To walk across the street, to turn the corner quickly or pretend to see something in a shop window because he beholds his creditor coming; to go a long way round for fear of passing his creditor’s house or hold down his head if forced to pass it lest he may see one he does not want to see; to go to the grocer’s and stand sad and silent waiting until all the customers are gone before he tremblingly asks for a little more credit; to make a desperate effort to ask a friend for the loan of five shillings to pay the milkman, the coalman, or the rentman, and be refused;
to hear the long feared knock of the creditor coming at the promised time making the heart beat because he has nothing to pay with but promises, of which they have already had enough;
to see them frowningly turn away or threaten him with the county-court except he pays what he cannot pay; to be thought dishonest, or a rogue when he feels in the deepest depths of his soul that he would rather die than defraud any living being of one farthing;
all this and much more has been the lot of many a man as honest as ever breathed.
When a man, in spite of all his labour, skill, and caution, is overtaken with losses; when trade is depressed and employment gone; when, hoping against hope, he travels many a weary mile seeking the means to obtain an honest penny, but again and again returning to tell the oft-told tale of no success; gazing, with anxious looks on the silent sufferers dependent upon him; sinking in his circumstances day by day, lower and lower, without the power to prevent it, until he comes almost to the border of despair; this has been the experience of many a God-fearing man and has wrung from his sorrowing soul that short, but oft-used prayer, “Lord help me!” One of the many keen trials to which a good man is sometimes subject when doing his best to pay what he owes and fighting hand-to-hand with his difficulties is, when he is suspected by those whose good opinion he values, and sees, or imagines he sees, a change in their conduct towards him. O! how deeply this pains his honest mind; how sensitive he then becomes. A look or a word which at other times would have passed unnoticed, now almost breaks his heart. And when that good man is an office-bearer in the church, it may be a preacher, and has to give his creditors sermons instead of sovereigns, prayers instead of pence, because his income is too small or his unavoidable difficulties too great; such a man will often, with earnest soul, have to use the little prayer, “Lord help me!”
Grey-headed old Richard Holmes,Â— who for many years was a very respectable preacher in Bury, but who, in consequence of family sickness and his own infirmities, had contracted several small debts, received a letter one morning, which read as follows,
“I am informed you are preaching in Clarke Street Chapel on Sunday next. I hope you will take for your text, ‘Owe no man anything,’ for I intend to be present to hear you; and I will sit in one of the pews, so that you will have a good view of me.”
Poor Richard had not the money to pay this creditor before Sunday and he was in great trouble. Shame, fear, and duty had a terrible battle; but duty conquered, he went to his appointment and found his tormenting creditor in one of the front seats. Richard preached from the text requested and with such effect that one of the congregation said to him next morning:
“I thought, while you were preaching yesterday, that you were giving us some of your own experience, Mr. Holmes, was it so?”
“Yes, it was. I had the text sent me by one who was present;
I had hard work yesterday.”
“It is as I suspected and I have called to furnish you with the means of paying him all you owe; and I am glad to be able to do so. Your sermon yesterday will do good, but I am sure .it must be hard work, as you say, to preach to creditors.”
Speaking of this circumstance to a friend, some time after, Richard said:
“I have not often prayed so earnestly as I did on that Saturday night and Sunday morning. O! how I did cry for help and deliverance; and it came, I believe, in answer to prayer.”
An acquaintance of mine, John Steel, to whom I was relating the above, observed,
“Ah, I can feel for that man. When I first began to preach and before I fully entered the ministry I was many months without employment. I had been supplanted in the place I had as under book-keeper, by a young man who offered to do my work for less wages. The master offered me the same terms, but, thinking I could soon find employment elsewhere, I refused. I travelled scores of miles and tried every place likely or unlikely, but all in vain, and I got so reduced, and so very poor that I would gladly have done anything; but trade being so bad many were in like circumstances and I was a long time in forced idleness. The good woman with whom I lodged was very patient and kind to me though I was getting deeply in her debt. I had paid her twelve shillings a week so long as my money lasted but I had been several months and paid her nothing and I was ashamed when I sat down to a meal for I felt I was eating what did not belong to me. But what I feared most was to see my patient creditor come into the chapel when I was preaching; her presence always confused my mind, and I preached with much difficulty. I owed her money and could not pay it, and I felt sure she would think more of my debt than my discourse.
