Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
8 - Mr. Bourne's Morning Readings
R. MADDY was curate at Sparkford in Somerset. He was a bachelor and lived alone with a servant. He says that his prevailing sin was an inordinate love of eating! This caused him much worry, and sometimes, although throughout his sermon-preparation he was thinking of his dinner all the time, he would not touch it when it came, as a penance! [Nowadays one wonders if he suffered from some complaint?] It was a very big thing with him. Once he fasted all morning, wrote a sermon on "Men ought always to pray and not to faint" but found he could not pray. He felt he must give up the conflict - that he was an apostate! "I rode out, thereupon," he says, "to a poor cottager I used to visit, and told him I would never go to heaven, but, I said, let us pray (as was my custom at the cottages of the poor). I then fell on my knees and sort of howled rather than prayed - "Lord, hear an apostate" or some such words, and soon left to go home. The poor man, moved by my distress, followed at a little distance. Satan said, Kill yourself, several times to me, but suddenly Jesus seemed to look down from heaven, and immediately I began to bless and praise Him. The temptation left me, and I turned back and told the poor man he need not fear for me, for I'd been blessing God."
This blessedness soon left him, and later on an incessant prayer of "Lord, have mercy on me", helped him. He now wrote to his friend Charles Jeffreys, giving a few hints of his feelings, and saying, "I feel I am in the strong hands of God, but whether it be to purge a fruitful branch or to cut off an unfruitful I cannot tell".
Charles sent this letter to Mr. Bourne, who had been spending that summer (1832) with a large family in Tonbridge, and who had written to his cousin, There seems a great stir among our strangers. I shall be truly glad if Mr. C. J. (who could this be but Charles?) comes out on the right side of the Slough of Despond. I hope he will take no hasty steps to settle his matters"."
Mr. Bourne replied to Charles, "My dear Sir, - I have for this last year been frequently going to Greenwich Hospital, and could not but remark how often a lame pensioner was coupled with a blind one; and so I cannot but call to mind how in my early days before I had much understanding in divine things as respects myself, I was often obliged to bear testimony to many truths which as yet I had not fully proved. This seems in a measure to be your present case with your friend. The presence of the Lord, it is true, is with both you and your friend, but something further is wanted before you can be satisfied what this presence is for, whether for judgment or for mercy. Now, if you can prevail upon the Lord Jesus Christ to hear your prayers, and can in any wise perceive that He has kind intentions towards you, even in the most distant hope, and that only for a very short time, yet while it lasts, it will draw forth such an expression as this, "I LOVE THE LORD because He hath heard my voice and my supplications". I was in deep sorrow and trouble, in gross darkness and ignorance, but in calling upon the name of the Lord I found Him merciful. Having believed and received this, I can declare it to my friend, and recommend to him to be exceedingly diligent at a throne of grace. There is no end of instances in the Word of God of men calling upon the name of the Lord in their distress, but not one instance of a failure; and it is here added (Ps. 118) "The Lord answered me, and set me in a large place". I am sure that if both you and your friend make not God your strength in all the perplexing dispensations that are come and are coming over your heads you will not find the salvation that you seem to be seeking.
"Be faithful to the utmost of your spiritual understanding, and enter not into any other field. As your friend wants spiritual counsel tell him all the truth, and fill not your letters with deviations on other subjects, which will certainly blunt the edge and divide the attention, half for the world and not half for the Lord. I hope it will please God to direct you, that this labour of love may not prove in vain."
This letter was treasured by Mr. Maddy. He writes, "As when I had that glimpse of the Lord I had had such a feeling (of love) for a moment, this gave me at times a little support. Indeed, this letter was my main support for some months".
Friends used to tell him he must exercise faith. They lent him books, but some of these made him afraid. He sought help all round, but had the words on his mind, "He shall save them from deceit". He had to put down some books because of their deeply disguised Arminianism, and said, "How different this is from the Bible. That judges me, condemns me, and yet attracts me. But these speak of comfort yet fill me with fear and suspicion".
"His health becoming poor, his friends persuaded him to go to London for a while. He had to take lodgings in London, and feared that he would fall into some great sin. He was afraid that the situations in which his fancy had placed him when castle-building in youth would now be realised and he would end in some terrible crime! Enmity to God now arose in his heart. Previously he had enjoyed his devotions, his prayers, reading and sermon-preparation, but now he lay in bed as long as he could each morning, and made such devotions (which he dared not give up) as short as possible. "Lord, I put myself into Thy hands," he would say, and read a verse or two as he opened on to them, though often he found to his dismay he lit upon verses about Judas, or something alarming. He tried to keep fast days, but found they got muddled away and he was left without benefit from them.
