A MEMORABLE VISIT TO STAMBOURNE. — MR.
THE story of Mr. Knill’s prophesying that I should preach the gospel in Rowland Hill’s Chapel, and to the largest congregations in the world, has been regarded by many as a legend, but it was strictly true. Mr. Knill took the county of Essex in the year 1844, and traversed the region from town to town, as a deputation for the London Missionary Society. In the course of that journey, he spent a little time at Stambourne Parsonage. In his heart burned the true missionary spirit, for he sought the souls of young and old, whenever they came in his way. He was a great soul-winner, and he soon spied out the boy. He said to me, “Where do you sleep? for I want to call you up in the morning.” I showed him my little room, and he took good note of it. At six o’clock he called me up. There stood in my grandfather’s garden two arbors made of yew trees, cut into sugar-loaf fashion. Though the old manse has given way to a new one, and the old chapel has gone also, yet the yew trees flourish as aforetime. We went into the right-hand arbor, and there, in the sweetest way, he told me of the love of Jesus, and of the blessedness of trusting in Him and loving Him in our childhood.
With many a story he preached Christ to me, and told me how good God had been to him, and then he prayed that I might know the Lord and serve Him. He knelt down in that arbor, and prayed for me with his arms about my neck. He did not seem content unless I kept with him in the interval between the services. He heard my childish talk with patient love, and repaid it with gracious instruction. On three successive days he taught me, and prayed with me; and before he had to leave, my grandfather had come back from the place where he had gone to preach, and all the family were gathered to morning prayer. Then, in the presence of them all, Mr. Knill took me on his knee, and said, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes. I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, where (I think he said) I am now the minister.” He spoke very solemnly, and called upon all present to witness what he said. Then he gave me sixpence as a reward if I would learn the hymn, — “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform. ” I was made to promise that, when I preached in Rowland Hill’s Chapel, that hymn should be sung. Think of that as a promise from a child! Would it ever be other than an idle dream? Years flew by. After I had begun for some little time to preach in London, Dr. Alexander Fletcher was engaged to deliver the annual sermon to children in Surrey Chapel; but as he was taken ill, I was asked in a hurry to preach to the children in his stead. “Yes,” I replied, “I will, if you will allow the children to sing, ‘God moves in a mysterious way.’ I have made a promise, long ago, that so that hymn should be sung.” And so it was: I preached in Rowland Hill’s Chapel, and the hymn was sung. My emotions on that occasion I cannot describe, for the word of the Lord’s servant was fulfilled. Still, I fancy that Surrey was not the chapel which Mr. Knill intended. How was I to go to the country chapel? All unsought by me, the minister at Wotton-under-Edge, which was Mr. Hill’s summer residence, invited me to preach there. I went on the condition that the congregation should sing, “God moves in a mysterious way,” — which was also done. To me it was a very wonderful thing, and I no more understood at that time how it came to pass than I understand today why the Lord should be so gracious to me. 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, David Brainerd, “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!
Those who are curious as to further evidence of this story will find it in Mr. Birrell’s biography of Richard Knill, though scarcely so fully told. No biographer was likely to know so much about it as myself; but yet the main facts are the same.
The following letter from Mr. Knill to my grandfather is very interesting, as showing how the good man thought of the matter: — “Chester, 17th April, 1855. “Revd. Mr. Spurgeon, “Dear Sir, “Perhaps you have forgotten me: but I have not forgotten my visit to you and your ancient chapel, and the fine trees which surround it, and your garden with the box and yew trees, and your dear grandson with whom I conversed, and on whose head I placed my hand, when I prayed with him in the arbor. “Two years ago, he wrote to me, reminding me of these things, and of his warm feelings on the occasion. “Last week I was at Leamington, and dined with a young artist, who had come from London to see his parents. His conversation was much about a popular young minister from the country, whom he had heard preach at Exeter Hall, whose name was Spurgeon. I said I knew him. ‘How is it possible?’ said the gentleman. I told him of my visit, and of your grandson’s letter to me, and of his preaching to John Berridge’s people at Waterbeach, near Cambridge. Oh, it was a fine season of interest and rejoicing! I hardly slept the following night for joy. “A day or two afterwards I dined near Warwick with a party of friends. Their conversation was also about your grandson, not knowing that I had heard of him. Two of the party had been his hearers in London, and were very full of the subject. One of them said, ‘He mentioned your praying with him at his relative’s in the garden.’ I have prayed much for him and about him, that God may keep him at the foot of the cross, that popularity may not puff him up. “Will you please give me his address, as I should like to write to him? Forgive me for this intrusion. I feel much about this dear youth, very much. I have four or five of our ministers in London, and my heart goes out much after them. I have been settled in this city upwards of seven years, and have received more than four hundred members into the church. Matthew Henry’s Chapel is still standing, but is in the possession of the Unitarians. Ours is an offshoot from some of Matthew’s old members, who would have orthodox preaching. “The Lord bless you and all your family! I have a distant recollection of seeing some of them at your house. “Yours very truly, “RICHARD KNILL.”
After that, I went to preach for Mr. Knill himself, who was then at Chester.
What a meeting we had! He was preaching in the theater, and consequently I had to take his place at the footlights. His preaching in a theater took away from me all fear about preaching in buildings of doubtful use, and set me free for the campaigns in Exeter Hall and the Surrey Music Hall. How much this had to do with other theater services many know. “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. ” After more than forty years of the Lord’s lovingkindness, I sat again in that arbor in the year 1887. No doubt it is a mere trifle for outsiders to hear about, but to me it was an overwhelming moment. In July of the year 1887, I went down to Stambourne, and walked about the place like one in a dream. The present minister of Stambourne Meeting-house, and the members of his family, including his son and his grandchildren, were in the garden, and I could not help calling them together around that arbor, while I praised the Lord for His goodness to me. One irresistible impulse was upon me: it was to pray God to bless those lads that stood around me.
Memory begat prayer. He who had blessed me, would bless others also. I wanted the lads to remember, when they grew up, my testimony of God’s goodness to me. God has blessed me all my life long, and redeemed me from all evil, and I pray that He may be the God of all the young people who read this story.
The following is the letter mentioned by Mr. Knill on page 35: — “No. 9, Union Road, “Cambridge, “Feb. 7/53. “Rev. R. Knill, “My Dear Sir, “I feel confident that you will pardon the liberty I take when you read the occasion of it. I have for some time wished to write to you, but could not find you out, until in the Banner I observed a notice of your preaching in the theater of Chester. “Eight or nine years ago, you were traveling, as a deputation from the London Missionary Society, in the county of Essex. Among other places, you preached at the village of Stambourne. I was then a little boy staying at my grandfather’s (Rev. Jas. Spurgeon). You kindly noticed me; I read at family prayer; you took me by your side, and talked to me in a very affectionate manner. You told me a tale of a little boy in Colchester; we went into an arbor in the garden, there you asked me to sing, and I joined in as well as I could. I shall never forget the way in which you tried to lead me to the Savior. Your conversation and spirit were all a father’s could have been, and that one interview has made my heart yours. My eyes rejoice to see your name, and the mention of it brings up emotions of gratitude. In fact, unknown to you, a few words you then spoke have been a sort of star to my existence, and my friends look on them with half the reverence of prophecy. You meant them not perhaps to last so long, but now they are imperishable; they were to this effect, and were heard by more than one: — ‘I think this little man will one day be a preacher of the gospel, and I hope a successful one. I think you will preach in Rowland Hill’s Chapel; and when you do, tell the people this verse, “God moves in a mysterious way,” etc.’ You told me to learn the hymn, and said it seemed perhaps unlikely, but Providence had wrought wonders, and you thought it would be so. This is often mentioned by my grandfather; and somehow, though I am far enough from being superstitious, it holds me fast, and I do confidently, and yet, somehow (and paradoxically), distrustfully, look forward to the time when the whole shall come to pass. “When sixteen and a half years old, I was persuaded to preach in the villages, having for some time been often called to address children in Sabbath Schools, and always gaining attention, perhaps from my youth as much as anything. Once started in lay-preaching around Cambridge, — where I was and am still assistant in a school, — I put my soul into the work. Having been invited to supply, for one Sabbath, the Baptist Church at Waterbeach, I did so; I was invited to continue, and have now been the minister of the congregation for one year and four months. The chapel is always full, many profess to have felt the power of Divine grace, and residents in the neighborhood say that there is a visible reform manifest; God has used things that are not, to bring to naught things that are. I preach thrice on the Sabbath; and often, indeed, almost constantly, five times in the weeknights. My salary being insufficient, I still remain in the school. Though the congregation is large, they being poor, or men of small property, are unable to do much, — though their kindness may be judged of from the fact that I have been to sixty-two different houses to dine on the Lord’s-day.
Thus are your words in part realized. “Though I do not say that your conversation did then lead to my conversion, yet the thought of what I conceived might be my position one day ever worked in me a desire to gain true religion, which even then I knew was the great essential in a minister. I long for nothing more earnestly than to serve God with all my might. My education is amply sufficient for my present station, and I have means and desires for further improvement. “The particulars I have given are perhaps too lengthy, but you will excuse it. I could not refrain from letting you know what is no doubt more interesting to me than to you. I pray that, while standing on the polluted ground (in Chester theater), you may consecrate it in many a heart by being the means of their conversion. Your words spoken in season have been good to me; and if I am of any use in the army of the living God, I owe it in great part to you that I ever enlisted in it. I am not nineteen yet; and need, and trust I shall have, a mention in your prayers. “With the greatest respect, “I am, “Yours truly, “CHARLES SPURGEON.” “P.S. — Since you are much engaged, I shall scarcely expect a line from you; but if I should be happy enough to receive one, I shall be rejoiced.”