CHAPTER 4 – Home Sorrows
MANY men who have gained their laurels at public work, have won the greenest in their homes. Most beautiful is it to see men who have much to do with public affairs not unmindful of "home life" and "childward care," and performing all daily duties with tenderness and grace. John Bunyan, making his tags and blessing his blind child, was as great a man, surely, in the eyes of the "throng supernal" as when he was writing his wonderful dream.
Andrew Fuller had a little child, somewhat under six years of age, whose feeble health was a source of great anxiety to her parents. She appears at that early age to have gone for change of air to the house of Dr. Ryland, at Northampton. The first notice of her short history is given, in Mr. Fuller’s Diary, when he fetches her home from that city. Riding with his little one, he glances every now and then at her pale face and ill looks, and a shudder comes over his strong frame. There is some sad prophecy there of a deep shadow soon to fall upon his home. If he should lose her, it is inconceivable that he should sustain the shock. Then, what would be the future of his little child’s soul? He has been writing and feeling very much lately on accountability to God. Is she too young to give an account of the light shed upon her infant years? At all events he must not fail to teach her of that love which is worthy of even a child’s acceptation. So all the way home he tenderly discourses on eternal things to the little weak one, and ends with a fervent prayer to God for a blessing on his words.
On the following Wednesday evening, he goes into his study after service, and the darkness is still thick around him. He bends in prayer to God for resignation to his will. If he could but see the Saviour’s image in his little child, he thinks he could bear the loss even of one of the "dear parts of himself." All the week he cannot escape from his sorrow. "Yet," exclaims he, "the Lord liveth, and blessed be my rock."
A few days afterwards the immediate disorder developed into an attack of measles, and the faint hope is cherished that the disease may be carried off by it, but it soon passes away. On the Sabbath he catechises the children, but the thought of his sick child haunts him all the while. "Lord’s day, March 19th," he writes, "was a distressing day to me. My concern for the loss of her body is but trifling compared with that of her soul. I preached and prayed much, from Matt xv. 2-5, ‘Lord, help me.’ On Monday I carried her towards Northampton; was exceedingly distressed that night; went to prayer with a heart almost broken. Some encouragement from conversation with dear Brother Ryland. I observed that ‘God had not bound Himself to hear the prayers of any one for the salvation of the soul of another.’ He replied, ‘But if He has not, yet He frequently does so; and hence, perhaps, though grace does not run in the blood, yet we frequently see it runs in the line. Many more of the children of God’s children are gracious than of others.’ I know neither I nor mine have any claim upon the Almighty for mercy; but as long as there is life, it shall be my business to implore His mercy towards her."
"Methought I saw, on Tuesday (21), the vanity of all created good. I saw, if God were to cut off my poor child, and not to afford me some extraordinary support under the stroke, that I should be next to dead to the whole creation, and all creation dead to me. O that I were but thus dead, as Paul was, by the cross of Christ! My heart seems to be dissolved in earnest cries for mercy."
With touching simplicity he relates how from her birth he had cherished earnest solicitude on her behalf. "At the time of her birth," he says, "I committed her to God, as I trust I have done many times since. Once in particular, viewing her as she lay smiling in the cradle, at the age of eight months, my heart was much affected; I took her up in my arms, retired, and in that position wrestled hard with God for a blessing; at the same time offering her up, as it were, and solemnly presenting her to the Lord for acceptance. In this exercise I was greatly encouraged by the conduct of Christ toward those who brought little children in their arms to Him for His blessing." Speaking of her residence a short time at Northampton, he adds: "During this fortnight I went two or three times to see her; and one evening, being with her alone, she asked me to pray for her. ‘What do you wish me to pray for, my dear?’ said I. She answered, ‘That God would bless me, and keep me, and save my soul.”Do you think, then, that you are a sinner?’ ‘Yes, father.’ Fearing lest she did not understand what she said, I asked her, ‘What is sin, my dear?’ She answered, ‘Telling a story.’ I comprehended this, and it went to my heart. ‘What, then,’ I said, ‘you remember, do you, my having corrected you once for telling a story?’ ‘Yes, father.’ ‘And are you grieved for having so offended God?’ ‘Yes, father.’ I asked her if she did not try to pray herself. She answered, ‘I sometimes try, but I do not know how to pray; I wish you would pray for me, till I can pray for myself.’ As I continued to sit by her, she appeared much dejected. I asked her the reason. She said, ‘I am afraid I should go to hell.’ ‘My dear,’ said I, ‘who told you so?’ ‘Nobody,’ said she; ‘but I know if I do not pray to the Lord, I must go to hell.’ I then went to prayer with her, with many tears,"
As the sickness brought her nearer to the grave, the tender care of her father abounded yet more and more. When at Northampton, Dr. Ryland composed a little hymn especially for her use. Her father used to carry her out into the fields, and she would repeat to him the lines of this now well-known hymn:
"Lord, teach a little child to pray,
Thy grace betimes impart;
And grant Thy Holy Spirit may
Renew my youthful heart.
