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Good Words 1860
Illustrations of Divine Providence

What a rich and ever-accumulating treasure of facts, exemplifying the providence of God towards His chosen children, is inherited by the Church ! Every one who contributes to the treasury is a benefactor to his brethren. In the course of a lengthened and extensive ministry, it has been my privilege to witness many such facts. Let me chronicle one or two of them in a periodical with the tone of which they will so happily harmonise, and through the medium of which they will be so widely circulated.

Not long after my ordination, whilst labouring in Yorkshire, I became acquainted with Rebecca L------. She was a very poor woman, grossly ignorant, living in utter neglect of all religious observances, and dragging on life in deepest want and woe, owing to the drunkenness of her husband, and the insanity of her eldest son. A poor neighbour, an excellent woman, induced her, one Sunday afternoon, to accompany her to the church where I ministered. My subject on that occasion was, "To the poor the gospel is preached." It pleased God that His Holy Spirit should bring home the message of life to her heart. Thenceforward she never was missing in the sanctuary. After a season of sore conviction and conflict, her Saviour revealed Himself to her in all the fulness of His grace, giving her "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." She survived the blessed change for about thirty-five years; she walked in "the beauty of holiness;" "her peace was like a river," and her last end lighted up with glory.

About a year after her conversion, calling upon her one afternoon, she burst into tears on seeing me. And when I asked her anxiously what had occasioned her agitation, it was long before she could recover herself sufficiently to answer. At length she said, ''Oh, sir, God only knows what I have felt to-day! I have been filled with shame, and wonder, and praise. This day seven years ago I was at the lowest point of want and wretchedness. My husband was never sober, and my poor son was very outrageous; and he and I were almost starving, for we had not a morsel nor a farthing in the house. About two o'clock in the afternoon I could stand it no longer; a great darkness came over me, and seizing a knife which lay on the table, I sharpened it on a stone, bolted the door, went up stairs, lay down upon my bed, and grasped the knife to cut my throat. A minute or two more and I should have been lost for ever. But just as I was going to draw the knife across my neck there was a loud rapping at the door. I thought I would make haste and not be interrupted. The knocking, however, was so alarming, that at last I rose, went down, and unbolted the door.

Before it stood Miss G------, who said, 'I am in a great hurry, Rebecca; but here are five shillings for you, which we got for some things we made to sell for your relief, as we thought you must be very badly off.' I took the money with tears, and the wish to make away with myself left me. And now, sir, to think that a poor wretch, who was on the door-step of hell, should be a brand plucked out of the fire, should be rejoicing in the Lord! Oh, what can I do for Him who has done it all for me!"

Such was the touching tale told me by Rebecca. It needs no remark. It makes bare the gracious hand of God. An angel sent to rescue could not have made it more plain.

Having adduced a wondrous instance of the interposition of God on behalf of one who was subsequently to be His child, let me now sketch an exemplification of the same gracious Providence, in the case of one of the Lord's dear children—an intervention less marvellous, but not a whit less manifest than the former. Some time after entering upon my present sphere of labour, I was requested to visit a suffering man. His name was William C------. I found him in a cellar—a dark, dirty, desolate cellar—stretched on straw; a wife and child, looking half-starved, were crouching before a scanty fire, whilst the man himself was groaning in sore agony. He had for many years been a seaman in the royal navy, a drunken, profane, profligate man. He was obliged to quit the service in consequence of a complication of rheumatism and scurvy, which brought him to the brink of the grave. It has seldom fallen to my lot to find a sinner more hardened and blind than he was in the first instance, or more gloriously changed than he became in after years. Slowly, very slowly, but most effectually, did the Holy Spirit work in him, till he became a model of consistency, a pattern of holy cheerfulness, mighty in the Scriptures, and full of faith and love. His wife became partaker of the same grace, and still survives, a simple, lowly, loving disciple. All things were changed with them. Their cellar became clean, their countenances radiant, and their whole conversation such as became the gospel of Christ. After a time, the man was able for some years to crawl about; and how often have I delighted to see him bending low in my church, and kneeling at the table of communion! Accustomed to. patch his clothes when a sailor, he became a rough kind of jobbing tailor, and thus to a great extent supported himself and family. Sometimes, however, he was reduced to sad straits, yet would never disclose his distress, so contented and trustful was he. On one occasion, as he afterwards told me, he was brought into such extremity that for twenty-four hours he and his wife and child were wholly without food. The second evening was far advanced, and no relief had come. The child, from her little bed, was crying out for food. The poor wife, weaker in faith than her husband, could refrain no longer, and bursting into a paroxysm of grief, exclaimed, "What are we to do! we shall all be clemmed!" [An expressive Lancashire word, signifying starved..] "Hold thy peace," he said; "kneel down, and we will tell it all to God." She fell on her knees, and he poured out his heart in artless accents to Him who feedeth the young ravens. In the midst of his prayer, a loud rapping at the door interrupted them. On its being opened, a livery servant, carrying a large loaf under his arm, asked if such a family dwelt here; and on their replying in the negative, he said, ''My mistress sent me with this loaf for them. I have searched for them till I am tired; let me leave the loaf on your table till I go and tell them at home." He put it down. There stood the loaf. The wife and child were bent on attacking it at once. But "No," said the good man; "it's not ours." In about ten minutes, however, the servant returned, and said, "My mistress bade me say, that as you seemed very poor, you might keep the loaf." "There," exclaimed William, "I told thee the Lord would see to us !" And having poured out their hearts in praise, they all made a hearty supper.

Was the hand of the Lord more clearly seen when the ravens brought the prophet his daily bread of old, than it was displayed in thus supplying the wants of this praying family? "Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for His goodness, and for the wonders He doeth for the children of men!"

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