Part III - The Unity of the Spirit
21 - At Castle Pulverbach
BY 1850 the three Miss Gilpins, Mercy, Jane and Catharine, were settled in their final home, a house on high ground about three-quarters of a mile away from their old home, the Rectory. Pulverbach is divided into two parts, Churton which is grouped round the church and Castle Pulverbach which lies close to the high earth works which are all that mark an ancient castle site -a lovely breezy spot with views of near and far hills. Beyond the inn the road plunges down on the start of its winding course to Bishops Castle. Down this lane lived Rebecca Hughes and Margaret Roberts, whose husband was a journeyman blacksmith and who kept a grocer's shop. Margaret was a very kind godly neighbour to Rebecca, who, on her death-bed said to her, "I have watched you for years; no one can tell how I have watched you. I felt so sure that you had got something real - something that would do to die by. Oh, I know religion is a very deep work; it must be the work of God and not the work of man. What can I do now upon my death-bed? Nothing. Nothing". Rebecca also said, "Don't you remember Mr. Bourne once said to me, Come in, Rebecca! and those three words encouraged me not to cut myself off. I have never forgotten it." She had called at the house where Mr. Bourne was staying on some errand, and finding that two or three people had gone upon invitation to the family prayers she had tried to slip away. Rebecca said all she wanted was to find the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she did most sweetly find it, and testified to her daughter that she had seen her Saviour twice in one morning and wanted nothing more but "for Him to put His arms round me and say This day shall thou be with Me in paradise", which was granted to her. And thus Rebecca's sampler was finished. (See Chap. 3).
The Miss Gilpins" home was a tall yellow-brick double-fronted annexe to an ancient farmhouse, Castle Farm. Their lawn sloped downhill to a carriage drive curving round to a stable, and a high wall shut off the farm but the cobbled yard behind was the old farm entrance with its milking sheds, pump and dairy. To this home it now became a great pleasure for the ladies to invite those whom they esteemed for the Gospel's sake.
For the first few years of Mr. Maydwell's tenancy the public meetings were still held at Wrentnall, where occasionally a letter from Mr. Bourne addressed to "The little company meeting at Mrs. Morris's" was read aloud. Mr. Maydwell, though a very delicate man, was enabled to hold the congregation together in Mr. Bourne's line of teaching, and presently we find all the meetings were held at Churton Cottage. It is possible this arrangement began during some indisposition that prevented his walking down to Wrentnall. Here came to preach his brother William from Hertford, Mr. Frederick Tryon, Bernard, of course, and Mr. Yeomans, of Leicester. Mr. Yeomans had been a member of Mr. Hunting-ton's Chapel in London until the death of that good man, when he went to Birmingham and began business as a "currier" in the leather trade. In 1838 he had removed to Leicester and eventually became a deacon under Mr. Chamberlain. He was a great friend of Mr. Thomas Nunn, whose Letters he published about this time.
"He occasionally visited his friends at Pulverbach," writes his biographer, "where he made the acquaintance of Sukey Harley, with whom he felt sweet unity of spirit. He was much pleased with her conversation and she showed real union of spirit to him. While there he conducted the services at Churton Cottage, and received great kindness from friends there, especially the Misses Gilpin who entertained him. They were anxious for him to settle as pastor in their midst that they might have the benefit of his ministrations, but he felt compelled to decline. He was seventy years old, and though he mourned over the high-minded state of some of the congregation at Leicester who after Mr. Chamberlain's death seemed carried away by the flourishing discourses of invited ministers, and indeed felt compelled to resign his office of deacon, yet he dared not leave the place the Lord had put him in. For several years he conducted a weekly prayer meeting in his own house and expounded the Scriptures to those who clave to him. He was made useful in visiting the sick and said he felt comfort and profit in it".
This was his letter to the Pulverbach congregation in September, 1850.
"Through the mercy and providence of the Lord I arrived safe at home. The moment I entered the railway carriage (at Shrewsbury) my spirit was broken, first by considering the kind friends I had left and the sweet unity I had enjoyed while in fellowship with you and all the friends. The Lord was with me in my out-goings and in my in-comings. At Pulverbach no bitter reflections were caused by vain company or vain conversation: but otherwise, a sweet remembrance of Christian friends and their holy conversation and the fellowship of the Spirit that is among them. This is what John Bunyan calls "the glory of the world". In His temple everyone speaks of His glory - the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ so far as the Spirit gives experience and utterance. He gives grace in measure - there are little children, young men, and fathers. All His teaching is to profit with-all, but all, if duly attended to, leads to humiliation".
