LETTER III - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
I CONCLUDED my last with my old habitation, and shall begin this new epistle with my new house. My new habitation being so much larger than the other, my little furniture was almost lost in it: "That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered," Eccl. i. 15. However, the unerring and never-failing providence of God, which has; in uniformity with his word of promise, incessantly followed me and presided over me all my days, most conspicuously appeared at this time also. A lady in the country sent me in a letter a fortypound bank note. A gentleman in the city gave me a handsome new bureau and two mahogany elbow chairs. Another gentleman sent me a new handsome chamber-chair, with stuffed back and sides, and a handsome cover and cushion. While another, who came to see my new habitation, said, "My friend, I think you want a carpet for this large room," and left me a ten-pound note to purchase one. And here I must set up mine Ebenezer, and say, with a pious prophet of old, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."
But this stream of prosperity must not continue. I must be tried, I must learn my doctrine in the furnace of affliction - and fetch my sermons from God's powerful application and lily own soul's experience; that I may be at a point and speak with authority, and that my hearers may see God's fatherly goodness and severity follow me and work in me, as well as hear an account of it from me. Elijah's sons must see the spirit of Elijah rest upon Elisha, before they can receive and revere him as his successor. I fell sick, and lay for some time; and for three or four years, one after another, I had much sickness in my family, and my doctor's bills of course came heavy. Besides one young child at wet-nurse, I had five more at school, and three, one after another, lately dead. I had my eldest daughter at a school at Greenwich, and her governess gained the applause of many persons for her liberality to me; who averted that she educated my child for nothing, though I paid her sixteen guineas per annum for her all the time she was there, with one guinea earnest at her going, which was two guineas per annum more than she had for one half of her scholars. A little boy, which I had at wet-nurse at Walworth, was much desired by a gentlewoman in that neighbourhood, as soon as it was proper to wean him; which desire I granted, and she dry-nursed him, and had him for three or four years. She also gained the esteem of many of my friends for keeping one of my children gratis, because of my large family; but God knows that I paid her after the rate of twenty pounds per annum for every day she kept him. Thus some made the miraculous providence of God to favour me where it never appeared, while others denied the whole of it, and some burnt the relation of it where it really did. "I am a wonder unto many, but thou art my strong refuge," Psalm lxxi. 7.
About this time I called upon my dear and unwearied friends, Mr. and Mrs. Baker, of Oxford-street, who, from the time God first made me manifest in their consciences to the present moment, never failed me, forsook me, nor turned their backs on me. For while the chapel was building, when money was continually demanded, if there was one shilling in the house I was sure to have it. God never suffered their souls to get one morsel of the bread of life but under me; and it is seldom that one quarter has rolled over my head, for these sixteen years, but what I have stood in need of some assistance from them: thus God tied us together. As they had no children of their own, God kept them caring and travailing many years for me; for whenever I was, like Issachar, couching down between two burdens, my constant haunt was there for condolence, sympathy, and succour; yea, when sorrow has quite driven sleep from my eyes, I have often called them up at three or four o'clock in the morning, either to bear a part of my burdens, or to unite with me in prayer to God that he would. These friends, at that time, were my largest or principal creditors; but I knew I was safe enough in their hands, and that they would suffer themselves to starve in a ditch before they would see me die in a jail.
At the same time God sorely tried them, by various losses in business, by bankruptcies and bad debts continually; and, to add a little more fire to the furnace, a very near relation in the flesh fell into insanity, who has been confined in a private madhouse at their expense for many years, and is still on their hands, as I and my concerns were many years on their backs; but still God supported them, meekened them, comforted them, and kept their souls alive in their trouble. Many efforts have been made, both by men and devils, to disunite us, but all in vain; for all my predictions to them God always confirmed, and their confidence in my being his servant was never once shaken. These things bound us together for life and for eternity; and we have agreed, if God approve, not to be divided in death; for, some years ago, they, myself, and my friend Chapman at Petersham, subscribed, and purchased a spot of ground in that neighbourhood, and erected a substantial tomb under Mr. Chapman's direction; where we hope, if God permit, to rest together in the dust, till the archangel's trump shall silence that of the gospel, and proclaim an eternal jubilee to the covenant-seed of the Son of God. But I must get me back again to another fight of afflictions, for there is no living without them.
