A review by J C Philpot of ~

God the Guardian of the Poor, and The Bank of Faith.

By the late William Huntington, S.S. - (March, 1867.)

There are books which will never die; and the reason is because they contain in themselves, we will not say the elements of immortality, for nothing is immortal below the skies, but what we may term the seeds of an ever self-renewing life. In the literary as in the vegetable world, there is a wonderful and almost infinite quantity and diversity of growth. Thus there are annuals and perennials, shrubs and trees, books, though few in number, which have the knotty strength of the oak, and books, but much fewer still, which have the enduring life of the cedar. There are also plants fair to the eye, but, like the nightshade, bearing deadly fruit to the taste; and there is a fungus growth, the product of a corrupt press, spreading itself far and wide to taint the blood of the rising generation with principles of infidelity and sin. There never, perhaps, was an age in which there was so large an amount or so great a variety of works on every subject which can exercise or instruct or delight the human mind; and as with men, so with books, every year adds its thousands to the already existing population. Yet out of this countless progeny of books, how few survive even their birth, dropping, as if stillborn, from the press; how few attain to youth or manhood; how more rarely still do any reach a vigourous old age, or, as if they had drunk at the fount of life, renew their youth like the eagle. One in a thousand may outlive a century, but all the rest, at different stages of their life, sink into the tomb of perpetual night.

But amidst this general decay, this mortality and death among the books, almost as certain and as sweeping as mortality and death amongst men, a few works never die, and for the reason which we have already given, that they contain in themselves the seeds of an ever self-renewing life. It does not lie within our province to notice those productions of human genius, either in dead or living tongues, which are handed down from age to age to instruct or delight generation after generation; but the same principle which we have laid down will apply to all books, whether worldly or religious, which have won to themselves an enduring inheritance. There is in them all that appeal to the common principles of our nature, that meeting of the wants, the sorrows, the desires, the aspirations, the hopes, the fears, the feelings and passions of the human breast, which, vivified by the power of genius in works worldly and secular, and lighted by fire from heaven in books spiritual and religious, renders them independent of all the mutations of thought and time, and makes them virtually imperishable. This is what we mean when we speak of them as containing in themselves a self-renewing life.

But though the death among the books would, if duly recorded, be the largest and most wearisome of all obituaries, yet, after all, strange though it may appear to say so, their mortality is more apparent than real, and a greater benefit than an injury to general society. Books, like men, naturally and necessarily grow old; and how would the busy, labouring, active, and thriving world, commercial and manufacturing in London and Lancashire, fare if all its manifold and intricate business were carried on by old men instead of the middle aged and young? So with books. New books are wanted, as young men are wanted, to carry on the business of life; and as the father survives in the son, who is better adapted for fresh modes of business, so the old book survives in the new work which is better suited to the habits and feelings of modern thought. Old geographies, old histories, old cyclopaedias, like old almanacs and old directories, become necessarily obsolete and practically worthless; and so similarly thousands of books die a natural death, and perish of sheer decay. And who would wish them to live, or stretch forth his hand to save them from a deserved death? In this world, corrupt as it is, few things really die but what ought to die. Who would wish to snatch from death and oblivion what is alike corrupt and corrupting? Hosts of so-called religious books are no more worthy of preservation than the tales and novels which fill the shelves of a railway bookstall; and therefore justly perish as being as much founded on false principles in religion as novels are on false principles of human conduct and life. Now contrast with these abortive productions of the modern religious press such a work as the one now before us; or to take a much higher instance, our old, our grand, our noble, our blessed Bible. How many works have been written against it in every age to overthrow its claims to inspiration as the word of the living God; and how every argument which learning could suggest, or research discover, or malice aim, or ingenuity invent, or wit point, has been hurled against the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. But where are they all? Dead, buried, and forgotten. We may apply to them the words of the prophet: "They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish." (Isa. 26:14.) Who now reads the works, or even knows the names of Hobbes, Collins, or Tindal, men who in their day were like Strauss, Renan, and Colenso in ours, deadly opponents of the inspiration of Scripture, Goliaths of Gath, in their own and their admirers' opinion? But God has made their memory to perish, whilst the grand old Bible stands, like him of whom it testifies, the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. Such, also, will be the fate of those infidel books and their infidel writers that are making their little stir in our day, and with their great swelling words do but foam out their own shame. God will do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon, which perished at Endor; they became as dung for the earth.

