Part I - The Preparation of the Heart
5 - Henrietta
MY mother having died in India while I was an infant" (writes Henrietta) "and my father being much engrossed in human learning and not till many years afterwards impressed with the importance of religion, I do not recollect receiving any religious instruction beyond hearing a chapter in the Bible and one of Spinks" prayers read duly morning and night in the family. I was also required to take my stand among my brothers and sisters while we repeated the Church Catechism with perfect correctness to my father every Sunday evening. This was followed by the reading of a sermon. I used to pay little attention to these forms; indeed I found them most irksome, my spirit being wholly set on this world.
"When I was about nine years old my eldest sister was reading to us one day from the Scriptures, and coming to that chapter where the 'sin unto death" is spoken of, she stopped to comment upon it, saying that it was a mystery and no one could tell what that sin was. I felt while she was speaking an amazing curiosity to know what that mysterious sin could be, and something seemed to whisper, "Commit that sin". I was in the greatest horror and tried in vain to drive it away. "How can I commit it?" said I to myself, "I don't even know what it is." Still I was tormented to such a degree that at last I shut myself up in a cupboard and tremblingly said, "I commit it". Thus I sought to obtain quiet, but the moment the words were out of my lips I was terrified and would have borne anything to have recalled them! I feared greatly but still a hope glimmered within that perhaps it would not be charged on me, that perhaps it was kept secret on purpose to keep people from committing it. With this little hope I knelt down and begged the Lord earnestly to tell me if I had committed it. I had never in my life heard a word that could lead me to think that God ever sensibly speaks to the heart of His people nowadays, and therefore I have often been surprised since to think what could put me upon asking such a thing. I kept begging and watching for an answer, but days and nights passed and nothing occurred from which anything could be gathered, and by degrees the pleasures of childhood wore away my terrors. The remembrance only recurred to my memory many years afterwards.
"When I was about fourteen I was confirmed, when I set hard to work at my religion, often making great efforts and then giving them all up. I was at boarding-school, and sometimes worked up a very strict line of religion. As I patiently endured some ridicule and stood through one or two strong temptations, I began to think myself established. At seventeen I finally left school and returned to live with my family at Petersham, near Richmond. Here my religion seemed to flourish. I became more earnest and constant in private prayer and more self-denying in my daily walk. I have often looked back with surprise at the strict scrutiny I used to keep over my thoughts and actions. Though I was perfectly my own mistress and my time was at my own disposal I seldom ventured to undertake the smallest employment [like the Gilpin daughters she taught village children] without seriously asking myself whether it would be more pleasing to God than anything else I could do. This obliged me sometimes to sacrifice even my strongest inclinations which I found very painful, but was supported by the thought that I must surely be a converted character.
'sometimes I would set apart a day for self-examination and humiliation before God, go over a catalogue of sins and even lie prostrate on the ground, weeping and confessing my sins. All this I used to suppose must be godly sorrow and genuine repentance, though I now see nothing in it but what was self-wrought. In this way I went on, supposing I had found all that was to be found in religion, and nothing now remained but to persevere to the end and so be saved.
"I was in this state when one morning I rose and, while dressing began, as usual, to repeat hymns and psalms. All of a sudden it was darted into my mind, "What is the use of all your prayers, etc.? You had better leave them alone, for it is impossible you should ever be saved. You have deliberately and of free choice committed the unpardonable sin." And immediately the transaction I have already mentioned from my early childhood was brought quite fresh to my memory. My spirit was thrown into great flurry and alarm and I tried hard to fortify myself against it by reminding myself how pious I had become. Just at this moment the bell rang for family prayer and I went down. It happened that the chapter in course was not read that morning, but instead of it that one which contains our Saviour's mention of the sin against the Holy Ghost, saying "it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world neither in the world to come". I cannot describe the terror that seized me while these words were read. It seemed to me that the remarkable circumstance of this chapter being selected just after the convictions I had had upstairs was ordained to prove my guilt and stop my mouth. My whole soul was in an agony. I shut myself up in my room and spent the day in anguish. I felt forbidden to open the Bible or pray, yet I can never forget the value and blessedness I then saw in the Scriptures and the envy I felt towards those who might read them. At last I ventured to go and tell my distress to one of my sisters. She answered that the exact nature of that sin was not revealed and therefore it was not our part to enquire into it. I replied that I feared the way in which I had committed it, cut off all hope that I was mistaken in the sin, for that I had actually been so mad as to say, whatever it is, I commit it. I then confessed all the circumstances to her, which quite staggered her. After some silence she only said, "Well! It is astonishing how wicked even children can he!" Thus I got small comfort from her, and went again to my room worse than ever.
