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yearned towards those whom he was leaving behind. Truly he was in a strait betwixt the heaven that he saw clearly before him and home with its fond ties and associations which he was leaving behind. For himself, it would be infinitely better to depart and to be with Christ; but as he turned to his young wife, who nobly repressed her tears that she might not add to his grief, and as he caressed the little ones, who were too young to realize that they would soon be fatherless, the struggle was sharp and protracted.
One gracious promise made hallowed music night and day in his own heart, and in the hearts of those soon to be bereaved: "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in me." It was the promise which sustained him whenever he looked earthward, and perhaps it was the one which gave strength to his departing spirit in its flight heavenward. The young widow, having seen the grave close over all that was mortal of him who had been so suddenly taken from her, went home to her darkened room, and with her baby clasped to her bosom, and her three little ones kneeling around her, earnestly implored the fulfilment of the promise which had been of such strength to her departed husband. She thought she was alone, when a voice in a darkened corner of the room said softly,—
"Never fear, poor thing; He has never broken a promise yet; I have been young and now am old; yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread. I have been a widow more than twenty years, and I have never wanted a night's lodging nor a bit of bread, and I never shall!"
The words were spoken by an aged neighbour, for whom there had always been a seat at the fire in Stephen Herbert's cottage, and they brought wonderful assurance into the mourning widow's heart.
"Let me hold baby for you awhile, or let me make the tea; let me do something to help you."
The week did not pass without "Let me do something to help you" being spoken by many neighbours who sadly wanted help themselves. With a grateful heart Mrs. Herbert recognised that this was one of the ways by which her heavenly Father was beginning to fulfil His promise. But while very thankful for the sympathy of others, she was of too industrious a character to remain nursing her grief and making no effort to obtain work by which to support herself and her children. Her stock of money was completely exhausted. Though it was with a heavy heart she thought of parting with a portion of her furniture, she resolved upon doing so and going into the cheapest rooms she could find. It was not long before she had carried out her resolve, and with many of her old things about her was living in a cheap part of the town.
And here it was that the respectability of her home, and of herself and children, surprised the people by whom she was surrounded. Her neighbours had, weekly, far more money than her fingers, though they moved very nimbly at the needle from morning till night, could earn, work as hard as they would. Yet wives were slatternly when she was tidy; children were in rags when hers were decently clothed, and, alas! profanity and drunkenness abounded on every side.
Thinking, one evening, of what her husband would have done had he lived in such a locality, she made up her mind to talk to a few of the women around her about the concerns of their souls. At first her visits were rudely received, but after a few weeks' perseverance she had in her own little room four or five women, to whom she used to read, and with whom she used to pray. Long absence from the town had prevented my hearing anything of her history; but upon my return I heard of the establishment of this little meeting in a neighbourhood in which it must have been a novelty indeed. My first feeling was one of regret that the widow of a respectable and highly-honoured man should have been compelled to take up her residence in it; my second, when I came to see for myself what was being done, was one of unbounded thankfulness.
Going one night to the door, angry voices could be heard within. "Ah!" said a woman, querulously, "it's all very well for you to talk; you had a good husband, though you have lost him; but if you had one that every night of your life beats you black and blue, you would talk differently."
"Look at this eye of mine," cried another voice, savagely, and for some time the room resounded with complaints.
"My friends," said a quiet voice, presently, "I had a good husband; I wish yours loved the Saviour as he did, and they too would be good. It was a very beautiful death he died! I wish you could have seen it; I think it would have helped you to pray that your death might be like it. He thoroughly believed that God would be a Father to our little ones, and the Husband of the widow."
There was silence, but it was soon broken by sobs. "Let me read to you, my dear friends, some of the beautiful words in this book, and then let us pray. I am sure it will comfort you."
The scene was too sacred to intrude upon! Here was a poor widow with four helpless little ones pleading the Divine promise in the midst of the most depressing circumstances, and getting comfort into her own heart by imparting consolation unto others. That night a few gentlemen in the town came to the determination to carry into effect a resolution which had long been under discussion; it was to appoint a Bible woman to labour in neglected districts, and there was no question that Mrs. Herbert would be the most suitable person. When the offer of the position was made to her, she was deeply affected. Her escape from poverty, her being engaged in a work with which her departed husband would have had so much sympathy, were things which she could not immediately realise, but, when she did, she gave fervent thanks to God that thus in His own mysterious but loving way He had fulfilled His promise.
And now began a life of quiet, earnest duty. It was no easy position to fill. She had all the jealousies of the poor to contend against, that she should have been "lifted over their heads;" she had all the rough manners of men who hated religion to contend against; and she had her own private sorrows and sometimes weak health to overcome; but her faith never wavered, her zeal never flagged. It was a work in which she took the greatest delight, and in which her efforts were abundantly blessed. As the years rolled on she saw her children getting a good education, and promising to become children of God. The griefs of her early years, though never forgotten, were softened by the merciful touch of Him who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and a calm and settled peace kept her heart and mind. Speaking sometimes to the poor, sometimes to the rich, when trouble suddenly rolled in upon them like a flood, she would earnestly say, "His way may be in the sea, but it is always the right way; and if we trust in Him He will assuredly bring us to our desired haven—the haven of eternal rest, where friends long parted will meet again, and spend a long eternity, without dreading the dawn of a day which must witness their being divided asunder."
"Wie must just Ieate it."
Iobody could look at my old friend, John Brown, without seeing at once that he was not an ordinary man. I was often asked who he was by those who saw him in the house of God. There was something about his appearance that was striking, especially when he was clothed in his "Sunday best." He was a little above the middle height, and his countenance expressed more than common thoughtfulness and intelligence. He was one of those men, too, respecting whom you say as soon as you see them, that they have passed through trial. I never saw a more devout worshipper, and I never had a more attentive hearer. Whatever the subject might be, he listened attentively. In spirit John was a true gentleman; and he used to say that when a minister had been at the trouble to prepare something to say, the least you could do was to listen to him. And besides, he said that though now and then, if he had had his choice, he would perhaps have preferred hearing about something else, there were other folks to be considered as well as himself. Then, too, he added that it must be a very poor sermon from which he could not get something that would do him good. But it was quite a study to see how eagerly he drank in every word, when the subject appealed to the Christian's experience of the love of Christ or of God's fatherly care and discipline, or pointed him upward to the fulfilment of his best hopes in heaven. His glistening eye, the quiet, unconscious movement of his head, and sometimes a tear trickling down his cheek, told how deeply he felt, and how strong was his interest.
John Brown's place is vacant now; for he has gone up to join in the nobler worship of the glorified; but every now and then I find myself unconsciously looking to the place where he used to sit, for the encouragement his upturned face and his beaming eye always gave me.
Yet John was only a poor working-man, a cloth-dresser in one of our great Yorkshire mills, and he had enjoyed scarcely any advantages of early education. Indeed he told me himself that he went to work when he was only ten years old, and that he learnt to read at the Sunday-school. For a man in his condition of life he had read a great deal; but of all books he prized his Bible the best. He was one of those hearers it did one a world of good to visit; and when I went to see him in an evening, I found him quite as often as otherwise with his Bible open before him; and he had generally something to ask me about on which he wanted information. To say the truth, I was often far more indebted to him than he was to me; and many a time I left his cottage wondering that with all my books, and with scarcely anything to do but to study them, I had not seen this and that before.