But, as distinct from such books as these and their native kindred, which in a more subtle form spread abroad the same principles, and therefore perish, justly perish as under the blight of an eternal frown, we seem to have some reason to mourn over the death and dissolution of many works of a past age which seemed worthy to live. How many books, for instance, of the old Puritan writers are now dead and forgotten; and yet, as we read the writings, so edifying and so instructive, of Owen, Sibbes, Goodwin, &c., we almost wonder that the church of Christ could ever let them die. But either from want of spirituality in the church itself, or from their style not being suited to the present age, or their not being ready at hand, how rarely are these masterpieces of sanctified intellect read either by our ministers, or our people. Thus there seems to be a term of life even to the best of books. Slowly but surely they sink into the grave, and if some struggle on a little longer than their brethren, it is only to be borne in the end to one common cemetery. Whence, then, comes it to pass that any resist the common doom? It will be found that if any survive the general dissolution, and we know there are those which have outlived centuries, it is only those which, as we have said before, contain in themselves the elements of a self-renewing, and, therefore, indestructible life.

Amongst these earthly immortals, we may safely predict an enduring life to the work at the head of our present Article. It must be now about 80 years since the first part of the "Bank of Faith" was published, and here we have before our eyes an edition of the whole work sent abroad at a price so marvellously cheap that nothing could have warranted the publisher to make the attempt but the expectation of a most wide and extended circulation. As we shall recur, before we close the present Article, to this noticeable feature of the present edition, we shall not now dwell further upon it, but shall address ourselves more immediately to the consideration of the work itself.

What is called autobiography, that is, the life of a man written by himself, has always in it a peculiar charm, especially if the incidents recorded are striking, and the writer has the faculty, given to few, of presenting them in a clear, graphic, and vivid form. A heavy, dull, confused style may make the most remarkable incidents in action wearisome in narration; and as we often see in our private intercourse with Christian people, the best experiences may be spoiled by the badness of telling them. No author has ever survived his own day who has not been gifted with a vivid, original, and life-like style, for what is wearisome to read is soon not read at all. Here Mr. Huntington peculiarly shines. He is never dull, never prosy, never commonplace, never confused, never unintelligible. The buoyancy of his style is remarkable, and bears his books and letters up so that they never become wearisome. Seasoned with heavenly salt, and enlivened with the most sprightly and original sallies of wit and humour, they possess a peculiar freshness, so that they become neither dry nor mouldy.

But there is another reason why autobiography to most men has a peculiar charm. As God has fashioned our hearts alike, and as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man, every reader seems to read more or less of his own history in the narrative of another. If we have not been in precisely the same, we have been in similar circumstances, and, what he felt in such or such particular crises of his life, we have felt, if not with the same intensity, at like periods of our own history. There are few readers also in whose real life, or in whose waking dreams, if their actual history has been but commonplace, there has not been a tinge more or less marked of what, for want of a better word, we may call romance. There has been some blighted youthful love, or early bereavement of an almost adored object, or some deep-seated, unrequited affection, or some cruel desertion, or some violated trust. As the grey-headed and the middle-aged appear to our young folk, it never strikes their mind that these grave old fogies were once young, and that under their cold, as they think, breast the fires of their youth still sleep under the ashes. It is these sleeping fires which autobiography stirs, and thus interests as deeply the old as the young. Have you, aged reader, no secrets under that grave exterior which you carry? Had you no struggling childhood, or oppressed youth; no incidents never to be forgotten, in which you were a great sinner or a great sufferer? Now these passages in your past life, as they at the time stirred up the secret depths of your heart, have they not left behind indelible impressions which again and again recur, sometimes in your dreams when the buried past becomes a risen present, and sometimes in the thoughtful mieditations of your waking mind, when, in a melancholy mood, you brood over the days that are for ever gone! How many things have we in times past said or done which we have kept buried in the silence of our own bosom! There are secrets which husband never tells to wife, nor wife to husband, daughter to mother, or sister to sister, brother to brother, or friend to friend. And as in many cases it would not be right or exedient to confess them, so would it be little else than treason against friendship and confidence to seek to extract them. And yet our inward consciousness that we have a history of our own makes the self-narrated history of another so interesting as often meeting us in those very points in which, concerning ourselves, we preserve a prudent silence.

