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Two Episodes in My Life

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the October 1865 Sword and Trowel


SUPERSTITION is to religion what fiction is to history. Not content with the marvels of providence and grace which truly exist around us, fanaticism invents wonders and constructs for itself prodigies. Besides being wickedly mischievous, this fabrication is altogether unnecessary and superfluous, for as veritable history is often more romantic than romance, so certified divine interpositions are frequently far more extraordinary than those extravaganzas which claim fancy and frenzy as their parents. Every believing man into whose inner life we have been permitted to gaze without reserve, has made a revelation to us more or less partaking of the marvelous, but has generally done so under protest, as though we were to hold it for ever under the seal of secrecy. Had we not very distinctly been assured of their trustworthiness, we should have been visited with incredulity, or have suspected the sanity of our informants, and such unbelief would by no means have irritated them, for they themselves expected no one to believe in their remarkable experiences, and would not have unveiled their secret to us if they had not hoped against hope that our eye would view it from a sympathizing point of view. Our personal pathway has been so frequently directed contrary to our own design and beyond our own conception by singularly powerful impulses, and irresistibly suggestive providences, that it were wanton wickedness for us to deride the doctrine that God occasionally grants to his servants a special and perceptible manifestation of his will for their guidance, over and above the strengthening energies of the Holy Spirit, and the sacred teaching of the inspired Word. We are not likely to adopt the peculiarities of the Quakers, but in this respect we are heartily agreed with them.
    It needs a deliberate and judicious reflection to distinguish between the actual and apparent in professedly preternatural intimations, and if opposed to Scripture and common sense, we must neither believe in them nor obey them. The precious gift of reason is not to be ignored; we are not to be drifted hither and thither by every wayward impulse of a fickle mind, nor are we to be led into evil by suppositious impressions; these are misuses of a great truth, a murderous use of most useful edged tools. But notwithstanding all the folly of hair-brained rant, we believe that the unseen hand may be at times assuredly felt by gracious souls, and the mysterious power which guided the minds of the seers of old may, even to this day, sensibly overshadow reverent spirits. We would speak discreetly, but we dare say no less.
    The two following incidents, however, accounted for by others, have but one explanation to the writer; he sees in them the wisdom of God shaping his future in a way most strange. The first story needs a little preface to set it forth; pardon, therefore, gentle reader, trivial allusions. When I was a very small boy, I was staying at my grandfather's, where I had afore-time spent my earliest days, and as the manner was, I read the Scriptures at family prayer. Once upon a time, when reading the passage in Revelation which mentions the bottomless pit, I paused, and said, "Grandpa, what can this mean?" The answer was kind, but unsatisfactory: "Pooh, pooh, child, go on." The child, however, intended to have an explanation, and therefore selected the same chapter morning after morning, and always halted at the same verse to repeat the inquiry, hoping that he should by that means importune the good old gentleman into a reply. The process was successful, for it is by no means the most edifying thing in the world to hear the history of the Mother of Harlots, and the beast with seven heads, every morning in the week, Sunday included, with no sort of alternation either of psalm or gospel: the venerable patriarch of the household therefore capitulated at discretion, with, "Well, dear, what is it that puzzles you?" Now the child had often seen baskets with but very frail bottoms, which, in course of wear, became bottomless, and allowed the fruit placed therein to drop upon the ground; here then was the puzzle,—if the pit aforesaid had no bottom, where would all those people fall to who dropped out at its lower end?—a puzzle which rather startled the propriety of family worship, and had to be laid aside for explanation at some more convenient season. Queries of the like simple but rather unusual stamp, would frequently break up into paragraphs of a miscellaneous length the Bible-reading of the assembled family, and had there not been a world of love and license allowed to the inquisitive reader, he would very soon have been deposed from his office. As it was, the Scriptures were not very badly rendered, and were probably quite as interesting as if they had not been interspersed with original and curious enquiries. On one of these occasions, Mr. Knill, late of Chester, and now of the New Jerusalem, whose name is a household word, whose memory is precious to thousands at home and abroad, stayed at the minister's house on Friday, in readiness to preach for the London Missionary Society on the following Sabbath. He never looked into a young face without yearning to impart some spiritual gift; he was all love, kindness, earnestness, and warmth, and coveted the souls of men as misers desire the gold which their hearts pine after. He marked the case before him, and set to work at once. The boy's reading was commended—a little judicious praise is the sure way to the young heart; and an agreement made with the lad, that on the next morning, being Saturday, he would show Mr. Knill over the garden, and take him for a walk before breakfast; a task so flattering to juvenile self-importance was sure to be readily entered upon. There was a tap at the door, and the child was soon out of bed and in the garden with his new friend, who won his heart in no time by pleasing stories and kind words, and giving him a chance to communicate in return. The talk was all about Jesus and the pleasantness of loving him, nor was it mere talk, there was pleading too. Into the great yew arbor—cut into a sort of sugar loaf—both went, and the soul-winner knelt down with his arms around the youthful neck, and poured out vehement intercession for the salvation of the lad. The next morning witnessed the same instruction and supplication, and the next also, while all day long the pair were never far apart, and never out of each others' thoughts. The Mission sermons were preached in the old Puritan meeting-house, and the man of God was called to go to the next halting-place in his tour as a deputation from the Society, but he did not leave till he had uttered a most remarkable prophecy. After even more earnest prayer alone with his little protégé, he appeared to have a burden on his mind, and he could not go till he had eased himself of it. In after years he was heard to say that he felt a singular interest in me, and an earnest expectation for which he could not account. Calling the family together, he took me on his knee, and I distinctly remember his saying, "I do not know how it is, but I feel a solemn presentiment that this child will preach the gospel to thousands, and God will bless him to many souls. So sure am I of this, that when my little man preaches in Rowland Hill's Chapel, as he will do one day, I should like him to promise me that he will give out the hymn beginning,

