LETTER IX - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
Dearly beloved of God,
My last epistle was pregnant with the disagreeable entanglements of the litigious, and of the windings and turnings of a crooked generation; but by the goodness of my God, I escaped with both my coat and my cloak.
I must now prepare my stuff, for removing. For some few years before I was married all my personal effects used to be carried in my hand, or on my shoulders, in one or two large handkerchiefs; but, after marriage, for some few years, I used to carry all the goods that we had gotten on my shoulders in a large sack. But, when we moved from Thames Ditton to London, we loaded two large carts with furniture and other necessaries, besides a post-chaise well filled with children and cats. But at this time God had given me such a treasure in my sack, that it was increased to a multitude: we were almost a fortnight in getting away the stuff. The many things on the premises which I had to purchase, and the expenses that would attend my moving, together with rent for both houses for some time to come, had previously exercised my mind not a little. And you know that I have always kept Clare-market, but never did any business at the Stocks-market in my life; so that I could not look there for any supply. But I looked to the market in Honey-lane; for his word has often been sweeter to me than honey or the honeycomb, for it contains the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come: and here I never sought, I never looked, I never prayed, in vain. God raised up a most invaluable friend, who richly supplied me, and has long ministered to my necessities. But the trouble of moving drove me quite out of my element: it interrupted my peace, scattered my thoughts, and prevented all meditation. The door of hope seemed to be off the hooks, and the best members of the new man out of joint. I appeared quite unfurnished for the pulpit, and my mind too unsettled for any one branch of my delightful labour. "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life," says Paul; and sad entanglements are all worldly concerns to a spiritual soldier. But if this world, and the domestic concerns of it, are a burden, and not a pleasure; a vanity, and not a substance; a vexation, and not a delight; a rival, and not a real lover; we must of course be crucified to it, and alive to him that was crucified in it.
Being in some measure settled in my new habitation, I watched, and sought, and felt, after that Friend that loveth at all times; and, blessed be his revered name, I found him. If I had failed in this I had been undone; for he is our dwelling-place in all generations; and sensible sinners have no sure dwelling nor quiet resting-place but this. But now many cares came on me. I was five miles from my chapel, and a cold winter was coming on: and how to get my family so far to the house of God was my chief concern. A person of Streatham, in Surrey, had made me a present of a little sorrel horse, which is a most excellent creature. and would carry me very well; but how to get a large family there was the difficulty. A man and his wife, whom I had been for some years acquainted with at Streatham, and who had managed a farm for a gentleman there, had been for some time before this out of employ, through the gentleman's letting his farm. I had spoken to two friends in London about joining with me in taking a farm and putting him into it to manage it for us, for the sake of a dairy, &c. to supply our three families; but we could not hear of any such thing near town that would do for that purpose. The man and his wife therefore took a coal-shed, and dealt in green-grocery, &c. &c. But I found, by inquiry, that their business was not likely to answer, and therefore I sent for the man to come to me; and he and his wife agreed to come, she to attend to my baking and dairy, and he to the business of the land. And here God granted me my request in a way that I did not expect; for being long acquainted with them, and they being fond of my ministry, I did not like to see them scattered from it. I had got one old cart-horse that I had bought with the rest of the stock on the farm, and I wanted two more, but money run short; and I determined also to have a large tilted cart to take my family to chapel, and the man should drive it on the Sunday, and on lecture nights, and I would ride my little horse. This was the most eligible plan that I could adopt; and on this I determined as soon as God should send money to procure them. I came to this conclusion on a Friday, and on the next day, toward evening, came two or three friends from town to see me. I wondered not a little at their coming, as they know that on a Saturday I never like to see any body; and therefore I conceived that they must be come with some heavy tidings; some friend was dead, or something bad had happened. But they came to inform me that some friends had agreed among themselves and bought me a coach and a pair of horses, which they intended to make me a present of. I reformed them that the assessed taxes ran so high that I should not be able to keep it. But they stopped my mouth by informing me, that the money for paying the taxes for the coach and horses was subscribed also; so that nothing lay upon me but the keep of the horses. Thus, instead of being at the expense of a tilted-cart, God sent me a coach without cost, and two horses without my purchasing them; and which, with my other old horse, would do the work of the farm, as well as the work of the coach; and my bailiff informed me that he could drive it, having formerly drove one. Thus was I set up. But at this time the pocket was bare, and many things were wanting, both in the house and on the farm, and a place to fit up for my bailiff? and dairy-woman to live in. And it was but a few days afterward before a gentleman out of the country called upon me; and, being up in my study with me, he said, "My friend, I often told you that you would keep your coach before you died, and I always promised that whenever you had a coach I would give you a pair of horses, and I will not be worse than my word. I have inquired of father Green, and he tells me that the horses cost forty-five pounds; and there is the money." In a day or two after the coach, horses, and harness, came. And, having now a little money, I wrote to a friend in the country to send me twelve ewes, and a male with them; and they sent me twelve excellent ones, and the male with them, but would not be paid for them; they were a present to the farm. "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord," Psalm, cvii. 43.
When my coach came home, and my family had been once or twice to chapel in it, and the report of it was gone abroad, it was truly laughable to see the sorrow, the hard labour, and sore travail that fell upon some poor souls on the account of it. Their envy almost slew the silly ones. One person came into my yard, and asked the coachman about this matter, and what all these things meant; but he being a stranger who came with the coach, and only drove us two or three times, could not inform him. Others, and some very well-dressed gentlemen, whom I knew nothing of, and whom I never saw before, came, and walked at different times to and fro at the front of the house, by the hour together, looking up, and then down, to consider the matter, and to find out what it all proceeded from, which is a mystery they can never get at; and the mystery of God's providential dealings is what I shall never be able to describe. I can only look on and wonder at God, while others wonder at me, and say with the Psalmist, "I am a wonder unto many; but thou art my strong refuge," Ps. lxxi. 7.
