Chapter I. Why I became a Missionary.
IN the year 1850 I was born on a farm in the "lowlands" of Cambridgeshire. The place was known as the "Honey Hill Farm," but why it was called by this sweet name I have never been told. When I was only eight months old, my parents left the farm, and took a business in a neighbouring village, where they resided for a period of eight years. During the eighth year my mother longed for a quieter life, and so my father bought a small house with about half an acre of garden land attached, with the intention of meeting my mother's wishes; but, alas for me, my mother died before the time came to enter upon our new possession.
I cannot remember very much about my mother, but the little I do remember only makes me long to know more. I know she was a very stout woman, and though very active about the house, she could not overtake me when I was naughty, and when she particularly desired to have me near.
Being the only child, my parents had, until I was turned six years of age, they made a good deal of me, and I have no doubt I was what some would call a spoilt child. This much I do remember about my mother--every Sunday afternoon she would take me for a walk in the orchard, and I seem to feel her hand pressing my head to her side now, as I felt it then as we walked and talked together, although it is many, many years since that took place.
As we thus walked together she would tell me of my faults during the past week, and make me understand how unkind and disobedient I had been towards her at times; and she always ended her admonitions by telling me that God would not love me if I behaved unkindly to my mother. In my childish anxiety to be on the safe side, I used to say: "But, mother, if I don't do it again, will God forgive me for what I have already done wrong?" And the answer she usually gave me was: "If you are sorry for having done wrong, and ask Him to forgive you, He will, just as I, your mother, am willing to forgive you when you say you are sorry, and show a desire to be a better child." Alas! I am afraid, having received this assurance, a sort of maternal absolution, I forgot to be sorry for my misdeeds, and the next week saw very little improvement in me. My mother died very suddenly from heart failure.
About two years after my mother's death, my father married again, and perhaps some who read this story will come to one or other of these conclusions, viz., that he was either a very brave or a very foolish man, when they learn that his second wife was a widow with eight children. There were two of us--a brother six years younger than myself; so that, with my father and stepmother, we were a family of twelve.
In the uphill task of providing for us all, my father took to farming again, and in order to economise his expenses, we boys had to work on the farm when we ought to have been at school.
The parish church was between two and three miles away from our farm, but there was a Congregational chapel near by, and so we, who were young, attended the Sunday School there, and our parents became members of the same chapel. When I was a youth I had a very retentive memory, and excelled those of my class in learning hymns and portions of Scripture.
At certain seasons of the year, when the crows and wood-pigeons did much damage to certain growing crops, it became my duty to keep watch over the fields, and I was provided with a gun for the purpose of frightening the birds away, and, owing to the practice I had, I became a good shot for my age. But this kind of work, though pleasant in itself, became very irksome, as it necessitated my staying away, not only from the day school, but from Sunday School also, and it became an annual occurrence, so that from the time the peas began to form in the pods, until the harvest was gathered in, about seven weeks in all, I was never able to attend even the Sunday School. Nevertheless, I made a point of learning my hymns and portions of Scripture every week, just the same as if I were a regular attendant, and then the first Sunday I attended after my long absence, to the surprise of my teacher, I used to stand up and repeat the eight or nine hymns, and the same portions of Scripture, before taking my seat again. When these facts were made known to the superintendent he put it to the whole school whether or not I should receive the same number of marks as if I had attended regularly, and the school answered in the affirmative.
When I was sixteen years of age we left the farm that I have just mentioned, and rented another in an adjoining parish, and here again the parish church was nearly three miles away; but the church in the next parish being the nearest place of worship, and only about one mile from the farm, we young folk attended that church, but our parents continued to attend the Independent chapel.
My father was one of the largest tithe payers in the parish in which we lived, and he paid his tithe ungrudgingly, though he scarcely ever attended the church services. Whenever an agitation was on foot for doing away with tithes, he always joined himself to those who regarded tithes as a divine institution, and, therefore, one that ought to be continued, I remember one of his arguments was something like this: "If any of you who are in favour of doing away with tithes had a farm rented to any one on a lease, and if, at the time the lease expired, the law of the land annulled the paying of tithes, would you continue to let your farm to the old tenant at the same rent as he paid before the tithe was taken away? My belief is that you would say to the old tenant: 'I shall require a higher rent now than before, because there is no tithe rent charged against the land,' and so, instead of the tenant paying the tithe in God's appointed way, to God's appointed ministers, he would have to pay the equivalent to you, the landlord, and as you or your fathers bought the land with a tithe charge upon it, your estate would be enhanced in value by the Government act of abolishing the tithe. You, who are always grumbling about paying tithes, are the ones who complain the loudest against the power and wealth of the great landed proprietors, and yet by doing away with the tithe you would unwittingly put them in possession of a very large amount of unearned increment."
