LETTER V - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
AT the conclusion of my last I intimated that another load was much wanting; and now a council was held, to consult about laying a few more sacks upon the mill: this second addition, or second edition of burdens with additions, is what I am going next to relate; the reading of which will make you feel for me, as the weight of it made me feel for myself.
The congregation began greatly to increase, and the heat of the place in times of service began to be almost unbearable; it was of course thought necessary to enlarge the chapel. Now there was a spare bit of ground, which lay about the middle of the chapel against the east wall, the dimensions of which were thirty feet by twenty-five, and this spare morsel of ground had nothing upon it but a shed: this ground we endeavoured to get and intended to break through on that side the chapel, and so to throw the chapel into a triangular form, and to move the pulpit to the centre of the gallery on the west side, so that it might face the new-intended erection. The gentleman who held this ground by lease was applied to; and he, in company with a builder, met with me and a few friends of mine, and intimated that he was willing to accommodate us; of course we wished to know his terms, or what he expected for ground-rent, and he told us his price was one hundred guineas per annum: "The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's; but the earth hath be given to the children of men," Psal. cxv. 16. And so I found it, and they are determined to make the most of it. I have been informed, but I cannot avouch it, that all the ground on which that oblong pile of buildings stands within the compass of the four streets, of which my chapel is a part, pays no more to his Grace the Duke of Portland than fourteen pounds a year; but, if it was all to be let in the same proportion as was demanded of me, it could not (I think) bring in less than ten thousand pounds per annum. But, as Canaan was to be a servant of servants, so I must have been a tenant of tenants. Finding nothing could be done with the earthholders, I turned my eyes another way, and determined to build my "stories in the heaven," (Amos, ix. 6,) where I should find more room and less rent: and to this my friends agreed; namely, to raise the chapel one story higher, and to carry a flight of galleries all round it. The next thing was to find out a man to execute this design, and one was soon pitched upon as capable of the undertaking. But what I wanted to get at most, was whereabouts the expense would be: "For the destruction of the poor is their poverty." Besides, my shoulders having been kept raw for seven or eight years together, and it was but lately that they had begun to heal, and remaining exceeding sore and tender, I was more afraid of another burden than I was of the heat of the day, lest it should terminate in an abscess, and I should be left to the accusations of the devil as an incurable. But, when the expense was named, it did not appear so alarming: he told me he thought it would amount to four hundred pounds - this was a shoeing-horn, only to draw me on. But, as the person often sat under me as a hearer, I thought it was not likely that one who could face the rays of light, and stand the force of truth, would, or could, willingly and wilfully deceive a servant of Christ: "But their inward thought and heart is deep," (Psalm, lxiv. 6); "sharper than a thorn hedge," Mic. vii. 4.
........... When Wisdom wakes
Suspicion sleeps at Wisdom's gate,
And up to Simplicity resigns her charge:
While Goodness thinks no ill where no ill seems.
We must not measure every body's corn by our own bushel; those who can make the ephah small and shekel great, will abide by their own standard, till they have filled up the measure of the fathers.
However, we began, and went on with the work. Hitherto the tub had stood upon its own bottom; or, in other words, I had not only the care of the church, the care of a large family, and for a long time the principal care of the poor, till they made me poorer than themselves; but I had, also, the whole burden of chapel debt, and ten thousand cares how to get that burden off.. Many, perceiving that it was with the greatest reluctance that I bowed my shoulders the second time, advised me to try the liberality of my friends, and to see if they would not put their shoulders to the work. To this I readily agreed: but we determined to move only in the circle of our own acquaintance, or to call upon such, and only such, as attended my ministry, leaving other ministers to enjoy their own fleece; and by this rule we abode: into any other little hill of Zion, into the way of the Gentiles, or into any of the cities of the Samaritans, we entered not. To begging, therefore, we went; and as the work of the chapel went on, so I saw more and more the necessity of pursuing this calling: for I shortly perceived that I was in the hands of a man who could have no feeling for my shoulders, nor any more mercy upon my pocket than an angry God will have upon a hypocrite in Zion: and, to the honour of God and the credit of his people be it spoken, there was not one we visited that frowned upon us, or that shewed an angry countenance, or that sent us empty away. They were as generous to me with their pocket as I am to them with a springing cruse in the pulpit, and we found begging to be a delightful employ. Besides, God kept us so happy in visiting the brethren, that we sowed many spiritual things while we reaped carnal; so that they were as glad to see us as we were to rob them; and