George Thomas Congreve
George Thomas CONGEEVE was born in the year 1791. His father and mother both feared God. He has often spoken of his father's earnest prayers for his children, and how the Lord was pleased to answer them, as he saw his three sons baptized together at Bedworth, and entered the church at the same time with them.
In early youth George had guilty stings and conviction of sin, which, however, wore off, until "it pleased the Lord, in the year 1813," as he writes, "to send his quickening word with almighty power into my soul, and fastened those convictions which had followed me, more or less, for years before, with such force upon my mind, that they never afterwards wore off, but abode with me and increased until I was near the borders of despair. All this time I durst not reveal my mind even to my nearest and dearest friends, for fear it should be all a delusion, and I should be found a hypocrite, and the Lord's dear saints should be deceived in me, and my soul be deceived and lost for ever. These thoughts made me tremble, cry, groan, and sigh the more; for God had now made my soul sincere and earnest; so that the Lord knows I did not want to deceive or to be deceived. I therefore concluded within myself to keep the whole matter to myself, though it should prove my death.'
Then,' thought I,' if I should die and be lost, the Lord's people would not be disappointed or deceived in me.' This seemed now and then to give me a little relief. Still, my aching heart, throbbing with the most intense desire to know whether Christ died for me, could not rest here; nor could I long remain unnoticed, for my constant attendance when the children of God met for prayer and praise, and hearing his word, with my countenance casting looks which bespoke the grief and the distress of my mind, soon betrayed me. One and another would say, I think there is something on your mind.' To which I could not make any reply, but retired as soon as I could, and burst into a flood of tears, 'Woe is me! For they are deceived in me. I am undone, and shall perish for ever! I have sinned against God; I have broken his righteous and holy law in thought, word, and act; and feel the sword of divine justice within, ripping up my conscience, and cutting off all my hopes from what an arm of flesh can do; and God has cast me out and barred the door of mercy against me. I see no other way of being saved, but only in and through Christ and what he has done and suffered. He died for the elect, I know, and they shall all be saved; but O, I fear that I am not one of that blessed number! None but God the Spirit can tell me, and he will not. I have asked him, yea, I have cried to him continually; but he will not regard my prayer. What must I do? O that I were a dog, or a horse, or anything rather than a man, to lose my immortal soul, and live for ever beneath the frowns of a sin-avenging and angry God. How hard I take it at his hands, for him to bring me into being to damn me! But who can tell? Perhaps he may yet have mercy on me. None can help but thou. ' Didst thou die for me? I cannot help myself. I am willing to be saved in thine own way, if thou art willing to save such a worthless, hell-deserving sinner as I am. I know that thou art able. O that I was sure that thou wert willing. God, be merciful unto me! Lord, save! Thou must save, or I must perish!' These were the feelings of soul which I laboured under night and day, while awake, for weeks, unknown to any but myself and the Lord. This continual secrecy made my trouble still heavier; yet I durst not open my mind to any but to God himself. Sometimes I felt, as it were, a distant hope of better days to come; and at other times, in a fit of rebellion and fretfulness, the remembrance of which often makes me shudder, I would sit down as sullen as a bear, and give up all for lost. And what still increased my torment was, when I felt inclined to make my case known to the Lord, I felt so bound and shut up, overpowered and burdened with guilt in my conscience, that I hardly durst lift up my eyes to the place where his honour dwelleth, for fear of being smitten with death; and when I ventured to do so I could only smite upon my breast, and cry, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! Thus was I carried on, between hope and fear, till the last night before my deliverance came, when I retired as full of trouble as ever, and through weariness of body I fell asleep. I awoke very early in the morning, in greater distress than ever; when, lo! All on a sudden, a voice sounded from heaven as distinctly as the voice of a man, and echoed in my soul, saying, 'Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.' That instant, my distress fled, and my fears were gone; my soul was calm, composed, and serene; my heart was broken, meek, peaceable, childlike, teachable, mild, and I sang for joy; my eyes were bathed with tears of heavenly delight, until my pillow was wet under my head, and my whole frame trembled beneath the bliss."
In the following year, he, together with his father and two younger brothers, were received into the church, and he began to learn other lessons of painful experience; as Hart says,
"When all this is done, and his heart is assured
He was seven years before he could be prevailed upon to engage in prayer at the meetings. The solicitation of the friends has sometimes so excited him as to produce profuse perspiration and trembling. He has often hidden himself in a loft during their meetings, though wishing to be among them, fearing they might call upon him to pray; but his absence became a greater trial to him, and at length he was delivered from the snare, and the words of Job were a great relief to him: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him."
