LETTER XII -TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
Dearly beloved in the Lord,
I RECEIVED yours, and was not at all alarmed at the contents. Spiritual desertions are some of the strange things that happen to us. Strange they appear until we come to know that the same are accomplished in all the brethren more or less. It is one way by which God tries the soundness and the sincerity of our hearts. All the vanities of this world, and the glories of it, are presented to our view when the Lord is withdrawn; but, if faith and love be genuine, the soul feels itself crucified to all these; nothing can repair the loss; no vanity can fill the vacancy; no rival can meet with a cordial reception. The new-born soul, in such circumstances, is rims described by the prophet: "For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God." This soul is described as being called of God, and compared to a woman forsaken of her husband, and a with of youth, or a young woman whose love was strong: she is grieved in spirit because he refused to dwell with her. This is the description the Lord gives of a young convert under spiritual desertions. But shall the Lord turn away, and not return? NO: "I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee." It is by his going and coming that we increase in the knowledge of him: his absence makes us mourn and fast, his presence is our joy and banquet. But I must go on with my subject.
Some little time ago I was invited to preach at a distance from London, the minister of the place being sick. It was some time before I could raise the wind, or furnish the pocket, for this expedition. However, at last it came in, though I forget the quarter it came from; and with about ten pounds I set off, and stayed over two sabbath days. Just before my departure a gentleman gave me six guineas, another ten, and two others gave me five guineas each. Another pressed me hard with a further present, which I refused, being full and abounding. So true is the word of God - Where God uses a servant of his to sow spiritual things bountifully, carnal things are as bountifully reaped; and, in both senses, they that sow sparingly reap sparingly, "The liberal soul deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand." That text hath often been a support and a comfort to me; and I can set to my seal that God is true.
But I come now to a disaster which lately befel me. My young horse fell sick about two months ago, and so he continues to be, with little likelihood of his ever recovering. A valuable cow, which cost me fifteen pounds, fell ill, and wasted to a skeleton. My man said that her inside was decayed, so we parted with her for fifty shilling. Another cow proving unfruitful, I was obliged also to part with her. About this time a dog came in the night and killed a lamb, and ate up almost the whole of it. Three nights after he came again, and killed five capital ewes, and wounded another lamb. From that time two men, well armed, watched for three or four nights, when, about one o'clock in the morning, the dog came again. They both fired at him, and both hit him, and brought him down. He was a terrible creature, of the lurcher and wolf kind; but he met with his just deserts. I have just received a lawyer's letter, demanding payment for the dog. All these things are against me. But not many days after this the Lord sent me, by different hands, twenty-seven pounds ten shillings, and thus repaired my loss. Poor Jacob had many of his flock torn by wild beasts, and some stolen by day and some by night; and Laban made him bear the loss of them all; but God's blessing upon him always repaired his losses: and, though his wages were changed ten times, he went home to his country two bands, I have often observed that, in whatever we take the most delight, there the calamity generally falls. I long since saw this in the death of four or five of my children, and I see it now; for it is my favourite horse that is sick, and my little flock, that are the principal part of my hobby; and it is among these that the slaughter was made.
I must now drop a few observations that I have made upon Providence, which I hope will not be tedious nor disagreeable to my dearly beloved friend; I mean with respect to such things as have often appeared to fulfil the desires of my heart when I dared not, when I could not muster up courage enough to ask or to pray for them. For instance: soon after my deliverance, I went to hear the word at Kingston-upon-Thames, where I sometimes heard a gentleman from London who was something of an orator; and his oratory had such an effect upon me, that I often wished I had but property enough, I would carry that person at my own expense all over the nation, that he might spread the gospel of the Saviour in every place. And yet I never got any comfort or establishment from his ministry, but the contrary; for I was sure to return home in legal bondage whenever I heard him. This served to give me a little insight into the deception and vanity of human oratory without the power of divine grace. Now, though I never dared to ask the Almighty for riches to enable me thus to do, yet he soon afterwards opened my mouth to tell others what he had done for me: and it hath pleased God to give testimony to the word of his grace. And thus "the desires of the righteous shall be granted," Prey. x. 24.