"At last as I was wandering about the house, I found a heap of books that had laid undisturbed for a long time, and idly picking up one I was struck by its title, The Redeemer's Tears, and sitting down on the floor I opened it. Bound up under the same cover was a little treatise called On the Sin against the Holy Ghost, addressed to Tempted Souls. I was agitated and astonished. I had never before in my life met with anything on the subject and I began to read it with deep attention. The author did not enter much into the nature of the sin but showed clearly that such as are under the guilt of it are destitute of the strivings of the Spirit in their hearts, and "if the love and favour of God seem more desirable in your eyes than anything else you have not been suffered to sin, the sin unto death". He showed that it was the malice of Satan that was molesting one who was haunted with this fear. I found it all encouraging, and hoped it would prove true for me. Still in some doubt, I thought, however, that I would venture to the evening service, as the bells were just then ringing. In the First Lesson these words fell most sweetly upon my spirit, "Fear not for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art Mine". All my fears vanished, and from that hour to this they have never been suffered to return upon that particular subject.
"A week or two afterwards I went to re-read the tract, but it was not in the book nor any allusion to it in the index. I could not tell what to make of this, but so certain was I that I had been made to read it there and that it now was not there that I was ready to think it miraculous, but I never told a creature what had happened. Several years afterwards this mystery was cleared up thus. Another sister and I were sorting my father's books after a family removal and we began talking about them. She said some good men were often injudicious, and mentioned the publishing of treatises on the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which, she said, was the very way such things were put into people's heads.
" "Have you ever destroyed any such treatises then?" I asked.
" "Yes," she answered, "There was one in one of our books and I got it out without hurting the book at all, and the place too where it was noticed in the table of contents."
" "I know what the book was," said I. "It was Howe's Redeemer's Tears."
" "What then, had you seen it?" she asked. I only said yes, but I felt a good deal, and thought what a mercy it was that although it had been for years in the house she had not been suffered to lay hands on it till just after it had done what it had for me.
"After I was thus delivered from that temptation I went on very smoothly and I think I can say that "after the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee". Alas it is awful to think how I, like others in this state, could talk and teach of Christ, and fill my long prayers with the continual mention of His name and righteousness and yet know nothing in the world about Him experimentally. As for sensible answers to prayer, I may say I never looked for any; and the forgiveness of sins I thought would of course take place without our knowing it, if we were very religious. As I made sure of my being in a state of grace it is no wonder that I had often seasons of much happiness, which I took for the peace of God, and thought it a token for good, as the Word says, "Rejoice evermore."
"In this state I continued till some time after my removal with my family to Hampstead, and then I remember two occasions when my confidence received a sudden shake. The first was this. I came out of my room more than ordinarily happy and well satisfied after my earnest prayers, when as I was going downstairs I was arrested by this question, "Are you sure you are born again?" "Yes," I answered, 'surely I must be." The question was repeated. I stood still and wondered what could put such a thing in my head, and answered as before, bringing up a few Scripture proofs. Again the same question was repeated more solemnly, and as it were preceded by a "Nevertheless". I was chilled throughout in a way I cannot describe but tried as it were to have the last word. Still it presented itself and I had to go away with it sounding unanswered in my heart. This caused a dreadful feeling: I thought it came from the enemy and wore it off by constantly resisting it.
"The second occasion was just before a communion service. I had been preparing myself all week with long self-examination. If I remember right, I was engaged in earnest prayer and had been blessing God for enabling me to devote myself to His service. At that moment I was conscious of an inward conviction that all this my religion was to come to nothing - to be utterly destroyed. I thought this came from my own imagination and coolly tried to turn my eyes another way, but it increased to a most positive intimation of the dreadful truth, for dreadful it was to me at that time, as I thought it implied final apostasy from grace.
"The terrifying effect of this abode long; indeed it never wholly left me for I believe the hopeless feeling it wrought went far towards making me reckless and desperate in the spiritual declension which began soon after. In a few weeks more I found I had lost all relish in religious duties; I gradually left off private prayer and watchfulness and at last got quite thoughtless and worldly. I had indeed intervals of bitter misery, in which I would strive, as it were in the very fire, to regain what I had lost.
"We had now removed to Buntingford and I was just twenty years of age. I was looking forward to my approaching marriage with a sort of hope that in becoming the wife of a clergyman the sense of responsibility would urge me to greater exertion to regain and maintain my religion."