Our removal from one parish to another, and my attendance at the church referred to above, proved to be the turning point in my life, though it did not show itself immediately. The church I now attended was in the parish of Wisbech St. Mary, and the vicar was the Rev. Philip Carlyon. This name will be remembered by all who read this book, as his picture appeared a year or so ago in most of the illustrated papers in England. Mr. Carlyon died near Penzance at the age of 102 years, and, until a short time before his death, he regularly attended the church near to the home of his retirement and read the lessons.
Mr. Carlyon was indirectly the means of my becoming a member of the Church of England; it came about in this way. At the period of which I am writing there was much contention, and even strife, among Christians about the doctrines and teachings of the Church of England, and Mr. Carlyon referred to this in one of his sermons, and he advised those of us present, if we were at all anxious to know what the teaching of the Church should be, to read the Thirty-nine Articles; but, he added: "There may be some in this congregation who do not know that such things as the Thirty-nine Articles exist, and if perchance they have heard about them, they have not the slightest idea where they are to be found." He further said that those of us who possessed a Book of Common Prayer possessed a copy of the Thirty-nine Articles, he told us where to find them, and asked us to read them when we reached home.
Having been brought up amongst Chapel people, I, for one, knew nothing about the Articles, but I made up my mind, then and there, that I would do as he had bidden us. The result was I read and re-read them, until I had committed them all to memory, and I came to look upon the Articles as a sort of Bible in miniature, and it was the teaching contained in these Articles that won me to the Church.
I could not, however, at the time of which I am now writing, claim to have found peace through believing. I was convicted of sin, and wished for the happiness of a sense of forgiveness, of which I had heard others speak. Satan was very busy at this time in placing stumbling-blocks in my way, not only to make me fall into actual sin, but to prevent me from trusting the Scriptures, rather than my own feelings; and, strange to say, the biggest stumbling-blocks he put in my way were hewn out of the Scriptures, so that the book, which I thought contained the words of life, I was shown contained the sentence of my eternal destruction. The texts which proved such a hindrance to my faith, and which prevented me resting with confidence in the Saviour's finished work, were these: first, "Many are called but few are chosen;" and, again: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven."
With reference to the first text, Satan used to whisper in my ear and heart: "You think you are called, but you are not among the chosen ones; you may pray and call upon the name of the Lord, but you do not do the will of God--you know you do not--and you know you cannot do the righteous will of God, yet the Scriptures which you profess to believe in command you to be holy 'as He is holy.' It is presumption to think you can be all this, give it up, you cannot attain it," and then I would be driven almost to despair. On such occasions I could not sleep at all during the night, and my spirit would wrestle with God in prayer; sometimes I have risen from my bed, and begun to dress myself, with the determination of going to some godly person, and explaining my difficulties to him. But the time was drawing near when the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into this world should dawn on my soul, and give me that peace which the world could not give, nor the prince of this world take from me.
I was at this time a member of the choir, and also a member of the Men's Bible Class, and this Bible Class was the channel through which the blessing came to me. Having found peace, through faith in Christ's finished work, I began to help others whom I found travelling through the same maze that I had just escaped, and when the Bible Class seemed likely to be given up, owing to the enforced absence of the lady who had initiated and watched over it for some years, I interviewed its members, and told them what a pity it would be to discontinue the class because our lady friend would be absent for some months, and I promised to fill her place as far as I was able if they would continue to attend, and so it came about that my first work for the Master, in what I may call an official capacity, began.
