Part III - The Unity of the Spirit
17 - Churton Cottage
WHEN Mr. Bourne got back to London he wrote several letters. To Bernard Gilpin and Mr. Maydwell in Hertford he wrote that "during my stay in Shropshire I was at times greatly encouraged and comforted in my heart with the divine power of the Word. For the most part I was made to feel the word first spoken to myself, and then sounded out to such among the people as had an appetite for it. Since I came home I have had some sweet tokens of the approbation of God, but have also been ready to give up my hope because of the unwelcomeness of a faithful report. The enemy tells me I shall not have one friend left and my heart fears the same; I am allowed to encourage, as it is called, but beyond this I am not wanted; I ought first to judge myself and if I will presume to instruct I ought to be better equipped; and I believe this to be true. O how I feel I must judge myself very narrowly, and take heed I say nothing but what the Lord enables me to put in practice! How often did I watch this point in Shropshire, and how anxious I was to proceed as the Spirit of God had led me in my own experience. And one especial thing I was made deeply to feel, namely, my great ignorance in all things, and particularly in the spiritual state of others. On Sunday morning I was much in earnest in prayer and very anxious to find the Lord in hearing the Word, and the Lord came with sweet power into my heart while Mr. Burrell was commenting on Matt. 17: but in the evening at the sacrament, while he handed me the cup I felt the marvellous dying love of the Saviour to me. In this I found that sweet liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, and all my bonds were broken and the Lord drew very near. It was to my soul a full proof of the Lord's approbation on my proceedings at Pulverbach, and gave me power to leave all my fears and misgivings in His hands".
There are several letters to some of the miners of Snailbeach, whom Mr. Bourne addresses with the faithfulness and affection of a spiritual father.
"To I. O. and his wife: My dear friends, - I was sincerely glad to see you so constant in hearing me, but you ought to be aware that something more than hearing will be necessary for your salvation. I am told you have got some right notions in your head, but your feet go another way; that is, you do not live consistently with that profession of religion you make. There is nothing more dangerous to the soul than this, because it is an utter abhorrence in the sight of God, and He often cuts down such in the open face of all men, as an example for others to fear and depart from evil. I hope you will be able to lay this to heart and not seek in any way to deny it, but confess this truth in secret before God, and entreat Him to have mercy upon your soul for the sake of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. If you perceive the least fear of God to spring up in your heart, instruct your children in the same; and be sure to manifest that fear of God by meeting your family in some way to read a portion of God's Word and to pray:, and make no excuse for your ignorance. Children begin at a very early age to watch their parents, and have often a clear discernment of the spirit in which they walk; they can soon discern sincerity or the want of it in their parents; therefore needs a spiritual discretion to be given us, how to walk before such as God has committed to our charge.
"It is no small thing to become a converted sinner. There will be found in such ten thousand changes and fears, which the Spirit sanctifies to instruct them unceasingly to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ for fresh, clearer, and brighter tokens of His mercy to them. If we only learn to talk about these things we shall find ourselves sorely at a loss when sickness and death come, and our hopes are built upon a sandy foundation. Take heed, my friends. It is not everybody that possesses the religion you see in Sukey Harley. Vital godliness is a rare thing; anything in the shape of it, not being the real thing, will not stand the fiery trial which is to come upon all men; and woe be to such as come to that and have not the blessed Saviour for a friend."
And to a collier's wife, he writes, "I am truly glad to hear of your welfare, and that you still hunger after the bread of life; for the Saviour says that such shall be filled. I fear that the dangerous places your husband is exposed to will try his profession to the quick. Often so long from home, and no word of exhortation, and the world at all times before him, and a bad example. I am greatly afraid these things will be too strong for him, if he make not God his refuge by constant prayer. I fear that prayer may be forgotten and left off in his pots of beer; and that though not a drunkard he may be betrayed into excess, and be made to know that God will not be mocked. It therefore becomes him to stand in awe of God while his spirit is in some measure softened by the Word, that his secret fears may prove the working of the Spirit to teach him to cry for mercy to the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that you have tasted of relief from the Saviour in some of your troubles, as well as in the dreadful fear that came upon you after you uttered those angry words to Sukey Harley. It is by such convictions we are cured of all self-righteousness and are made as lost sinners, to come to Him alone for help; and we become the more astonished that the Saviour will look on such abject sinners and pardon us, or even give us the least hope that we shall not finally perish".
