Part II - The Answer of the Tongue
13 - The Bengal Officer
IN the midst of all this," continues Mr. Bourne's Account, "a young gentleman, an officer of the Bengal Army, who was then residing with his friends in London, called upon me to declare his attachment to one of my daughters. At first I felt obliged to refuse my consent for many reasons; but as I was walking across Hyde Park it was plainly given me to understand by the Lord that I must not put my hand upon this. I was much surprised, but felt sure it was the word of the Lord, and was led to watch the event. Heavily laden with these two burdens I was led to cry very earnestly to the Lord, and one day as I was going through Dorset Square on business these words were spoken most sweetly and powerfully upon my heart - "Comfort on every side". [From Ps. 71. 21]. Without considering any point particularly I was led to rejoice, and immediately settled in my mind a temporal fulfilment of the words - namely, the happy event of my daughter's marriage and the restoration of my sick daughter to health and spiritual enjoyment. For a little while things seemed to turn into this (as I then thought) happy channel. But God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways our ways."
This young Bengal officer was Lieut. Francis Jeffreys, youngest child of the Rev. B. Jeffreys, and closest in age to Henrietta. He was born in India, but on the death of his mother, the whole family came back to England. At seventeen, while his clever brother Charles was still at Cambridge, Francis went out to India as a Cadet. Francis is described as "an amiable and lively" boy. Some years after entering the Army in India, there appeared a great change in his outward conduct. He linked up with some brother-officers who professed a value for evangelical truths; feeling they were on the best ground, he tried to follow their example but could not attain satisfaction himself. His "frailties" proved more than a match for him, and after showing great zeal for several months he became disconsolate and went back into worldly company and amusements. His endeavours to recover himself brought him into a common but most dangerous snare; for, seeing that his religion lacked power, he tried to supply it by great vehemency in notions and words. Both in letters and conversations he would advance strong but crude statements of the principal doctrines of grace, while he really had no love for them and no renewed mind. He called this "the full assurance of faith". Several of his letters home illustrated this:
"What an endearing title is My son. Surely we can turn round and say, Yes, my Father. There is no fear here of unscriptural confidence. If one is chosen to eternal life and I am saved, God be praised. If I am not safe, may I from this moment lay hold of, apprehend and appropriate the free salvation offered me in Christ. Yes, it is mine. Nothing can shake my confidence!" and so on.
"The error in all these extracts," comments his biographer, "is the same, an inconsistency arising from his entire ignorance of the application of Christ's salvation to his soul; a want of the experimental knowledge of this - "A Christian is not the work of Persuasion but of Majesty".
"Admonitions from some at home better instructed than himself evidently disturbed him, but no more. Two of his long confused religious letters were put into the hands of Mr. Bourne, who faithfully replied, taking up each point in turn and probing it to the full. But before this letter reached India he had relapsed into despondency and turned for comfort to the social life of the Regiment. He did, however, thank Mr. Bourne for his letter, and something made him insert several pages of a diary. This betrayed more than the letters ever had.
"I have no heart to do anything. I think I could have taken pleasure in getting up a school at this station had I not such hanging down hands and feeble knees.
"As to religion, though I can't help speaking and professing it yet I have done more harm than good by my gloominess, which arises not from my religion but from the scantiness of it.
"During the week I am so occupied by business that I can just manage to get on. But were every day a Sunday I know not what I could do, prayer and reflection are such seasons of misery to me, not from coldness of desire but from utter despair of being able to attain my wishes. Want of faith - that is my disease."
"Once writing to a friend, he says "You are treading in my former steps. I have often been in a state of too vehement rejoicing, and sometimes after I had been pouring out my soul in prayer and thought "I shall surely be heard now!" I have risen from my knees to spend a watchful and weary night".
"He came home from India in 1836, and such of his friends as understood real religion received him with much interest. But for two years after this he continued in a dark and uncertain state of mind. He found a few persons (Mr. Bourne being one) able to enter fully into his case, and whose words appealed to his heart. He acknowledged that he felt this, but finding some members of his family most dear to him were otherwise minded, he tried to agree with both. Then he found himself left under the power of many temptations. He was secretly unhappy, even when most lively, and later confessed that he felt such a prejudice and opposition to Mr. Burrell that he had gone travelling to all quarters in England rather than hear him!"