This, then, was the Henrietta who devotedly accompanied her husband to John Johnston's dying-bed. Bernard, in one of his letters, says of her, "My dear wife had been, before I knew her, built up to a wonderful height of religion: but as all she had attained to had over and again been reduced to nothing, she had fallen into a kind of despair, attributing the fault entirely to herself.
She continues: "It was somewhat more than a year after my marriage, on May 5th, 1830, that I began to feel a return of more abiding concern for my soul. I received a shock on that day by hearing of the sudden death of a worldly relation in the prime of youth and health. This caused much working of fear in my heart. That summer I felt to be getting into a worse state than ever and the enmity of my heart was aroused in a way I had not felt before. At times I felt irritated, as I may say, against the Lord for not giving me better success in my religion!
"Besides this, some of those books which had been my greatest favourites now excited in me bitter indignation. They really had a legal bias but I supposed them to be faultless and that my dislike was only against that which was good, yet I could not restrain it. I was beginning to be brought into a state of spiritual poverty, and therefore, like the Israelites who could not deliver the tale of the bricks without straw, I hated the taskmasters. This arose to such a height that one day I took up Doddridge's Rise and Progress and angrily flung it across the room, resolving never to pick it up wherever it might fall. It alighted on the top of a high wardrobe, and I do not recollect that I ever saw it again, though for a long time I used to feel guilty whenever I thought of the top of the wardrobe!
"During that year and the next my state grew worse and worse. I gradually lost all power to offer one connected prayer, though I had formerly been very fluent. I would kneel down with my heart very full, but so dark and confused that I could not put two words
together and would remain perfectly dumb for a long time and then rise without having uttered a word. I remember well when I would bemoan myself to my dear husband, in the thickest of my darkness he would say to me, "I believe some day you"ll find that self-righteousness has in some way come in, but I have not light enough to explain how".
"I could not believe this then, because in the letter I did so strongly hold Christ to be all in all. Another thing he used to say which I could as little believe was, "I believe firmly that God has begun to show you some especial thing, and I hope we shall both be enabled to watch what it is". But I seemed reduced to such a sense of blindness that really some of the rooms in the Rectory used, for a long while after we had left that house, to convey to my mind the impression of dark rooms without windows, from the exercise of mind I had gone through in them!"
[Actually the old Rectory of St. Andrew's stands in an open, sunny position above a wide curve of the river, which is dominated there by the beating waterwheel of a very ancient cornmill.]
In the Spring of 1831 the Pulverbach family lost their beloved mother. Bernard and Henrietta, with their first little daughter, Elizabeth, born in January, made the long journey north. Perhaps it was Henrietta's first glimpse of Shropshire and as the coach came up the Church Stretton valley the beautiful folding hills fresh with April green would surely impress her, especially after the enormous open landscapes round Buntingford. She had met Mercy already, for Mercy records journeying during Bernard's wedding year to Buntingford (the wedding itself perhaps?), Cambridge (the Parishes), and Hertford. But with what interest she would meet the others!
Elizabeth, the eldest, had just returned from Leeds where Aunt Charlotte Fawcett had died, preceding her sister Mrs. Gilpin by only three weeks.
"Before she died Mrs. Gilpin said, "I am not triumphant like that dear sister of mine, but I have peace. There was a cloud, but it has passed, it has passed. Eye hath not seen nor ear heard the glories of that glorious change. I shall behold them soon. I shall sing Alleluia! Alleluia! I shall be washed in the blood of the Lamb. I shall be clean and white. I shall have the white robe, the fine linen which is the righteousness of the saints, and join the blessed company in that joyous song - Worthy is the Lamb that was slain".
After that the hushed house, the black clothes, and the funeral cortege winding up the lane to the church. Did Henrietta see anything of Sukey Harley? We cannot know, but we feel Sukey would have understood her and would have felt a great affection for "Mr. Bernard's" young wife.
Mercy says, "The year 1831 was a year of severe trial in our family. Our dear mother died, and other afflictions followed quickly upon this. And oh! there were moments in this and the following year when my heart seemed ready to burst. I felt that if some relief (which when brought, I believed to be of the Lord) had not been given at the moment it was I should have sunk".
