AT the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, Ulrich von Hutten, who distinguished himself both as a swordsman and a satirist, wrote a certain book, entitled, “Letters of Obscure Men.” With a very different object, with more than a spice of the satire by which Hutten’s pages are seasoned — or, may be, without any satire at all — some pleasant, perhaps diverting, and not wholly unprofitable papers might be written as “Letters from Obscure Places.” Perchance there is no place, however obscure or unattractive, but has, to some persons, associations pleasing, useful, or sacred. Who ever sojourns anywhere, for a while even, in scenes unattractive, for among people not lovely, and departs without some sense of regret ? “There is a sort of unexpreset concert A kind of shock that sets one ’s heart ajar:
At leaving even the most unpleasant people And places, one keeps looking at the steeple. ” Some places, otherwise little known or noticed, have been signalized by special providences, or hallowed by the sanctities of personal religion. Who had ever heard of the oaks of Mature, but for Abram’s dwelling under their shade? Who would have remembered Gerar, but for Isaac’s sojourn?
Where had been the record of Bethel, but for Jacob’s vision, or that of the ford Jabbok but for his memorable and prevailing strife?
With many the name of Stambourne is obscure, and few know much of its history. Yet it has a history, and we think some points of it drawn from their obscurity may have some interest for the Christian mind. With me, the name of Stambourne has always been linked with thoughts and experiences of early days, so that in after life I often wished to see it again. Where my Grandfather, Benjamin Beddow, was pastor so long, his grandson could not but find himself at home.
In 1863, I took advantage of a short holiday, to visit a spot so familiar to me in my childhood, and so linked with cherished associations. I went, by train, from London to Yeldham, and having no more luggage than could be conveniently carried, I walked on to Stambourne. I had but a dim remembrance of the village, though I had a pretty clear mental picture of the old Meeting-house, as well as of the old house in which the minister lived.
As it was Saturday, my first thought was to lodge at the village Inn, to, go to the service on Sunday, and to listen to the aged minister. But the sight of the village, and a walk up the street, made me feel that I should be a marked man in the village, and still more a marked man in the congregation. The unexpected presence of a stranger might be disturbing to the preacher; so that it would be hardly fair to go without giving some previous notice. The going, as I meant to have gone, was therefore given up, and I determined to call at the minister’s house and introduce myself that same evening.
I went to the Inn and asked if I could have tea. Yes, it could soon be ready.
The Inn was but a cottage with brick floor and deal table, and though :in the midst of a farming district, milk was not to be had. Bread, butter, and sugar were found. It was not a very bright prospect that: opened before me.
As there was no private room, I sat with the host and his wife, and asked for such information as I ,could[get about the village and its concerns.
What I gathered did not amount to much. How little is known of a prophet in his own country, especially in its inn! They knew Mr. Spurgeon, and could direct me to his home,, which was almost within sight of their own.
After tea, I walked on to the minister’s house. My visit was a surprise, but my reception was cordial. Miss Ann Spurgeon came into the room to meet me, and, receiving my name, called her father.
When he came to “take stock” of the visitor, he gave me the usual greetings, and then asked, as a first question, “Can you preach?” To which I replied, that I had had some years’ practice in that holy art. “Well, then,” was the rejoinder, “will you preach for me to-morrow?” “Certainly, sir, if that will help you.” The good man walked up and down the room, exclaiming as he walked, with lifted hands, “Quite a Providence! Quite a Providence!” He then explained that he had received a letter that very day informing him that an expected preacher for Sunday was hindered by illness from coming; and as it was impossible to obtain a substitute, he was trying, when I came in, to gather a few thoughts, intending, if at all possible, to preach himself “But,” said he, musingly, “my preaching days are past, and I am glad that any friends are found to conduct the services on a Sunday .... Now, thank God, I shall be relieved about to-morrow.”
Thus it was settled that I should preach, in what had once been my own grandfather’s pulpit. Only those who have experienced it knew the joy of such a prospect.
When I was a child, people living beyond the neighborhood might have asked, “What and where is Stambourne?” Circumstances and events have since made it more widely known. Some notes written in 1863 are here transcribed, and may give some notion of what it was then. “Stambourne is a small scattered village, not far from Halstead, in Essex. It has been for years almost shut out from the world, and though a railway now passes near it. it has still such a far-away character as would astonish dwellers in our great towns and cities. To this day there is no post-office, and it is long before the surge of the outer world is felt in Stambourne.”
Some further extracts of letters written in the summer of 1863, may give the reader some glimpses of quiet village life in Stambourne: — “After a walk of several miles, I sit down in the parsonage. To me, the place is full of interesting associations. This is a curious old dwelling; a large house with thin walls, which, though not over upright, are not, as yet, deemed likely to fall, albeit showing signs of decay. This parsonage is two hundred years old, and consists of a stout framework of wood, filled in with lath and plaster. Strong timbers of oak, some of them roughly hewn, combined with oaken rafters and laths, give shape to the roof, which is overlaid with thickly-set tiles, once red, but now varied and enriched in color by velvet moss and brown and purple weather stains. Great beams to support the floors, seen within the rooms, are laid across the ceilings, in several instances resting over the centers of the windows; the openings for the windows being formed in the wooden framework of the wall. Why, the older builders often lodged a huge beam just over a window, is hard to tell.” “A massive pile of chimneys rises above the roof, making the house look a little top-heavy. The mortise and tenon joints, at the angles of the windows and elsewhere, are much shrunk and partially decayed. The legs of the house, as one may say, have become somewhat rickety, and it must sway with the wind and weather, after the fashion of detached timber-framed buildings, according as the pressure is received from one direction or another. The floors slope this way and that. Stairs ‘tilt’ across, somewhat ‘more ‘than rather ’ out of the horizontal line. Banisters lean; windows get rhomboidal instead of square; and door-leaves, remaining square, refuse to shut into the openings they once fitted, but which are now queerly awry.