If then, autobiography is interesting to all, how much more is the pleasure and interest of it increased to that heart where grace has set up its throne; and if our life history has been especially marked by providential interposition, how strengthening to faith it is to read of the providential dealings of God in a still more marked manner with others of his living family. The lines, too, of providence and grace are usually so blended together, or rather so closely interwoven, that, like a compact web, they mutually strengthen each other. The same God, who is a God of providence, is also a God of grace, and usually appears most conspicuously in the former as he deals more clearly in the latter. When faith is low, or when trials and afflictions do not abound, his providential hand is little seen; but as afflictions are sent, and faith is given with them, then once more the out-stretched hand of the Lord is seen and recognised. Nor let any one either misunderstand or quarrel with our expression "romantic," even as applicable to religious biography. Look at the history of Jacob, or the history of Joseph, or the history of David. The love of Jacob for Rachel, the meeting of Joseph and his brethren in Egypt, the parting of David and Jonathan, when "they kissed one another and wept one with another until David exceeded," - cold must be the heart which does not respond even naturally to the life-like touches of these - do not be offended, Christian reader - romantic incidents. By romantic we do not mean anything connected with novels and romances, but those incidents of life which are distinct from mere commonplace events and stir up the deep feelings of the human heart. In this sense much of the "Bank of Faith" is truly romantic, and owes to it much of its beauty as well as its popularity and charm. Something peculiar was stamped upon its author from the very first. His very birth - offspring, as he was of a double adultery, his starving childhood, his early yet, in its consequences, miserable and disgraceful love, his wanderings when he fled from the strong arm of justice in hunger and almost nakedness, his call by grace and his call to the ministry, with his persecutions and sufferings at the coal barge and the cobbler's stall - have not all these incidents, told by himself in his own inimitable style, thrown around him a peculiar halo which, if we call it romantic, we merely mean striking and removed from commonplace? The bearing of these things in mind may prepare us for the consideration of the book which we are now reviewing.

Few books have been more blessed and, we believe, few more reviled and ridiculed than the "Bank of Faith." Let us look at the reasons for both. Before Mr. Huntington's "Bank of Faith" appeared, few religious writers had either recorded God's providential dealings with themselves, or even written upon the subject at all. John Newton, in his interesting account of his conversion, names several most marked incidents of providential interposition, but does not particularly dwell upon them, though a most firm believer in the doctrine of a particular providence;* and there are few published experiences of good men which do not contain many striking events that show the outstretched hand of God in providence as well as in grace. But this is more particularly the case when the path in which they have been appointed to walk is one of heavy temporal trial, when they are as if cast more specially on the providence of God from the want of those means of support with which others seem favoured, and therefore have to look more immediately to the Lord for every crumb of their daily bread and every drop of their daily water. These see the hand of God in the minutest events, such as the gift of a shilling, or the accidental (so termed) finding of a sixpence. The rich and well to do to whom half-crowns and shillings are but stray coppers, are disposed to smile at the value put upon a shilling by a poor widow on parish allowance of a loaf of bread and half-a-crown a week; but let them measure its value to her by taking it as representing to them the standard of their own weekly income, and they will see that what is but a cab fare to them to save them a mile's walk is worth many pounds to her. When on one occasion Huntington had but tenpence-halfpenny to provide for himself, his wife, and child for a whole week in a strange place where he had just come, and had neither credit nor friends, and was fed with his family for the whole of that week from the table of his landlord's daughter and son-in-law who, as he says, at that time knew nothing of him or his God, need we wonder that he saw in it the hand of the Almighty, especially as it was in answer to prayer, through the direct application of a scripture to his heart? Soon after he began to preach; not being able to go on with his daily employment, he was so reduced as to want even the common necessaries of life, and had no clothes fit to be seen in. Those who have plenty of bread and meat in the pantry and whole suits of clothes in the wardrobe, not to say a good balance besides in the bank, are but poor judges of what the gift of even a few shillings, or of a new suit of clothes, was to him at this period of his life; and is he to be ridiculed and reviled by the professors of the day, who, with all their religion have neither eyes to see nor hearts to believe in an ever-present God, because he saw in this apparently trivial circumstance the immediate hand of a Father and a Friend? In fact, we are all to a man desperate infidels in heart; and these minute providences, when they are related as matters of faith, touch us just in that rotten spot. Though all through the word of God we see his providence shine forth in the minutest events, though the Lord himself tells us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and that two sparrows cannot fall to the ground without God's providence or permission, yet to believe that he is everywhere so present, and that he everywhere so directly lives, moves, and acts as to regulate and control, where he does not immediately produce, the minutest circumstances of daily life - all this so surpasses all our natural credence that nothing can enable us to believe it but the faith of God's own giving and maintaining, and having had ourselves some personal experience of it, so as to set our own seal to its reality and truth.