At last Mr. Bourne, "who had often spoken to him about his soul", asked him to occupy part of his house. Mr. Bourne lived at No. 7 Somerset Street, which used to run from Orchard Street to Duke Street behind Oxford Street. [A short street of high town houses, it has now been swallowed out of existence by the transport department of Selfridge's Stores.] The lonely young man was glad to do this, and began to attend Mr. Bourne's family readings. At first he could not understand Mr. Bourne's commenting on the Minor prophets, having thought those books only belonged to the Jews and their history. But gradually he saw, with Mr. Bourne, a great deal of teaching in them profitable to the souls of God's people in all generations, and sometimes felt, "It's me those words are for!". By this mode of instructions, he says, "I was turned from some vain schemes, as, for instance, running away to America".
He attributed all the early part of his trouble to his disobeying God by entering Orders, and used to pray for a way of escape. He spoke to Mr. Bourne about taking pupils, put some advertisements in the papers, and soon had some pupils.
Mr. Bourne's teaching was gently continued to him by letter now and then. "How often my friend has opposed himself," he wrote once to him, "and what false reasoning he makes use of to quench that little spark of fire which I trust is yet in the temple of his heart and will be found a fire that shall never go out but is kindled to eternal life! I have often been greatly surprised in my conversations with you at the turns you have given to some of the simplest things in experience that a child of God is instructed in, saying I have no real spiritual life, or, I do not read the Bible enough, or I have too much to do in the world therefore I cannot attain to what I want. If this or the other were better managed, you seem to think, then your prayers might be heard. True. This is a way of man's devising, but is not the way of the Spirit. Mourning, self-despairing, trembling, fearing - all denote the state of a coming sinner, one that supposes himself to have neither life nor light yet pines for the mercy of Christ. Such obtain help in time of need and receive God's Word by the mouth of His servants."
Mr. Maddy presently gave up his curacy in Somerset, and settled in Mr. Bourne's house as a private tutor for university candidates. He never married, but remained a faithful attendant at Mr. Burrell's chapel and a lifelong friend of the Bournes.
Mr. Bourne says of these morning family readings in his home, "Family afflictions brought a stricter attendance on family prayer. [This was during the spells when he was in London, perhaps a few weeks or even months at a time.] A portion of time allotted to prepare for this was often a source of great comfort and communion with the Lord, and this brought great savour in our worship to those who heard it; several friends living near became constant attendants".
And who should be one of these favoured attendants but Miss Matilda Gilpin! Yes, it became her turn to experience personally the "answer of the tongue", for it was in April, 1834, that, she writes, "a way was opened for my going up to London, where I should see those people who I had heard of from my brother Bernard, and whom I felt sure the Lord had taught to know His truth. O how I longed to hear what they said among themselves concerning His teaching on their hearts! But as the time drew near many fears arose in my heart. I was afraid of being deceived. I was afraid in going to London lest anyone should speak to me about the Lord's dealings".
It was probably Henrietta's sister, Mrs. Nicol, who introduced Matilda to the Bournes.
"What I heard at Mr. Bourne's family readings," she says, 'sank down into my heart as the truth indeed. But in my confusion I thought all that I had felt formerly was a deception, and I disputed every hope that came into my heart. I kept looking onwards for a new way to open before me which would be light and have no darkness in it. One day Mr. Bourne spoke on the words, "God dwelleth in the thick darkness"", and I felt something within myself which made me think, "Is God really dwelling in the thick darkness that is in me?". This made me pause, but I understood it not. Another time he spoke on the words, "The darkness and the light are both alike to Thee". Then on the words, "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all". But I understood it not. Again, he spoke of God's controversy with His people as lasting all their lives through because of their sin. Then I thought, "What does Mr. Bourne mean, for surely the work of God is perfected in him?". Many such-like things passed in my mind during the first thirteen months of my stay in London, but I was riveted to all I heard notwithstanding the darkness of my mind, which often brought me into great perplexity.
"A little light shone one day while I was at Mr. Nunn's, where a number of them met together. They were speaking of the tribulation through which the Lord leads His people. This was very striking to me, who had scarcely ever heard such things spoken of before, though I had often felt them. While I was considering this, Mr. Bourne spoke of putting our mouths in the dust if so be there may be hope. I wondered at all I heard; and in the glance of a moment a light shone into my heart, showing me that true religion is in the low depths of humiliation before God. Yet still I did not understand it aright and kept looking for the Lord to reveal Himself in some new way.