As I had expected, she at last informed me that she was really not able longer to maintain me and begged I would look out fresh lodgings and pay her when I could, fixing my time for
leaving on the following Monday. I ate and slept very little that week. I believe I was on my knees nearly as much as I was in bed, and I wept much of the time. 1 again tried to get employment day after day but failed. On the Saturday I made up my mind to go and enlist for a soldier.
The nearest barracks was six miles from my lodgings. I set out without telling my landlady, but with the intention of sending her my bounty money towards payment of what I owed. While going 1 bethought myself that I had to preach twice on the following Sunday, and I began to reason thus,
‘Well, I can do without food today. I will rise early in the morning, and go to the place where I have to preach in the afternoon and evening and attend the morning service; perhaps some one will ask me to dinner. After service in the afternoon I am sure to get my tea and a little of something after the evening service. I will then return home, rise early on Monday morning and go for a soldier.’ I had got about three miles towards the barracks when I began to reason thus; I at once turned back, and most of the way I cried like a child.'”
“But did it never strike you on your journey to enlist for a soldier, that the Bible and the sword do not well agree, Mr. Steel?”
“No; downright hunger and poverty hardly can reason. Many have done from want what they would never have even thought of in plenty.”
“Well, and how about the Sunday?” I asked.
“All happened as I had supposed. I set out without breakfast but got invited to dinner. I preached in the afternoon and evening, got two other meals, returned home and went to bed. I expected that on that bed I was lying down for the last time. I was very tired with my day’s work but could not sleep. I was hot and restless for the thought of going for a soldier in the morning greatly distressed me. I feltÂ—what no doubt many of God’s children when passing through heavy trials have feltÂ—tempted to doubt a Providence. I knew I was a converted man and had the witness of God’s Spirit with mine that I was His child. I loved Him above all things; and while labouring in His cause that day, I had been very happy, but, when my work was done and my mind fell back on my condition I was sick at heart and almost every step home I prayed for help. ‘Lord help me!’ had often been my prayer but never so earnest as then. I was brought very low and wondered how it was that my cries in my trouble were not heard and that I was not delivered. My soul revolted at the red jacket and the musket but a11 other ways seemed shut up. In the bitterness of my soul I asked, ‘Is there a Providence? Is there a God?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the faith that was not yet dead in me, ‘there is a Providence, and there is a God, and though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’ That was a night of sore trial and it was late before I fell into a troubled sleep.
I was awakened early in the morning by a loud voice crying from the bottom of the stairs,
‘John Steel! John Steel! Get up, man, get up; the person that took your place is in prison for stealing and if you will be quick and see the master I think you will get it again.’
Get up I did, and was soon walking near the mill to meet the master. O! how my heart beat when I saw him coming. He spoke kindly to me, and asked if I had got work.
‘No, sir,’ I replied.
‘Well, I shall be glad to take you into your old place, at your old wages; if you like you can come at noon.’
I looked round to see if there was any place where I could fall on my knees. My heart was full. I sang and laughed and cried and ran home to tell of my good fortune. My poor landlady was much pleased and promised me another week’s credit. I went upstairs and bowed down before my God. O! how visible to me was His good hand in this thing. I was not to be a soldier with sword and musket but a preacher of peace. Many times since then I have been on the verge of despair in temporal matters; for preachers have their money difficulties as well as others; but I have never doubted a Providence or the power of God to deliver me and it has given me great sympathy with God’s poor people struggling with debts for it always makes me think of my own trials.”
While writing the above, a magazine for August, 1862, was put into my hand, containing the following:Â—
“We have just received the melancholy intelligence, that Brother John Steel, of Holt, departed this life on the 15th of July. The chapels are plunged into grief at his loss; he had won the esteem of all.”
Farewell John! Thy work is soon done and He that delivered thee in thy hour of trial has taken thee where trials are for ever past.
The two deliverances here mentioned are only a type of what millions of God’s servants, in various ages and places, have experienced; and, where there is faith and confidence in His goodness and promises, they will continue to the end of time. The beautiful Scripture narratives which He Himself gives are intended to strengthen our belief and teach us that cries in trouble will be heard.
The widow woman who came to Elisha, and told him that her God-fearing husband was dead, and the creditors were come to take her two sons for debt had, no doubt, a divine impression which induced her to go to see the old prophet. “What hast thou in thy house?” asked Elisha of the poor woman. “Not anything save a pot of oil,” was her answer. “Go, borrow thee vessels, of all thy neighbours, …. not a few. Shut the door upon thee, …. and pour out into all these vessels.” She did
so; and filled, and filled, and filled, until her sons told her there was not an empty vessel left. She, in her joy, ran to tell Elisha of her great deliverance. “Go, sell the oil, pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children, on what is left,” was his advice. Yes;
first, “pay thy debt,” was the prophet’s counsel. She could pay it now, because she had something to pay it with. She was the widow of a good man, and the widow of the pious dead are not forgotten before the Lord; and, probably, she was a good woman and the Lord delivered her. And He will deliver all them that put their trust in Him.
Many of the inhabitants of Manchester, and the surrounding towns, will remember a singular old minister with a red, round, pleasant-looking countenance and a bald head who often preached in a velvet scull-cap. He was a man of very peculiar views but almost unequalled in his description of Christian experience. This man once preached in Rochdale from the text, “Lord help me.” Having read his text, he took off his spectacles and, in his usual deliberate way, looked round on the congregation, saying,
“Friends, by way of introduction, I will tell you how I got this text; and if you will allow me to speak in the first person, I can tell you easier by saying ‘I’ than ‘he.’
Well, then, before I was fully devoted to the ministry I was in business and, as most business men do, I worked a little on credit. When I gave up business and settled as a preacher and pastor of a congregation, I was owing several sums of money; but much more was owing to me so that I had no fear of being able to pay my creditors. One of these creditors, to whom I owed twenty pounds called upon me for payment. I said to him, ‘I will see what I can do for you next Monday.’ but I had not got the money. He was rather cross with me, saying I had ho business to promise except I intended to perform. This observation roused my pride, and I told him that I would pay him on the coming Monday. He went away in a rage, saying he hoped I would.
I set out the following day to see some of my debtors not fearing but I could raise the twenty pounds; but I did not get one farthing. I tried others but with the same success. I then put down on a sheet of paper the names of several of my friends certain that I could borrow twenty pounds from any one of them. But, to my utter amazement, I was mistaken. All of them could sympathize with me a deal better than lend me anything;
and I began to find out that if a man wants to know how many friends he has he had better try to borrow some money.
The next day I made out another list of names of those not so well able to help me as the former, for I thought, if I can get five pounds here and five pounds there I shall be able to raise it all. I travelled many miles on my errand spending a whole day, but returned in the evening without one penny. I began to ask myself, ‘How is this, I, a respectable man and, as some people say, a popular preacher, cannot, among the whole of my
acquaintance, borrow twenty pounds? I thought I had as many friends as most men but now I cannot find one that will trust me twenty pounds.’ My pride got a terrible shake, and I felt very small indeed.
Friday came and my spirits were sinking. I could not tell which way to turn. I had promised to pay and was very anxious to fulfil my promise for good reasons; my honour and veracity as a minister of the gospel were at stake. I feared that if I did not pay the man he would send me the bailiffs; and for a parson to have the bailiffs would be a terrible disgrace. I read the seventy-third Psalm that morning at family worship for I thought it was nearest my case; the mournful portions of God’s Word best agree with the feelings of God’s mourning people. I began to look out texts for the Sunday but I could find none for I could think of nothing but twenty pounds. I tried to read but it was no use; the twenty pounds covered all the letters. Twenty pounds seemed written on everything, on the ceiling, on the walls, in the fire, on my dinner plates, on the faces of my wife and children, and the whole of that day was a day of morbid depression of spirits. I was really miserable.
Saturday morning came and I rose from a sleepless bed. I ate very little breakfast; and when at prayer I was so overcome with my feelings that my wife asked me if I was poorly or in trouble. ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I am in trouble enough;’ and I then told her all about the cause of my sorrow. She was silent for a few minutes, and then said, ‘You have often talked and preached about the power of faith, I think you will now need some yourself.’ Having said this, she rose from her chair and went rattling amongst her pots and kettles. She was evidently mortified because I had been refused the money by those she had considered our friends.
My wife is a good Christian woman but she thinks works are the best evidence of faith, both in preacher and people.
Saturday was spent much as Friday had been. I was in a state of torpor until evening. I then, with a heavy heart, went upstairs into a little room I called my study; for I had three times to preach on the Sunday and no text, twenty pounds to pay on the Monday and no money. What was I to do! For a long time I sat with my face buried in my hands and then I fell on my knees and I believe I said ‘Lord help me! Lord help me!’ a hundred times, for I could say nothing but ‘Lord help me! Lord help me!’ While praying, I felt an impression that these words might serve me for one text and, as Sunday came before Monday, I began to prepare as well as I could for the Sunday work; but no other text could I think of but ‘Lord help me!’
While preaching on the Sunday morning, I had so many thoughts and illustrations arising out of the subject that I felt great liberty in preaching. One of my illustrations was about a man I well knew who was a deacon of a church and had been
an executor for two orphan children. He was tempted to make use of the orphans’ money, and much of it was lost. This so preyed on his mind that he began to drink. He lost his character, lost his peace of mind and died with the reputation of a rogue. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘had this man, the executor, when he first thought of taking the children’s money, resisted the temptation by calling on God to help him,Â—help him to be honest, help him to do nothing but what a professing Christian ought to do,Â—instead of losing the money, his good name, his peace of mind, and, perhaps, his life. God would have heard his prayer and saved him.’
Noon came; but my sermon was not half done. I preached from it again in the afternoon and again in the evening; and I felt that I could have preached a week from it. So, you see, the Lord helped me through my work on the Sunday; and I believed He would, in some way, help me through the Monday.
After finishing the night’s service, when I got to the bottom of the pulpit stairs, a young man stood there with his hat in his hand wishing to see me in private. I took him into the vestry and requested his errand expecting it would be something about his soul. For several minutes we were both silent, but at length he said,
‘You knew my mother, Mr. Gadsby.’
I looked him in the face, saying, ‘Surely I did; but I did not know you at first sight.’
‘Well sir, when she died, she left me some moneyÂ—in fact, all she had except two small sums she wished me to give; one sum of five pounds to a poor old woman of her acquaintance;
and, speaking of you, she said, ‘Our minister needs help and I wish you to give him twenty pounds.’ I paid the five pounds to the old woman; but, thinking no one knew, I resolved never to give the twenty. But while you were talking about the roguish executor this morning I felt thunderstruck and I have now brought you the twenty pounds. Here it is, do take it, and do forgive me.’
It was now my turn to be thunderstruck. I was amazed; and while the young man was putting the twenty sovereigns into my hand I trembled all over. God had heard my prayer; He had helped me through the Sunday and sent me the twenty pounds for the Monday. It was mine and I took it. I shook the young man by the hand, and, without putting the money into my pocket, I went quickly home, spread it out on the table before my wife saying, ‘Here it is, here it is! I now see how it was that I could not borrow the money. God knew where it was and He has sent me the twenty pounds and delivered me out of my trouble. He has heard my prayer, and helped me and I will trust Him and praise Him as long as I live.’ O! my dear friends, when that little prayer, ‘Lord help me,’ comes from the heart of one of God’s children in distress, neither men, devils, nor angels can tell its power. It has brought me thousands of blessings, besides the twenty pounds.”