Another thing I much desired was, that I might be enabled to build a house of prayer for the Lord, to shew the love and regard I had to him for his manifold mercies to me, though I never dared to ask God to enable me to do any such thing. Yet it fell out, about two or three years afterwards, that a person at Worpolsdon, near Guildford, in Surrey, offered to give a bit of ground and an old barn, and to secure it for the good of the Lord's cause, if I could collect the sum of forty pounds to build a meeting. I did so, and the place was soon erected; but the person who took upon himself to see the writings executed, and the place secured, neglected it; and soon after thee man, on whose ground the place was built, lost his wife, and taking a liking to a woman of some property, who was of the baptist persuasion, went into the water; and after that the place was taken away from me, and a baptist minister admitted in my room, where he continued but a few weeks, for most of the people followed me to another place.
Before I was turned out of this little meeting the Lord shewed me what was coming on, and sent me these two passages of scripture: "Because he hath oppressed and hath forsaken the poor; because he hath violently taken away an house which he builded not; surely he shall not feel quietness in his belly, he shall not save of that which he desired" (Job, xx. 19, 20); and, "Whose rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house," Prov. xvii. 13. Previous to my being turned out of the meeting I opened my thoughts and views to the person on whose ground the meeting was built, and told him all that I saw coming on, as it respected himself: that he was going to be married; that he must go into the water before the woman would have him; and that afterwards he would take the place from me. And in this I believe I told him all the intentions of his heart. He wept, and said, God forbid! But, very soon afterwards, he fulfilled the prediction. And, when I received my orders to come there no more, I told him that evil would never depart from his house. To which he replied, It is a light thing to be judged of you, or of man's judgment. However, soon afterwards God sent an evil spirit among the few that abode there, and divided and scattered them into all winds. The premises were sold, and my little meeting was sold also, for a place to put corn in. Nor did that man ever prosper afterwards as long as he lived; and he died a few years after this affair happened.
We afterwards built a little place at Wooking, in Surrey, and I collected about twenty-five pounds towards that; and the word is preached there to this day. Soon after I collected about forty pounds towards building one at Sunbury, in Middlesex; and not long after the Lord enabled me to build Providence Chapel, in London. In these things God fulfilled the desires of my heart, though I could not muster up courage to pray for them.
Furthermore, I long wished to have a situation where there was plenty of garden-ground, as I understood gardening, and found that buying garden-stuff for a large family took a deal of money. And it has pleased my God to grant me this also: "He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him," Psalm, cxlv. 19.
I must mention two more of the desires of my heart, if my dear friend is not weary of these things. I much wished for a place with two or three acres of land, being desirous of keeping a cow, as there is no such thing as good milk to be got in London, and milk is a very useful article in a large family. I aimed no higher than a dairy of one cow, and for years tried hard to get such a situation, and had nearly accomplished it once, by taking a house on Cravon-hill, near Bayswater, but was disappointed, and therefore gave up all expectations of it. But not long after I was settled where I now am; and, instead of one cow, the Lord sent me four.
Once more. Preaching once a week in the city, it often happened, in the winter season, that it rained or snowed on the nights of my being there. At such times it was seldom that a hackneycoach could be got, being generally all taken up so that I was obliged frequently to walk to Paddington. And not a few deplorable wet journies have I had of this sort, which made me often wish that my circumstances would enable me to engage a glasscoach statedly for two or three nights in the week. But how this desire was granted, and exceeded, by the gift of the coach and horses, I have related before.
I have one more reigning desire in my heart, that has been there for many years, which has never yet been fully granted, though I really believe it will in God's own time and way; and, when it is accomplished, perhaps my dear friend may hear from me again. Till then, farewell. Be of good comfort, and the God of peace shall be with thee.
Ever thine in faith and affection,