* Mr. Cecil thus records his watching the hand of God in providence: "Nothing was more remarkable than his constant habit of regarding the hand of God in every event, however trivial it might appear to others. On every occasion - in the concerns of every hour - in matters public and private, like Enoch, he 'walked with God.' Take a single instance of his state of mind in this respect. In walking to his church he would say, "'The way of man is not in himself," nor can he conceive what belongs to a single step. When I go to St. Mary Woolnoth, it seems the same whether I turn down Lothbury or go through the Old Jewry; but the going through one street and not another may produce an effect of lasting consequences. A man cut down my hammock in sport, but had he cut it down half an hour later, I had not been here, as the exchange of crew was then making. A man made a smoke on the sea-shore at the time a ship passed, which was thereby brought to, and afterwards brought me to England."

But now, to confirm and strengthen our faith, let us look at this point a little more closely and examine it in the only true light - the light of the word of God. And to do this more simply and clearly, let us take one or two scripture histories or incidents in which the providence of God seems especially to shine. Look, then, first at the history of Joseph, and see how every event is so linked on to the next from beginning to end that the whole forms one compact, unbroken chain. His being his father's favourite child, as the son of his beloved Rachel; his dreams, and their effect on his brethren's envious hearts; his being sent to Shechem, and thence guided by a stranger to go on to Dothan - mark how accidentally, so to speak, the man had heard them say where they were going! his brethren's determination to kill him at once, and his deliverance from immediate death by Reuben; (here comes in Reuben's wish to regain his father's justly forfeited favour;) the casting of Joseph into the pit, or as it means a reservoir, or large underground tank, generally full of water, and its then happening, an unusual circumstance, to be dry; the passing by just at that critical moment of the Midianites, and Judah's proposition to sell him as a slave; the acceptance and fulfilling of the plan, issuing in the going down of Joseph into Egypt - how minute were all these circumstances, as to name only one, the passing by of the Midianites, - a caravan of travelling merchants, just at that peculiar juncture; and yet how all were so linked together that had one been wanting the whole chain would have been broken. We need not point out the still closer links which follow, that he should have been sold to Potiphar; that his master's wife should have been what she was, and acted as she did; that Joseph should have been so kept by the power of God, and yet by his very godly fear been cast into the prison, where by his interpreting the dreams of the chief baker and butler he came out to stand before Pharaoh, and become next to him in the land of Egypt. If we do but look at these circumstances, with all that followed from and flowed out of them, what a chain of events from which not one link could be severed without destroying the whole. And yet what issues depended on such a simple thing, so minute a circumstance as that two of the king's servants should be committed to the same prison with Joseph! the finding of a secure place where the descendants of Abraham could grow into a mighty nation, which they never could have done as living in tents in the country of Hebron. Those who deny a particular providence ought to be able to explain how all these different minute circumstances fitted in so closely and accurately as to bring about the execution of a special scheme. We have thought sometimes of a simple natural illustration of the way in which the minutest events in providence concur to form a general plan. Most of our readers must have noticed the wings of the peacock-butterfly, and observed the uniformity and beauty of the pattern. Now to produce that beautiful uniformity of pattern, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of little feathers must combine; and were we to have to calculate the exact shape, situation, and tint of marking which every single plume of this countless feather-dust must have to prevent the whole being a confused blotch, it would exceed all the powers of human mathematics, not to say all the faculties of the human mind. But we might as well believe that an army of men and boys, by throwing together stone after stone for a number of years, could build a St. Paul's Cathedral or a Westminster Palace as than all these minute feathers were put together by chance. Now if in creation, and this is but one instance out of a million, we are obliged to recognize a divine hand in so minute a circumstance as the marking of a butterfly's wing, why should we not see the same hand in the minutest events of providence also? The grand difficulty is to see God at all, anywhere or in anything. If once by faith we see him who is invisible, and feel the presence of a God at hand and not afar off, all other difficulties vanish.