A large sum of money was now demanded of one of my creditors, and it was demanded in haste; being wanted. At this time my pocket had been well drained for furniture, and many more things were still wanting; however the sum must be had, and it was one hundred and sixty pounds! My heart sunk at the sound. "James," says I," what shall I do?" "Do," says he, "you shall pay it; the woman that has called it in does not want it, she receives her interest, and is in no danger of losing the principal; the devil has stirred her up on purpose to plague you. But I replied, "James, where shall I get one hundred pounds?" "Why," says he, "you shall have it of James Baker." "Why," said I," have you an hundred to spare?" "Yes," said he, "one hundred more; it lies by itself; it cost me eighty pounds in, and it is a good time to sell out." And he sold it out for one hundred and one pounds. The rest we made up, and I carried it to the person who demanded it; and she purchased two hundred pounds stock, which cost her two hundred and two pounds. Thus my dear friend cleared twenty-one pounds by serving me, and she lost as much by distressing me.
Now Satan set another snare for my feet, and I went very reluctantly into it; but unremitted importunity dragged me like an ox to the slaughter, or as a feel to the correction of the stocks. The snare was this: A person had spoke to another to lend a friend of theirs in debt one hundred and fifty pounds, which sum that person would lend if I would pass my word for half of it: this I did, and thus "a fool's lips are the snare of his soul." This office of suretyship cost me many a groan, for we lost every farthing of it; and, to help forward my calamity, another person, that came lately out of the country, and who was set up in business in town, and had newly scraped a little acquaintance with me, called on me to borrow a few guineas, which were to be paid the next week without fail; but this friend vanished out of my sight that very day, and I saw him no more: "A poor man that oppresseth the poor, is a sweeping rain that leaveth no food," Prov. xxviii. 3. And as for the other person for whom I and my friend became surety, he soon became bankrupt, or broke to pieces. But such was the invariable providence of my God, that the devil himself could never make a bankrupt of me: my invariable Banker, who stood by me in six troubles, did not fail me in the seventh; for an elderly lady in town, who for some time sat under my ministry, fell sick: she requested my attendance during her illness, and after her departure a gentleman called and paid me ten pounds, which she left me by will; and soon after that a lady in the country sent me forty pounds. A most faithful and affectionate friend in the city, who, times without number, has ministered to my necessities, ordered me to go to a cabinet-maker and bespeak a chest of drawers for my clothes, a writing-desk, &c. and sent me home with forty guineas in my pocket. Thus a succession of crosses was followed with perpetual blessings; for, as sure as adversity led the van, so sure prosperity brought up the rear: "The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy." Never, no never, did the Holy Spirit wholly withhold his prevalent intercession from me in times of trouble, nor did my God ever turn a deaf ear to my prayer, or fail to deliver me out of that trouble; though he has at times suffered me to labour long under them: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all. But now for another cross.
God takes away another of my poor children; it died at my friend Chapman's at Petersham, and was buried in the same ground where we since have erected our tomb. Upon the back of this disaster I fell sick, and lay some time; and soon after my little daughter was brought home from school with a violent fever, which continued on her many months; but, after my faith and patience had been a little tried, God raised her up again. About this time I had been digging a cellar, and building a little room over it; had built an oven also, and been setting up a copper, and purchasing brewing-vessels; all of which, together with the building, had not cost me less than two hundred pounds. Some time after a fever broke out in the school where my sons were, and three of them came home, one of whom was ill, and had a fit of sickness; so that in a short time I had sixty or seventy pounds to pay to different gentlemen of the faculty, for attendance on me and them. Add to this, another fifty pounds of borrowed money was called in; not for want of it, but from private pique: this we made shift to get together, and informed the person where to call for it; but it lay a long time before it was fetched away. The grief was not from fear of losing it, but at my being able to procure it: "By evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true." But my God now appeared again; a friend in the city gave me thirty pounds, another soon after sent me twenty pounds, and two more gave me forty pounds; and an elderly gentleman, who had for some time attended my ministry, and who had been a member of a church in the city for many years; but I have reason to believe that it pleased God to revive the work on his soul under me, for he at times called on me and acknowledged as much, and often lamented that this world had for a long time obscured the good work on him. Soon after this he left this world, leaving me fifty pounds by will, and several more legacies, as I have been informed, to other indigent persons "In the clay of prosperity be joyful, in the day of adversity consider; God has set the one against the other."
Dearly beloved, grace, mercy, and peace be with thee; so prays
Thine in covenant love,