To Samuel Hughes at Snailbeach he wrote: I was truly glad to see your letter and was much comforted and encouraged by it. I perceive my friend knows the path of tribulation as well as I do, and I am made to acknowledge at times with all my heart the absolute necessity of it. Without this sharp work we have a heart to believe any lie, hear any false doctrine, and give the right hand of fellowship to all sorts. I would advise you to take heed both how you hear and what you hear. There is much danger in being misled. Nevertheless, in reading the Word of God and in prayer and watching thereunto, you will find that the Lord will direct you safely, and preserve you from the fatal errors that are round about you. My heart is very much impressed with the cases of you all, and though I am old, yet I feel a great and anxious desire to see you all again, and set forth the riches of the Saviour's grace to you. If you were not troubled on every side you would never find any suitableness in the Saviour. It is to the troubled soul He gives rest. Men may talk like fools and tell us it is our duty to believe; but when the Spirit convinces us of our unbelief, then we perceive this unbelief is like gates of brass and bars of iron, and none can remove it but He who convinces us of it. And I am sure it is not in my power to repent though I would give ten thousand worlds to do so. I am taught that it is the gift of God in Jesus Christ. "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins". If you and I are cast down (let the cause be what it may) we know we must come in confession and prayer to the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, and never rest till Jesus Christ comes by the Spirit, and applies those healing streams with divine power to our wounded consciences. I truly hope I shall yet see that the Lord manifests His love and mercy to you so that it may be known and read of all men, and that your spirit may be preserved from the universal error of the day. Remember me kindly to your fellow miners, J. P. and R. O., and let them read this letter".
In that age of class distinction how beautiful it is to see the bond of spiritual friendship between the artist and these rough miners, so that we can visualise them wiping their stained hands to unfold this letter, sharing it, and others, lovingly, and prizing them much.
It was about this time that the Pulverbach congregation found a permanent place for their meetings together. This was Churton Cottage, a double-fronted house close under the "ha-ha" wall surrounding the churchyard. Mercy says, "It happened that I had been anxiously looking to the Lord for direction whether to mention to Mr. Bourne about a certain house likely to be vacant in the village, and that verse kindled in my heart and shone with a sense of His favour, "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him". I read the rest of the chapter (Job 37) which opened more and more to me and was very encouraging in respect to the dispensation we were under, that it would end in mercy. And the Lord's mercy did seem to flow in more and more, even to the circumstance of the occupying of that very house for the purpose about which the Lord had led me to seek His face, and to put my trust under the shadow of His wings. [The cottage was taken by a brother of Mr. Maydwell, of Hertford, who, with his family, lived there for fourteen years, and later allowed one of the parlours to be used for the meetings, to everybody's contentment.]
Things were easier now for the Gilpin sisters in their own home. Mercy goes on: "Another most sweet token from the Lord was His mercy made known to several of our servants. How exceedingly I felt this, with wonder and praise! And the Saviour was pleased to reveal Himself to my own soul about it. It was such a peculiar feeling of His presence amongst us from the application of that passage in John 21. "After these things Jesus showed Himself again to His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. There were together . . ." I cannot describe the sweet feeling that accompanied these verses to my heart, such a bond of union with our little company".
One of these servants was Mary Lloyd, about whom we read the following:
"While still young Mary was desirous of finding the right way. Some thoughts of the importance of her steps being ordered exercised her mind. Before she left home for service the prayer was put into her heart in the midst of felt ignorance that the Lord would bring her into "a living family where His truth was known". She was hired to go with a family to India, but something happened and her services were not required. When afterwards she presented herself for engagement at the Rectory at Pulverbach a remarkable coincidence led her at once to hope that she had been directed to the right place and she awaited the result of her application with keen interest. It was in the winter of 1841 that she was first engaged.