Mr. Bourne was not now free to spend long visits away from his pastorate at Sutton Coldfield, but he was prevailed upon to make a very short visit in 1851. "The people there expressed such a desire to see me once more," he says, "that I could not resist. [Mr. Bourne could now use the new trains that linked Birmingham with all the surrounding places]. Committing my way to the Lord, He was pleased to give me His approbation and care; and while alone in the waiting room at Shrewsbury station He meekened my spirit, and made me feel how good and how great a thing it is to have the blessing of such a Friend in our going out and coming in. Although I was there but four days, yet I preached twice, and my morning readings were attended the same as the preaching, so that in the week I preached eight times and travelled 120 miles; but by the mercy of God I am returned without the least fatigue, and found the people here as glad to see me safe back again."
To Mercy (his hostess this time), he wrote, "I have a great love for the people of Pulverbach, and wonder to see the reality of that divine power which has reached the hearts of so many there. I would add this to them all - "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him". If His visits become less frequent, search diligently with prayer into the cause, and give Him no rest till He appear again. The miners in your neighbourhood are obliged to dig deep before they find the ore, and then there is a deal of sifting and washing before it is profitable; so will you all find it in your spiritual warfare. Be very attentive to the still small voice within. God will always have a witness in man's conscience, and spiritual death is sure to follow the least inattention to it. Much comfort and light are lost by slighting the secret admonitions which the Lord all the day long is giving to His people. "The soul of the diligent shall be made fat."
The secret cross is often the heaviest and no relief can be had from man. God alone can make that straight which our sin without doubt makes crooked. Therefore the Apostle says, "Be sober, be vigilant", for our adversary the devil is continually going about, seeking whom God will allow him to devour; and none are in greater danger than those who live in an unfruitful profession of religion. Those who have felt the sweet power of coming to Christ, Who redeemed their life from destruction, will watch the coming and going of the Lord and will be diligent in the use of God's appointed means, and be fruitful in every good word and work. Therefore, my friends, dear to me in the Lord, let me entreat you to cleave close to the Lord, for He is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother, Not a moment intermitting
His compassion and His care and so you will find Him when you come to finish your course." That same year Bernard was up at Pulverbach. The only clue we get of this visit comes in a short memoir of John Carswell, a miner, slightly related to Maria. "He had in youth been a drinking dissolute character. When quite a boy he once heard these words from a wayside preacher, "Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son". These words were in a manner fixed in his mind, but it was not until many years afterwards when he was seized with the smallpox that the Lord put His hand effectually on him to recover him from a life of sin. When he got up again he began to read the Bible. As he was reading the tenth of John he felt the verse, "My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me". He wondered, and said to his mother, "How is that?" She said they preached and believed that at Pulverbach. He longed to go as soon as he was well enough, but he was afraid and ashamed, till some said Mr. Gilpin was going to preach, and because many were going who did not always go, he went with them. "As I walked along," he said, "I felt the words I had heard years ago - "Whom He did foreknow .. ." and there was brought into my heart such a love to the sheep of Christ that I felt I was not worthy to be among them. Mr. Gilpin took his text from the same chapter, "We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope . . ." and he read on till he came to the words I had felt and then they entered into my heart again. After service some complained that they did not like what they had heard, but I said, "I love it and will go again".
"The remembrance of his former life humbled John exceedingly, and when in subsequent years he saw in his own family the repetition of his ungodly life, he was made to hide his face in shame, and say, "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?". And since the Lord recovered him from the prevailing sin of drunkenness he has many a time run past the doors of a public-house lest he should be retaken in that soul destroying temptation. When ill-health prevented his working in the mines he maintained himself and his family with the help of a donkey and cart. His love to the people of God became a remarkable feature in him. He was one of the family and loved them all. He was nearly always first in the meeting room that he might see them come in, and often said how he felt love to one and another. A few years before his death he dreamt he was passing through a cornfield that had been partly reaped, but in one corner stood a cluster of ears. 'such beautiful wheat," he thought, "Why don"t they reap it?" This dream was repeated three times, and on awaking it was impressed upon his heart that it was the Lord's remnant in this place, and it appeared beautiful in his eyes."
The biographer (Dr. Richard Benson) adds, "He was an "ear" himself. And when I reflect upon the harvest that has since been gathered into the same garner, the many to whom it was given to leave a sure testimony that they were saved by grace, the dream has appeared so remarkably fulfilled that I cannot refrain from mentioning it, and expressing a debt of thankfulness we owe to Him who lived and died and rose again for such mercy and love towards us".
This is running on ahead: we will go back and see how Sukey Harley was getting on.
