Part III - The Unity of the Spirit
22- Safely Gathered In
MR. BOURNE said in his letter to Pulverbach, The season (autumn) reminds me of my approaching end, especially when I consider the Lord is continually looking round to see what corn is fully ripe'. The very month (October, 1853), in which he was writing saw the death of his beloved pastor in London, Mr. Burrell. As he was informed of the approach of this death Mr. Bourne wrote very seriously to some of the younger generation at the Chapel. This will be a trial to you and many more. May the Lord make you firm to hold fast the truth! I fear some among you may look more for talent than the hidden power. Be earnest in prayer and do not make light of the change.' Again he said, 'It is a grief to hear that there is division in his congregation. There seems a universal and singular division at this time wherever we hear of the death of a faithful minister; and, I fear, not a sufficient value for the Word where it is faithfully preached. Th'e light of life seems greatly withdrawing from this nation and woe unto us when that is withdrawn! I hope all you that are young will not get into a backsliding state. It will be sad work for you in a dying hour.'
Mr. Burrell had lived to a good old age (eighty-three), notwithstanding the weakness of his condition and the frequent sickness to which he was subject. He retained his faculties almost unimpaired to the end. In his old age, having lost his wife Naomi, he married a godly widow that belonged to his Church.
An account of his last days is as follows:
'For a long time before his death Mr. Burrell had expressed more and more a deadness to the things of the world; and on the Monday evenings, when many friends used to assemble at his house, he would stop any unprofitable conversation on the news of the day by saying, "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me". In the pulpit he often expressed his desire not to live longer than he could be useful in that place. A few weeks earlier, after speaking of a fear that he should die suddenly, and expressing a joyful anticipation of being with the Lord Jesus, he said, "I bless God I have not been suffered to leave my testimony till a dying hour. I have done that sufficiently in my writings. I have been reading them lately, and I have the witness of God's Spirit that I have written the truth!".
'He preached his last sermon on October 5th (he died on the 20th), but was already in a high fever, which so altered his voice and manner that his medical attendant, who was present, said, "I am afraid Mr. Burrell has got that which he will never get over". While he lay on his sick bed, even when most under the influence of fever, his words showed how his mind had been occupied in life, for he seemed even then to himself expatiating with delight on the Word of God, and occupied in the charge to which he had been called, uttering many prayers and exhortations, as if addressing a people who feared God, while his looks reflected much internal happiness. One who attended him on Sunday, the 9th, during the time of evening service, relates that she [Was it Miss Matilda Gilpin? Quite likely, for she loved to visit the Lord's servants, and often made notes of their conversations] found him engaged in prayer, as if in the chapel. He went through the service of administering the sacrament, seeming to remember it was the proper day, and saying, "And now, Lord administer these sacred elements to all those who have Thy true grace in their hearts"; and speaking upon the 10th of John, in which he seemed overwhelmed with love to the Lord Jesus for His tender care and love towards His sheep. Another time, a week later, he asked for a Bible. "But you cannot see to read," said his attendant. He immediately said, "Then we must try to do without. I will take the first chapter of John; 'In the beginning was the word'." He continued speaking for a quarter of an hour in a very instructive manner, and was evidently much comforted by the important truths he uttered.
'One of those who watched with him on the last Friday night said, "He very often bewailed the confusion of his brain, and entreated the Lord would remove it, often putting his hand to his head in much distress. When he had peace he enjoyed it sweetly, and at other times seemed quite lost in trouble. Many times when he thought he had spoken wrong he recalled it, saying we must have patience. But he never made a mistake in spiritual things in his confusion. His heart seemed really going out in prayer, often speaking of the body of sin and death and the great power of Satan. I cannot express by any words with what divine power his words entered my heart. I would not have been without that night for all the world."
'At about half past ten on Thursday morning, October 20th, he evidently changed for death. It was the most gentle ebbing away of life, until about twelve noon when he breathed his soul into the hands of his Lord and Saviour, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, about the sixtieth of his spiritual life and the forty-first of his ministry.'
He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, and his dear friend Bernard Gilpin came up from Hertford to conduct the funeral. On his tombstone his work is summed up thus:
'In an age of erroneous and empty profession he preached the Word of God, its power and fulfilment, earnestly contending for the true faith of the ever-blessed Trinity and the Person of Christ: the fall of man, the redemption of the elect, their new birth, continual conflict and certain salvation; and enforcing the fruits, inseparable from living faith - the fear and love of God. His ministry may be summed up in the Apostle's words, "But ye beloved, building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life".
As 'Mr. Bourne had feared there was a division after Mr. Burrell's death. 'At a Church Meeting in May the next year (1854), the congregation divided. Part settled under Mr. Thaine, one of Mr. Burrell's deacons, and remained at No. 9 Great Tichfield Street for fifteen years until the death of Mr. Thaine, when the connection came to an end. Mrs. Burrell died the same year and probably the house had to be sold. So, says the biographer, the place where Mr. Burrell had so long borne such a faithful testimony to the power of godliness knew him no more. In different places, however, there were Churches served by ministers who had been members of Mr. Burrell's Church and congregation, and several of such remembered with gratitude the blessing they received through his ministry.
The smaller part that withdrew from Mr. Thaine's ministry united under that of Mr. William Benson. A Chapel was procured for him in Edwarde's Place, near Langham Place.'