"Then one day Mr. Bourne said pointedly to me, "If the Lord ever spoke one word upon your heart, eternal life was in that word, whether you took notice of it or not". I did not dare to believe it true, yet soon afterwards, didst not Thou, O Lord! bring back to my remembrance the way Thou hadst led me from the time I was eleven years old, and the words Thou didst speak upon my heart then and at other times? And didst not Thou bring up again that which Thou hadst wrought for me, out of the fiery furnace into which it had been cast? And dost Thou not now, especially in these latter years of my life cause me to weep before Thee in the acknowledgement of all my sin, and make Thyself known as wounded for my transgressions, bruised for my iniquities? O Lord, is it not thus that Thou dost deal with me for Thy name's sake, that Thou mayest be glorified?"
The youngest Gilpin daughter, Catharine, now steps upon the scene. She is described as "in many respects a remarkable person. She was naturally studious and reflective, and when religion took serious hold of her heart she entered into the subject with the deepest interest. Once being very earnest in prayer and searching the Scriptures, she says she caught a glimpse of the power that was in them, and was encouraged to follow on to know the Lord, but her earnestness was checked through a dreadful fear which afterwards fell upon her while intently praying that if she persevered she would lose her senses". She writes, "If God had made me really honest in seeking Him, this must have been a craft of the devil to keep me from the blessing I sought".
In the year 1833 she went with Mercy to visit their relations at Scaleby Castle near Carlisle, and while there she read a book on the Divine sovereignty of God, which made an impression on her mind. She says, "After this my prayers were to this effect - O Lord, Thou hast said none can come to Thee except Thou draw him: O be pleased to draw me! And I felt a constant desire to be satisfied that I was thus drawn.
"Just at this time my brother Bernard wrote to me about the change which had taken place in his mind on the subject of religion, and how he had been led to regard as essential these very doctrines. I felt a desire to see him, and also my sister Matilda, who was then in London. So I went to London in June 1834. [Catharine was then twenty-nine.] My sister talked much with me, for her mouth seemed quite opened. I soon became greatly perplexed, and kept answering her thus, "I know I have not got true religion, but I do pray for it, and is not that the right way, for what can we do else?"
To this she replied, "If your prayers are not the dictates of the Holy Spirit upon your heart, you may give them all to the wind".
[This may look harsh in writing. Look and touch from the loving Matilda doubtless softened it. Yet, as appears in the sequel, it was used of God to awaken Catharine's very soul.]
"I shall never forget," she continues, "the alarm and confusion this occasioned me. I left her and went into a room by myself, but felt my mouth stopped altogether from being able to utter one petition except "Lord, wilt Thou, wilt Thou, wilt Thou save my soul?". At that moment every feeling of my being able to get that mercy for my own prayers or seeking was quite gone. I saw in a new light that it depended on the Lord's good pleasure and mercy alone to bestow on us the power to use the means He had appointed for salvation; that we could not pray except He first gave "the Spirit of grace and of supplications". Now this was not new to me in word, for I had often heard it said, and could say it myself; but the spiritual power and authority with which it then smote my heart was new, and it brought me to this point - that there was not a hair's breadth of difference naturally between me and those that should never be saved. I believe if the fear this brought me into had continued I could not have supported it, but as I uttered the words, "Wilt Thou" it pleased the Lord instantly to relieve me by some belief that He would. An impression seemed to pass over me like this - "He willeth not the death of a sinner". "I am merciful, saith the Lord." And I felt this was the only way that true hope could come into our hearts.
"I soon returned to Matilda after I felt this relief, and no more confusion remained on my mind as to the meaning of her conversation. I quite understood her whole drift and fully closed with it, and saw in a very clear light that whatever prayer reaches the ear of the Lord of Hosts and finds access to Him must first come from Him. I saw how very delusive an error on this point is, how far it leads us from the humbling power of that truth - "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God". I now felt I had got a light in my heart which it was out of my power to impart to another: for it had come to me by the entrance of that Word which giveth light and understanding to the simple.
"We did not long remain in London after this, but went together to our brother Bernard's at Hertford. While there I was disposed to be exceedingly private and was led to much diligent meditation and reflection on these subjects. I read many excellent letters which Bernard and Henrietta had received from their friends in London, which were made very useful to me, and I increasingly felt I had found that secret which none can find except it be given them. And I saw how impassable is that gulf which God has fixed between His people and the world.
