To MR, BENSLEY.
Tunbridge Wells, July 5, 1813.
MY DEAR SIR,
As it was your desire to hear every particular respecting the last few weeks of our dear departed friend, I will, to the best of my recollection, comply with your request.
Early on Friday morning, June 11th, Mr. Huntington was taken ill in a violent and alarming manner, which continued to increase till the Sunday following, when he was pronounced to be in great danger. On the Monday he revived a little; and on the Tuesday, though too ill to leave his bed, he made up his mind to go on the following Friday to Tunbridge Wells; and, in pursuance of this resolution, left Hermes House at six in the morning, accompanied by Lady Sanderson. His weakness was so apparent that it was with difficulty he got down stairs into the carriage; and after it drove off, knowing how ill he was, for some hours afterwards Miss Sanderson and myself were expecting his return. He, however, got through the journey tolerably well, and had been at Tunbridge about ten days; during which he sometimes got a little better, and then again relapsed, when we received a letter expressing his wish for us to join him. We accordingly set off, and (as you know) arrived there on the 29th. I shall never forget the shock I received when we entered the room. He held out his hand, and kissed us both, but we could none of us speak. From that moment I was convinced that (humanly speaking) he never could recover, as it appeared to me his end was fast approaching. If you remember, when you came into the room, you told him you were glad to see him look so comfortable. He replied, "Why should I look otherwise? Death with me has lost its sting these forty years; I am no more afraid of death than I am of my night cap." When you and Mr. Over took leave of him the following morning I was convinced, by his look and manner, he was sure in his own mind he should see you no more. That day he was very ill; but in the evening appeared better, was very cheerful and comfortable, and sat up beyond his usual time, and much surprised us by declaring his intention once more to sup with us, saying, he felt an appetite. Knowing how ill he was, we judged it at an unfavourable circumstance, and such in the event it proved. I shall never forget that meal; it was the last we ever partook of together. He asked a blessing in a voice weak and trembling, but in a manner solemn and impressive. During supper, for the first time since his illness, he mentioned his congregation. He spoke of those who had steadfastly abode by his ministry, and said that the blessing of God would ever rest upon them: of others, who had felt offended because without reserve he had declared the whole counsel of God: of others, who had been carried away by every new minister that appeared amongst us, and of some others who had entirely left the Chapel: of the different characters of professors among the congregation, and of the blessings and judgments from God which would come upon them, he spoke in a strong and decided manner. He told us that heavy trials would soon come upon the church; when it would be made manifest that none could be saved but those who held fast what he had advanced. He made a clear distinction between those who, because they could not come up to his standard, or had not experienced the grand truths he advanced, felt on that account enmity to him and to his doctrine; that these would prefer a minister of shallow experience, and when they heard him describe a saint, finding they could come up to the standard, rested secure and well satisfied with their state; and some of this description he intimated he knew to be among his congregation. He then spoke in a sweet and encouraging manner of others, who, when they heard the whole counsel of God declared, and felt how short they came, experienced sorrow on that account, and prayed earnestly to God to carry on his own work, and establish them in every necessary truth. Upon Lady Sanderson's observing she wished she could recollect all he had said relative to the church, he replied, he had much more to say, which some other time we should pen down from his lips, and after his death publish it: but this, to our great regret, never could be done - that night was his last! He then spoke in the highest terms of grateful affection to Lady Sanderson; and, thanking her for all her kind, unremitting attentions to him, said that all it was possible to do had been done for him; spoke of the very great blessing she had been to him, and that ever since he had known her he had always found her uniformly the same - kind, faithful, and affectionate. Though I have often heard him say as much before, yet a further confirmation of it in his dying hours was as gratifying as it was strictly just and true. He then added, "In the name of my God, before my departure, I bless you all, and commit you into his hands." This benediction, pronounced in a manner so solemn and affectionate, we never can forget. He said many other things expressive of his parting with us in perfect peace and union; and, after returning thanks, added, "Now, my dears, you shall all three put me to bed this night." Upon one of us offering to call the servant, he said, "No, you will be quite sufficient; you shall see what a man I am." Seeing us much affected, he said, "I often think it will not be long before we shall all, one after the other, lay down our heads upon the same pillow." He got into bed with less difficulty than usual, and before he laid down said, "God bless you all."
I sat up with him that night; he slept very little; was restless, and his fever very high. Early in the morning I perceived a great change in him for the worse, and called Lady Sanderson, who sent for the medical gentleman that attended him, and also a very skilful physician. Cupping was recommended, and many other things tried, but without effect, for, after every remedy had been applied, he evidently got worse, and his breath grew shorter and shorter. We all stood round him, together with Mr. Morgan and Mr. Stone. He appeared to be in no pain; was calm and tranquil; and after breathing deeply three times I perceived it was all over. At about twenty minutes before nine his spirit fled. For a few moments all was silence. - "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace." During the whole of the day he was evidently in mental prayer, but his voice was lost.