"As time progressed Mary, being very tender in spirit and ever watchful, exceedingly noticed her early guidance because it became clear to her that the Lord had led her, according to her prayer, where His truth was known, that she might herself be brought to the knowledge of it. She soon found that she was in the midst of much outward conflict upon the subject of religion, and could not understand the difference which she perceived those around her felt between one religion and another. She became restless in spirit to know what these things meant, and sometimes vexation and enmity would arise because those who seemed to understand and spoke one to another did not speak to her and tell her "their secret" as she thought it.
"One day she saw from the window her fellow servants going to the meeting at Wrentnall, and in a moment it came to her to go to the Lord for instruction. She shut herself in her room and prayed, "O Lord, wilt Thou teach me, and bring me to know these things". The desire of her soul from this time found expression in such words as these - "O that I knew where I might find Him". The first time she attended the meeting (where on that day Bernard was to preach) the lines of the hymn which was being sung met her in a very particular way -
Whatever loss you bear beside O never give up this.
She said, "How I longed to know what that precious thing was, which some knew and could never give up. For I felt I had not got it. And I entreated the Lord to make it known to me, and show me that true and living way. Sometimes a little hope would come to me. Once these words helped me, I will fetch my knowledge from afar". And another time these, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him and He will show them His covenant". I seemed to see with a glance how it was no one could teach me concerning these things, for surely none could understand the secret of the Lord but those to whom he revealed it. I used to like to speak with Sukey Harley, for I thought she had something from the Lord that I myself longed for. Indeed I felt a very sweet love and clinging to the people of God. I remember how these words struck my mind - "Whither thou goest I will go; where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God". And hope would come into my heart that I should be joined with them. Yet I had many fears lest I should fail of this and not come into the saving knowledge"." But Mary did, and for the rest of her life, at first with the Misses Gilpin and later with her husband Thomas Lloyd, enjoyed real unity of spirit with this little company.
There are no details about the other servants, but in Mr. Bourne's book of Letters are to be found one to M. D. (Margaret Davies) and one to B. B. (Betty or Bessie Brown) dated from London after this third visit to Pulverbach. To the one he wrote:
"It gives me sincere pleasure to see you so desirous of instruction. Your fellow-servant can tell you of a thousand snares that will be laid for your feet, to keep you from coming to Christ for mercy; and the enemy will subtly whisper in your ears that you have only to go to worship, for there is nothing more to be known. This will be done to make you contented without a sense of Christ's pardoning love; and if he can persuade you to this point. your profession will soon wither and you become a fruitless branch. I hope that all you in the same house will make it manifest that you walk in the same spirit. If, through a backsliding heart you withdraw, there will be ground to suspect your profession is not sincere. I believe you will have your religion sharply tried, even so that all about you shall see whether the Lord stands by you or not. I do not write this to dishearten you, but to forewarn you, that you may lay up many petitions to the Lord against that day. Be tender of God's honour and true and honest to your convictions. If you argue or reason with the devil, he being a special pleader will soon put you out of countenance, and make you firmly believe you will be ruined for ever if you walk so contrary to your interests; all will forsake you and you will come to want. This is the language I am accustomed to, and have often been made to fear the worst, but being through mercy secretly supported by the power of God, I have stood my ground, and found all threatenings come to nothing, my conscience comforted, and God honoured."
And part of a letter to the other reads: "What you write is true. Where Christ is found, there is the cross. Spiritual life maintained in the soul is so discordant to the religion of the day that we must be hated and scorned by all sorts who have not the Spirit of God in them. What is very mysterious to the wisdom of the flesh is that no spiritual life can be found in us but in the conflict against all the natural craving and desires of the flesh. This daily dying to all that we naturally desire is no small cross; nevertheless the Apostle calls it "our light affliction which is but for a moment" and says that it "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen (including all the things which we think desirable for the flesh) but at the things which are not seen" that is, the invincible power of God which makes all things work together for our good. And if we are enabled to look at this, our daily dying by crucifixion will be one of the blessings discovered to us for our safety and well-being.