The thought of going home to Pulverbach and having to speak to my relations and friends about these things became at this time exceedingly distressing to me. At last, on September 17th, my distress seemed to have reached its height. In the evening I went and sat down by myself in a small room in St. Andrew's Rectory to consider what I should do when the time came that I must go home. I had not been musing many minutes before the vain idea of my being able to speak concerning these things according to my own judgment, and so as to shelter myself, was entirely taken away. It was put into my mind most distinctly - "Thou shall speak My words, the words that I put into thy mouth thou shalt speak". I felt in my spirit as if turning every way to see if by any means I could avoid doing this thing, but every way was shut against me except this one in which ] certainly must go."
It was indeed a big thing that Catharine faced, for now the Pulverbach family had become "a house divided against itself. It must have been a great comfort to Bernard to have his older sisters Matilda and Frances and his younger sister Catharine on his side, and sweet must have been their concord as "face answered to face" in this conflict about his ministry, but he still had to record that "to oppose the will and entreaties of those who were near and dear, relatives or familiar friends wrung my heart with anguish".
About this time Mercy was gently brought round to take his part. She records it thus: "It pleased the Lord at this time to begin to instruct me in His truth and to shine with a little light into my dark soul [after being taken up with her Irvingite friend]. I found some return of tenderness and much pondering upon the subject of religion. One night (it was July 13th, 1834), I received two letters together from my sister Matilda. I opened them quietly in my room just before I retired to rest. They made me still more and more thoughtful. The thought struck me that I had never yet been brought to feel the evil of my nature, and how could I feel my need of a Saviour? I instantly began to pray, but a great awe came over me, for I thought how could I bear to have my sin laid open before me? I trembled exceedingly as I knelt before the Lord and said, "O Lord, I can but leave all this with Thee".
"Just at that moment, as I prayed, Sukey Harley's conversion came upon my mind - the awful view she had on the one hand of her sin and her desert, and on the other of the mighty deliverance wrought out for her. In consequence of this I added in my prayer, "But if Thou showest me my sin, show me also the Saviour's righteousness". This I repeated over and over. I then went to bed, but it was a night to be remembered by me before the Lord. Many passages of Scripture were spoken on my heart that night. One was, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with Me". I remember how forcibly this word came to me. It was as if I heard the very sound of knocking at the door, and it awoke me. There were three other verses that were very strong on my mind - "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now". "Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth?" "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong in the days that I shall deal with thee?" These verses made me tremble, for they seemed to forewarn me of something fearful; yet did I feel an inexpressible tenderness and love in the manner in which they were spoken on my heart: and these were added, "He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust".
"For three successive nights at that time the Lord was pleased to visit my soul, and those three especial verses were spoken each night, and then were added . . . "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard ... the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him". For about three weeks I felt the savour of these things on my soul, and it was very blessed. Yet I knew not what it meant. After these things my prejudice and enmity against Bernard and Matilda and against all they said fell to the ground, for I believed in my heart they were walking in the truth. My great desire now was to see someone who could tell me more about them."
Catharine continues, "I felt no power or commission to go immediately to Pulverbach, and remained in Hertford three weeks longer, during which time Mr. James Abbott came there, and I think I may say indeed that his words fell on my heart like rain on the mown grass. The impression made will not soon be forgotten, especially from his comment one morning upon the parable of the two debtors: "We don't like to come to that - they had nothing to pay I" No, I thought, that is the very thing we will not come to, and that it is that makes the bar between God and us. And instantly a conflict took place in my heart whether I would choose to be led in God's humbling way that would lay my pride in the dust or go on in a smooth path that would lead to ease and quiet in the world. And the mighty overcoming grace of God, I believe, was manifested in my heart enabling me to prefer the former way, and beg of the Lord to lead and guide me in it. Soon after this I returned with my sister Matilda to London and attended Mr. Burrell's ministry for about two months from that time. I felt that it was indeed the truth to my heart. On the first Sunday as the lines were sung,
Whatever loss you bear beside O never give up this!
my heart joined in a holy resolution never so to do, though I felt my way beset with difficulties on every side.
"I was also able to attend Mr. Bourne's morning readings, and heard him expound every chapter from the middle of Hosea to the middle of Zechariah. And I cannot describe the light and instruction, power and authority with which his words were brought home to my heart. This instruction, together with the preaching, and the conversations of other friends, had a living and abiding influence."