Though his position and circumstances were then above what is common with the Lord's people, he having a sufficient income, he was not without trials in providence. At one time he was threatened with the loss of all he had, and to be brought to poverty, being called upon to fulfil his engagement as surety for a brother, concluding his all would be taken. After a while he exclaimed, " Well, bless God, they can't take a precious Christ from me."
"And if our dearest comforts fall
He lost much of his property; but it pleased the Lord to make a provision for him, and richly to reward his loss of temporal things by increase of spiritual blessings, with which he was favoured above many. Though not gifted with utterance, his experience was sound, his judgment deep, and his heart established. He was valiant for truth. The honour of God and the prosperity of his people he sought with love, and zeal, and fervent prayer. His punctual attendance on all the means of grace was proverbial. The early Sabbath morning prayer-meeting, at 7 o'clock, he regularly attended, even when his sight was so defective, the last few years of his life, that he could not recognise persons, and often said how much they were blessed to him, and expressed a wish, before his death, that they might not be given up. His prayers frequently were fervent and unctuous, and few, either private Christians or ministers, were heard so well. It was his custom to compose a hymn for the school children to sing at the anniversary sermons in their behalf, which the Lord appears to have blessed; four of the members of the church received their first convictions from them.
Meekness and gentleness were remarkable in him; and there was a weight and solemnity in his remarks that made them very impressive. On his way to chapel he was frequently ridiculed by the ungodly. On one occasion, as he passed by some of them, one said, tauntingly, "Mr. C., where shall I go, when I die?" He made him no reply, but observed, on his return, "My heart went out to the Lord: Lord, lay it with power on his mind."
Mr. Godwin thus speaks of him. He says, "I have known him for many years, have had many sweet moments with him, and. many sweet feelings under his prayers, and much enjoyed conversation with him upon the best things. I have ever found him to be spiritually minded, always entering upon divine things whenever I have visited Bedworth, so that I felt my heart knit to him in the bonds of the gospel of the eternal Son of God; and I believe that the grace of God which bringeth salvation, taught his redeemed soul to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world; that he feared God above many; that the Lord led him and kept his soul near to himself. The grace of God shone in his heart, life, conversation, and his dealings in business. He was one of those Christians who was favoured to die daily, and was greatly blessed with the spirit of meekness and gentleness, kindness and longsuffering, and had learned this precept, 'Wherefore, my brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.'
"On Monday afternoon, April 22nd, I had a sweet interview with him, but found him exceedingly weak in body; he had kept his bed about a month; he was very comfortable in his mind, and he told me he had not enjoyed the Lord's presence so long together for many years, that he was very happy, and the Lord Jesus very precious, and that he was watching and waiting to enter into rest. He also told me that it was 47 years ago that he heard the voice of God in his conscience. He took my hand, and held it fast, and the Lord kindled that sweet spirit of love and affection within my heart, so that every word he spoke dropped with weight and sweetness into my soul. He also told me how much he had enjoyed the 7 o'clock prayer meetings on Lord's Day mornings, and he hoped that every minister would exhort the people not to neglect them. He was not able to talk much; so I left him. Before going to bed, I went in to see him, and found him much the same. I read and went to prayer with him, and felt nearness and access to the Lord, and assured that the Lord would give him an easy passage through the river of death.
"Tuesday morning, April 23rd, I went into his room to take my farewell of him in this world. I said, How are you this morning?' He replied, am still on the rock. I shall soon enter the kingdom, and join in the song of Moses and the Lamb.' My heart was melted within me, and we parted in the spirit of meekness and power, with my soul like melting wax in the midst of my bowels, and with a good hope that we should soon meet again in heaven above.'
"March 16th. —He appeared much worse, and was thought near death. Recovering a little, he said, " Happy living and happy dying in Christ! I would breathe my life out in Christ; my soul triumphs in Christ before I am freed from a body of sin and death; I should like to live to praise him a little longer, but I am willing either to live or die; I have no fears, no doubts, no suspicions. He has been a kind Friend to me, and I have been a __" Here weeping prevented articulation. He continued, "They are blessed souls that sit at the feet of Christ. I have had my doubts and fears. How anxiously I have listened to those around, to see if I had a part and lot in the matter. What empty things are all these toys! When I see so many poor mortals around us live and die careless, and sink beneath his frowns, to think that I should not be left like that!