This, then, was the Francis who now asked for the hand of Mr. Bourne's daughter, Fanny, whom he hoped soon to take back with him to India. Following on the intimation Mr. Bourne had had about this, consent was given, and the couple became engaged.
"At the time it appeared in every way suitable," says one, "as they might be called on a level as regards religion." With what sympathy we can view them: they have had their counterpart in most generations. Francis was of an argumentative turn, and Mr. Bourne's daughter was a talented, spirited girl. Both religiously inclined, how they would compare notes, criticise their elders, and perhaps discuss, in the very understandable arrogance of youth how they could harmonise the differences that they could not ignore in the two sections of the Jeffreys family - Charles's side, stressing the conflict of the inner life, and the others, with whom Francis was staying, who stood for a smoother religion. Mr. Bourne's daughters were each, eventually, brought to know the truth, but at that time the work of God was not discernible in Fanny.
Plans now went along happily, until very shortly before the marriage Francis was taken suddenly very ill. But life and health having become important to him now he went, as soon as he was well enough, to "Clapham in Kent" for rest and change of air. But in spite of all his care his health declined. He came back to London, and stayed at his brother Charles's house in Dorset Place, where he became seriously ill. Bernard (his brother-in-law) was in London just then, and visited him constantly, sometimes twice a day and found "both body and soul in great danger". Now the Lord laid a heavy hand upon him and he spoke of despair at the discovery of his heart's corruptions. A few days later he told Bernard he was very happy: the Lord had pardoned his sins and he had never seen such beauty and comfort in the Psalms before.
"I am happy and full of peace," he said. "I shall no more speak lightly against your religion, your friends and Mr. Burrell, I think now that those who opposed the teaching I have received here are wrong." But next day a wavering began, and he could not bear those dear relations to be wrong. "Both must be right," he said, but this perplexity lost him his spiritual light, and it was not until later that he returned to that unity of spirit with those who had been used of the Lord to instruct him.
Now his desire for life and health reasserted itself. Finding his illness irksome and his cousins suddenly dull, he longed for some lively young society, and arranged to go off to Bath, and later Torquay. The day before going he had a long frank talk with Mr. Burrell, confessing that he had found no one who so surely understood his case. Mr. Burrell felt much tenderness for him, and expressed it, and felt great encouragement to think his case would clear up.
He went for his change of air, but, poor fellow, the journey to the West Country did him no good, and on his return he next tried Canterbury, where, however, a doctor told him faithfully that he could not live many more weeks as an abscess on his lung might suddenly break. He received the news with composure, and became very earnest in prayer, with hope. He soon returned to London, this time to his sister's house at North Bank, Regents Park.
He said to one of his friends, "The question about my marriage is set at rest. I do altogether resign my dear fianc e into the hand of God, and pray for her protection and preservation. I was secretly much in earnest when I heard of the minister pointing out the unlawfulness of being unequally yoked together with unbelievers, and how he said the Lord would deal more kindly with His people than to direct them after their conversion to unite themselves with such as might prove snares to their souls. [Alas! how had these young people let their tongues run away with them, that Francis., receiving a little light, should now view Miss Bourne as an unbeliever!] I was continually praying, and that from first to last, that if the union were contrary to God's will it might never take place, but that He would be pleased to prevent it Himself or provide an alternative. I little expected the answer would be my death! The will of the Lord be done".
He was visited one day by his sister Henrietta, who had long watched for his soul. She read him the 106th Psalm. He kept inwardly saying, "O the wretches that they were! And such a wretch was I". When the verse was read, "Nevertheless He regarded their affliction when He heard their cry", his soul seemed dissolved in gratitude.
Henrietta said, "Those very words wrought a happy change in my own heart about a year ago at a moment of great danger and fear".