"A sinful creature I was born,
And from my birth have strayed;
I must be wretched and forlorn
Without Thy mercy’s aid.
"But Christ can all my sins forgive,
And wash, away their stain;
Can fit my soul with Him to live,
And in His kingdom reign.
"To Him let little children come,
For He has said they may;
His bosom then shall be their home,
Their tears He’ll wipe away.
"For all who early seek His face,
Shall surely taste His love;
Jesus shall guide them by His grace,
To dwell with Him above."
He would then talk with her upon the desirableness of dying, and being with Christ and with holy men and women, and with those children who cried, "Hosanna to the Son of God!" "Thus," he says, "I tried to reconcile her, and myself with her, to death, without directly telling her she would die." One day he steals gently to her bed, and repeats the holy words: "And they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; but the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall lead them unto living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
But he was unable to bear up against the strain of this-continued anxiety; as it grew more apparent that his child’s sickness was unto death, he fell ill, and was unable to be at her side. Nothing can exceed the touching tenderness of his account of her last hours: "On the 25th, in particular, my distress," he says, "seemed beyond measure. I lay before the Lord, weeping like David, and refusing to be comforted. This brought on, I have reason to think, a bilious cholic; a painful affliction it was, and the more so as it prevented my ever seeing my child alive again. Yes, she is gone! On Tuesday morning, May 30th, as I lay ill in bed in another room, I heard a whispering. I inquired, and all were silent! all were silent! – but all is well. I feel reconciled to God. I called my family round my bed. I sat up, and prayed as well as I could; I bowed my head and worshipped a taking, as well as a giving God. June 1st. I just made a shift to get up to go and attend the funeral of my poor child. My dear Brother Ryland preached on the occasion from 2 Kings iv. 26, – ‘It is well.’ I feel, in general, now, a degree of calm resignation. I think there is solid reason to hope that she has not lived in vain; and if she is but reared for God, it matters not when she died. I feel a solid pleasure in reflecting on our own conduct in her education; we endeavoured to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and I trust our endeavours were not in vain. Her visit to Northampton, too, was blessed for her good; she has certainly discovered ever since great tenderness of conscience, and much of the fear of God; great regard for the worship of God, especially for the Lord’s day; and great delight in reading, especially accounts of the conversion of some little children. But all is over now, and I am in a good degree satisfied.
"3rd. To-day I felt a sort of triumph over death. I went and stood on her grave with a great deal of composure! Returned and wrote some verses to her memory.
"4th. Had a good day in preaching on ‘these light afflictions.’ My mind seems very calm and serene, in respect of the child; but, alas! I feel the insufficiency of trouble, however heavy, to destroy or mortify sin. I have had sad experience of my own depravity, even while under the very rod of God!"
But the cup of his sorrow was not yet full. During his child’s sickness, another had been born to him; so strangely "death and life are mixed." The circumstances attending this birth, amidst all the anguish of their watching over the little one whom God took from them, were too much to bear, and his beloved wife was seized with illness which led to distressing insanity, and ended in death. No biographer’s words can add to the picture of his grief, as given in his own bitter lamentation:-
"July 10th. My family afflictions have almost over-whelmed me, and what is yet before me I know not! For about a month past the affliction of my dear companion has been extremely heavy. On reading the fourth chapter of Job this morning, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th verses affected me, – ‘My words have upholden many. Oh that now I am touched I may not faint!’
"25th. O my God, my soul is cast down within me. The afflictions in my family seem too heavy for me. O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me! My thoughts are broken off, and all my prospects seem to be perished! I feel, however, some support from such Scriptures as these: ‘All things work together for good,’ &c. – ‘God, even our own God, shall bless us.’ – ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.’ One of my friends observed, yesterday, that it was difficult in many cases to know wherefore God contended with us. But I thought that there was no difficulty of this kind with me. I have sinned against the Lord; and it is not a little affliction that will lay hold of me. Those words have impressed me of late: ‘It was in my heart to chastise them.’"
