LETTER II - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
Beloved in the Lord,
SINCE I sent off the last, many fresh things have occurred to my mind. I concluded with the circulation of my books: and about that time I was invited to preach a weekly lecture in the city, by which means it pleased my God to bring me more publicly forth into the worm; and as the chapel filled, and the people approved, of course my pedigree, my residence, my station in the camp, my family and fortune, were inquired into; and that at a time when some of my creditors wanted their money. In a short time after this demand a small number of gentlemen offered to tend me one hundred pounds, without either note of hand or interest; and, being a little from each of them, they took it as God prospered me, till all was cleared. But poor men's difficulties, like women's work, is never done, for soon after fifty pounds more was called in, besides many little debts which were contracted while the former sums were paying off; so that I was encompassed about with a whole crowd of creditors; and who can expect less who make themselves debtors to all? A gentleman of the city, who had a little house at Peckham, asked me to go on a week-day evening to preach in that neighbourhood, and to take a supper and bed at his house, which I agreed to; and, being without either purse or scrip, gold or silver, when I set off, I called on my invaluable and never-failing friend, Mr. Baker, of Oxford-street, and asked him if there was any of the chapel money in his hands? To my great comfort he told me, No; so I borrowed a few shillings and set off. But, that I might give vent to my grief, and bemoan my hard fate in secret, I called a coach and got in, the old man and the devil both following me; so we went all three together, like the adulterous woman and her accusers; and to be sure I had not one sixpenny or shilling debt in all the world but what the devil set before me, together with various prisons for poor debtors; and aggravated my misery by setting before me the power of God to help me if he would, the wealth that he gave to many wicked persons, and his hard dealings with those that loved him. I listened to mine enemy till I was in such a frame as Elisha was, when the forty children followed him, crying, "Go up, thou bald head." But at length recollecting myself, I bantered the devil. I said, Satan, hast thou got any cash by thee? if thou hast, bring it; I do not care where you get it, bring it if you have any, I will receive it, and thank God for it; but, if thou art as poor as myself, let my debts alone. The devil left me at this; "Resist the devil," says God, "and he will flee from you;" and so he did, and my soul was delivered as a roe from the hand of the hunter, or as a bird from the hand of the fowler. When I came to the end of St. George's Fields, I got out and walked the rest of the way, and that night had a glorious time in the Lord's work; Satan had for a season left me, and I returned in the power of the Spirit. I spent a comfortable evening with my friends, and had a most uncommon time in prayer by myself at going to bed, and a most sweet frame of meekness, gratitude, and godly sorrow, given me when in bed; and in the morning I arose sweetly becalmed and much resigned to the will of God. However, in my road home, the old serpent set at me again; but, having found faith strong in exercise over night, he could not make those inroads on my soul as he had done the day before. I called on my dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Baker, and told them that I should shortly have a lift-up, as I usually called it; and that I had got it already in faith, and should shortly have it in hand. These poor souls and I moved in concert, like the cherubim and his wheels, for when I was down they were down, when I was exalted so were they. On the next Sunday morning came a gentleman of the city into the vestry to me, with a bank note in his hand, and gave it to me, saying, "I am desired to give you that," I asked who it came from? he replied," You do not know the person, you never spoke to him but once; but he told me that it was strong upon his mind that you was in want, and he put it into his pocket for you last Thursday, and it had burnt in it ever since, but he knew not how to convey it to you." That same Thursday was the day in which Satan beset me so violently; and while Satan was reproaching me with my debts, God's good Spirit was preaching to that gentleman to lessen them. The same person continues in communion with me to this day. Upon this a gentleman, to whom God had made me useful, generously offered to lend me eighty pounds to answer my present demands, and to take it of me as I could pay it: this I gladly accepted, and then answered the present demand of those gentlemen who at times stood in need of their money. At this time a gentleman from Bristol came frequently to hear me, and who invited me to that place, to which I consented, and was to have a letter previous to the time of my going thither. After some time waiting the letter came, and when it came my pocket was empty; but at that juncture a letter came from a lady in the country with a twenty-pound note in it; with part of this I took my journey to Bristol, as Joseph and Mary took theirs to Egypt with the wise men's gold presented to Christ in the stable. Soon after my return I one night, in my discourse in the city, opened my mind freely and scripturally upon the use and end of the law of God, describing who were under it and who not. A great man, next to a great woman, happened to be there, who had light enough to see my darkness; and from that time sounded the alarm, and preached up the law, till he was ten times blinder than I was; this alarm spread, and most pulpits rang with warnings against antinomianism; this terrified the people, and many fled from me, some halted, and some few abode. However, the continual warnings on every hand soon reduced a crowded audience to a very small number, and the longer I preached the fewer I had, till I was sure the small number could not defray the expenses attending the lecture; and now was the time for my old enemy to work. He condemned my doctrine, which I did not wonder at, as an accuser has nothing to work upon but sin, nor any thing to work by but a broken law; for where there is no law there is no transgression, and where there is no transgression there can be no accusation. He harassed me with the great number of divines all against me, with my debts also, with the visible disapprobation of God by the almost general absence of the whole congregation; and, last of all, that my own poor pocket must defray the expenses of the place, and that money was the property of others, and it is the wicked that borrow and pay not again. That Tuesday was a day of darkness and gloominess to me; however, I replied, that God was not tied to that congregation, he could discharge the debts I should contract by keeping open that place many other ways, and therefore I determined to continue there till there were but ten to hear. That night the number was much greater than the time before; and the same night I received a letter with these words, "Sir, I have the honour of being a steward to your Master, and am at times intrusted with a trifle for the benefit of his servants, and I know of none more worthy than yourself." And that was all, except a ten-pound note, which bore me through that quarter; and from that night we increased, till the house was filled with guests: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name."