You might almost imagine that some earthquake wave had been arrested in mid-progress that it might spare something sacred, and that it had left its memorial in the undulating lines of the whole structure, illustrating the original strength of the fabric by the fact that it still continues to stand. “The southern wall. of the house sustains the branches of a vine, which spreads its elegant leaves, and yields its clustering fruit in due season, reminding us of our Savior’s beautiful parable of himself and his disciples, as the Vine and the Branches.”
We have lingered on these details of the picture, because this ancient parsonage has been the abode of pious families, and the center of quiet village life, through long-drawn years, and there is much about its associations to awaken a sentiment of reverence. For more than two centuries “the tabernacle of the righteous” has been on this spot. If the stone should cry out of the wall, and the, beam out of the timber should answer it, what: tales they might tell! — happily, in this case, not tales of accusation, exposing wickedness, or denouncing woe. What conflicts and victories have these walls known! What sufferings of the godly, what hopes and anxieties, what: fears and joys, and what communion with God! Every room has been hallowed by the breath of prayer: its roof-tree has been vocal with the song of praise without ceasing. Almost every Lord’s-day, for many years, the large central room was occupied, in the interval of public service, by Christian people, who edified and comforted one another by godly conference, combined with the voice of intercession and the melody of psalms and hymns. It might be said of these, “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” In this secluded dwelling, successive pastors have peacefully spent their lives, and its chambers have been consecrated by the departure of saints, who have “died in the faith.” We may say that the eyes of the All-seeing, with complacent regard, have rested on it as the scene of “life’s last hours” to many of his beloved children. In this venerable home, angels have witnessed the devotions of the chosen of the Lord; or “encamped round about them that fear him;” and thence these holy ones have escorted “heirs of salvation” to their everlasting home. “Like the old dwelling,” to quote again from a letter written on the spot, in 1863, “the aged minister, the Reverend James Spurgeon, shows and feels the signs of decay and coming dissolution. An uncertain memory and a general failure of the whole man, render him almost incapable of preaching, and occasion mistakes in public address; but, I am told, ‘he makes no mistakes in prayer.’ This, from examples which I observed and enjoyed in family worship, I can readily believe. The pilgrim is patiently and hopefully expecting to be called home, and continues happily walking with God, and waiting patiently till it be said, ‘God took him.’ “The good man has been talking to me this morning with the simplicity of a child, about his privileges, and the mercies of his Heavenly Father towards him; and how he feels ‘more desire for the will of God, and more delight than ever in all good things;’ and how he ‘has had a long life, and enough of it;’ and how he ‘should be glad to go home — -next week, if it were the Master’s will — or next day — at least, I think I should.’ ‘Ah, sir, what a wonderful thing the love of God is! The love ofGOD inCHRIST JESUS our\parLORD, too!’ “Many a quiet talk he has to himself. How cosily the good man sits in his chair, with a large Bible on his table! and as he turns to the pages of the big Book lying open before him, he catches some sentence about his Savior, and anon speaks with him in a still, small voice, perhaps unconscious of any other presence in the room. The visitor’s heart is touched, as he recalls the sentiment of the child’s hymn, and notes its illustration, in the experience of this, aged believer: — ‘Thy Word is everlasting truth, How pure is every page!
That holy Book shall guide our youth, And well support our age. ’ “So our venerable host meditates aloud, thinks or reposes from thought, or takes the solace of a pipe, quietly observing to his guest, ‘ I will not tempt you .’ Then he gets up, staff in hand, and slowly moves to the garden. ‘I must needs move’, says he, ‘else my knees will get so stiff with sitting, that I can’t walk at all.’
Let us look back a little into the remote history of the place. Whence came these buildings? How came this to be the Manse? and whence these memories? Henry Havers was the first minister. He was of an ancient Essex family, was born in the County, and educated at Katherine Hall, Cambridge. He first preached at Ongar, was afterwards chaplain to the Earl of Warwick, and in 1649 was minister of Fifield. It was under the Commonwealth that he was presented to the living of Stambourne: we gather, therefore, that he was in favor with the Parliamentary side.