In a letter to his father-in-law, he gives an affecting account of his wife’s sickness and death:-
"DEAR AND HONOURED FATHER, – You have heard, I suppose, before now, that my dear companion is no more! For about three months back our afflictions have been extremely heavy. About the beginning of June she was seized with hysterical affections, which, for a time, deprived her of her senses. In about a week, however, she recovered them, and seemed better; but soon relapsed again; and during the months of July and August, a very few intervals excepted, her mind has been constantly deranged. In this unhappy state, her attention has generally been turned upon some one object of distress; sometimes that she had lost her children; sometimes that she should lose me. For one whole day she hung about my neck, weeping; for that I was going to die and leave her! The next morning she still retained the same persuasion; but, instead of weeping for it, she rejoiced with exceeding joy. ‘My husband,’ said she, ‘is going to heaven . . . and all is well! – I shall be provided for,’ &c. Sometimes we were her worst enemies, and must not come near her; at other times she would speak to me in the most endearing terms. Till very lately, she has been so very desirous of my company, that it has been with much difficulty that I have stolen away from her about two hours in the twenty-four, that I might ride out in the air, my health having been considerably impaired. But lately her mind took another turn, which to me was very afflictive. It is true she never ceased to love her husband. ‘I have had,’ she would say, ‘as tender a husband as ever woman had; but you are not my husband!’ She seemed for the last month really to have considered me as an impostor, who had entered the house and taken possession of the keys of every place, and of all that belonged to her and her husband. Poor soul! for the last month, as I said, this and other notions of the kind have rendered her more miserable than I am able to describe. She has been fully persuaded that she was not at home, but had wandered somewhere from it; had lost herself, and fallen among strangers. She constantly wanted to make her escape, on which account we were obliged to keep the doors locked, and to take away the keys. ‘No,’ she would say to me, with a countenance full of inexpressible anguish, ‘this is not my home .. . . you are not my husband . . . these are not my children. Once I had a good home . . . and a husband who loved me . . . and dear children . . . and kind friends . . . but where am I now? I am lost! I am ruined! What have I done? Oh! what have I done? Lord, have mercy upon me!’ In this strain she would be frequently walking up and down, from room to room, bemoaning herself, without a tear to relieve her, wringing her hands, first looking upwards, then downwards, in all the attitudes of wild despair! You may form some conception what must have been my feelings to have been a spectator of all this anguish, and at the same time incapable of affording her the smallest relief.
"Though she seemed not to know the children about her, yet she had a keen and lively remembrance of those that were taken away. One day, when I was gone out for the air, she went out of the house. The servant missing her, immediately followed, and found her in the graveyard, looking at the graves of her children. She said nothing; but, with a bitterness of soul, pointed the servant’s eyes to the wall, where the name of one of them, who was buried in 1783, was cut in the stone. Then turning to the graves of the other children, in an agony, she with her foot struck off the long grass which had grown over the flat stones, and read the inscriptions with silent anguish, alternately looking at the servant and at the stones.
"About a fortnight before her death, she had one of the happiest intervals of any during the affliction. She had been lamenting on account of this impostor that was come into her house, and would not give her the keys. She tried for two hours to obtain them by force, in which time she exhausted all her own strength, and almost mine. Not being able to obtain her point, as I was necessarily obliged to resist her in this matter, she sat down and wept – threatening me that God would surely judge me for treating a poor helpless creature in such a manner! I also was overcome with grief: I wept with her. The sight of my tears seemed to awaken her recollection. With her eyes fixed upon me, she said . . . ‘Why, are you indeed my husband?’ – ‘Indeed, my dear, I am!’ – ‘Oh if I thought you were, I could give you a thousand kisses!’ ‘Indeed, my dear, I am your own dear husband!’ She then seated herself upon my knee, and kissed me several times. My heart dissolved with a mixture of grief and joy. Her senses were restored, and she talked as rationally as ever. I then persuaded her to go to rest, and she slept well.
"About two o’clock in the morning she awoke, and conversed with me as rationally as ever she did in her life: said her poor head had been disordered; that she had given me a great deal of trouble, and feared she had injured my health; begged I would excuse all her hard thoughts and speeches; and urged this as a consideration – ‘Though I was set against you, yet I was not set against you as my husband.’ She desired I would ride out every day for the air; gave directions to the servant about her family; told her where this and that article were to be found, which she wanted; inquired after various family concerns, and how they had been conducted since she had been ill: and thus we continued talking together till morning.