Mr. Bourne had heard in the December previous that William had spoken to the deacons about feeling a call to the ministry and wrote to him, 'I was quite overcome with the intelligence of your letter, after a sweet account from Mr. Gilpin of his leadings in the present state of Titchfield Street. I have no doubt that all you have felt of the Lord's goodness and mercy, first to yourself, and then in making you His servant and a servant of His people for His sake will be disputed many times before you appear in public; and for this purpose, that you may have further and clearer testimonies of its truth. A post that is to be firm must be well rammed down. I found it so; but every new confirmation was stronger than the old. Consider my text for London next week (2 Tim. 3. 14) and especially attend to the pronoun, "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of ", and keep calling to mind of Whom thou hast received and learned that heavenly liberty. The Lord be with you'.
William Benson had married Mr. Bourne's daughter Edmunda, and his brother Samuel another daughter, Philippa, so that a close natural affection as well as spiritual love linked them together. Another love affair Mr. Bourne was happy to witness was the engagement of Charles Benson, of Norton, with Bernard Gilpin's younger daughter, Annette, who had, you will remember, been educated under his roof. And a fourth link was made when Richard Benson, now emerging as a brilliant young doctor in Harley Street, married Bernard's elder daughter.
But this is anticipating by a year. Mr. Bourne did not live to see the last two marriages. In the spring of 1854 he had a severe attack of jaundice which greatly reduced his strength. He wrote his last letters to Pulverbach that spring, telling them, 'Only mind, my dear friends, that the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace be closely attended to; and look well to your way, for we have perceived many who appeared to be everything that could be wished for in the estimation of man, but when the King has come in to see the guests He has said, "How enterest thou in hither, not having a wedding garment?". 'Nothing but the fiery trial will bring this point to light,' and again (his last letter), 'Now my desire and prayer is that none of you may stop short, and that Satan may not beguile you into this dangerous place; and remember, if the Lord has made you honest, that you pay due attention to His word, "He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it". This is "the secret of the Lord", which none know but they who fear the Lord. This is Christ, the true bread; and there is no eternal life without Him. "He that eateth this Bread shall never die." "O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in Him!"
'David found many that said, "Who will show us any good?" but he replies with what I recommend to you all, "Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us"; for it is this which puts gladness in our hearts, more than all the outward prosperity of the world; and with this we can lie down and sleep in peace (Ps. 4. 6-8).
'Yours in the Lord with great love, J. B.'
Mr. Bourne preached his last sermon on May 14th, for about twenty minutes, upon the words, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness", and described six sorts of mercy which had followed him all his days - preventing mercy, protecting mercy, redeeming mercy, pardoning mercy, renewing mercy, and crowning tender mercy.
'On May 17th he wrote his last letter (to his son Alfred), and said, "I seem now fast declining, and am much exercised in seeking for the Lord to be with me in this valley of the shadow of death. Nothing can remove the fears but the blessed Presence that is strong as death. Oh how sweet it is to hear this sentence - 'Because thou hast made the Most High, which is my refuge, thy habitation, no evil shall befall thee. I am this morning no better, but sweetly sustained with a humble hope: the Lord is my stay".'
Different members of his congregation visited him day by day and took notes of the gracious things he said. 'His heart seemed to overflow with the love of God, without a cloud: the power and unction with which he spoke and the heavenly joy which was evident to those who saw him cannot be expressed.' Two friends came over from Pulverbach to see him and wrote a little account of the visit, and this was the time when Maria Carswell, the miner's wife, made the journey too, walking a good part of the way! Bernard Gilpin with his sister Matilda also came from London, and in his diary Bernard writes:
'We left London at 6.15 a.m. and reached Sutton Coldfield to a late breakfast. We were very soon introduced to our dear dying friend Mr. Bourne. Oh, what a heavenly sight! Was ever a deathbed more glorious! He knew not how to express his feelings of unutterable love and glory nor his deep self-abasing sense of Christ's divine redemption! He sent for us continually through the day and spoke for a minute or two. His mind retains all its natural firmness, and even its elastic play. Yet the holiness of his joy is very conspicuous. I saw he was lifted on eagle's wings above all troubles; even the troubles of God's Zion are by Christ Himself taken from his shoulder and taken upon Himself. Therefore I dared not ask his advice how we must manage at Sutton without him. I said only, "The government shall be upon Christ's shoulder". He said, "So it is! So I have found. I have nothing to say to them but that I love them all, and that the truths I have preached to them will do to live by, aye, and to die by too! That they will!".
Mr. Bourne died on the evening of Sunday, June 11th, 1854, when his nurse, who, with his eldest daughter was sitting by him, suddenly exclaimed, 'Look how he smiles!' and while they both looked, being much struck with the peculiar expression of welcome in his countenance, he ceased to breathe, gently expiring without any struggle, in the eighty-second year of his age.
The day before he took to his bed, he directed the following words, from Joshua 21. 35, to be inscribed on his grave, marking them in his Bible - "There failed not aught of any good thing which the Lord had spoken: all came to pass".
Mr. Bourne's gravestone, a flat one, is one of the few still preserved in its original position in the churchyard of Sutton Coldfield Parish Church: close beside it is that of Mr. Watkin Maddy.
Bernard wrote in his diary: 'I cannot refrain from testifying what I believe, that he has proved a special instrument of God to me. Surely the Lord opened my eyes to see the truth and my heart to love it, through Mr. Bourne's instructions - in letters, conversation and preaching. It is about twenty years since I first became acquainted with him; and my feelings have never varied, nor my firm persuasion that I have seen in him (a sinner of like passions with me) the image of Christ upon earth: the new man, created in Christ, living by the power of God'.
Jane Gilpin wrote (many years later), about Mr. Bourne's visits to Pulverbach, 'So it was that the word fell as a dew from the Lord upon the hearts of many, and took such a powerful hold upon them that some, who are still living, date their first awakening from that time; while many who now sleep in the dust of death have borne testimony to the last of their gratitude to God for having called them under that ministry'.