"T' was the same love that spread the feast,
After a pause, he said, "There, you can go now. I feel I am going to stay a little longer with you. The last moment has not come yet. I am singing, 'For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.' If I am taken off suddenly, don't grieve; it will be a happy morning. It will be absent from the body and present with the Lord. The moment the breath is gone, the soul is happy in the enjoyment of Christ. I feel as though I could expand my wings and fly to his arms."
At another time he said, "How often have I wished, and longed, and prayed that I might not sin any more. I would be holy as he is. I would be with him, and be like him. I don't want degrees in glory. I want to be like Christ; that's enough for me. The last time I was led by a friend to the prayer-meeting, on account of my sight being taken away, we passed a number of men, who began to laugh at me. I thought I would not change with them for all the world. I hope the Lord will forgive them."
About a week before his death, he said, "Christ is my portion. The poorest creature on earth is rich, if he possess Christ. My soul's best affections are wrapped up in Christ. Christ perfumes the tomb for his followers. They took spices to embalm him, but his precious presence is balm enough. I shall know what heaven is before I get there. The fearing soul often sings,
'Could I but climb where Moses stood,
O what a blessed thing it is to have a hope beyond the grave!" A friend made some allusion to the children's hymn, which he had written a short time before for the approaching anniversary. He said, "My soul was in heaven then. I could not help writing it. If he judges us while we are here, and we are pardoned, that will do for us when the world is in a blaze." One of the friends present expressed sorrow on the loss of such a friend. He said, "Don't fret, friends. Christ is a better Friend. Who knows but what the Lord has sent this to increase our love to him, and show us the vanity of all things here below. They are the sweetest blessings that ever can be enjoyed. Times without number I would have given all the world to feel what I do now, but could not get it. Christ is proving now that what I have written at times has come from my heart. The bitters that are mingled in the gospel cup give me an appetite. The bitters and sweets together make them palatable. The bitters will all be done away with soon, and give place to neverfading joys. My song will be always new. When my tongue is silent in the grave, Christ will be still my song in yonder cloud. Christ will be my song for ever. O how blessed the thought of eternity to me! There will not be any end to the joys of heaven. If millions could conceive the joys! For ever safe or for ever lost! O what a thought! But O what a little impression it makes on poor sinners. It grieves my heart to see what sin has brought on poor mortals. If eternal torments were opened to their view, it would only scare them, and they would be but harder still. But who knows where the channel of mercy may flow." He now appeared exhausted; and as one was about to leave, he said, "Well, I could keep you as long as my strength will last. You will join me in heaven, and I shall know you there. I shall know the friends, and I shall welcome you, and sing with you. No night there; no parting. The Sabbath will never be over. Who could have thought the Lord would have favoured me thus? He has been better to me than all my doubts and fears." He then added, "Human nature sinks".
On Wednesday, the day but one before he died, he said, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; the battle's fought, the victory's won! Christ, the conqueror The sting of death is extracted. Mrs. C. observed, " We may tell the friends you are on the Rock." "Yes," he replied, "and I shall shout Hallelujah when I see them come. Those that are afraid of dying, tell them of me. I was afraid of dying once, but now I have found the Rock, and they will find it too;" and then, with marked emphasis, said, "I shall sing, Hallelujah, when I see them coming;" then clapped his hands, while tears of holy joy rolled down his cheeks. He then kissed and blessed his wife and daughter, and said, "I love you both. I loved my father and my mother, and I am going to join them, to sing the new song above." Seeing them weep, he said, "Don't fret, I am only going a little first. I want Christ to come and fetch me home; nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." Mrs. C. said, "You had better have a little sleep now." He answered, "I think my next sleep will be in Jesus. Lord, give me a safe and easy passage over Jordan. When I shall be with him I shall be satisfied. I'll praise him to all eternity. The Lord has spared me a long while in the wilderness, and now I have looked the monster in the face, and told him Jesus died for me;" adding, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, and take me home to thyself."
About an hour before he died, Mrs. D." asked him if he wanted anything. He said, " Jesus to fetch me home," which were the last words they could understand. He tried to speak just before he died, his lips moving, but could not be heard. It is thought he was calling on the Lord Jesus to come and take him, as he had frequently repeated the words, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly." He then breathed out his soul, and slept in Jesus, almost imperceptibly. How truly it may be said of him, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace."