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 righthand 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 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 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.
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. He 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 about him and for 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 clear 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 off-shoot 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, (Signed) “RICHARD KNILL.”
After that, I went to preach for Mr. Richard 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 loving-kindness, 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 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 remember 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 singularity of the story seems to be that Mr. Knill should foresee the usefulness of a child. But why not? He was a singularly consecrated servant of God, whose communion with the Lord was intimate to a high degree. Therefore the secret of the Lord was with him. There are still things which the Lord reveals to his friends, saying of them much the same as that which he said to Abraham: “Shall I hide this thing which I do, from Abraham my friend?” Many other cases are on record. We find three of them before us in Clarke ’s Mirror: — “Mr. Wiseheart, being condemned by the Cardinal of St. Andrews and his Bishop to be burnt, as he was at the stake, he saw the Cardinal sitting at one of his castle windows, to see execution done upon him; whereupon he said, ‘He who in such state from that high place, feeds his eyes with my torments, within a few days shall be hanged out at the same window, to be seen, with as much ignominy, as he now leans there with pride’: which accordingly came to pass.” “Some godly persons being brought before Bishop Bonner, one of them, called Roger Holland, said thus unto him: ‘ God hath heard the prayers of his servants, whom ye have daily persecuted, as ye do us now. But this I dare be bold in God to speak (which by his Spirit I am moved to say), that God will shorten your cruelty, so that for a time you shall not molest his church; and, dear brethren, that you may perceive the truth of this, know that, after this day, in this place, there shall not any by him be put to the trial of fire and faggot;’ and accordingly they were the last that suffered in Smithfield for the truth.” “In Luther’s youth, it pleased God that he fell into a violent disease, which threatened him with death; at which time there came an old priest to him, that said, ‘Sir, be of good courage, your disease is not mortal; God will raise you up again to afford comfort to many others, which also came to pass.”
The foreseeing Spirit may have reasons for letting in light upon his servants in peculiar cases; and assuredly it is by no means so wonderful a thing as when he gives life to dead souls, and opens blind eyes. There are more things occurrent in the life divine than most men dream. What we have seen and heard we testify.