Matilda also speaks of great sorrow in these years. We are not told of the nature of it all, but that it broke out after the death of Mrs. Gilpin seems to show the loss of a guiding and controlling hand. When probing into family records one can only conjecture about some items; it would seem indelicate to pursue concealed sorrows. In this connection one wonders about the youngest of the family, Richard, aged twenty-four at the time of his mother's death. His name appears on the family tree and on the back of the tombstone (he died an old man at Hawkhurst in Kent). But there is no trace of him in letter or diary. Just at this time Frances had her fourth son and named him Richard. Could it be because anguish and love over a defaulting brother were in the forefront of the family's feelings just then? On the other hand what acute grief can enter a family through a love affair going awry. All or any of these heart sorrows could be included in Mercy's remarks, which certainly suggest that the family had their share of the sufferings of this life, and their spiritual introspection was by no means only in the abstract.
Bernard and Henrietta returned, of course, to Hertford. Henrietta's Account continues,
"After I had gone on thus for a long time without finding any answer or light on my path, or hearing anything from others that could explain my case, I began to give up all for lost. I resolved to try no more, except I used to repeat as I went about,
Lord, I am weak, be Thou my might: Lord, I am blind, be Thou my sight.
Here I seemed at the worst, for having given up all hope of finding religion I was dreadfully afraid of death. And to make my fear greater, the cholera came to our shores and at last to our town and very door! This greatly alarmed me, but I did not betray my fears to others, and seldom spoke of religion to anyone.
"One evening I visited a sister who lived at Hertingfordbury (a village a few miles out of Hertford). Charles was there." [Her brother Charles, a Fellow of St. John's, Cambridge, about this time had the Tutorship offered him, and to the astonishment of all his friends, religious and worldly, refused it. "That which staggered his mind," says Bernard, "was the lightness and ease of the prevailing profession of religion. Persons started up into evangelical ministers who really knew nothing of the inward teaching of God, who knew nothing of the inward cross." Bernard was forced to say that at this time "he - Charles - saw the same superficial character in my religion that he saw in others, and he was led, and that I can testify with the best reason, to doubt of my state altogether!"] Henrietta goes on: "Charles shared my husband's duty at that time for a while and I had been a good deal in his company, but had never said a word about religion to him. However, that evening at my sister's he said these words in an accidental way, as it seemed: "It is very easy for a person to have an amazing deal of outward religion, and of closet religion too - prayer, reading, self-mortification, and everything else that seems good - with their mouths, heads, and as they think their hearts full of the name of Jesus Christ, while they are all the while turning their backs upon Him and utterly disregarding the salvation He wrought".
"This remark fell with an unspeakable weight on my spirit, and the words "Thou art the man!" sounded through my heart. My sister thought the statement unguarded, and said a good deal to soften it down. He heard her through, and then quietly repeated all, even more strongly than at first. I believe I betrayed my emotion, for I remember he spoke to me afterwards, but I was so utterly amazed that I neither heard nor heeded a word more that either of them spoke. How I went home I know not. I only seemed to come to when I arrived at my own door. Then I remembered, with great regret that I had not asked my brother to explain to me what the fault of such a religion was. These words came unsought into my mind, "And they shall be all taught of God". Oh, I thought, that is only in the Old Testament spoken to the Jews. It doesn't allude to the cases of individuals like me in such a literal manner as I should need. Soon after I opened the Testament on the place where Jesus renews that promise, saying, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God". It came to my heart very sweetly for a while. That night in my room I felt a great spirit of prayer come upon me and a resolution to cry till I obtained this effectual teaching from God. I knelt down by my bedside and thought I could not rise from prayer all night, but almost before I could lift up a thought to the Lord a wonderful inward light flowed into my soul accompanied by a verse in the Revelations which contains the word "FREELY". "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." It was only the word "freely" that was spoken to my soul, and that with indescribable power. It spoke thus: "Let go all your prayers, all your earnest spiritual desires, all your victories over sin and self. Turn away your eyes from beholding such vanities and take my salvation FREELY". The feeling conveyed to my mind was that that one word "freely" filled heaven and earth. The light that came with it and the discovery made by it astonished me so, that I was quite overcome.
" "Oh," I said to myself, "does every Scripture doctrine contain such a depth within it when revealed by the Spirit? I wonder whether anyone else understands the word "freely", and if they do I wonder they can help speaking more of it to each other!" Many such things I said in my ignorance, thinking I should have such wonders to tell of it, whereas when I tried to explain the word to others I found I was only saying the oldest and most commonplace things such as I myself had over and again taught the schoolchildren. The difference lay not in the letter but in the experience and power. I was like one that talked strangely to my religious acquaintances - not that they denied the truth of what I had found in the word "freely" but rather spoke thus: "Of course it is so. Have you never known that before? Don't you remember the Scripture says so and so?" as if I could have learnt it from the letter alone!