Owing to a quantity of blood having settled in his head, it gave a wild appearance to his eyes, and for the last few hours deprived him of his sight; and there being much phlegm in his throat, and not having sufficient strength left to cough, prevented his speaking, though he made several attempts. We could now and then distinctly hear him say, in a very low whisper, "My Father, come! Bless God; praise him." - Sensible he certainly was to the last, and knew Lady Sanderson's Voice; for, though he could not see her, when she approached the bed he turned towards her, and a few minutes before he died took some water from her hand. His countenance expressed a heavenly resignation, and with that impression he died.
During the whole. of his illness he was remarkably patient, and bore his sufferings with great fortitude. I sat up with him several nights; and, though he could get no sleep, he did not for one moment repine. One night he said, "Oh, what an unspeakable mercy now to be in possession of a good hope through grace! I often think of my former troubles, when I used to rove about from post to pillar, seeking rest but finding none. Blessed be God, it is not so now. Where Christ once condescends to come, that poor sinner is at home; he takes his home with him wherever he goes. I now reap the benefits of my profession. What a poor miserable creature should I be were I without God, and had no hope in the world! But my conscience does not accuse me. I have loved and served my God faithfully; but I obtained mercy to be faithful."
He was very far from joyful the day before he left town, and the day he arrived at the Wells he was much tried in his mind; but during the rest of his illness he enjoyed a solid peace, a heavenly resignation; and a feeling sense of gratitude to God for his goodness to him in providence as well as in grace.
He used often to compare his former poverty with his present prosperity; his sharp conflicts, hard labour and hard fare, with his comfortable home and spiritual blessings: and would weep with gratitude to God for his undeserved goodness to one so unworthy. For some time previous to his death he appeared dead to every thing in which he had formerly taken pleasure. The trees which he had planted, and whose growth in the spring he had so anxiously watched, he could now walk round the garden and no longer notice. His hot-house, where he had formerly spent so much time, he scarcely ever entered. Indeed every thing seemed to have lost its power to please. Though he said very little, his countenance expressed sweet peace within: he appeared to live in the higher world; for his mind was there, though his poor afflicted body was with us. - He had for some time a strong impression on his mind that his end was near, and very frequently spoke of it: but, as we had heard him say so, many years before, and it being an evil day that we wished to put far off, we did not much regard it. The Wednesday fortnight before he preached his last sermon, after he came home, while he was in the study, and I was helping him off with his coat, he said, "Betsy, my work is nearly done; a very few times more, and all will soon be over." I said, "No, sir, I hope not." But he answered, "You may depend upon it, it is so. Oh, how I long to see my blessed Saviour! What a glorious prospect is now before me - to be with him where my faith has been fixed these forty years!"
The night before he was taken ill Mr. and Mrs. Over called to see him. He was very cheerful and affectionate, and seemed very unwilling to part with them. After supper he was more happy than I have seen him for a long while, and conversed with Lady Sanderson for a considerable time upon the joys of heaven in a most wonderful manner, till he seemed to be carried above the earth. During his illness Mr. Edward Aldridge saw him several times. He seemed much pleased with his society, and conversed freely with him, as may be seen by the following extract:-
"In the several interviews I had with Mr. Huntington during his last illness, I found his mind perfectly tranquil, and his conversation spiritual. To him the king of terrors was disarmed; and death, which had lost its sting, was contemplated with the utmost serenity. He appeared as one well prepared, that was going a journey, equipped for all things on the way. He said there was not a doubt or scruple, but all was right and clear in his way to God; that pardon had produced peace; regeneration, love; and justification can never be reversed. The last day I conversed with him my feelings were keen at the prospect of losing our most invaluable pastor - the best acquaintance and the truest friend I ever had. He appeared more concerned for my comfort that for his own, and expressed some solicitude for the welfare of the church: but not one word of complaint or murmuring at the dispensations of God. Upon my observing that we enjoyed much of the presence of God here, but the best was to come, he took it up in his usual way, and enlarged upon it, saying, the presence of God was his Holy Spirit; "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? whither shall I flee from thy presence?" and that this the wicked could not endure. "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God." He quoted likewise Psalm i 4, ,5. He then mentioned the family of Mrs. Bull; said that, when she was called under him, they all withered and died in their profession, and her eldest son went so far as to burn his Bible. Some friend arrived from London, and our conversation terminated; but the deep impression of God's faithfulness, mercy, and truth, remained, and never will, I hope, be forgotten by me.
"He had usually been low in sickness, but in this and a former illness, a few months before, he was quite the reverse. In several sermons recently delivered he expressed an humble but unbounded confidence in the love of God to his soul, and of his own fervent love and attachment to his dear and blessed Saviour, as he frequently called him. After preaching time, a week or two before his last illness, he said his work was nearly done: he also expressed the goodness of God to him in taking down his tabernacle in an easy and gentle manner; and that he longed to go and see his blessed Saviour, whom (in conversion) he declared he had already seen. 1 Cor. ix. 1. He suffered some pain in his bowels, and had several restless nights; but expressed, almost with his last breath, his gratitude to the Lord in dealing so gently with him.
"Thus terminated, on the first of July 1813, the life of a man eminent as a preacher, profound in divine knowledge and experience, laborious in the work of the Lord while he had strength, and eminently useful, both in town and country, to an extent that will not be fully known until he shall appear with those whom he has turned to righteousness in the kingdom of our Lord, to shine as the stars for ever and ever.