In addition to the time I spent at nights in preparation for my class, I used to visit the sick in the parish, and read to them, and help to prepare them for the reception of the Lord's Supper, and then, when Mr. Carlyon named the evening when he would visit the sick, and administer the Sacrament, I used to accompany him and receive with the sick person. I have said that this religious work I was doing was done in the evenings, and it may interest those who read this biography to know why it was done under the shadow of night. Some may think it was because I was of a retiring disposition, and did not wish it to be known what I was doing; others may think I was lacking in boldness for Christ; but neither of these suggest the true cause. The reason was I was not at liberty to devote any time to such work during the day. I was my father's eldest son, and it was understood that I should follow him in the business when he retired from active work, consequently my time was fully taken up throughout the day learning my father's business. My father was not what some people would call a gentleman farmer, i.e., one who did no actual work, neither did he bring up his sons in idleness; from the time I was sixteen years of age until I was turned twenty-one, I worked daily on the farm like an ordinary labourer. I learned the art of stacking and ploughing to perfection, and I thoroughly understood the management of cattle; and, as a proof of my efficiency in the art of husbandry, let me say that I have competed in an all-England ploughing match, the competition being for the sons of farmers not occupying less than one hundred and fifty acres of land, and no tyro would think of competing in such a match. I did not win the silver cup for the following reasons: I was the only man in the field to use a "swing plough," that is a plough that is guided, both as regards depth and size of furrow, by the eye and arm of the ploughman. The other ploughmen used ploughs with wheels fixed by an iron frame to the beam of the plough-one wheel gauged the depth of the furrow, the other regulated the breadth--and as the ground that year was very dry and hard it was impossible for me to hold my plough steadily and lay my work as evenly as those who used the wheels, but in spite of the odds against me, I was the straightest ploughman in the field. My father bought me a wheel plough in readiness for the following year, but I was not allowed to compete on account of age, being three months older than the limit; but my brother, six years my junior, competed the next year and brought home the silver cup awarded for the best ploughman among the farmers' sons, and he was declared the second best ploughman in the whole field, which included all classes. From the above it will be seen that whilst I was fervent in spirit serving the Lord, I was not slothful in business, an attitude commended by St. Paul (Rom. xii. n).
It will appear strange to some that, although I was a regular communicant, I had not yet been confirmed; but I shall have even stranger things than this to relate further on. The reason why I was not confirmed can be explained. In the first place, I had been brought up among chapel people who had no such rite, and, in the second place, no confirmation service had taken place in the parish since I had become attached to it. In due course, however, we were notified that the Bishop of the diocese would visit the parish and hold a confirmation at a stated time; and I at once put myself into the hands of the Rev. P. Carlyon to prepare me for that sacred rite, and in due course I was confirmed by Bishop Harold Browne, who was at that time Bishop of Ely. I do not know what the sentiments of other young people are when they are confirmed, but with me it was the most solemn and, at the same time, the most joyous time of my life--solemn, because I was of my own free will entering into a covenant with God, and I realised what my responsibilities were; joyous, because I was a responsible soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ, re-commissioned to fight for His cause with the assurance of victory, knowing that my help was in the Name of the Lord who had made Heaven and earth.
After the event above referred to, I took a growing interest in my Bible class, and a room in a cottage was provided in the parish in which to conduct a service on a Sunday evening, and although I felt myself slow of speech, yet I was greatly encouraged by the number of people who attended.
As weeks passed on, I became more and more interested in preaching, and often when ploughing in the fields I would take a text, and commence preaching a sermon to an imaginary congregation, and, strange to say, I frequently imagined I was pleading with a nation of heathen to accept Christ. The reality was such that I often became so blinded with tears that I could not see between my horses, with the result that I frequently made a crooked furrow. In course of time, I felt the call to devote my life to the work of the Church, and made my desires known to two or three clerical friends, and asked for guidance. The greatest hindrance in the way to my becoming an ordained minister of the Church of England was lack of education, and before I could entertain the slightest hope of being accepted by any of the colleges I should have to read and study very hard. My father was made aware of my desires and consulted about defraying the expenses of a college course; at first he felt disappointed at my leaving him, and the business he had taught me, but eventually he became reconciled, and promised to provide the funds necessary for my education. The next question was, who could be found, conveniently situated to my home, to act as my tutor. Mr. Carlyon was approached, but for valid reasons declined; a neighbouring clergyman in another parish was consulted, but he too, being single-handed, could not spare the time. He undertook, however, to speak to a friend on my behalf, who, he thought, would have the time and was certainly in every other respect highly qualified for the work; and so it came to pass, that in a short time I was Studying under the guidance of the Rev. L. Saunders, senior curate of Wisbech, who subsequently became vicar of St. Paul's, Newcastle-on-Tyne.
I have now given you the reason why I became a missionary, and I think you will agree with me that I was justified in feeling that I was guided by the Holy Spirit in my choice--having realised that I was a sinner, and admitted it, and sought and found pardon through the merits and love of Christ. I was not ungrateful for this heavenly felicity, and was willing to give my life to His service Who had given His life for me.