At the memorable and fatal period of August 24th, 1662, when many men made great sacrifices for conscience sake, Henry Havers was Rector of the parish. As he declined to conform to the requirements of the new Act of Uniformity, he was compelled to resign his living and his home; yet he still continued to teach his neighbors, and, as occasion offered, to preach to such of his flock as could be got together, as well as to others who chose to join them. In this he was so indefatigable and successful, that he became the apostle of the region. “Being a man of property, he was, in this respect, much better situated than many of his brethren. He purchased a farm in the parish called New House, adjoining the grounds of the Rectory, whither he removed his household, and where many came to him for spiritual instruction. Their meetings for worship and preaching were held as often as they could be, free from molestation, and they enjoyed the greater quietness on account of the seclusion of the place; for it is situated some half mile from the public road, and to this day there is no cart-way up to it, but along a soft muddy lane. “Bishop Kennet says of Mr. Havers: ‘I knew him to be a very moderate and quiet man, who kept possession of his own house and lands in that parish, and had an outhouse fitted up for a meeting, which was the better filled because the parish church was too much neglected.’” Of course, it was in many cases the sad want of anything good in the church which drove people to the private meetings, where Christ was fully preached. “That which, tradition points out as the site of the above-mentioned outhouse is still an interesting spot, containing indelible marks of the purpose to which it was once appropriated; it: is very suggestive of the circumstances and feelings of those for whose use it was set apart. It is a small piece of ground containing about 25 poles, apparently cleared in the wood, some 300 or 400 yards from the house on the north side of the lane, and surrounded by a deep moat, which still exists, and was probably crossed by a drawbridge, which, being turned off on the inside, would secure them from sudden surprise. But two years; after the Ejectment they were sorely tried by the passing of the Conventicle Act, and the Five-mile Act in the following year. Many of the little flock were cited before the Archdeacon at Braintree, charged with attending Conventicles preached to by Mr. Havers; some eight or ten at a time being thus arrested in the years 1665, 1669, and 1670, and tried; some as excommunicated persons, and some for not attending church, or not receiving the sacrament, for three years; while Mr. Havers himself was reported to Sheldon, the Archbishop, for having a conventicle at Stambourne.
The many names of persecuted persons show a good amount of wellprincipled piety, as well as nonconformity, existing in the parish in those troublous times, which will be seen more clearly if we bear in mind that though the charges brought against them may seem trivial, if not contemptible, to us, yet at that time they were very grave and carried heavy penalties in ruinous fines, long terms of imprisonment, and even death.
Notwithstanding all these troubles, Mr. Havers and his faithful few held on until those cruel laws, which for ten long years had been growing more and more rigorous, began to be relaxed. In 1672 Mr. Havers availed himself of the indulgence granted, and took a license for his own house to be a Presbyterian Meeting-place, and another for himself to be a Presbyterian Teacher.” (Haverhill and District Magazine, 1883.)
While quietly pursuing his work he was wonderfully preserved in the most troublesome times; and having lived as “a light shining in a dark place”, he sank to rest with a. mild radiance which made him long remembered.
The memory of one marvelous escape, of which, when a boy, I delighted to hear, is still abiding. To some readers the incident may be familiar as being told in reference to other persons; but it may well enough have been true in scores of cases, since spiders and their webs are by no means rare upon the face of the earth, and furnish one of the readiest curtains of protection.
Receiving friendly warning of an intended attempt to apprehend him, and finding men were on his track, he took refuge in a malt-house, and crept into the empty kiln, where he lay down. Immediately after, he saw a spider lower itself across the narrow entrance by which he had got in, thus fixing the first line of what was soon wrought into a large and beautiful web. The weaver and the web, placed directly between him and the light, were very conspicuous. He was so much struck with the skill and diligence of the spider, and so much absorbed in watching her work, that he forgot his own danger, By the time the network was completed, crossing and re-crossing the mouth of the kiln in every direction, his pursuers came into the malthouse to search for him. He noted their steps and listened to their cruel words while they looked about. Then they came close to the kiln, and he overheard one say to another: “It’s no use to look in there ; the old villain can never be there: look at that spider ’s web; he could never have got in there without breaking it. ” Without further search they went to seek elsewhere, and he escaped safely out: of their hands.
After some time, “Mr. Havers purchased the plot of ground on which the Parsonage House and the Chapel now stand, on which he erected a large timber-built house called his mansion, and a chapel which, with galleries on three sides would hold about two hundred persons.” (Haverhill and District Magazine, 1883.)
After the Meeting-house was built, the Manse was occupied by Mr. Havers as the first minister; and it became, thenceforth, the dwelling for each successive minister of the place. “Here,” says Mr. Houchin, “Mr. Havers carried on the good work for a number of years more .... and it would seem that before his death he vested the entire property in trust for the future benefit of the cause he had thus been the means of establishing.” A Mr. Thomas Green gave an excellent library to Mr. Havers, for the use of those who should follow him in the ministry of the gospel in this place. Some forty or fifty volumes still remain, chiefly folios, and containing the solid divinity of the Puritan Fathers. A preacher with a mind to study, and with such good aids thereto, should grow to something amid such surroundings. “Henry Havers was succeeded by his grandson, who bore the same name.
He was a scholarly and excellent man, and during his pastorate, in 1716, the congregation was returned as containing seventeen persons who had votes for Essex, three who had votes for Suffolk, and six who are described as ‘Gentlemen.’ “He continued his ministry till he died, in 1724; and what is somewhat singular, he was followed by a nephew, who also bore the same name. He was M.A. of the University of Cambridge, and ministered here for twentyfour years, to 1748. Thus the first three ministers were of the same family, and each was named Henry Havers; their united pastorates covering a period of eighty-six years. The last is described on his tomb as ‘a man of excellent talents, singular integrity and humility’, a serious observer of providence, and faithful, in the discharge of his office.’ In his pastorate the chapel was enlarged to nearly double the size, and it was entered by two doors on the east instead of one on the south. “During his ministry, in 1735, a further endowment was made to the place, in the gift of Little Collins Farm, by Mrs. Graciana Hallows, for the use of himself’ and all future ministers of this church. During the whole of this time the popular feeling was evidently in favor of the chapel, and all, or most, of the principal families of the neighborhood were members of the congregation; which not only gave strength to the cause, but entirely shielded the poorer people from those social disabilities and persecutions which so severely tried their brethren in other places. This prevented the creation of those bitter animosities which in some places perpetually alienate the adherents of Church and Dissent, but which never seem to have prevailed here.