"And now, my friend, when the Lord thus gives us these sweet things he then usually puts us into the furnace to show us how they will constantly stand the fire. I have been so foolish at times as to say to myself, Surely this will be the last trial: surely now I may escape; and after this sweetness and power of the Saviour's love and tender care I shall not so readily lose sight of that gracious drawing of the Spirit which has won my best affections. Then perhaps I open my Bible and read, "I am the true Vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit". The Lord brings us low purposely to deal with us not as servants but as friends. "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth; but I call you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." And what things does He hear from the Father? He hears Him say, and in the furnace often repeatedly tells us, that if we were of the world we should be without the cross, but because He has chosen us out of the world therefore the world hates us. When the Comforter comes he clears all these matters, and testifies to our consciences that this death and tribulation is the straightforward road to eternal life."
And to Mercy several letters were sent about this time: she seemed to be the gentle organiser of the little congregation.
"I often wonder," writes Mr. Bourne, "whether any of those who were strangers to me received the word preached as the Word of God, and by the power of it have been brought to seek the Lord more earnestly now I am gone, so as to show it was indeed the Word of God and not merely what they heard from me. For where the Word of God makes but a slight impression (as in the parable of the seed that sprang up quickly) it is soon wiped away by a slight temptation."
Here we may insert some more extracts about Sukey Harley, who, Jane Gilpin says, "was set, in the midst of His people as a witness and example not only of the freeness of His grace, but also of the spiritual power of that religion of which He is both the Author and the Finisher. Through all her bluntness she lacked not that essential grace of the Spirit, Christian love, producing in her heart true fellowship with all the Israel of God. To those persons who lived in no profession of religion, and yet through all her rebuffs maintained a kind of friendship for her she showed much tenderness; not knowing (as she said) how the Lord might be working in their hearts. Also any among her own community who might through the power of temptation have turned aside out of the path, and were out of favour both in the Church and with themselves, these she would watch over with the utmost tenderness and solicitude, continually bearing them on her heart in secret prayer before the Lord.
" "Ah, who knows," she would say, "but they may be found among the true sheep at last? What could have become of me, if in all my wanderings Jesus Christ had not searched me out and set me right again? He knows all His children - I know but very few -but blessed be His Name He teaches me to cry day and night for them all - -multitudes, multitudes out of all nations! My blessed Redeemer, bring them all to know Thy precious Name and to\Thy heavenly kingdom!
"A common pitfall Sukey used to fall into was this: if she was insulted or ill-used on account of her religion, she considered it right, by way of testifying to her attachment to the cause of God to retaliate warmly. She called this "fighting for her religion", and during the course of twenty years many had been such battles the village had seen. But she was to be brought out of this behaviour. About the end of 1839 she was one day met in the lane by a dissolute and profane young fellow of the village. He instantly set upon her and began to ridicule her religion. In her zeal she defended it with great warmth and roundly scolded him for his wicked words. Soon there was a collection of lookers-on, evidently enjoying the scene and storing up the argument. Alas, the more Sukey tried to fight for her religion, the worse things got till they were at a really fiery pitch. The scoffer, now seeing he had scored in rousing her anger, declared her a hypocrite, and God's truth a lie, and went off laughing as though in triumph."
The tale came to the ears of the Rectory ladies, who were very troubled about it, and when Sukey appeared there some days later, they could not agree with her that she must "brave folks out, gentle or simple, if they mocked God's truth", and tried to explain to her that such fighting was against God and not for Him. She could not understand this, and went away to pray about it. A few days afterwards Jane called at her cottage, and without commenting on the incident she took the Bible and read 2 Samuel, 16. 5-12, about Shimei cursing David, and Psalm 17. 13 and 14, "Deliver my soul from the wicked which is Thy sword; from men which are Thy hand, O Lord, from men of the world". While Jane read these passages, Sukey felt their application. "Ah, my dear lady," she said, "that is God's Word to my heart! Why, how ignorant I am. I never knew till this moment that the wicked are God's sword \ Ah! poor man, he knew not that though he is the devil's servant yet he is only a sword in God's hand. Well, I feel sorry for him in my heart, I do. Ah! "Let him curse, let him curse, because the Lord hath bidden him." But in one moment my God could turn his heart, and instead of cursing there would be blessing".
'sukey never forgot the instruction from this incident and many could bear witness", says Jane, "that from that time a remarkable change was observed in her conduct under any such circumstances.
