LETTER XI - TO THE SPARROW ALONE
Dearly beloved in the Lord,
I HAVE been early this morning collecting materials to put you to a little more expense. I find but little union with those whose hands have gotten much; many of them being never in their element except they are boasting of their wealth; and I having none to boast of, it is like singing songs to a heavy heart. Now, that you and I may go on hand and glove together, I am going to put you to the expense of another double letter. I concluded my last with my journey to the North.
Soon after my return from this journey I discharged some small debts; for God seldom sends me one guinea till that guinea is owing, or wanted immediately some other way. He has strictly preserved this uniform and unalterable method with me now near upon twenty-eight years, without ever deviating the least from it; for, when he cleared the debts of my chapel, there were several small debts for other things left unpaid; so that the little overplus was soon demanded. And the general method of his proceedings with me are, that when his hand has been for some time closed till my debts are greatly increased, then the devil is let loose upon me, who is suffered to bring them all to my view, one after another, even from a fifty pound debt down to a shilling one. This sets me to looking up and praying to God; soon after which my creditors and their demands are banished from my mind, and at which time faith springs up, fully persuading me that the raven, or the hand-basket, is on the road, which is as sure to come as faith is to proclaim its coming; and when it comes it is only to stop a few gaps; to rub off a little, but not to set me quite clear; no, never once fully since I have been the servant of the King of kings. Soon after my chapel-debt was cleared I began to sing care away. But, alas! I hallooed before I wad out of the wood; for, soon after that, being obliged to remove to the house where I now am, I was obliged to borrow a little money to defray my way into the farm, the greater part of which remains to this present, but some is rubbed off, and I am now preparing for another rub. The devil and Dr. Sack' pride have often interfered with me in the writing of this narrative, wishing me to conceal some part of these things, or to keep back part of the price of the field, that the Doctor's enemies may not be entertained, nor his honour eclipsed; but I am determined to go on, that the poor souls of my enemies may have a morsel to feed on, and those of God's family a precedent, without any regard to the suggestions of Satan, or to the consequence of the coalheaver. I must confess that no one part of the cross that ever was laid upon me has so completely tried, exercised, crossed, humbled, or mortified me, as that of being perpetually in debt. Under this I have, at times, fretted, groaned, prayed day and night, cried, pleaded, sued, petitioned, and entreated; and, at other times, fretted, murmured, complained, rebelled, kicked up, hung back, run forward, and fell down in the furrow, like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; I have cursed my hard fate, and thousands of times longed for death, that I might see an end of it. But here I am still; and, as no one cross that was ever laid on my shoulders since I have known my God has mortified me like this, so no other cross with which I have been exercised has ever appeared an abscess, a setfast, or immovable, but this; all others have come and gone, but this was never removed entirely one moment from my shoulders since I could first say, "The Lord is my God." Not that I have any ground of fear that any one person living will ever be a loser of anything by me; for, were I to die this night, I believe one fifth of my effects would discharge every debt that I owe in the world: but, having naturally an uncommon aversion to being in debt, it has pleased God, for near twenty-eight years, to keep this grievous and immovable yoke upon my neck; and the devil, who constantly waits upon the monuments of God's mercy to find out, by hearing their confessions and prayers, what it is that galls them most, and, when he has learnt that, is like a bloodhound after a wounded deer, or a bumbailiff after a poor debtor; he pursues as long as either life or property lasts. Yet I know that this is good for me; for, look which way I will, I cannot see one soul fat and flourishing in grace that is abounding in wealth, but quite the reverse. And I know that, unless the heart be well established with grace, when riches increase, the heart will be set upon them; and then they have either done with God, or God has done with them; or, if there be a spark left, it is often sadly covered over by the continual cares of this life, and the deceitfullness of riches. Seeing, these things so clearly, I have often trembled for fear that this lingering cross should be entirely removed, knowing that the least soul exercise, such as spiritual sloth, carnal security, coldness of love, life hanging in doubt, spiritual desertion, leanness of soul, barrenness in the ministry, deadness in the service of God, legal bondage, &c. are ten times worse than this outward trial; and therefore I often publish the banns of marriage between my shoulders and this cross. But unbelief and Satan produce so many causes and impediments, that even to this day they are not lawfully joined together in holy submission, as I wish they could be. And yet I have no cause to complain, for no creditor ever comes and asks me for one shilling, whether professor or hypocrite: they send in their bills, and hardly ever call again; they leave them till I send or call to pay them. Not one creditor ever gave me a miss word in this world; all applaud me as a paymaster, and would trust me to any amount: nor has any one soul ever refused me since God first called me to the fellowship of the Gospel till now, except one gentleman, of whom I asked the loan of fifty pounds, which he said was not in his power to lend; but, since that time, he borrowed fifty pounds of me, which it was never in his power to pay me again. This has often astonished me, and I cannot to this day account for it; but so it is. If I have gone to the snuff-shop, or any other shop, or even at the discharging of a hackney-coach, if my gold has been light, or my silver bad, and I had no more, they have immediately cried out, "O! I am not afraid to trust you;" and I have often replied, "Why, you don't know me." The answer always is, "O! yes, it is Mr. Huntington; I know you well enough." And I am sure they have much more confidence in Mr. Huntington than he has in himself. But God often makes his poor children appear as stars in the eyes of others, when they are like bottles in the smoke in their own eyes. Psalm, cxix. 83.