Of the second Henry Havers but little is recorded. Enough is known to show that he was a zealous and faithful man. He not only bore the name, but emulated the excellence of his predecessor; and after a ministry of many years, followed him to his heavenly home.
To the third Henry Havers is given an equal meed of praise. A manuscript copy of verses, written by a village rhymer after the death of the third Havers, has been preserved. Though rude in composition, the verses strongly convey the abiding impression which these men left among the flock, and which was transmitted to their children.
The lines, written after the death of the third Havers, show that the writer knew him well, was a member of his congregation, was lovingly attached to him, and was living when his pastor died. He dwells on his vivacity, courage, wisdom, outspoken sincerity and general worth, and says, that whilst excelling as a preacher, he yet excelled his preaching by his prayer .
The only existing copy of these lines is in the possession of the writer of this notice. The manuscript bears no date. It is worn and brown with age, and part of it has been torn away, so that verses twenty-one to twenty-four and twenty-nine to thirty-two are missing. There were once thirty-two verses. The original, or preserved copy, is written on a sheet of foolscap paper, having a water-mark of which the date is gone. The writing was in four columns, two on each half-sheet. It has been folded so that the creases divide it into eight pieces, and by friction each crease is almost worn through. The pen has been used with loving care, and the sheet has a neatly-ruled black border. The now unknown author had little metrical skill, but his work is interesting, as giving some dim glimpses of history in the shadowy and half-forgotten past. So much of the document as still remains is here given. “ON THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THOSE EXCELLENT MEN THE THREE HAVERS OF STAMBOURNE.” 1. The third Havers now is dead, And tho ’ to him ‘tis gain; Yet the sore thought fills us with dread — Or loss fills us with pain. 2. The very name to us was dear, It well deserved regard; The name has stood near five score years:
This makes the parting hard. 3. Havers the first was rector here, His zeal for God was warm; The living not to him so dear That he would e ’er conform. 4. He left his church and living too, To keep his conscience clear; His great concern was good to do, And much good did he here. 5. He was far from being a Jude, He was a star of light; Yea, one of the first magnitude, And always shine’d bright. 6. Yea, he was like unto the sun In a bright summer day; Bright he begun and bright went on, And bright he went away. 7. A second Havers then there was For to succeed the first, And he was zealous in God ’s cause, And faithful to his trust. 8. He did not only bear the name Of his predecessor; But his behavior was the same, And much the same his temper. 9. He did not strive for this world ’s gain, Or seek the praise of men:
No, but he spared for no pains That he our souls might win. 10. He did not study human laws, And so neglect divine; He did not mind the world ’s affairs, But held. a heavenly mien. 11. His Lord ’s talent he did not hide, But well improved the same; To God he lived, in Christ he died, And left one: of his name. 12. So a third Havers then we had The work to undertake; Amidst our grief this made us glad:
Of him I now would speak. 13. My weeping muse is at a loss How to begin or end; I want for words to speak the worth Of our departed friend. 14. His natural temper was vivace, His natural courage bold; He had a mind that was sagasse, and tongue that ne ’er cajoled. 15. He had conception clear and large, In learning was profound; His work he faithfully discharged, In a doctrine always sound. 16. He was an excellent divine, But few with him could pair; In preaching he did most outshine, But rather in his prayer. 17. And when he spake to God in prayer, How reverent was his frame!
And with what a serious air He taught us in God ’s name! 18. One thing of him I here will say, Which some of us may shame, How reverently he kept God ’s day, And used God ’s sacred name. 19. Religion here was not confined Unto the Sabbath days; No, it did sit upon his mind, And shone through all his ways. 20. He feared his Lord, but feared no man Yet owned all in their place; 25. Death cut him off when in his prime; And he from us is gone; For he could stay no longer time, And we are left to mourn. 26. In death he freely did submit, And to God ’s will resign; His soul to Christ he did commit, And now in heaven doth shine. 27. Now let us think, did we improve These shining stars of light?
Did we esteem them high in love, And steer our course aright? 28. Let us look back upon the path These holy men have trod ; ” The last of these godly men was “gathered to his fathers” in the prime of life. All three “sleep in Jesus.” Their bodies are laid side by side beneath the floor of the Meeting-house, in which, when living, they delighted to proclaim the savior’s dying love and living power. “The next three pastors of the church were the Reverend Antony Mayhew, Henry Hallam and — King, whose united ministry carried on the work for another thirty-eight years. Up to this time (1735) — and how long after is not known — -the Book of Common Prayer was used in the worship, showing that although the founders could not subscribe their assent and consent to everything contained therein, they did not discard the whole book on that account, but continued to use those portions of it which they found to be helpful and edifying. The pulpit Bible of that date, with quarto edition of Prayer Book, are still extant” (1883.)
Ministers pass away; but the “ministry of reconciliation” is continued. The servants die, but the Master lives “after the power of an endless life.”
Preachers may be silenced, but preaching does not cease. “TheWORD of theLORD endureth for ever.”
The last three ministers have been the Reverend Benjamin Beddow, the Reverend James Spurgeon, and the Reverend J C. Houchin, the present minister.
Not many churches can show so peace fill a record of pastorates. Nine ministers have sufficed for two hundred and thirty years, from 1662-1891. THE REVEREND B.BEDDOW, grandfather of the present writer, was the minister for thirty-four years — from 1776 to 181O. He was married to a sister of Mr. Lemon, who was thrice mayor of his native city, Norwich. “There are persons still living,” says Mr. Houchin (1883),”who knew Mr.
Beddow, and who speak of him as a worthy and useful minister.” A curious remembrance of one of these survivors (October 20th, 1890) gives a glimpse of the man “in his habit as he lived.” In a note to a friend, Mr.
Houchin records the following incident: — “Visiting widow Hardy, of Stambourne Green, I inquired, ‘Have you any recollection of Mr. Beddow, as minister here?’ “‘Oh, yes. He was a very familiar old gentleman, and used to wear a threecocked hat. He had a large family, and in a joking way would say: “My children will eat up two apple-dumplings, and look round for a third:.’” “‘At that time you had many well-to-do farmers in the congregation?’ “‘Yes, we had; and they were very good to the minister, and brought him many presents; and one would take a child a month, and another a month, when it seemed necessary; for they had a family fast. He always called his wife “Madame.” They kept two cows, and when he went for them, he would say, “Madame, I am going for the cows.”’” This mixture of minister and farmer was a consequence of the gift of Little Collins Farm and of the Pastor becoming, to a great extent, his own farm-manager and cattletender, so that in his double Pastoral office, sacred and secular, he was obeying the precept in Proverbs 27:23: “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.”
My grandfather I never saw; but I have a clear recollection of “Madame.”
She was a portly and very handsome woman. She did not look so old as she was. Her face was remarkably smooth and unwrinkled. Her rounded cheek glowed with health and color — a color largely due to certain indelible streaks of crimson, only noticeable on close inspection. Her full, ruby lips were of a delicate satin-like texture; and her countenance, with lustrous grey eyes, reflected all abiding peace and joy. I seem to see her now, as she came, at times, to stay at my father’s house. Her coming and going were great events to the young folks, seeing that she came and went in a post-chaise; and I remember some people used to say they were afraid she would overthrow the chaise in getting in. It could not be denied that she was a woman of weight. When she was at my father’s, along with my mother’s mother — godly woman, too, who lived with us — and an elderly aunt, who was also a grandmother; I used to class them together, and sometimes, having prepared a chair for a pulpit (I spake as a child), I would say, “Now, all you grandmothers, come and hear me preach.” Was there, in this, any fore-cast of future life? Did “coming events cast their shadows before”?
In the rural residence at Stambourne, Mr. Beddow led a peaceful life; and gave himself to “feed the flock of God,” under the rule of the Good Shepherd He enjoyed the seclusion of the place, and brought up a large family of children; several sons, and one daughter. It was the privilege of all to follow the steps of their father, and to “walk in the truth.” All of them are now (1891) gone to their rest. One of them died before his father. He was very fond of music, and was wont to assist “the service of song in the house of the Lord,” and in domestic worship, by playing on the violoncello.
His last hour was filled with music and song. “the ruling passion strong in death” prompted him to ask for his favorite instrument. When it was brought, he rose from the bed, sat in a chair, and with full voice, struck into melody and song: the dying man’s last notes of praise were the pledge and the precursor of nobler praise in the better world. One would like to know the hymns and tunes which sounded through the room; certainly verses from Watts. Words of his may best express the sentiments suited to the time and scene: — “I ’ll praise my Maker with my breath; And when my voice is lost in death, Praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne ’er be past, While life and thought and being last, Or immortality endures. ” There is a tender pathos in the last touch, when the player put aside his instrument, saying — “ Farewell! I shall need you no more!” And when he had made an end, “he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost,” swiftly passing away to join “the full celestial choir,” to sing a new song, and to be made like the perfect model, since he must “see him as he is.”
Another son, the Reverend Barnabas Beddow, was for many years a preacher among the Baptists. He was successively minister at Wickhambrook, Redruth, Grampound, and Great Sampford. In a good old age, after retiring from the pastorate, he died at Stanstead, in 1868, being eighty years of age.
Of the rest of the family no details need be given. They have the worthy record, “These all died in faith.”
One of the grandsons, the writer, Benjamin Beddow, is now (1891) a retired pastor. He was for many years engaged as a Congregational minister at Burley, Barnsley, Newbury, Wanstead, and Bradford-on-Avon.
His pastorate at Bradford-on-Avon was closed March 25, 1883, but he continued to preach frequently to the congregation till the end of June, 1883.
Another grandson, now deceased, gave up his practice as a surgeon, took terms at the University of Cambridge, and became a Curate in the Church of England. After some years he emigrated to Australia. resumed practice as a surgeon, received an appointment in a Government Department, and closed his life in Melbourne.
The rest of the family have each one been honorably engaged in some secular calling.
There is one noticeable incident in the history of Mr. Beddow’s pastorate, which brought much consolation to his mind as a pastor, and is associated with the memorable name of Cornelius Winter.
Mr. Beddow had held a former pastorate, near the place so long connected with the name and work of Mr. Winter. There was a time, during his residence at Stambourne, when he was afflicted with depression of mind, and was sorely tried by a season of apparent spiritual barrenness. Little good seemed to be done around him. He was ready to write bitter thing’s against himself, and to imagine that his work had been to a great extent in vain. “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down,” and who comforted Paul “by the coming of Titus”, sometimes sends very special consolation in such experiences, or causes some light to arise in the darkness. Thus it was with his troubled servant at Stambourne. When pressed, almost beyond endurance, he was surprised and delighted by a most unexpected visit from the Reverend Cornelius Winter, on a special errand of Christian love. The mission was thus explained: — The host and the guest had been previously unacquainted, but there were some young men, attendants on Mr. Winter’s ministry, who were bound to the pastor of Stambourne by precious ties of spiritual relationship. These young men had avowed their discipleship after Mr. Beddow had left the neighborhood, and he had never been informed of his usefulness to them. Having discovered that Mr. Winter was going to preach in Essex, some fourteen or fifteen of them subscribed a sufficient sum to pay expenses, and requested him to visit Stambourne on their behalf, sending also, by his hand, some memorial of their Christian gratitude and love to their former minister and friend.
This was well and graciously done; and we commend these young men of the far-off past to the men of the present time.
Those who know the character and history of Mr. Winter, will easily imagine the generous and loving spirit in which such a commission would be fulfilled. By his stay at the village Manse, he cheered the spirits and comforted the heart of the desponding pastor, and delighted him with the story he had to tell of fruit from his labor in days gone by. This event was regarded as a special providence. The memory of Mr. Winter’s visit was cherished with gratitude and love. His holy conversation, devout prayers, kindly spirit and cordial sympathy could never be forgotten. He himself never knew the amount of benefit his brief sojourn had conferred. May not the host and guest be still rejoicing together in the “Father’s house”, the everlasting home?
The garden was a delight to the dweller in the Manse. It is large, and part of it lies in the rear of the dwelling. On two sides of the square, at some distance behind the house is seen a tall, thick yew hedge, well cut and kept, on the shorter side about sixteen yards long and nearly seventy yards on the longer side. At the angle of this evergreen fence stands a rounded piece of box, of unusual size — -about four feet high. Behind the screen of yew is a broad grass walk. Two sides of the square plot are bounded by quickset, and beyond this are fields which are part of the farm belonging to the Meeting-house estate. The grassy walk, well sheltered by the tall yew hedge, affords a delightful retreat for solitary musing or secret devotion; a fit scene for an Isaac’s meditations at eventide. I understand that my grandfather often made this place “the still retreat of prayer.” Here, methinks, faithful servants of God, filled with thought, engaged in worship, pouring out their tears unto the Lord, or breaking forth into songs of praise, have, by their frequent footsteps, consecrated the still unbroken sod, and for their thoughtful successors have filled the scene with memories to prompt and aid devotion like their own. The quiet of this seclusion suggests its fitness for “converse with God in solitude”, and recalls the sweet lines written by Cowper, in his garden at Olney: — “The calm retreat, the silent shade, With prayer and praise agree; And seem by thy sweet bounty made, For those who follow thee. ” Pacing this “calm retreat,” dwelling on its associations, my thoughts were turned to a story told me by an old Yorkshireman who had lived in a village in Lancashire, and knew a very godly pastor, who had a habit of walking in the lanes, and, like Jonathan Edwards, murmuring in a low voice his utterances before God. He was sometimes overheard, and on one speaking of this to a neighbor the reply was, “Yes, sir, the verra hedges was wick (Wick—quick, alive.) wi’ prayer.”
After a pastorate of thirty-four years, Mr. Beddow closed his life and service at Stambourne in 1810. At one side of the pulpit: in which he used to preach is placed a tablet, bearing an inscription to his memory.
IN MEMORY OF\parTHE REVEREND BENJAMIN BEDDOW, WHO DIED JUNE 26, 1810, After having faithfully discharged his pastoral office in this place for thirty-four years.
This stone was erected to his memory by a few friends out of respect to their deceased Pastor.
TheREVEREND JAMES SPURGEON came to reside in the Manse at Stambourne in 1810. He had often visited his predecessor during the last days of his life, and aided him by pulpit service; for he was then minister in the neighboring town of Clare. He preached a funeral sermon, for him in the old Meeting-house, and almost immediately succeeded to the pastorate.
He was thenceforth the occupant of this quiet home till his decease in, 1864.
Some incidents connected with my visit to Stambourne in 1863 may be here set down, as noted in subjoined extracts from letters written on the spot. “Sunday was a pleasant day, when I preached in the old Meeting-house.
The rustic audience were pleased, and found, I hope, some profit. The glorious Gospel finds those who love it here; and preaching may still do much in proportion to the limits of the field. People, some of them living three or four miles away, come to listen. They are grateful for an endowment which secures a stipend and a residence for the pastor, though the flock can do but little towards his support. “On Monday morning I took a stroll in the lanes and fields, where harvest work was going on. I met one of the laborers, who spoke to me about the services he had attended, and then about past days.
I count now’, said he, ‘you be Mr. Jeames’ son. I knew your father, sir — he was a good man.’ The man then told me he had been ill, and was that day working for the first time after his recovery. ‘ I did feel thankful, sir, this fine day to be in the field, and particular when I rested for dinner. I sat down under a stock of corn, and put my smock over my head to keep the sun off, and thanked God for his goodness. As I sat there I picked up a wheat ear, and saw how nice it looked. I rubbed it in my hand, and said ‘:o myself, “What a many corns! and all these come from one single kernel!