How she did blame her own former ignorance. "Isn"t it a wonder the Lord bears with me, such an ignorant fool as I am?"
Another conversation Jane jotted down from her lips was about the Ranters telling her that the Christian does not commit sin. "O this discourse, it is dreadful to my ears," she said. "But when I tell them about the faith which the Lord has given me, that it must be all His work from the beginning to the end, and that man has no power, being clean dead in trespasses and sins, they say, "Your faith ben"na like ours!" But what a fire it has kindled up all round about, telling our faith, has it not? I was thinking, Now suppose we should be brought before kings and rulers to answer for the truth, how would it be? O my God, Thou knowest! Suppose I was to deny Him? Ah, I should if He were to leave me - I should be like Peter. Oh, what I feel when I think of Peter denying his Lord. Oh, how my soul trembles for those poor souls who have not got this true faith sent down from heaven into their hearts. They ask me sometimes what my religion is. Oh, my religion! If you look for it in me, I have none. But I will tell you where it is - it is in my Jesus. He has got it all, and I have it in Him. I am ignorant and know nothing. I go to the blessed Jesus to be taught everything - yes, everything. Suppose now we had got into the right road to heaven - suppose He had set us there. Well, could we go on of ourselves? I say No, we cannot take one step without Him. This is how I find it. If I take one step alone I fall. Oh, how fearful I am of going alone. I am clean out of the road in one minute
There are but few that know our God. But my Saviour's blood can save to the uttermost, and He tells me I am to go and tell my faith to these poor souls round here, whether they will hear or whether they will not. The Lord gives me great tenderness of spirit towards those who do not know my heavy temptations. He directs me what to say and where to go. This is what I was thinking. They have the Word, and they have the Gospel, and they see the creation and the beautiful works of God yet they know not my God; if He has not given them His Spirit they cannot know Him. We tell them what a dear precious Saviour He is, but we can do no more. There are but few, one here and one there.
'some say they can live without sin; and when I mourn over my wicked heart, they do not know what I mean. They say, "Why, Sukey Harley has a changed heart, yet how she talks!". They do not know it is my Saviour's blood sprinkled on my heart that makes me mourn. Oh, how I abhor my wicked abominable heart my greatest enemy!
I saw M. J. yesterday; I thought I would go and see how she was going on. She told me it was something I had said which made her begin to think of her soul first. Oh, what I feel when they say I have said anything! My sinful, unhallowed lips, what can they say? She talked to me about the Ranters, and said that, time back, when she went to hear them, and saw them lifted up in their joyful ways and speak of their faith and soft hearts and power of prayer, she used to think what blessed experience these people have. "I wish I could believe like them, and feel my heart soft." I said, "But you cannot, can you"? "No," she said, "I cannot; I used to be quite cast down after leaving them, for I thought they had all they said." I told her what I have thought of these people ever since they came; that perhaps our God permits them to come among us for some purpose we do not know; and when my dear Redeemer begins to work in any of them, He will bring them out of that society. I told her she had better not attend them; that was all I could do. I could not forbid her; my God must do that. They think I am their enemy, but I am not. Oh, if the Lord were to bring them they would see I am not. No, I have told them the truth. But oh! I feel as if they were suffered to be deluded and believe a lie; but the Lord will not suffer His own people to be deceived long. He will bring them out from among them. They can have no happiness; all real joy and happiness comes from God. They may, to be sure, be lifted up with joy and gladness in themselves; yes, they live always, but I die daily, every moment of my life I am dying. Yes, they can pray always, but oh! when I bend my sinful vile body before a holy God I feel so unworthy I cannot dare to look up. If we go in any other way than through my blessed dear Redeemer, how dreadful! how dreadful!"