But I must now return to the time of my returning from the north country. I before observed, that some small debts were then discharged. But, soon after this, the hand of God was fast closed again, which, by the bye, I am as sensible of as I am of the heat of the sun. This continued for some time; and for all that time I watched and observed it narrowly. And at this time there was a debt due of twenty pounds; though it was never asked for nor demanded, yet I knew it was die. It was for tithes; for, though I am a gentleman of the cloth myself, yet, being not a regular, but an irregular, I am constrained to pay tithes, offerings, dues, and fees, though I live upon nothing but offerings myself; and these are neither few nor small.
This small sum hung long in hand. I looked different ways, and chalked out different roads, for the Almighty to walk in; but his paths were in the deep waters, and his footsteps were not known. No raven came, neither in the morning nor in the evening. There was a gentle-woman at my house on a visit, and I asked her if she had got the sum of twenty pounds in her pocket, telling her, at the same time, how much I wanted it. She told me she had not; if she had, I should have it. A few hours after the same woman was coming into my study, but she found it locked, and knocked at the door. I let her in, and she said, "I am sorry I disturbed you." I replied, "You do not disturb me; I have been begging a favour of God, and I had just done when you knocked: and that favour I have now got in faith, and shall shortly have in hand, and you will see it." The afternoon of the same day two gentlemen out of the city came to see me; and, after a few hours conversation, they left me, and, to my great surprise, each of them, at parting, put a letter into my hand, which, when they were gone, I opened, and found a ten pound note in each. I immediately sent for the woman up stairs, and let her read the letters, and then sent the money to answer that demand.
About this time an affair happened which I do not care to pass over. I had a few very fine store pigs in my yard, and a neighbour of mine had the sad hap to lose one, which he had kept for some time for breeding. To repair his loss I made him a present of one of mine, which are of a very good sort. Two more very poor men in the country, who are obliged to live by faith as well as myself, wanted each of them a pig to keep for the winter; and I made each of them a present of one. A person being sick in the house, had a mind to a bit of one, and I ordered one to be killed; and, soon after that, a sudden death happened to another; so that I was obliged to buy two, which cost me five guineas, and not so good as my own. A day or two after this, when I went home, I saw seven fat sheep and a fat lamb in my field. I asked my man where they came from. He said he knew not. "Last night," said he, "a man brought them, and I told him he had brought them to the wrong place, for I had bought none, and I was sure my master had bought none; and therefore I desired him to take them back again." the man replied, "Is this Mr. Huntington's house?" The answer was, "Yes, it is." "Then," says the man, "my orders were to drive them here; and here I will leave them, nor will I drive them anywhere else." And the man was right.
Another disaster which befell me was this. The last summer being very hot and dry, I had no latter grass to mow. This I feared would fall heavy upon me, as my rowen hay keeps my cows, and I have sold as much as has brought me in fifty or sixty pounds besides; but last year I mowed none, and hay being at such a high price, and being also obliged to keep all my cattle upon it, I should have little or none to sell of the best sort, and that I should very sensibly feel this. However, when the rains came on, and the latter grass began to spring, some friend sent me two Scotch bullocks; and another gentleman sent me two Welsh ones; and my foreman advised me to buy four more, which I did at five pounds ten shillings per head; and, when I had made them tolerably fat, they fetched me nearly, upon an average, twelve pounds ten shillings a piece; so that this made up the loss of the rowen hay.
But now another difficulty presented itself to view, and that was the enormous price of malt and hops; malt thirteen shillings per bushel, and hops at four shillings per pound. And we use a great deal of beer in the time of mowing and hay-making; and I like to make it tolerably good, for I cannot endure to see the poor people "head the wine presses and suffer thirst," Job, xxiv. 11. And another sad calamity presented itself also, and that was the extravagant price of oats, and four horses to keep; and, though my favourite young horse had been coveted by several, yet I did not care to part with him; for, if I have any hobbies in this world, they are most certainly my gardens and my living creatures. Besides, to sell a horse would look as if the Doctor was sinking in the world. And, to add to all this, the Philistines had lately been upon me; I mean the tax-gatherers. I am never spared upon this head. I pay some pounds per annum poor's-rates, even for the chapel; and, upon my appealing to the higher powers to know the cause, a wise man informed me that chapels were nothing but shops and Lord Mansfield had declared it, and therefore it must be true. However; many gentlemen are much in the dark about the goods that we shopkeepers deal in; for, had they ever bought either wine or milk without money and without price, they would set more value upon such a shop than they would upon the Bank of England or the Royal Exchange.