How wonderful it is, and that ’s the way our Heavenly Father feeds his children! ”’ “The general state of things in the village has continued long, and is likely to continue with little change.” A note made in August, 1863, may give some idea of a seclusion which many residents in towns can scarcely nowadays conceive. “Just after I had closed my letter, and displayed it in the front window (the usual practice), the letter-carrier brought yours and took mine away. This process shows how much we are out of the world. Every house is its own post-office. Riding, like Sancho, on a donkey, which we may call Dapple, her majesty’s servant brings a bag from Yeldham, delivering and collecting letters once a day, within a circuit of some miles. If anyone has a letter to send, it is put up in the window. The postman, as he goes by, keeps a sharp look-out, and if he sees a letter thus displayed he calls for it, and takes it to be transferred to the bag for Halstead, thence to find its way to that great busy world, from which these rural dwellings are so much shut out. . . . “During the residence of the Reverend James Spurgeon, the trust of the Meeting-house and of the estate belonging to it: lapsed, through the death of all the trustees, and the failure to elect others. By length of possession the minister might have legally claimed it as his own; and he was so advised when he went to claim his vote as a freeholder in the county. Instead of asserting any such claim, he immediately caused the property to be put in trust, in agreement with the intention of the original donor, and for the purposes required by the first deeds.”
The Reverend C. H. Spurgeon came down from London to preach on the jubilee of his grandfather’s pastorate, in 1860. It was a very interesting occasion, and friends streamed in from every quarter. The Reverend John Spurgeon was. there, and the Reverend James Spurgeon, Junr., then a rising preacher at College. A large covered space was extemporized at Mr.
Gatward’s farm, by the use of a barn, and tents, and tarpaulins. In the afternoon, Mr. C. H. Spurgeon made some allusion to Thomas Binney’s question, “How to make the best of both worlds”, and expressed his opinion that no man could serve two masters, or live for more than one world. The ardent spirit of a Congregationalist minister was aroused, and he interrupted the speaker. This was a mistake; but though it raised discussion, it produced no result upon the evening congregation, which was as thronged and as enthusiastic as that which preceded it. We only refer to it for the sake of the sequel to the anecdote. Years after, the gentleman who interrupted had such an opinion of C. H. Spurgeon that, in a very kind and genial letter, be reminded him of the incident, and asking for a sermon from him, pressed the request by quoting the old saying about Cranmer: “If you do my Lord of Canterbury an ill turn, he will be your friend all the days of your life.” At that time it was not in the power of C.
H. Spurgeon to grant the request, for the season had long been promised to others; but he felt that he would right gladly have done so had it been within the region of the possible.
Great were the crowds of that day: very busy were all the ladies of the region in making tea, and very liberal were the gifts. The venerable old man, whose jubilee was thus celebrated, seemed to feel rather the weight of the years than any special exhilaration because of their having reached to fifty. Within himself he held a quiet jubilee of rest, which the world could neither give nor take away. “The ancient Meeting-house once had an roof, loaded, like that of the Manse, with red tiles. After these services, the heavy tiled roof was removed, a new one being constructed, open-timbered within, and outwardly covered with blue slate. It had been to many none other than the House of God, and their birthplace for heaven. “The ancient Manse, saving some modern repairs, not to say patches, is (1863) very much what it was, only advancing in architectural decrepitude, and making one. think, in its condition, of the old covenant: ‘Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.’ “Like the Manse, the aged minister shows in ‘calm decay’ the tokens of approaching dissolution. During this evening-time of a long life, the ‘old disciple’ and servant of Christ is waiting till his change come, looking to the undiscovered country, ‘having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ’, knowing that ‘if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.’ Meanwhile, the scenes of earth are not forgotten, and its dearest associations bring a solemn and subduing tenderness into the family devotions.”
When some reference was made to Berkshire in a conversation with the aged minister, he spoke of a visit be paid to Hungerford while yet a student at Hoxton, and brought from its hiding-place a precious memorial of that visit, which had been treasured up for nearly sixty years. It was a letter from a young person at Hungerford who had been won to Christ by his ministry.
If these tokens be so precious here, what will it be to meet hereafter converts of whom it may now be said, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.” — 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. “One day he had a chat with me about his children, and about ‘Charles’ — as he had good right familiarly to call him — and about the place in which he preaches, and about his last visit, to which he referred with evident gratification. “‘I have never seen’, said he,’ the great Tabernacle in London. I can never hope to see it now, but I am satisfied to hear about it. I am sure great blessing will yet come out of it.’ “When we kneeled down together, this was not forgotten. It was deeply affecting to listen to the petitions of one ‘dwelling on the sides of eternity’ — a patriarchal pilgrim almost at the end of his journey — praising God for all the good received and wrought by his family; asking for children and grandchildren, especially let those engaged in the sacred ministry, that God would greatly help them, and save them from being injured by the world’s applause, and keep them in humility, and give: an abundant measure of his Spirit, and make them tenfold more useful than aforetime. Who can tell how much they have been indebted to the prayers at this altar of the household?
Next to the road, in front, the garden is bounded by a laurel hedge, an ornament and defense. Within this enclosure stand two large antique yew trees, each cut into fantastic shape, and so trimmed as to make arbors, yielding a pleasant shade for the pastime of children, the converse of friends, or the solace of age.
