LETTER IV - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
Dear Friend: in eternal friendship,
I CONCLUDED last with the sound of abundance of rain; "the little hill had been watered with a shower of blessings," (Ezek. xxxiv. 26,) and my soul with abundance of peace; and now, in pursuit of the narrative, you must know what effect this had on the debt-books of my creditors. Why, by the good hand of my God upon me, I had now reduced the debt of my chapel down to little more than three hundred pounds; my friend Baker was almost my only creditor, and I had nothing to fear from him. I considered myself now as having the fore horse by the head, as they say who speak in proverbs. I could now compare creditor and debtor together, and see a balance in my own favour; so that l had no fears about me that any one friend would lose any thing by me, should it please God to remove me. I had also given forty pounds premium at the binding of one of my sons, and twenty pounds more to a mantua-maker with my elder daughter; and had also curtailed some of my unnecessary expenses - I mean with respect to preaching for other people. I had for some years been Jack at every body's call; being invited to preach collection sermons continually: and wherever I went, this was sure to be the case: sometimes I was to collect for the minister, sometimes to rub off the debt of the buildings, sometimes for the poor, but always something or for somebody; and I was generally desired to give it out at my own chapels, as their hopes were more in the pockets of my followers titan in their own. A meeting which had not long been erected within a few miles of Uxbridge, in Middlesex, had a debt upon it which the people wished to clear off, and therefore proposed to have two sermons preached on a certain day annually, and a collection at each sermon, as the best method of extricating the chapel out of debt; and of course I was once invited thither upon this business. I traveled at my own expense, and was entertained by a friend of my own at Uxbridge: I preached in the forenoon, and a gentleman from London was to preach in the afternoon; and, if I was rightly informed, my collection was fourteen pounds; what the gentleman got I know not, as I went off as soon as I had finished my discourse. The year following a minister of yearly fame was invited, who promised either to go himself or to send his curate, upon these conditions; namely, that they would promise him, "never to suffer that fellow Huntington to preach among them any more;" which request the principal person of the meeting submissively listened to, and promised to admit me there no more: "Who can stand before envy?" Upon these conditions the good man promised either to go or to send; but at the same time observed, that the travelling expenses must be borne; which was making a sure bargain, and in which the vicar displayed more wisdom than I did; and this they agreed to also, knowing, as every man must, that the labourer is worthy of his hire. The time came round for another anniversary, and the curate went and preached, and enforced the collection; and when the preacher's entertainment, travelling expenses, &c. were defrayed, there remained two pence towards the debt of the chapel. Neither their promise nor their conscience would ever suffer them again to invite me; and, as for the curate, they found him (in money matters) to be an unprofitable servant, and therefore they took counsel, and laid the anniversary aside from that day forward; which was a better work in the sight of God than that of bringing it into use.
I was formerly often invited to preach at a meeting in Little St. Helens, where I preached at seven o'clock on a Lord's day morning. That lecture had been long established for the benefit of servants, who, by reason of their domestic employ, could not attend on the service of God at the usual times of public worship. The persons who invited me, informed me that most of the supporters of that lecture were dead, and that whenever they had a collection sermon for it, they seldom got more than twenty or thirty shillings. Hearing these things, I therefore promised to go, and was well attended. Not long after I was invited again, and the place was so crowded that great numbers could not get in; and, as I was informed, I collected ten pounds. I inquired at last, as they came frequently to ask me to preach, who the ministers were that preached the lectures, and they told me their names, but I knew none of them; and further, that they had a guinea a time for preaching, and that they were board-ministers, or ministers belonging to the board. But I was not a boardminister, therefore the lecture had my labour gratis: my office was to preach the guineas together, while that of the boardministers was to preach them away. I thought of a story that I once heard (namely) of a man putting potatoes into the fire to roast, while a monkey sitting before it observed him: the monkey wanted the potatoe, but fearing to burn his own paw, took the forefoot of the cat to rake it out of the fire, whilst he ate it himself. Whoever was the monkey, I was the cat. At length I got sick of this; nevertheless they came again, and entreated me to come and give them another sermon. I replied, "There is to be a collection, I suppose." They answered, "O yes, sir." I replied, "I have no doubt of it, but depend upon it I will be your cat's paw no longer;" and I saw them no more. But soon after I heard the lecture was dropped, though I think it might have been kept up to this day, if the board-men had laboured on as reasonable terms as I did. Some years I toiled up and down this way, preaching collections for one minister or other. "Everywhere, and in all things, I am instructed," says Paul; and so am I: for the vicar's bargain for his curate, and the board-men leaving off when money failed, brought me to a determination not to labour for nothing; especially, having been informed that some called ministers have been sitting at home while I have been preaching for them, who have ridiculed me after I had begged money; and well they might, for who but a fool, when God has used a shepherd to collect the flock together, would lead that flock from post to pillar, on purpose to shear them, and give the wool to men whom I know not whence they be? Bless my God, these board-men have taught me better things; I keep my flock at home, and shear them for my own profit; and sure none can have so much right to the wool as those who labour day and night to gees the sheep; and I have vanity enough to think that they had rather the profits of the fleece fell to my share than to any other. Many journeys of one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred miles, which have cost ten, twenty, or thirty pounds a journey, have I travelled, and at the same time paid one pound five shillings per week for a supply at home in my absence; but I confine my labours now, not to every place where I am invited, but where I am well known, and where there are poor hungry souls to feed: to these my mouth is open, and to me their heart is. God has not sons of peace in every house. But I must now return from this digression, seeing it is high time that some other burden be laid upon my shoulders, which soon came to pass; but more of this at some future opportunity. Excuse the length of the epistle; the largeness of its bulk was occasioned by the opportunity I had of conveying it, for two shillings worth of Postage could not have produced half this quantity of tidings. I had now and then a pleasing fit of laughter while writing it, and thou wilt feel something beside a spring of tears in reading it; so I conclude, and so you will confess.