"She continued much the same all the forenoon; was delighted with the conversation of Robert, whose heart also was delighted, as he said, to see his mother so well. ‘Robert,’ said she, ‘we shall not live together much longer.’ – ‘Yes, mother,’ replied the child, ‘I hope we shall live together for ever!’ Joy sparkled in her eyes at this answer: she stroked his head, and exclaimed, ‘Oh bless you, my dear! how came such a thought into your mind?’
"Towards noon she said to me, ‘We will dine together to-day, my dear, upstairs.’ We did so. But while we were at dinner, in a few minutes her senses were gone; nor did she ever recover them again. From this happy interval, however, I entertained hopes that her senses would return when she was delivered, and came to recover her strength.
"On Thursday, the 25th instant, she was delivered of a daughter, but was all day very restless, full of pain and misery; no return of reason, except that, from an aversion to me which she had so long entertained, she called me ‘my dear,’ and twice kissed me; said she ‘must die;’ and ‘let me die, my dear,’ said she, ‘let me die!’ Between nine and ten o’clock, as there seemed no immediate sign of a change, and being very weary, I went to rest; but about eleven was called up again, just time enough to witness the convulsive pangs of death, which in about ten minutes carried her off.
"Poor soul! what she often said is now true. She was not at home; I am not her husband; these are not her children. But she has found her home, – a home, a husband, and a family better than these! It is the cup which my Father hath given me to drink, and shall I not drink it? Amidst all my afflictions I have much to be thankful for. I have reason to be thankful that, though her intellects were deranged, yet she never uttered any ill language, nor was ever disposed to do mischief to herself or others; and when she was at the worst, if I fell on my knees to prayer, she would instantly be still and attentive. I have also to be thankful that, though she has generally been afraid of death all her lifetime, yet that fear has been remarkably removed during the last half-year. While she retained her reason, she would sometimes express a willingness to live or to die, as it might please God; and, about five or six weeks ago, would now and then possess a short interval in which she would converse freely. One of our friends, who stayed at home with her on Lord’s days, says that her conversation at those times would often turn on the poor and imperfect manner in which she had served the Lord, her desires to serve Him better, her grief to think that she had so much and so often sinned against Him. On one of these occasions she was wonderfully filled with joy on overhearing the congregation while they were singing over the chorus, ‘Glory, honour, praise, and power,’ &c. She seemed to catch the sacred spirit of the song.
"I mean to erect a stone to her memory, on which, will probably be engraved the following lines:-
The tender parent wails no more her loss,
Nor labours more beneath life’s heavy load;
The anxious soul, released from fears and woes,
Has found her home, her children, and her God.’
"To all this I may add, that, perhaps, I have reason to be thankful for her removal. However the dissolution of such a union may affect my present feelings, it may be one of the greatest mercies both to her and to me. Had she continued in the same state of mind, which was not at all improbable, this, to all appearance, would have been a thousand times, worse than death.
"The poor little infant is yet alive, and we call her name Bathoni; the same name, except the difference of sex, which Rachel gave to her last-born child. Mr. West preached a funeral sermon last night, at the interment, from 2 Cor. v. 1."
The reader will see that this letter bears the date of 1792, the very year the mission was formed. Up to the time of this great affliction, we have seen how all the events of his life seemed to tend to the work of this year. To us these sorrows may read like a break in the chain; but surely the link is there, though our eyes "are too dim to see it." There was no tenderness or chastened feeling which such sorrow could bring that was not needed in his holy employment. That touching tale of the death of "mother and child" may be read over and over again in the history of after years. In the tenderness of his letters to the missionaries, and in the daily surrender by which alone such toil could be endured, the sorrows of these years repeat themselves. If we had been fashioning his life, we might have said, when "The Gospel worthy of all Acceptation" had been written, and was doing its work in the church, "Now is the time to found the mission." But God had to write deeper things on the soul of His servant before He gave such an enterprise into his hands. "His ways are not our ways, or His thoughts our thoughts."
His relations to his family were sustained with much tenderness and some sternness. There was little confidential intercourse between him and his children; but his love welled forth even in his severity. The constant anxieties of his busy life no doubt stood in the way of a freer and more loving fellowship; but they had enough to cherish a love, perhaps the more full of reverence because there was little confiding familiarity in its exercise.
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