The sheltering canopy of one of these trees witnessed the incident in the boyhood of the Reverend C. H. Spurgeon, which is thus described in ‘The Life of the Reverend R. Knill’: “During his residence at Wotton-under- Edge, he visited the Reverend James Spurgeon, the minister of an ancient chapel at Stambourne, Essex; and walking in the garden with his host’s grandson, then about ten years old, he felt, he afterwards said, a prayerful concern for the intelligent and inquiring boy, sat with him under a yew tree, put his hands on his head, and prayed for him; telling him at the close that he believed ‘he would love Jesus Christ, and preach his gospel in the largest chapel in the world.’ When this curious prediction obtained something like fulfillment in the young preacher of the Surrey Music Hall, both parties, in a short correspondence, referred to the old garden incident with feelings akin to wonder. Who can trace the subtlety of such suggestions on the tenor of one’s life? All will, at least, be able to appreciate the aspiration prompted by these occurrences — ‘O Lord God omnipotent! Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory. Help me, as thy servant, to go on laboring and rejoicing. These are tokens of thy favor too great to be: left unrecorded. What would thousands of gold. and silver be, compared to the conversion of souls, and the calling out of preachers?” (“Life of R. Knill,” by C. M. Birrell, p. 212.)
We quote the incident as Mr. Birrell gives it ,in Mr. Knill’s Life, hoping that Mr. C. H. Spurgeon will say more upon it, if he is so moved.
Recalling these things, one could not but be struck with the strange, yet natural and strong connection which exists between this little village and the Great City. What golden links, unseen and unknown by the world, yet recognized in the sight of heaven, have inseparably bound together the associations of this obscure Essex village with the Capital of the land; and the oft-crowded Metropolitan Tabernacle with this secluded ministerial home! “Old Mr. Spurgeon,” says Mr. Houchin, “was a high-Calvinist, though not a hyper-Calvinist, in doctrine; as to Church polity, he was a firm Independent; and, as a preacher, he is spoken of as possessing considerable ability and power.” His ministry was for many years attended by a large congregation; very large indeed, if compared with the surrounding population. He held on for eighteen years after the age of seventy, until he was eighty-eight.
The prayers of the minister “old and full of days” have ceased to be daily offered in the time-worn tenement; but he has joyfully gone where they are exchanged for praise.
He has “come to his grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.” He is “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” He departed this life, February 12, 1864, in his eighty-eighth year, and was buried in the graveyard adjoining the Meeting-house, in which his work and worship had been continued so long. “Compassed with infirmity ,” and some of us bowing with years; surrounded by “them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust,” let us lay to heart the lessons of bygone days, and humbly wait the issue of the days to come.
Let us each .say,” My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” Thus may we learn to look beyond our own graves, as well as beyond the graves of the departed, and still beloved ones, to the unchanging home of the “chosen generation,” where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
The Reverend James Spurgeon was succeeded by the present minister, Reverend J. C. Houchin, in I864. When he entered upon his work there were a few old men in the church, who, though very poor and illiterate, possessed solid piety, and were sound believers in God, in Christ. and in prayer ..... ‘They that feared the Lord spake often one to another;’ and every available hour of the Sabbath-day was filled up with meetings for prayer; and an extra evening in the week was set apart for special prayer for the divine blessing. “‘There were only two persons then remaining in the congregation of any considerable means, both very aged, but their hearts were opened to offer some pecuniary help towards putting the buildings in a better state. Other members of the congregation followed to the extent of their means; then others in the neighborhood, and some at a distance; the result being, that in a few years we had built a new parsonage-house, and a new school-room, and had re-built the chapel, putting other buildings into fair repair, altogether at a cost of more than . 1,100. Meanwhile, the blessing of God was on our spiritual work. The congregations were good, a great spirit of hearing was bestowed, and numbers were added to the church. The Sunday-school and other agencies were also revived, and these are still going on, we are thankful to say, not without some signs of the divine favor and blessing, which we earnestly desire may abound yet more and more to the honor of our great Savior and King.” (From an article by Reverend J. C. Houchin, in the Haverhill and Stambourne Magazine, 1883.)
The old Manse and Chapel are now among the things that were remembered and regretted by many; but their removal was inevitable. They were so far gone to decay (in 1865) that no builder would undertake to repair them. There was no alternative but to pull down and build anew.
Even those who loved them best felt: that if they were not taken down they would “make haste and come down” of themselves.
On the occasion of the demolition, the Reverend J. C. Houchin preached a sermon, finding an appropriate text in the words, “Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”
There is consolation in the assurance that “That which cannot be shaken may remain.” While earthly sojourners quit: their homes, or the dwellings themselves “vanish away,” it is a satisfaction to contemplate the future home; the thought of which suggested the insertion of the lines which follow.
THE FUTURE HOME. A city seen from Heaven descending, Builded of GOD — not made with hands; Her walls ‘gainst every foe defending, Secure in peerless beauty stands.
There — blest abode! no sun is needed, No softer moon-beam there to shine; For God ’s own glory unimpeded, Fills the whole scene with light divine There saints shall rest, and Jesus lead them Where ever-living fountains rise; The Lamb, who fills the throne, shall feed them Beneath serene and cloudless skies.
Filled with the fullness of all blessing, Each child shall know as each is known, And each, a perfect love possessing, Shall triumph in the LORD alone. Sighs, tears, and sorrow, all forsaken, Each chased away by GOD ’S own hand; O blissful thought! — to die! — to waken In that bright and glorious land!