But to proceed. Brewing time came on, and no malt; and, having been shorn by the Philistines, I could procure none. Nevertheless, I expected it from some quarter or other; for, if we seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all other things are to be added unto us; the morrow is to take thought for the things of itself. Nevertheless, it pleased God to exercise me for some length of time. But I have often observed, that, when the trial has been sharp and long, the blessing has been the more abundant when it came, and received with the more gratitude and thankfullness. And, in process of time, the Lord supplied all my wants without money and without price; for two gentlemen, of Ringmet in Sussex, sent me three quarters of malt, and one quarter of peas; another, at Lewes, sent me five quarters of oats; a gentleman, of Bolney in Sussex, sent me fifteen quarters of oats; a gentleman, in Bedfordshire, sent me ten quarters of malt, and, since that time, four quarters more; so that I never was so well provided with beer for haymaking in this world: and, as God did not send me money to buy it, he sent it to me by the hands of them that would take no money for it. Never since I have been in the world have I known provisions to be at such an extortionate price as in the last winter; nor did God ever send me in such a stock before: my hall was almost filled with sacks of corn. "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine," Ps. xxxiii. 18, 19.
I have likewise a few poor pensioners who, under God, look to me for assistance, and hitherto I have been enabled to assist them, and I think it my duty so to do; and this labour of love contributes not a little towards bringing on the gout in the pocket. I have also, when it has pleased my heavenly Father to try me on this head pretty sharply, been ready to conclude that the matter must unavoidably terminate in a failure, and have come to a determination to adopt the mode of the miser, and, for the future, observe every sixpence and every shilling that went out of my pocket, and in this way I should soon bring myself about. But, to the best of my recollection, I never continued one whole day in this mind; for, as soon as ever God sent it in again, I was like the travailing woman at her deliverance, I remembered no more the anguish for joy that my good God had appeared again. Furthermore: when Providence has seemed long to frown upon me, and God's hand to go out against me, as poor Naomi complains, and I have doubted and feared whether he ever would appear again, the thoughts of parting with my gardens, my cows, my sheep, my horses, fowls, &c., has mortified me not a little; and, when this has been the case, God always" holds back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it," Job, xxvi. 9. But, when the cross has had the desired effect, and I have been so resigned to his heavenly will as not to give the turn of a straw whether I had a garden or not, or whether I lived in a house or a hovel, the cloud is sure to disperse, and a shower of blessings to attend the dispersion; so that I have seemed more firmly established in my situation than ever I was before.
Once more. As the apostle says, "All things are for the elect's sake," I really believe it has pleased God to raise me up and send me forth, not only into the ministry, that I might tell them that fear God what he hath done for my soul; but it hath pleased him to keep me depending on his providence, from hand to mouth, throughout the whole course of my pilgrimage, that I might publish to the church at large not a recital of what Providence has done for others, but, as a living witness of the facts, what he has done for me, to encourage the faith of others. And God has so done it that infidelity itself cannot give this my testimony the lie; for these things were not done in a corner. The persons whom God hath raised up and made use of to assist me in times of need, being in number above five hundred brethren, are all witnesses of these facts, for of these" the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." Nor have I a single doubt but it is the will of God that I should publish these things. Of this I have had a most glaring proof but this week; for, after I had begun this narrative, and wrote about two-thirds of it, I got weary of it, and cold to it, and laid it aside for two or three months, and seemed to have no inclination to meddle with it any more. But, at the beginning of last week, I had several debts brought to my mind, and set continually before me, and being at the same time under my often infirmity, the gout in the pocket (I call it the gout; for, when I have got a little money, I am for going here and there into the country to visit the brethren, and see how they do; but, when my infirmity is upon me, I am confined to my work in town); seeing several debts set before my eyes, and being at the same time afflicted with this disorder God's hand being quite shut up ever since I returned from Lewes, I cast matters over in my mind, and said, What shall I do? The answer was, Sit down and finish your Bank of Faith, and God will bless the sale of it, and that will answer present demands And, although every circumstance here related was entirely gone both from my mind and memory, having laid it so long aside, and having no heart to meddle with it again, yet, when I came to a determination to shut myself up in town all day long to write, and went to bed with this determination, I had no sooner awoked in the morning but almost every circumstance that is related in these fifty or sixty latter pages of the work were all brought to my mind, and set in order before me, so that I had nothing to do but to sit down and write them off hand; and no sooner had I begun but I found my soul remarkably happy, and much delighted in the work; and I believe the whole of this was done by that sweet remembrancer who is to bring all things to our remembrance whatsoever Jesus Christ has spoken unto us, whether by chastisements or by comforts, by frowns or by smiles, in providence or in grace, John, xiv. 26.
Moreover, when I have come to some particulars, which I have thought would be disclosing all my secret conflicts to some that hate me, and be an entertainment to those who feed upon ashes, and little better than casting pearls before swine, and rather hurt the consequence of the Doctor than otherwise, a resolution to seek God's honour and his people's good before my own, has been attended with sensible sensations of heavenly comfort, insomuch that my mouth has been often filled with laughter while I have been writing them. I think I shall tire my dear friend with this long scrawl; but, as the subject is divine goodness to miserable sinners, it will allow of no apology, but must be admired by all that seek out God's works, and have pleasure therein.