"For some time the effect of this sweet manifestation of the truth to my heart abode with me and often returned afresh in a remarkable way, bringing, as I prayed, the impression of a bright light and also such a sense of nothingness while the Lord Jesus carried on alone the work of my salvation. This happened in May, 1832 (when her second daughter, Annette, was born) and lasted a fortnight or three weeks, but so ignorant was I that because the sensible feeling of this experience did not abide I to a great extent gave it up and should never have been able to give a consistent account of it had it not been sweetly revived many times since.
'several of my sisters had separated from the Established Church, but I was entirely unacquainted with their principles, and when I heard that my brother Charles, after leaving Hertford with the intention of merely passing a day or two with them, had found such union with the members of their connection that he had determined to stay among them, I felt astonished and mortified, not doubting but that he was sadly beguiled. And I was the more disappointed as I had held him in very high esteem ever since what had passed at Hertingfordbury.
"At the end of August I had to pass through London, and I slept one night at my sister Harriet's home (Mrs. Col. Nicol). I had no intention of speaking to her on the subject of religion, but a few words passed between us as we were about to part next morning. She began to say something on that subject. I interrupted her by saying, "I really am not able to judge t>f anything you advance, for I am very ignorant".
"she answered, "Dear sister, pray don't be too sure you know what being ignorant and blind means".
I rejoined, "O, but I am ignorant and blind, and that to such a degree that for months together I have not been able to make out the simplest prayer, but just to repeat over and over, Lord I know not what conversion means. Thou knowest. O give it me".
"Her emotion betrayed the pleasure and surprise with which she heard me. And for my part I was fully as much surprised at the lively interest and tender sympathy excited in her by a confession of what seemed to me so bad. After covering her face with her hands quite silently, she at last said rather abruptly, "Then how can you keep friends with such authors as Doddridge? What can you find in them to suit a case like what you describe?"
" "Well," I said. "I think they must have been very good men and I can't see any error in their works, but I must confess that my Rise and Progress lies covered with dust at the top of an old wardrobe where I flung it in my despair, but I always thought I did very wrong."
'she smiled significantly, as much as to say I should see more on that subject bye and bye, and she put into my hands Hart's Hymns, and a manuscript book containing copies of a few letters of Mr. Bourne and Mr. Burrell. We parted with more than usual affection. Indeed I felt then, for the first time in my life, a little spark of the true unity of the Spirit. This, however, was soon obscured, for shortly afterwards circumstances occurred which excited strong prejudices in my mind against my relations and their friends, whose conduct and sentiments were represented to me under a load of evil report."
Bernard says of these people at this time: "I knew nothing either of the principles or practice of Charles's new friends, a small congregation in London neither belonging to the Establishment nor to any of the principal non-conforming denominations, but thought I might safely condemn them as verging to some dangerous extremes. They were little known and very reserved. Some that were highly esteemed among them were persons destitute of refinement and learning. Any logical blunder or vulgar prejudice which I could detect amongst them I made the most of in my mind to their discredit, being secretly indisposed to demean myself by associating with them. Charles having settled amongst them and closing against himself an opening of most flattering promise in the University of Cambridge greatly grieved me".
Henrietta continues: "Throughout the rest of that year I went on by myself, groping for the wall of salvation like the blind, and notwithstanding my resolutions to the contrary I was conscious of my eyes being often turned towards my brother Charles and his friends as being possessed of something I had not found. This was strengthened by reading the letters my sister had lent me. Had I read these letters before I understood them at all I should probably have seen little more than common things in them. But now, if I may so express it, I understood them sufficiently to see how little I understood of them. And they made an impression on me I never can forget. I would read them until I was lost in wonder, and would keep turning back and back almost every half page I read, to look at the date, saying:
" "What? Now? In 1832 is there any religion like this really existing? Are there any living in these days to whom the Lord really and sensibly speaks, and to whom He manifests Himself in this beautiful manner? I thought all such things had ceased since the Bible days. I can scarcely believe it true, yet I feel that this letter is no lie, and written by no liar."
The inward drawing I now felt to go and hear what they had to say came, I believe, from the same source as with Cornelius, whom God directed to send for Peter to hear words of him; which words his heart had been prepared to receive, and so had mine. And I had no more will or power to disobey the inward voice than he had. Accordingly I made an excuse for going to London in January 1833, having heard nothing from them in the interval."