after a few of these trading tours we came to a conclusion of the business; and when we sat down under the hedge, and had put the money into our hats, and had counted it up, we found it to amount to the total sum of seven hundred pounds; "so mightily grew the word of God and preveiled," not only over books of curious arts, but over the root of all evil. But all this wonderful and unexpected liberality was far from being sufficient to enable me to go upright: "I must still bow my shoulders to bear, and become a servant to tribute," Gen. xlix. 15. For, when the work was finished, and the bills brought in, the four hundred was swelled to that degree that it amounted to one thousand two hundred and thirty pounds! I believe it to be the best job, and the worst, that ever he took in hand. I cannot forget it, nor do I believe that ever he will. By these exorbitant charges my debts were greatly increased: but the reason he assigned for it was, that I had given the men so much victuals and drink that they wasted much of his time in consuming it; and, though he and his sons shared in my liberality, yet he made me redeem the time they lost, because my bounty was evil. nevertheless, I would sooner bear the burden of a thousand such bills than the weight of such a builder's conscience. The remains of my old debt were upwards of three hundred pounds; this new addition was five hundred and thirty: and these, together with small debts contracted while this work was doing (besides my liberality to the men), made the weight of my future burden amount to about nine hundred pounds. With this load I began my second stage; but before I had travelled far an additional weight was added. I had got together one hundred pounds, and I had it in my pocket, intending in a day or two to pay it away. A friend of mine (falsely so called) knew this, and on the Lord's day morning came into the vestry to me, and informed me that a person whom I respected was going to be arrested for the small sum of sixty pounds, and pressed me hard to lend him the money I then had in my pocket. I told him I was altogether a stranger to the gentleman's circumstances: "But," says he, "I am not, and had I a thousand pounds I would lend it him." I replied, "I have no objection to lend it to you." Upon this a friend in the vestry interfered, and took him to task for dragging the money from me; nevertheless, he followed me up: but I still replied," I am willing to lend it to you." And at last he replied, "Well, do then." So I gave it him. In the evening he came into the vestry to me, with such a countenance as I shall never forget, and put a scrap of paper doubled up down upon the table, and departed; which, when I examined, I found it to be the gentleman's note, not his own. In a few days after the gentleman failed in business, and went to prison, and then the whole matter came to light. The person who was in danger of losing the sixty pounds was brother-in-law to him who squeezed the money from me; so that the plan was well laid, and well executed. He that pressed me to lend the money was worth some thousands himself, and so was he that got in his sixty-pound debt, and I had one hundred pounds more added to the other nine, which set me down within twenty or thirty pounds of the same sum with which I started at first." The men of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light;" and yet one child of light is wiser than all the men of his generation.
Finding this recruiting of the burden to sit very heavy, except at times when much favoured with the presence of God, and it being such a matter for the old accuser to work upon in every time of trouble, I determined to take an account of my books, I mean my own publications; and when this was done, and the value of the stock east up, I found I had eight hundred pounds worth of books, and the stationer and printer both clear. I resolved with myself to part with them, and with my copy-right: and here I had various struggles between feeling for self, and feeling for others; I thought, on the one hand, that my books might be of some service to the large family I might leave behind, never expecting to leave them any thing else; and, on the other hand, being continually in debt was a sore burden, and the fears of dying so would not suffer me at times to sleep. I therefore resolved to part with them: but then who to apply to was the next thing to be considered; and I knew that whoever bought them had need of some money, as some of them would lie long on their hands, which I also considered; and afterwards I fixed the price in my own mind, which was four hundred pounds, no more nor less: and then I mentioned it to a gentleman of the city, who agreed to take them, and who paid me the money; and this reduced my debt to somewhat less than six hundred pounds. Soon after this, the gentleman who failed in business above mentioned, who had my hundred pounds, sent me fifty pounds of it back again, which was all he could ever pay, and this was more than I ever expected. A kind friend of mine, at the other end of the town, about this time gave me twenty pounds, and another sent me ten pounds; and now I was enabled to diminish my debt to the sum of five hundred pounds; and there it remained for a long time, without either addition or diminution. In the mean time I continually entreated the Lord to let his goodness pass before me, and to enable his own servant to answer all just demands that might be made upon me; and, bless his Majesty, in his own time he did as will appeal in my next.
Farewell, mercy and peace be with thee; so prays
Ever thine in the Lord,