Few can have had their religion so closely woven into the very fabric of their daily life as Sukey. "I had been baking," she says one time, "and had just put my bread into the oven when it came powerfully on me, "I must find my dear Lord again". I left alone cleaning my house awhile, and took my precious Book and sat down with that diligent seeking Him in my heart, and it was not long before He came and we had such sweet communion. He was with me and I with Him. It is the life of my soul to have my blessed Saviour with me for a bit in the day." And another time, "As soon as I open my eyes in a morning, the fight begins, and I keep on at it all the day. I got up very early in the morning, long before it was light, and fell on my knees, feeling my undone condition; then I got up, but my God did not come yet. I fell down again and sought Him, but still I found Him not. I rose again from my knees, but I could not rest here. (She never could rest, she never knew what to do, she says many a time, when her "dear Redeemer" left her.) Down I went again, and then it was my blessed Saviour came, and He poured in all His mercies into my soul in a wonderful manner. I then opened my blessed Bible, but not without begging of Him to let me open upon that place where He would bless my soul; and He did. It was on these words," I love the Lord because He hath heard my prayer" Psalm 116. And what a Psalm it was to me that morning, and I could say with David, "I love the Lord". I did love my dear Lord, and I was lost in wonder at all He showed me. And I read in my blessed Book till near two o"clock and my Saviour was with me all that time."
She describes her close pursuit of the things of the Spirit. "This is what I do. I fall down before my God and wait, and never give up till He tells me what to say. I cannot speak till He comes. If He does not answer me directly, then I hang upon Him, I cry unto Him, I wait for Him, and when He sees fit He makes me feel His answer. I am just like a little child striving and striving to get something that is out of reach. Often when I have been unable to eat the natural food for my body I have sat down and said, Now, my dear Father, feed me with the bread of heaven! That is in His blessed Book. And He has come and given me a rich feast, and so filled me with His mercies that I have wanted no food for my body, I have been so strengthened and refreshed.
"But I want to tell you about the fresh manna. We must find it every day. The old manna we had yesterday will not do for us the next day. O, how I feel this, if we live on past experiences our religion will have no savour. I know many are quite content with what they found years ago at their conversion. But indeed I am quite frightened at this, for except my dear Redeemer feeds me with daily bread I should soon perish for want. I hope all the dear children of God will be taught this, and not imagine their conversion is sufficient to feed on till the day of their death. They will be in a sad place then, if their souls are not undeceived before that time."
In the summer of 1850 her husband Charles was taken ill, and eventually was taken to an asylum which Sukey was able to visit once in five weeks, the journey doubtless being a great effort to her. She says about this, "Oh, what I feel when I think of the tender mercies and compassion of my dear Father up in heaven, how He has provided for Charles. I cannot express my feelings about this, and yet how I resisted at first his being taken away from me; but my Saviour doeth all things well. And how He has strengthened me in my journeys to and fro to see him about once every five weeks. I can truly say I have never gone without seeking first my dear heavenly Father to show me whether I was to go or not, and then begging Him to be pleased to order all about my journey, and that His presence might be with me. And He has been with me, taken me there and brought me back every time; and when I have seen my poor man in the asylum, so clean, so comfortable, so peaceful, and every one kind to him and all besides, as I have seen in that place, well, I have praised and blessed my God in heaven who has provided such a place for those poor suffering people in their deep and heavy affliction. I am lost in wonder and admiration when I see the tender compassion and love of my Father in heaven".
That winter Sukey was moved from her cottage "under Brom Hill" which had been very convenient for the meetings when they were first held at Wrentnall, and went to live in Black Lion Lane, which was much nearer to Churton Cottage meeting room. She says, "I can trust to the Lord more than ever now: He it is that has done this for me. He knew my grief and deep sorrow of heart since Charles left me, and my fears at night. Many a time I have got up and walked about my house, being afraid to lie in bed. I was not afraid when my Saviour was with me; then I felt quite safe. I never thought this house was to be mine, but the Lord has provided it for me. It just came into my mind this way, one morning as I awoke, "There's a house for you". I thought, was it the Lord who said so? And I felt He gave me leave to come up and speak to you about it. (It is Jane Gilpin that writes this.) And then He brought to my mind about my standing on the causeway when my house was on fire twenty-four years back; the dreadful fears that I felt lest I was a child of the devil, and not of God and how my blessed Saviour helped me then, and made me clearly feel that I belonged to Him. Well now, it is not the house that makes me glad, but it is His work in it that fills me with praise. If He had put me in a dungeon or a pig-sty I could have praised Him if He had shown me His hand and work in it".
