will not forsake me, for He has commanded me to feed them. Lord, I cannot keep myself, do Thou keep me. My casting down has been on the whole greatest on account of my two little daughters. [With the loss of this last baby, poor Bernard had lost all his sons. Elizabeth, his elder daughter, was now about eleven years old and Annette, the younger, nine.] Lord, give me a spiritual father's heart, and the blessing Thou didst promise me. I have some help in wrestling prayer. Lord, as I said to Thee when my trouble was beginning (on September 29th) there is such a perception of life that I cannot believe it is for death, neither in me, nor in my wife, nor in my child. Lord, thou hast indeed Thy way in the whirlwind and in the storm but I hope Thou has confirmed and wilt confirm this."
Mr. Bourne wrote: "My dear Friend, How shall I lament the death of one who has been so sweetly put to sleep in Jesus? Tis true you will find a heavy loss; nevertheless on a due consideration of the sorrows and vanities of this life, which continually cast down the child of God, so sweet a relief must be admitted as desirable. Poor H. (his eldest daughter, another Henrietta), said when she read the Account, "I am sorry it is not I". What a true Friend the Lord always proves in the hours of extremity, and no doubt He will be so to you who are left behind, if you dare to make free, and try Him to the utmost of His word. The Lord has not taken you by surprise in this heavy dispensation, but has kindly led you both on most gently to expect the event, and has softened the whole of it with His sweet presence and favour, so that there was no trace of a desire left in the heart of our departed friend to continue here. She felt it was far better to depart and be for ever with the Lord. Your part is otherwise, and a new line of things will open to you altogether, new troubles, new difficulties, and new crosses; but God is all-sufficient, and will show to His people that He is a very present help; and I truly hope you will go to Him for that help in all your various difficulties. I have had ten thousand fears, but, blessed be His holy Name for ever and ever, He has been a faithful, near and dear Friend to me."
The Bourne family helped Bernard in a practical way by taking the two little girls into their London home to be educated by Mr. Bourne's daughters until old enough to return and keep house for their father. Bernard's diary often reflects his loneliness, though he used to spend weeks sometimes at Mr. Maydwell's home. Henrietta's gravestone is still to be seen (1961) near the path on the south side of St. Andrew's Church. The church Bernard preached in was burnt down, and perhaps was slightly nearer to the road; otherwise one wonders that Henrietta's stone was not destroyed as it is close to a buttress.