BROWNLOW NORTH’S CONVERSION
Extracts from Brownlow North by K. Moody-Stuart
The 12th of August, 1854, found Mr. North busy once more upon the Dallas moors; and to show that his hand had not yet lost its cunning, on the 14th, after the other sportsmen had all started for distant beats, he went out, and with only his muzzle-loading gun brought in fifty brace and a bird as his contribution to the day’s total. His son Brownlow claimed fifty-one brace for himself, and it was always an undecided point as to who capped the bag on that day.
But now the Spirit of God was about to revive impressions in his mind and heart with much more than their old power, to imprint them on that living tablet in such a manner as that they should never be effaced. His long-suffering was not exhausted, though that of most Christians would have been so.
In the beginning of November, 1854, while he had still health and vigour to relish sport as much as ever, his thoughts were wandering away to his relation to his offended God. Prayer was still ascending for him, and there was one watching to drop the word in season; for though Mr. North had the night of his startling arrest so vividly impressed upon his mind as to regard it as the whole process of his awakening, Miss Gordon recalled the following important reminiscence:-
`Before his conversion he was spending the day in Elgin, and dined and stayed all night at my house. Our conversation, as it often did, took a serious turn. Sometimes he broke it off hastily, saying, “You always draw me on to make admissions which make you think me better than I really am.” But this evening he seemed depressed, and after sonic minutes’ silence he exclaimed, “I have a great mind to give it all up and go to Blackwell,” meaning, I supposed, intimacies in the Highlands where he went every Christmas, most hurtful to him, hut which no entreaties could prevail on him to give up. I said, “Who is Blackwell?” He said, “An evangelical clergyman of the Church of I England, a nephew of my mother’s, a good and pious man.” I earnestly urged him to do so, and there for the time it ended.’ We may explain that soon afterwards, in the period of his spiritual distress, he did go up to visit the Rev. Edward Blackwell, at Amberley Rectory, whose experienced Christian counsel, then and always after, was much valued by him, and whose views of the doctrines of Divine grace appear, to a large extent, to have influenced and moulded Mr. North’s own,
Mr. North then said to Miss Gordon, ‘You never come to see us now at Dallas; you promised my mother you would never give us up.’ Miss Gordon promised to come, perhaps that week, and on leaving he said to her, ‘Remember your promise.’
In a day or two she received a note from Mrs. North, imploring her to
come to them, and saying that the night before her husband had been very ill, and that she thought it was something on his mind, and if it were, he would open his mind to her, and that he had requested that she should be written for.
That had been the night of Brownlow North’s remarkable awakening, the circumstances of which were often related by him in public. We shall here narrate it as it was given from his own lips to the students of the Edinburgh University in March, 1862:-
‘It pleased God,’ he said, ‘in the month of November, 1854, one night when I was sitting playing at cards, to make me concerned about my soul. The instrument used was a sensation of sudden illness, which led me to think that I was going to die. I said to my son, “I am a dead man; take me upstairs.” As soon as this was done, I threw myself down on the bed. My first thought then was, Now, what will my forty-four years of following the devices of my own heart profit me? In a few minutes I shall be in hell, and what good will all these things do me, for which I have sold my soul? At that moment I felt constrained to pray, but it was merely the prayer of a coward, a cry for mercy. I was not sorry for what I had done, but I was afraid of the punishment of my sin. And yet still there was something trying to prevent me putting myself on my knees to call for mercy, and that was the presence of the maidservant in the room, lighting my fire. Though I did not believe at that time that I had ten minutes to live, and knew that there was no possible hope for me but in the mercy of God, and that if I did not seek that mercy I could not expect to have it, yet such was the nature of my heart, and of my spirit within me, that it was a balance with me, a thing to turn this way or that, I could not tell how, whether I should wait till that woman left the room, or whether I should fall on my knees and cry for mercy in her presence. By the grace of God I did put myself on my knees before that girl, and I believe it was the turning-point with me. I believe that if I had at that time resisted the Holy Ghost Â— of course, I cannot say, for who shall limit the Holy Ghost? Â— but my belief is that it would have been once too often. By God’s grace I was not prevented. I did pray, and though I am not what I should be, yet I am this day what I am, which at least is not what I was. I mention this because I believe that every man has in his life his turning-point. I believe that the sin against the Holy Ghost is grieving the Spirit once too often.’
On the following day he announced publicly to his friends staying in the house, and to others by letter, that from that instant he had become a changed man, a resolution to which in the strength of the Saviour he was enabled to adhere.
When his friend, who had been so suddenly summoned to Dallas, reached the house, she found Mr. North in his dressing-room, at his writing-table. He seemed as if just risen from a long illness, and was very gentle and subdued in manner. He said to her little hut ‘I am, dear auntie, I trust, by the grace of God, a changed man, and I have been writing to some of my former companions, to tell them of the change.’ In the evening, between nine and ten o’clock, he came and joined the family; a bell rang, and she was astonished to see the household assemble for prayers. He read a portion of God’s Word, and made some remarks on it, as if it had been the habit of his life. His manner had no excitement in it, but a gentle gravity. By prayer and reading of the Scriptures he strove to find God and pardon and peace; but during many, many months he rose night after night from his bed, that he might retire in agony of soul to the dressing-room, and there engage in earnest supplication. Some years afterwards, when visiting Dallas with a friend, he went into the billiard-room, and pointing to the chimney-piece said that when in that room he had been so suddenly awakened he took his cigar from his mouth, and laid it down there, never to be touched again. For though he had been in the habit of constant smoking from the time he was twelve years of age, and became so addicted to it that he often even took a cigar in his mouth when he went to bed, and fell asleep with it between his lips, he never afterwards touched the weed or took a billiard cue in his hand.
The announcement made by Brownlow North to his old friends of his sudden change, whether orally or in writing, created no small sensation among them. Some thought he had gone out of his mind, others thought it was a temporary impression or excitement, and that it would soon pass off; and this was specially the case with those of them who were acquainted with his previous convictions and temporary reformation: while in some of the newspapers it was even said, after he began his public work, that the whole thing was done for a wager, and that he had taken a bet to gather a certain number of thousands or ten thousands of hearers in a given time. So little do carnal men understand the workings of the Spirit of God, even when they see the most striking and manifest proofs of it. Not only did worldly people stand in doubt of him, hut Christian people stood aloof from him for a time, and he underwent the trying ordeal of St. Paul, when he essayed to join himself to the disciples, recorded in Acts 9.26, to whose case his own experience of God’s sovereign awakening power had borne a very marked resemblance. Mr. North recorded this similarity of his case to that of Saul of Tarsus in a marginal note on John 4.27, ‘Upon this came Jesus’ disciples, and marvelled, that he talked with the woman.’ It is often a marvel to disciples in every age the people Christ speaks to. When Paul was converted, they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. So it was with Brownlow North, and no wonder, yet for all that he does believe that the Lord has spoken to him. To Him be the gratitude and the glory!’ So on the remark of Festus to Paul at his trial (Acts 26.34), that the apostle was ‘beside himself’ and ‘mad,’ Mr. North notes from his own experience, ‘Christians in all ages have been called
mad; but who was the most mad, Paul or Festus?’ and at verse 22, when Paul said that it was by the help of God that he had continued from the day of his conversion until that day, he doubly underlines Paul’s words and adds, ‘It was God who enabled him to continue. Give Him the glory, and trust in Him. And He will enable me.’