An Autobiographical Sketch, “Earthen Vessel (1867)”, Page 141:
Dear Brother, it has been the request of some of my Christian friends for years to publish a sketch of my experience in the dealings of the Lord with me; so that when you wrote a pressing request for it after a prayerful consideration, I felt I must not deny you; therefore I take my pen, praying the Lord may make it a blessing. I was born at Bethnal Green, in the east end of London, February 23, 1812. My parents were poor, but gave me a plain education. My mother, I hope, was a godly woman, many years a member of the late R. Langford’s, on the Green; but afterwards she became a Baptist, and was a member at Squrries Street chapel, now under the pastorate of C. W. Banks. I, with my brothers and sisters, were sent to Dr. Cox’s Sunday school. God gave me a mind to read the Scriptures; before I was seven, I used to test myself by chapters 10 and 12 of Nehemiah, to see if there were any of those hard names that I could not spell. Then, as far as I can recollect, were the first impressions of Divine things wrought upon my mind, while listening to Dr. Cox on the Sabbath. His text was Jeremiah 8:20: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” This followed me for years, particularly in the autumn of the year, when the summer was over. From this, I began to think there was something wrong between God and my soul; and the “not saved” seemed to ring in my ears. I had a deep concern to know whether God loved me. That portion of Proverbs, “I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me,” often consoled me. In 1820 to 24 I was put to Stepney Meeting Charity School, in connection with the church and congregation of the late Dr. Joseph Fletcher; there, I was highly favoured with a godly schoolmaster; his name was Hastlet. He often closed the school with an address upon soul matters. On one occasion he said it was the bent of the youthful mind to be seeking for happiness; “but you will never find any solid happiness until you find it the Lord Jesus Christ.” This sunk deep into my soul; it seemed always present. I left the school in 1824, and was presented with a new Bible, with a kind address from the late W. Alers Hankey, Esq., the Janker. I was apprenticed to the trade of hot presser and pasteboardmaker, to my uncle, Mr. Jones, 23, Budge Row, the father of our well-known, zealous friend, Samuel Jones, of Watling Street. During this ime I underwent a severe law work in my soul-restless days and nights; having no other trouble, as I enjoyed perfect health, and a good home. Plenty to eat, drink, and wear; but it was, “What must I do to be saved? There can be no hope for me; how can a holy God be reconciled to me? Surely, what he is showing me of myself is only to prepare me for eternal damnation.”
I wanted no companions; I sought solitary walks after going to chapel in the morning. I used to go to Wansted to stroll about the wild scrubs of Epping Forest, but could get no ease for my troubled soul. I often used to compare myself to the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, that returned because she could find no rest for the sole of her foot.
I resolved at length to drown it all in trying worldly pleasure-felt a determination to destroy my own soul; but every attempt was frustrated. I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of sinking into hell. The steps I had taken were quite opposite to the general bent of my mind. I never had a taste for these things that many delight in. If enticed at any time into worldly company, I was like a pig in a drawing-room. At about the age of seventeen I went to see my old schoolmaster at Stepney; and he asked me if I would become a teacher of the Sunday school. The next Sunday I did so. The principal thing that induced me was that it would be a check upon being asked to go another way. There I continued some time. It was a large school; about one thousand children. There I set to hear Dr. Fletcher, well known to be a learned man and eloquent preacher. He was the instrument in God’s hand of further convincing me of my state as a sinner. I often come out of chapel, prowled about Stepney church-yard, like any one in deep sorrow; not a creature upon earth knew anything of it. Well did I learn, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.”
MY PATMOS AND MY DELIVERANCE
On the night of the 10th of October, 1830, after hearing as usual, I returned home in great trouble, with my eyes streaming with godly sorrow. I sat at the door, looking up to the heavens with heavy sighs. At last I thought I must give it vent by prayer. I could find no other place but the bottom of the garden. I went there, kneeled down to pray, felt such a blessed outpouring of soul, that I think time nor eternity will ever erase from my mind; it was as if the very heavens were opened upon me. Such a blessed sight of Christ, and the willingness of His heart to save as being more than all my sins to damn me. I got up like a hird out of a cage; all the curses of Moses’ law flew away; the sweet attractions of Calvary’s cross captivated my mind; that part of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was just my feelings where he comes in sight of the cross; the burden falls from him into the sepulchre, and he saw it no more. This continued some time. I scarcely knew whether I was in the body or out; and thought how foolish not to embrace these blessings before. I had still to learn my own weakness. There was a godly jealousy lest I should not hold them fast. I thought much depended upon my prayer, therefore I have left my bed, and gone to the same place at 2 o’clock in the morning, on purpose to pray to the Lord to enable me to hold fast “the pearl of great price” that I had found. I could then attend my day at school, and the chapel, with great pleasure.
HEARING MR. IRONS
After a short time, I went to hear the late Joseph Irons at Grove Chapel, Camberwell; his ministry was blessed to my soul; it was as if he knew all I had passed through. For a few months I heard the Doctor at Stepney, Sabbath morning, and walked five miles to hear Mr. Irons in the evening; but I was soon spoiled for the former: one trumpet sounded free will, the other free grace; the latter suited my case, as I had long proved that it was “not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” I became a member of Grove Chapel; that ministry was the means of building me up; those precious truth which dropped from his lips the Lord has burned into my soul; they have long been my delight to proclaim to others God’s rich free distinguishing grace to helpless sinners. One part of his ministry was a great stumbling-block to me; he used to speak of the Lord’s people being the subJect of trials. I thought mine could not be the right way, as I was a stranger to the common trials of life.