Sukey once fell into grievous temptation, which she related as follows: "Charles and I had been getting some coal at the pits, and had paid for it, as we all of us thought. But the men searched every place, and could not find the sovereign. I begged them to search me, but they refused, saying they were sure I had not got it. I searched myself over and over, but to no purpose. But when I got home, I found it tied up in a corner of my handkerchief. From that moment my temptations began; for Satan would have me keep it, telling me I should be quite clear at the pits for no one would suspect me. I cannot make you understand but very little about it. I really thought Satan would get the victory over me. I groaned and sighed, but I could not pray. And so it was from six in the evening till eight the next morning. Charles saw how bad I was, but I could not tell him my dreadful suffering. When I went to bed it was still the same; I would doze asleep for a few moments and then awake, and Satan was yet on at me to keep this sovereign. I got up very early and lighted my fire, but it was not till eight o"clock that my God came; and then He came indeed and drove Satan clean off. And then I could not take the sovereign up to the pits quick enough. What has the Lord shown me from this? I must be clean done with boasting now, I am sure. Who kept me from keeping the sovereign? Not myself, it's plain. Oh, how this has made me think of those poor sinners who are in the hands of Satan; they cannot overcome him, but go from sin to sin. But my dear Father will not leave His own children in the power of Satan for long. I am sure this about the sovereign was to happen to me that He might teach me from it what I am without Him and that I might understand more about the deceitful wiles of Satan".
Sukey was not a strong woman, and of course was poor, her husband being but a field labourer, but for three years she had the burden of a poor blind woman, a pauper on the parish with whom she had no connection, who planted herself on her. She had often mentioned wishing to live with Sukey, and one morning came with all her goods in a waggon and announced she must live there, having nowhere else to go, as the parish barely allowed her a maintenance. It appeared that Sukey felt that in the fear of God she could not refuse the woman a part in her cottage, and for three years (till the woman's death) Sukey bore the burden and trouble of washing and doing all for her, to the entire satisfaction of the poor woman, who repeatedly said she had never been better taken care of. But Sukey's account of it reveals how it drove her continually to the Lord! "Oh, I feel in a dreadful state sometimes," she said, 'such anger and hatred, and murders too. I cannot express my black devilish heart and no tongue can tell my dreadful sufferings. I am compelled in my trouble to seek after God, and these words of Mr. Burrell suit me - that he has found the Lord's help and deliverance, a thousand times twice told. Oh, when my God appears for me, it is past my telling of; then love and joy and peace enter my soul, and sin and sorrow and misery are all gone. He brings all with Him. I cannot do enough for the poor blind woman when His love is in my heart. He made me put double sugar in her tea the other day. But when He is gone, nothing is too bad for my devilish heart to wish against her. I dare not mention my temptations, but my dear Redeemer knows all, and He sent this trial upon me and I am waiting to see His hand concerning it; when He pleases He will take it off me, and I dare not stir one step to rid myself of it. Oh, my blessed Jesus, give me patience!"
Mr. Burrell's book - doubtless the one from which quotations ( have been taken in Chapter VI- -was sent to Sukey from London. We might think it would be difficult for such an uneducated woman, to read it until we see Sukey's method. "I can truly say the Lord blest me in that book. When I came to a hard word, I looked up to Him to teach me about it, and it was wonderful how He did teach me that way, for I cannot even read the words when He is not with me."
Another booklet that came Sukey's way was Luther's Exposition of The Lord's Prayer. Mr. Nunn, "having found it so many times so profitable to himself had it translated and printed "for the benefit of the poor". Sukey says, "I was reading in Luther on the Lord's Prayer; it says, "We are taught to say Our Father because we should feel unity of heart with all the Lord's people". When I read this I said, Yes, my dear Father, I will say Our Father, for my heart is knit to thy dear children, but I must call Thee my Father too, for I know Thou art my dear and heavenly blessed Father, and hast brought me into the true light of knowledge of thy dear Son. Yes, before He called me I kept praying for a good while that He would teach me another prayer besides the one my mother taught me (that was the Lord's Prayer), and He put those words into my heart, "Oh Lord, bring me into the true knowledge of Thy dear Son", and He did so".
Of course her Bible was Sukey's mainspring. Almost every word was underlined, and one verse, with a pin stuck into it, was blessed especially to her daughter, Mary Overton, thirty years later. The verse was, "Thou shall weep no more. He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when He shall hear it, He will answer thee". Mary left this tribute. I used to feel that my mother had the true religion. I often watched her going to some quiet place to pray. She was the same in private and before everybody."