"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform."

    This promise was of course made and was followed by another, that at his express desire I would learn the hymn in question and think of what he had said. The prophetic declaration was fulfilled, and the hymn was sung, both in Surrey Chapel and in Wooton-under-Edge in redemption of my pledge, when I had the pleasure of preaching the Word of life in Mr. Hill's former pulpit. Did the words of Mr. Knill help to bring about their own fulfillment? I think so. I believed them, and looked forward to the time when I should preach the Word: I felt very powerfully that no unconverted person might dare to enter the ministry; this made me, I doubt not, all the more intent upon seeking salvation and more hopeful of it, and when by grace enabled to cast myself upon the Savior's love, it was not long before my mouth began to speak of his redemption. How came that sober-minded minister to speak thus of one into whose future God alone could see? How came it that he lived to rejoice with his young brother in the truth of all that he had spoken? We think we know the answer; but each reader has a right to his own: so let it rest, but not till we have marked one practical lesson. Would to God that we were all as wise as Richard Knill, and habitually sowed beside all waters. On the day of his death, in his eightieth year, Elliott, "the apostle of the Indians," was occupied in teaching the alphabet to an Indian child at his bedside. A friend said, "Why not rest from your labors now?" "Because," replied the man of God, "I have prayed God to render me useful in my sphere, and he has heard my prayers; for now that I am unable to preach, he leaves me strength enough to teach this poor child his letters." To despise no opportunity of usefulness is a leading rule with those who are wise to win souls. Mr. Knill might very naturally have left the minister's little grandson on the plea that he had other duties of more importance than praying with children, and yet who shall say that he did not effect as much by that act of humble ministry as by dozens of sermons addressed to crowded audiences. At any rate, to me his tenderness in considering the little one was fraught with everlasting consequences, and I must ever feel that his time was well laid out. May we do good everywhere as we have opportunity, and results will not be wanting.
    Soon after I had begun to preach the Word in the village of Waterbeach, I was strongly advised to enter Stepney, now Regent's Park College, to prepare more fully for the ministry. Knowing that solid learning is never an encumbrance, and is often a great means of usefulness, I felt inclined to avail myself of the opportunity of attaining it: although I might be useful without a College training, I consented to the opinion of friends that I should be more useful with it. Dr. Angus, the tutor of the College, visited Cambridge, and it was arranged that we should meet at the house of Mr. Macmillan, the publisher. Thinking and praying over the matter, I entered the house exactly at the time appointed, and was shown into a room, where I waited patiently a couple of hours, feeling too much impressed with my own insignificance, and the greatness of the tutor from London, to venture to ring the bell, and make inquiries as to the unreasonably long delay. At last patience having had her perfect work, the bell was set in motion, and on the arrival of the servant, the waiting young man was informed that the doctor had tarried in another room until he could stay no longer and had gone off to London by train. The stupid girl had given no information to the family that any one had called, and had been shown into the drawing-room, and consequently the meeting never came about, although designed by both parties. I was not a little disappointed at the moment, but have a thousand times thanked the Lord very heartily for the strange providence which forced my steps into another and far better path.
    Still holding to the idea of entering the collegiate institution, I thought of writing and making an immediate application, but this was not to be. That afternoon having to preach at one of the village stations, I walked, slowly in a meditating frame of mind over Midsummer Common to the little wooden bridge which leads to Chesterton, and in the midst of the common I was startled by what seemed a loud voice, but may have been a singular illusion, which ever it was the impression was most vivid; I seemed very distinctly to hear the words, "Seekest thou great things for thyself, seek them not!" This led me to look at my position from another point of view, and to challenge my motives and intentions; I remembered the poor but loving people to whom I ministered, and the souls which had been given me in my humble charge, and although at that time I anticipated obscurity and poverty as the result of the resolve, yet I did there and then solemnly renounce the offer of collegiate instruction, determining to abide for a season at least with my people, and to remain preaching the Word so long as I had strength to do it. Had it not been for those words, in all probability I had never been where and what I now am.