GETTING MARRIED AND WHAT FOLLOWED
In 1832 I married; and the clouds of tribulation gathered thick; storms of a wilderness journey were soon known; a family came on; I became short of work; afflictions in the family; and I sunk into a dark state of mind. The Bible became a sealed book; with regard to prayer, the heavens seemed as brass above my head. I went back and forward to the house of God like a door upon its hinges. The Lord showed me a little more of my own evil heart. I went with a friend (a Wesleyan) to a prayer-meeting; they called upon me to pray; my prayer was all lamentation and sorrow. Some of the old ladies liked my prayer much, and asked me to come again; but when I got out, my friend took me to task for praying so. He said when we began to be religious, we ought to get better and better every day; but it was not so with me. I continued a long time very tried in circumstances, so much so, that I fell into a fit of unbelief, and murmuring against God’s providential movements. I was returning home to Peckham on Saturday night with only five shillings in my pocket, all I had earned that week. I thought if I could meet with something better to do to earn more money, I would make a surrender of all my religion, if required, to obtain it. I shall never forget the matchless mercy and long-suffering of my God. Going across the Peckham fields, a light from heaven darted into my mind, and the following words from Peter, “That the trial of your faith being more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, may be found to the praise and glory of God at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” I was ashamed and humbled before God. I exclaimed to myself, “What a mercy I am out of hell.” I had to pass through many trials; could mention conspicuous deliverances. I had to experience long wintry seasons of a dark Providence, and a dark soul, and often told my complaints to a dear Christian friend that tried to comfort me, by saying the Lord would appear again.
Soon after, when going to work one morning, the following words were powerfully applied to my soul—“Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be unto the Lord for a name and an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isaiah 45:13. This brought a light into my soul; it was like day-break; and the first intimation to me relative to the work of the ministry. I wished I was in some country village, so I could preach from this text.
REMOVAL TO APSLEY MILL—CALL TO THE MINISTRY
About two months after this, as my work continued very short. I thought I must try somewhere else; and knowing my kind of work was done at Messrs. Dickinson & Co., Apsley Mill, Kings Langley, Herts, I started from Peckham at 4 o’clock in the morning on the 3rd of May 1837, and applied there, after walking twenty-five miles. I obtained a very comfortable situation: here I have been up to the present day. By the blessing of God I have been enabled to bring up a family of seven sons and one daughter comfortably. I left home praying to the Lord if it was not His will that he would dispose me to turn back. I did go home, blessing and praising God for such a great deliverance. I could not make up my mind to think this was only for my temporal good, but thought I could see the Lord had some special design in it. I thought he would make use of me in the work of the ministry, because I felt more happy on soul matters. I soon sought for a place where I could hear a free grace gospel. I found a home with the people at Zion Chapel, and joined their prayer meetings on Thursday evening, and began to speak a little from the chapter. On one occasion they had no minister on the Sabbath. They asked me to read and expound a chapter. I did so. They pressed me to take the pulpit in the evening; after a long consideration I passed my word I would, but thought after what a fool I must be for doing so, as I did not know what to say. Just before service time, the words fell into my mind, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, and all things are become new.” I thought I could tell the people what it was to feel a union to Christ, and what a change of heart was; and when I began, my tongue was loosed; I found no difficulty in preaching; and from that time to the present, it has been my happiness to go forth proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ. I have travelled in most of the counties of England for that purpose, but principally through Herts, Bucks, and Beds. The Lord has given me many seals to my ministry; the Lord laid His afflicting hand upon me, which stopped me for some time from preaching. This was on the 18th of August, 1860, while in bed, I was seized with an attack of paralysis; it nearly took away the use of my right side and speech. The Lord was very kind to me. I never saw myself so little before. I was happy in my soul, and resigned to the will of God.
I had many battles with the enemy. He suggested I had preached error, and the Lord had stopped me. I proved him a liar, and God’s word true. “When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up a standard against him.” This led me to examination, and I cried with David, “Search my heart, O God, and try me, and see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The Lord comforted my soul with the sweet satisfaction that these truths I had many years proclaimed to others, I could live and die by. They were the stay of my soul when apparently on the borders of an eternal world.
THE GOSPEL PREACHED
Do you ask what gospel I preached? I answer, God the Father’s sovereign choice of his people in Christ from before all worlds. God the Son’s redemption work of all the Father’s choice; and the invincible operations of the Holy Ghost as essential to the conversion of the soul, and to testify of Christ as to the suitability of Him as the sinner’s friend, and to make Him known to the heart in all His personal and official glory. These precious truths have warmed my heart thousands of times. I would rather part with my life than any of them. I was six years a preacher before I became a Baptist. The means of opening my blind eyes to it was in the pattern of Christ Himself, and the smiling approbation of heaven upon the act of John, when the heavens opened, and a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
I was baptised by brother Collyer at lvinghoe. I am now a living wonder to medical men and others that I am so far recovered from my affliction. I cannot express the gratitude I feel to God for loosing my tongue again, so that I can now resume my old position, and am desirous of yet
“Going to tell to sinners round,
What a dear Saviour I have found;
And point to his redeeming blood,
And say, Behold the way to God.”
You requested some account of my travels. I may give you that at some future time. There are many difficulties connected with ministers travelling to preach the Gospel; leaving home Saturday afternoon, and go one hundred miles or more all weathers. With the mind loaded with the cares of life, looking to the Lord to bring the mind off to Mary’s better part. Sometimes miss the train, and walk ten or twenty miles by-lanes, across fields, over brooks for the nighest way, step in, and get over ankles in mud; and one occasion lately, the night came on, and like John Bunyan, I got into a by-path meadow, and knew not which way to take, and laid myself down on some straw in a farm yard, with nothing but the heavens for my shelter; but God took care of me. When daylight came, I found myself only two fields off from my desired haven. May the God of heaven bless the reading of this to many of his dear children, so prays,