We have had some of these envious ones stand in convocation in the by-road which leads to Hendon, and hold a council, and debate upon the matter for hours together, what the rent is, what the taxes, the number of the family, the keep of the horses and servants, the taxes of the house, coach, &c., and what must unavoidably be the amount of the whole yearly, while Mr. Williams stood on the other side of the wall and heard the debates, and the conclusion. And here they took more pains than ever I did; for I never once cast up either the income or outgoings till the income-tax was made; only I observed this, that the income seldom trod upon the heels of the outgoings, there was generally a little space between them, and in that gap I erected my watchtower, and in which ward I have sometimes been whole nights, when other folks have been in bed and asleep. At the chapel door also we were not a little troubled with this sort of wellwishers, sometimes twenty or more, about the coalheaver's statecoach, to examine matters, and look into things. And this continued, more or less, for near two years. Indeed, it is but lately that this wonder of wonders has begun to cease. And yet my friends, who executed all this business for me, took care to give them all the information that malice itself could expect; for the initials of my name, W.H. together with the initials of my state, S.S., were put upon every pannel of the coach, upon the pads of the harness, and upon the very blindfolds of the bridles. And all this was clone to satisfy those, who were the principal mourners on this occasion, that the thing was real, and not counterfeit; that it was not a hackney carriage, nor a glass-coach; not borrowed, nor hired, nor a job; but the despised Doctor's own carriage, which the King of kings had sent him without asking for, and, at that time, without any expectation of any such thing. And here I have often thought of the words of the sweet Psalmist of Israel. When he, and the four hundred troops that were with him, all of whom were persons in desperate circumstances, such as were in distress, those that were discontented, and such as were in debt, these only joining him, (1 Sam. xxii. 2,) and while he and this handful of men wandered in the wilderness, and in the woods, in caves, in rocks, and in strong holds, like Robin Hood and Little John in the forest of Sherwood, Nabal's shepherds, as appears by his famous speech to Abigail, all knew them, and all labouring and husbandmen about these wild places were conversant with them, and not a few of the heathen, as the Philistines also; but, when the report was spread that this wood-ranger was crowned king in Hebron, and his desperate followers were the life-guards of his royal person in that city of Israel, then they gathered themselves together, and went in troops to see the sight; and when they saw the crown-royal and the purple robe upon the son of Jesse, they assembled in different assemblies, and compassed him about; "yea, the abjects gathered themselves together;" they walked round about the walls of his palace, and fretted at his exaltation. And he seems to take notice of it, and says, "They make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city." And, as it seemed to amuse them, David desired that they might be permitted to continue at it; and therefore adds, "And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Let them wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they be not satisfied," Psalm, lix. 6, 14, 15.
And here I must mention one or two particulars which have often been a wonder to me. And one is, when I came first to reside in London I brought my poor old grey horse to town with me, and being not able to keep him, a friend of mine, and a dear son in the faith, who Kept a livery-stable, took him till he could be sold; and, during this time, a gentleman asked me to take a ride with him a little way in the country, and we went up Edgware-road, a road I had never been before, and turned up toward Hampstead; and I particularly observed one house in the way, with the garden, walls, and the summer-house, and a few fir-trees which were about it. And, being in the summer, I observed to the gentleman that was with me what a retired, rural spot it was; and it seemed to take my fancy, and to catch my eye, more than any other that we observed; and that very house is now my residence.
The next particular is this. About four years ago I was invited to preach at Woolwich; and I engaged a few friends to go with me, and begged of father Green to get some stable-keeper to furnish us with a coach and horses for the day. He replied, that he knew a man of the name of Nibbs, who kept coaches, and who generally drove himself, and who was a very civil man, and had a large family; and I remember we loaded the coach very heavily; and, when we came to Woolwich, I ordered the good man who owned the horses to feed them to the full, and it should be at my expense. Toward the evening it thundered, lightened, and rained, at a most violent rate, and the road was very wet and slippery, and we being above the common number for a coach to take, I had a good deal of feeling for the poor cattle; and, before I got in, I went and looked at the horses, to see their size and weight, and what state they were in, whether poor or in working order, whether decrepid or sound; and whether they looked full or empty; and I much admired the team. They were both greys; and the shape or mould of one of them much took my eye; he was a dapple-grey, very spotted, and of the tabby cast. And, the team much pleasing me, I desired the master to drive slow, and not to hurt his cattle, and, as we were a heavy load, we would reward him, which we did to his satisfaction. And that horse which so forcibly struck my eye is one of the pair which my friends bought for me, and is now in my team. Some gentleman in town having often seen him in my cart, and afterwards in the coach, took a fancy to him, and made many inquiries whose he was, and at last inquired of the hackneyman he came from, who informed him, and who, by the gentleman's desire, came to purchase him; and others also have bid for him; but he is still with me. God's gifts are not to be parted with but in case of necessity. Thus the man that I wished to put in a farm now drives me; the house I then saw, which so much took my fancy, is my residence; and the horse I took such notice of is now in my team. Beloved, farewell. May the goodness of God daily pass before thee, as he has promised, and his grace rule and reign in thee; and may he continue to bestow upon thee an eye to watch his hand, and a heart to feel his power; and then faith and hope will be both encouraged. In the confidence of which I subscribe myself, dear friend,
Ever thine in the Lord,