But, as a scriptural example is better understood, and more confirming to faith than any natural illustration, let us now direct the attention of our readers to another example of minute providences which we have long considered one of the most remarkable recorded in the word of truth. It is the first interview of Saul with Samuel. The Lord had told Samuel in his ear (that, is, privately) a day before Saul came, that to-morrow about the same time he would send him a man out of the land of Benjamin, whom he was to anoint to be captain over Israel. (1 Sam. 9:15, 16.) Now, see the minute circumstances which brought it all about. The asses of Kish, Saul's father, are lost, having probably strayed away in the night. Saul and one of the servants are sent in search of them, and they wander from place to place till they come to the very city where Samuel was. Now must not all this, even the very straying of the asses, have been under the express guidance of God? Looking at the results, we dare not say otherwise. But Saul, hearing from his servant that there was a man of God there, wishes to ask of him the particulars, but just observe how minutely all was arranged and timed, for the chief place was vacant, and the special joint of honour, the shoulder, reserved for the expected comer. But now look at the signs which Samuel gave Saul, to assure him that God had chosen him to be king. (1 Sam. 10.) He would find two men at Rachel's sepulchre, who would tell him the asses were found; then he would meet three men, one carrying three kids, another three loaves of bread, and another a bottle of wine, who would salute him, &c.; then he would come to the hill of God, where a company of prophets would meet him, with their psaltery, tabret, and other instruments, when the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, and he would prophesy with them, and "be turned into another man." Now we read that "all those signs came to pass that day;" (1 Sam. 10:9;) in other words, that every minute circumstance which had been foretold him by Samuel exactly happened to Saul. But was there no special, no particular providence here? or, rather, was there not a succession of special providences? And were not all under the direct and immediate guiding hand, as they were under the all-foreseeing eye of God?* No man, therefore, who reads and believes his Bible can deny a special providence, without giving the lie to both his Bible and his profession. But enough of this. We may give the testimony of God, but we cannot give faith to believe it. Be it our happy portion to be ever watching the hand of God in providence and grace, and surely we shall watch for neither in vain; for we are assured that "who is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord."

* Without entering on the point, we have often thought that the genealogy of our Lord, as given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is a remarkable instance of particular providences. The whole hangs upon marriage after marriage of two persons, and birth after birth of sons from these marriages. Then what a variety of special providences must there have been to bring each couple together; and how all these must have been arranged beforehand to make an unbroken chain between Adam and Christ after the flesh.

And now a few words for the edition before us. We must, indeed, say that it is a marvel of cheapness. What do you think of 190 pages of clear, readable type and very fair paper for 2d. paper, and 4d. cloth flush? Books in Mr. Huntington's day were dear; and it was quite right that he should have had a fair remuneration for his works; but, in Bensley's edition, the "Bank of Faith" was published, First Part at 3s. 6d., and Second Part at 2s. 6d. But here we have both Parts, which then cost 6s., published at 2d. and 4d. What a change have time and circumstances wrought! Here, then, for a fourpenny piece, within the compass of a mechanic or labourer, at a cost almost less than of his pipe and cup of beer, is a little book which he can carry in his pocket, and read at odd whiles. It would also be the very thing to take with you who are often on the rail. It is often very desirable to avoid conversation or to detach one's mind from earthly things, to have a spiritual companion in the shape of a book; and, for a lady, often quite a protection, for none but a thorough brute would address himself familiarly to a modest female, quietly reading a book in the corner of a carriage. And a religious book is a thorough damper, if seen or suspected to be such, to any of those "fast" young men who would take the least advantage of an opening to intrude their conversation upon an unprotected female. Now here, young ladies, if you are called to travel, as you sometimes may be, by yourselves, is a protection for you. Slip the "Bank of Faith" into your reticule, and you will have a profitable companion and a protector in a little book which you may get for 4d. But we must not turn "touter" for Mr. A. Gadsby, nor should we have ventured to speak so favourably or so much of this edition unless we could cordially recommend it; and we sincerely hope it may command such success as may encourage him to publish, in the same form and at the same price, other works of the immortal Coalheaver.