He replied, "Was it so with you? That's exactly what I felt at Dorset Place. O, it was wonderful! It came all of a sudden when I least expected it". He had told no one any details of that time when he had been made happy, so Henrietta listened with great interest. He went on, "I was one evening in agony of mind and thought I must be lost, my sins were so dreadful. I called Charles and told him my sins. And he sat, as I thought, groaning with me. But while he was speaking of Jesus such a strong feeling that I must cry to Jesus came that I interrupted Charles and said, "Well, one thing is I know I shall cry to Jesus and look only to Him till I die, and I shall never give that up, I'm confident". Then this wore away and I fell asleep. But I awoke and the devil said my religion would prove the death of me. I'd fallen, he said, into a melancholy snare. So I quite determined to write at once to a friend to come and take me away while my life could still be saved. I rose to write, but an awful horror fell on me. I tried to overcome it by moving about, opening and shutting the door, drinking cold water, and so on. Then I had to try to pray. "Jesus! Jesus!" I cried, but it was like being fearfully walled in. I felt not even God could ever save me. Then the feeling returned which I had when talking with Charles - "But you know you are to cast yourself on Jesus to your latest breath". I was calmed, sustained, but much amazed. What! Pray to Him when in despair? So I said "Jesus, Jesus, Saviour of sinners!". This supported me greatly for a few minutes; then I went low again. Impossible, sounded in my ears. I struggled hard, but in vain. I gave up, feeling I was now without hope. Without hope! At that dreadful moment these words shone in with wonderful power, "Against hope, believe in hope". Then I shouted - oh! I shouted. It woke up the servants, and they woke up the rest but who would not shout? It was enough to make anyone shout. I truly thought I was going to hell, but at that moment I saw that Jesus would take me to Heaven just because He pleased] When all was quiet in the room again I looked for my sins but they were all gone. Like Bunyan's pilgrim my burden had rolled off my back into Christ's sepulchre. I've never felt the weight of them again."
His friends were glad to hear this account given clearly at last. Charles remembered how when the servants called him up that night he'd found Francis sitting up in bed, lost to all outward things, saying. "How very dreadful is the power of the enemy, but the power of God is greater! The instructions I have received here from this ministry are indeed the truth". He never distinctly alluded to this again, but from that day forward he felt it was told him his part was to listen and learn, and this became very marked, for he used to start objections at every turn. But after this he constantly checked himself very seriously, saying, I am forgetting myself; I must listen and learn".
Mr. Bourne wrote to him and visited him daily, and had some sweet conversations. One day he said, "Yes, I am happy indeed. I have been shouting again. Did you hear me shout? I had been praying very earnestly that the Lord would search me, and the Lord Jesus answered, "Did I not tell thee before that I had given thee eternal life?" and He revived afresh that moment in Dorset Place when my burden fell off".
Mr. Burrell said, 'surely the experience of God's love causes him to shout. I can truly say that I shout with him! It will be our mercy to watch this example of the grace of God to the end".
The day before his death he looked at Bernard standing at the foot of the bed and said, "Oh Jesus! Jesus! Whatever darkens round you, look to Jesus! Yes, whatever darkens, darkens and thickens, the thicker it all gets, look to Jesus! Pray to be enabled to look to Him, the Saviour of sinners. If you cannot see Him watch and look and follow hard after Him. If you see but a little glimmering, if you can but, as it were, get one hand in, press in there. That's the way".
Mr. Bourne said on the morning he died, "I remember your long religious letters from India, how you used to go round about religion and about it, but never seemed to enter into it".
"It was so with me," he answered, "but the Lord has brought me into it now, and I enjoy the substance of the truth."
He asked to be moved. "But first let's have some reading." They read a hymn of Joseph Hart's, Come, ye sinners. He was quiet, meditating on the line, On the bloody tree behold Him! and then said, with tears streaming "We must hide ourselves in the dust and say, His atoning blood be upon us for ever!".
Later on he looked so happy his sister said, "You remind me of the pilgrims in the Second Part of Pilgrims Progress, following each other over the river: one of them stood still and sang a hymn in the middle of it, and so could you if strong enough". "Yes, I could," he said.
She added, "He that has brought you down dry-shod into Jordan will lead you safely up the bank on the other side".
He smiled and said, "O yes, He will!". Being moved, his lungs were disturbed. He said faintly, "This is death!" and was gone. April 16th, 1839, in his thirtieth year.
He was buried in the cemetery of St. John's Wood Chapel. On the tomb those words were put, "Who against hope believed in hope".