"In his last sermon, which he preached from Rev. iii. 3, on the evening of June the 9th, he gave a summary of the doctrines he had constantly preached, and, animadverting on the conduct of some who had departed from the truth, declared he was clear from the blood of all men, and that he had not failed to declare the whole counsel of God. It was delivered with great emphasis, and made so striking an impression upon several of his hearers, as to leave upon their minds a secret persuasion that it would be his last. E.A."
You saw him, if you remember, the day before he left home, and had some very satisfactory and establishing conversation with him. I heard afterwards, from Lady Sanderson, that before he left Pentonville he earnestly prayed that God would never suffer him to return again. He often observed to her ladyship that it was impossible to describe in how hateful a light he saw the world. His affection for her and for us certainly remained unchanged to the last, which was a great comfort to us all; and the recollection that he parted with us in such perfect love will ever be a satisfaction to us, till we meet again to part no more. Many I know will most deeply feel his loss, and many perhaps wish him once more amongst us. But, had they (as we were constantly in the habit of doing) witnessed the infirmities under which he laboured for many months before he left off preaching (though in the pulpit he was so much supported none could perceive it); had they seen his sufferings during his illness, his earnest desire to be at home, his deadness to every thing beneath the sun, and the humiliating circumstances to human nature under which he laboured for the last week or. two, and well knowing the glorious prospect which lay before him, it is impossible to express the envious wish of either prolonging his life or again recalling him to this miserable world, though we may all pray to die like him, and hope soon to join him above.
The nearer Mr. Huntington approached the termination of his valuable life, the closer was his communion with God. He spent the greatest part of the day in private prayer and meditation; and his mind seemed constantly engaged in contemplating the glorious prospect which lay before him. Though his conduct to us was kind and affectionate, yet he had entirely lost that jocular familiarity, wit, and humorous turn of mind, which were the principal characteristics of his natural disposition. He was frequently in the habit of sitting silent for several hours together in the study with Lady Sanderson, his mind being apparently much engaged; and, when he made an observation, it was expressive of the happiness which lay before him, or of the goodness of God to him. Indeed, notwithstanding his well known loyalty and patriotism had hitherto impressed his mind with a deep and affectionate concern for the welfare of his country, (as was ever strongly evinced both from the pulpit and in private) yet public news or national affairs, no longer excited his attention, as he now viewed the world in the light in which God regards it - that all beneath the sun is vanity - everything in it had lost its power to please him; and, as its empty pleasures receded from his view, the glorious prospect which lay before him appeared to shine brighter and brighter. This frame of mind made him wish very little for society, and he willingly submitted to the injunctions of the faculty that he should see no company.
During his illness, while at Pentonville, many called to inquire after his health; but few requested to see him, excepting some part of his own family: their desire was repeatedly made known to him, but he always refused, expecting (no doubt) a little revival after he had tried change of air at the Wells. While there he saw much more company; but though after they left him he expressed a sense of their kindness and affection in coming, yet, from what he added, it was very evident he would have been better pleased had his meditations not been interrupted. For this conduct, which- originated solely in his own heavenly state of mind, I am well convinced those about him will be blamed, and in particular one to whom (under God) he was most certainly indebted for the temporal and domestic comfort that he enjoyed during his latter years: of this to the very last he was sensible, and often in my presence blessed God for ever bringing him acquainted with Lady Sanderson. To his family she had been a most generous benefactress, And a real friend; though in many instances her conduct has been misrepresented, calumny being I know the general attendant on superior merit, and pride and envy as ready to receive favours as they are hasty to forget them. Interested motives may also, however unjustly, be attributed: but the person upon whom the unjust imputation is cast has been placed by a kind of Providence in too high a station to want assistance, or to solicit favours for her own advantage from others.
Totally ignorant of the grateful tribute of affection paid to her by her departed friend till after his death, though it was certainly to her a gratification to see how much he wished to do, yet in every other respect, as far as it concerns herself, the result of the affair to which I allude must be a matter of little or no importance. This must always be her satisfaction, that conscience (a faithful servant) will ever acquit her of any unjust motive, and highly approve the rectitude of her conduct; and in that great day, when the mask from all must be thrown aside, and every one receive the sentence due to them, it will be seen that a full reward will be given to her for all her kindness to God's most faithful servant. As there is a law of retaliation, so is there likewise a law of recompense:- "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto me: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
For my own part, I consider that in Mr. Huntington I have lost a faithful minister, a kind protector, an affectionate father in Christ, and a real friend. As a minister, those who know his value will also deeply regret his loss: but the love and gratitude I feel for him, respecting his conduct towards me in the other characters, can be known only to myself; it is what I cannot describe, but shall never cease to experience, till my long-wished-for summons arrives to meet him in endless glory: for, blessed be God, I sorrow not as those who have no hope.
We have great cause for gratitude in seeing dear Lady Sanderson so much supported under this heavy affliction. She unites with Miss Sanderson in kind remembrance to Mrs. Bensley and yourself; and believe me, dear Sir, ever to remain,