    Waiting upon the Lord for direction will never fail to afford us timely intimations of his will, for though the ephod is no more worn by a ministering priest, the Lord still guides his people by his wisdom, and orders all their paths in love; and in times of perplexity, by ways mysterious and remarkable, he says to them, "this is the way, walk ye in it." Probably if our hearts were more tender, we might be favored with more of these sacred monitions; but alas, instead thereof, we are like the horse and the mule, which have no understanding, and therefore, the bit and bridle of affliction take the place of gentler means, else might that happier method be more often used, of which the Psalmist speaks in the sentence, "thou shalt guide me with thine eye."
    The two instances of divine guidance which we have given, are specimens of those particular providences which are common in religious biographies. Out of scores which start up in our memory, we shall select one from the eminently useful life of Peter Bedford, of Spitalfields, whose recent death so many will remember.
    "One summer, Mr. Bedford and two of his nephews were staying for a fortnight at Ramsgate, enjoying the fine weather and the sea breezes. They had nearly spent their allotted term of holiday, which would expire on the Monday ensuing. But on the morning of the preceding Saturday Mr. Bedford woke very early, with a strong impression on his mind that he must return that day to London. Accordingly he rose at once, and, going to the bedroom of each of his nephews, informed them that he should have occasion to proceed to the city that morning. They at once ordered an early breakfast, settled accounts, and all went on board the first packet for the Metropolis.
    "Mr. Bedford did not, however, know the particular object for his return, beyond the impulse of a strong and clear impression that it was his duty to do so.
    "On arriving at his house in Stewart Street, Spitalfields, he found everything going on right; and the remainder of the day passed off quietly, as usual; and with no special occurrence whatever. He now began to feel suspicious that he had acted under a mistaken impression. Next day, Sunday, he attended worship as usual; both forenoon and afternoon passed, and still nothing particular took place. He now feared strongly that a delusion had actuated him.
    "But in the evening, whilst sitting at the supper-table with two acquaintances, the door-bell rung violently, and a sudden conviction came into Mr. Bedford's mind that he was about to learn the cause of his impression at Ramsgate. He rose from table, leaving his friends to themselves, and went to meet his visitor in a private apartment. A tall young man, pale and agitated, entered and threw himself on a sofa. He was greatly excited, but presently communicated to Mr. Bedford the information that a very near relative had just left his home and family under most painful circumstances, and with the intention of totally deserting them and at once going off to America. He besought Mr. Bedford to endeavor, by his personal influence, to prevent the accomplishment of this ruinous and desolating resolve.
    "After going into the particulars of the case more fully, and ascertaining the most probable means of effecting the desired object, Mr. Bedford returned to his friends in the other room, and informed them that circumstances of urgent necessity compelled him to leave them immediately. He and the young man accordingly hurried off together to obtain an interview with another relative of the fugitive. They were able to make arrangements with this person, of such a nature as to preclude the accomplishment of the intended flight to America. The delinquent relative was persuaded to remain in England, and became penitent for what had happened, and eventually peace was restored to his family. Thus the sudden and unexpected impression made on Mr. Bedford's mind at Ramsgate was entirely justified and confirmed by its results, the appropriate test of the nature of such impulses. It is worthy of observation that these special interpositions of Providence generally appear unexpectedly, and as things not to be looked for, or waited for, to the interruption of ordinary life and its reasonable arrangements, but as afforded merely on exceptional occasions, and by a higher wisdom than any in our possession for daily use."
    Our ordinary guides are right reason and the Word of God, and we may never act contrary to these, but still we accept it as matter of faith and experience to us that on exceptional occasions, special interpositions do come to our aid, so that our steps are ordered of the Lord and made to subserve his glory. Shepherd of Israel guide thou us evermore.

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