Sukey only lived two and a half years in that cottage. On the last Christmas Day of her life, 1852, she spoke, as she always did, especially at that season, of being most earnest in prayer for a week before, that the Lord would visit her soul upon that day. He came in that verse of Hart's Christmas hymn,
Go and find the royal Stranger,
"The last words broke my heart - that is He, and afterwards He directed me to read the tenth chapter of Hebrews, and I was able to draw near again, and found redemption, full, perfect, and complete in that verse "This Man after He had offered one sacrifice for sin for ever, sat down on the right hand of God". I got faith and thought, what good would this be to me if I had not faith? But I was enabled to 'see the Son and believe on Him to everlasting life". I don't know what a contented state is without Christ, for ever since He called me at the first I have been uncontented without Him.
"I am always looking for my death. I know neither the day nor the hour, but it will not come on a sudden to me, come when it will. He was first with me in that word, "Behold I stand at the door and knock", and so it will be at the last. And what a thing it will be when He cometh and knocketh (for me at my death) to be ready to open to Him immediately. My soul often longs to be gone. I often say, "How long, dear Lord, how long?" and sometimes I think it will not be much longer. Oh how bright and glorious those words are: "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof". Oh, that burial sermon - "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality". I am clean lost when I think of these things."
It was in August, 1853, that Sukey was seized with a paralytic stroke. She had seen several of her friends on this day, being about as usual, and only on the evening of the previous day had had a beautiful conversation with one of them, in which she said, "I know that my Redeemer Christ Jesus liveth and reigneth in me, and at the last He will appear, and make clear and bright His own blessed work of grace, mercy and truth in my heart. For He will keep that which I have committed to Him to the last day, and will support and comfort me at the last, whether I am able to speak of it or no, for He has said, "I will perfect that which concerneth thee", which is His own blessed work of grace in a wretched vile sinner's heart. What a mercy to be assured we are included in "the bundle of life", true everlasting life, when the time comes for us to have done with all below. How blessed to feel we are safe in Christ, whether we live or die! My prayer often is, "Lord, when Thou seest fit to remove me, or any of Thy children, from this life, be pleased to raise up more and more from every generation who shall be after Thy calling and purpose. Thy blessed word says, The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved". And since Thou hast been pleased to bring so unworthy a creature as I to a saving knowledge of Thee, my blessed Father and God in Christ Jesus, my heart's desire is to hear of many more brought and saved by Thine almighty power through Thy dear Son and Thy Holy Spirit. This I ask of Thee, my blessed Father in heaven, for Jesus Christ's sake".
On the evening of that day her daughter noticed her sitting for several hours outside the door of her house, with her Book before her, with which she appeared deeply occupied; her spectacles were found in the last chapter of St. Mark's Gospel.
Mercy, writing to a friend, says, Thirty-seven years has she gone in and out amongst us in this place, and our hearts have been knit together. Jane and I watched over her dying bed, and sat beside her for some hours, day by day, from the Tuesday to the Saturday evening, when we took our farewell view of her in this world. And although there was neither voice nor language in all these days, and her eyes were closed, yet we felt as if surely the Lord was in that place and that it was holy ground. It was a desire she sometimes expressed that she might leave this world on a Sabbath day to enjoy a heavenly and eternal one; and this was granted her, as the sun just began to dawn on the last Lord's Day".
Sukey said once, "Now I often think about my death. The folks will be gathered together to see old Sukey Harley die; and they'll think to hear glorious words from my mouth. But they will hear nothing. No, I sha'nna have a word to say when I am dying. I have this feeling, that my mouth will be stopped then; there will be nothing left for me to say. The folks will see my lump of flesh, but will not, cannot see my life. My life is not here, it is hid with Christ in God! I have asked Him, my blessed Saviour, to make me give my dying testimony while I am alive, walking up and down in this world. And He has put His words in my mouth to speak as He bids me. I cannot speak thus to such as won't understand me; they would take my words wrong and call me a strange woman. Let them talk so, but I have got a Saviour! Yes, and I know Him and He knows me".
Sukey was buried in Pulverbach Churchyard, close against the Gilpin graves. It is a flat stone, but still (1960) the name can be faintly read upon it.
Mr. Bourne wrote to his friends at Pulverbach a little later and said, "Last year at this time dear Sukey was amongst you, but now she has no more to do with earthly things; yet we may say she still has a voice, and that voice shows us the prosperity there is to be found in following the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit. No other following will do. The day is coming which will show who goes through the gate and who stops short. Many gather wild gourds which bring nothing but death in the pot. Let me tell such to be cautious, for perhaps they will not find the prophet near at hand to heal them (2 Kings 4. 38-41)".