The people had now an opportunity of trying both Sinai and Zion; many ran to and fro, and knowledge was increased. Some found it as I had done, the more law the more bondage, and the more gospel the more love. It served also to separate between servants and sons: some cleaved to the citizens of Jerusalem that now is, and is in bondage, which Christ calls citizens of this country, who feed with husks; and some cleaved to the citizens of Zion, on which mountain the feast of fat things is promised, and where God promises to destroy the face of the covering cast over all nations, and to swallow up death in victory. Never, I think, had Moses more disciples than at that time: but pulpit and press proclaimed little else but the law; but, as those who preached it knew not what they said, so those that published it knew not what they wrote, for not one that I read had ever experienced the application of it; and I knew that I was at a point in this, namely, that I retained the whole morality of the law, by enforcing holiness by the Spirit of God. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us by the faith of Christ, and love to God and the brotherhood, by the love of God shed abroad in the heart; and all beside these is death.
But now the eighty pounds kindly lent me as before related; began to hang heavy upon my mind, and I laboured long to scrape together some part of it; and, having got together upwards of thirty pounds, I was earnestly desired to have the chapel whitewashed, and to buy six or eight new chandeliers to illuminate the gallery. These, with the white-washing, cost me near forty pounds. At this I fretted, and thought that both friends and foes laboured to keep the borrower a perpetual servant to the lender. I envied every soul that was out of debt, however poor, Satan delivered so many harangues from this text, "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another." After many long struggles I foresaw, that by my books and the chapel's increase, I should shortly be able to pay off forty pounds, and the time drew near, and every thing bid fair; but, alas! an unforeseen event took place which frustrated this design; a building next the chapel took fire, and burnt from street to street. Some of the roof of my chapel was a little burnt, and the spectators got poles and pushed a stack of chimnies on the roof of the building, which fell through and injured the gallery. This disaster cost me upwards of forty pounds more, which drove me to my wits end. I was like a wild bull in a net, entangled every way; and was determined to go and vent my grief to the gentleman, and make an apology, and beg his patience till I could pay him. I went: but God had been before me; for, before I could find an opportunity to speak, he looked up at me and said, "I shall never take that money again of you which you had of me, nor did I ever intend it." I knew not where to hide my head: I was ashamed of my impatience, distrust, rebellion, and murmuring, and loathed myself for it; and admired the wisdom and goodness of my God to so unstable and unbelieving a wretch. But this frame lasted not long, I was soon at it again; and was not God long-suffering he would never bear with such an one as I am.
For, being informed that the house I then dwelt in was to be sold, and being desired by my landlord to admit any person into it that came, unsettled my mind exceedingly, interrupted me in my studies and in my writing, and made me as peevish and as fretful as one chained to a galley. However, sold it must be, and sold it was; and I, being a tenant at will, must prepare my stuff for removing. Some of my friends attended the sale on my behalf, but the price ran too high. As it was but a leasehold, a person in the neighbourhood, a possessor of much money and a professor of religion (who was resolved to have it), bought it for himself and family. I had expended a few pounds in paving the walk to the door and the yard behind the house, which the auctioneer said should be paid to me, but that pay never came.
Some few days were spent in looking after a house, and at length one presented itself, which was empty, and had stood empty for some time; the rent was double to that which I was leaving, that being twenty pounds per annum, this forty. Nevertheless I took it, longing to be settled somewhere. I got the keys, and immediately began to move, though it was six or seven weeks before the time expired of my other house, for the which I must pay rent, having entered upon that quarter. When I had removed all my goods, I lent the gentleman who had bought the premises, the keys of the house, that he might get it in order for his own reception, for which he was much pleased, and kindly thanked me; but he soon requited me for my kindness, by sending me an attorney's letter for taking up a little favourite tree which I had planted. Satan, upon this, tempted me to take out my knife and cut off another of my own planting close by the ground. But vengeance belongeth to God, and he will repay: and so I found it, for in less than nine months my successor and his wife were both in their graves, and the house sold again. They removed me, and God removed them. But time calls me elsewhere. Beloved, farewell.
W.H., S. S.