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John's prayers at our prayer-meetings did me good. They were evidently the petitions of a man who delighted in prayer. They were expressed in a very homely way, and in the broadest Yorkshire; and now and then he said things which would have provoked a smile if he had not said them with such deep seriousness; but they often melted me, and others too, to tears. I do not doubt that they went up to heaven, and that they brought down on many for whom he prayed God's rich blessing. I could tell of several who said that if one thing more than another had led them to earnest thought about salvation, it was the way in which John Brown prayed.
There was a phrase which often fell from John's lips when he had been talking about anything perplexing and mysterious. I remember well how he would stop and say, with an altered and subdued tone, "Well, well, we must just leave it."
I had called to see him one evening, when I found sitting by his side another hearer of mine, a very different kind of man from John. John had a vigorous mind, and when he once got into an argument, he could hold his own pretty stoutly; but he had no special fondness for discussion, especially about matters of religious controversy. He was a man of simple, child-like faith; and if he once saw that a truth was clearly revealed in the Bible, he used to say, even whilst he admitted that there might be great difficulties about it, "There it is; God says it: there's no getting beyond that." But Peter Jackson was one of those men who want to get to the bottom of everything, and who are very apt to be perplexed by difficulties. I found when I entered the cottage that they had been discussing a problem which has perplexed thoughtful people in all ages, and which has never yet been solved—the permission of sin, with all the miseries which result from it, in the government of a good and holy God.
"Peter wants to know how it is," said John, " when sin is such a bad thing, and God hates it so, and it makes people so miserable, that God ever suffered it to come into the world."
"Ah, John," I said, "that's a question which wiser heads than either yours or Peter's, or mine, have thought a great deal about without finding an answer to it."
"That's what I've been saying," said John.
We talked on the subject for a little time; but at length John said, "Well, Mr. Howard, I don't think if we talk till doomsday we shall get any further: we must just leave it."
But there are very different ways of leaving such a subject. Too many leave it without doing anything to make the world better; but John Brown was not one of that sort of people.
"My idea is this," he said: "Here it is—there's no doubt about that. We don't know how it is God permits it, but we know how it's to be got rid of. Thank God, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners—to make them good, as well as to pardon them; and what we have to do is to get as many people as we can to believe in Him."
And John acted on that principle. He was one of my most zealous and earnest co-workers. He taught a class in the Sunday-school till he was seventy years old. He could not preach himself, he said, but he could try to persuade folks to go and hear those who could preach; and I cannot tell the number of people who are regular worshippers with us who were first persuaded to come by John Brown.
There were other things which John was in the habit of "leaving."
It has been already said that John had passsed through trial. He lost several children when they were young; and when he was nearly sixty, he lost his wife, an excellent, humble-minded woman, John's very counterpart . These bereavements, but especially the loss of his wife, tried him very sorely. Four of his children reached maturity—three daughters and a son, who was the youngest of the family. Two of the daughters married happily in their own rank in life, and lived in other towns; but the second remained with him at home, unmarried, and she was a great comfort to him. All three, indeed, were everything he could desire; for they were real Christians; but his son gave him very much trouble. He had only one lad left, he #aid, and he would do the best he could for him. He gave him a good education; and one of our friends, who had a great respect for John, took the youth into his office. For a time he did very well; but by-and-by he found companions who led him astray; he formed evil habits, and at length he left his native town—where, indeed, he could stay no longer—for Australia. About a year after he had gone, John's daughter, Mary, who lived with him, died of consumption, and John was left quite alone. At first he was almost brokenhearted, and I don't think he ever quite recovered the shock it gave him; but by-and-by he was able to talk about it calmly.
"They're both in heaven," he said to me one night when I called to see him, "Mary and her mother. I wonder if they've found one another out? If they have, what a happy meeting it would be! I can understand their being taken, though it has left me a sad, lonely old man. They were both ready for something better than this world, and the Lord saw it, and took them up to his presence. Besides, it was just that which was wanted to make me think more of heaven, and to stir me up to get ready for it."
We talked for some little time about the beautiful lives and the happy deaths of Mary and her mother, and about their blessedness with the Saviour they had loved so well.
"Ay," he said, "I can understand God taking them; but I don't understand yet about my poor lad. His mother and I, both of us, tried to do our best to bring him up well. We're poor weak creatures, and there may, after all, have been something wanting. Maybe, if we had prayed more for him, and had more faith, things might have been different; and yet there never passed a day that we did not pray for him; and I'm sure we tried to teach him what was right, and to set him a good example. Poor fellow! I believe it was his going wrong as he did that broke his mother's heart. Well, well, we must just leave it. He's in God's hands, and maybe everything will be explained some day."
To the best of my judgment, if ever father had a right to say he had done his utmost for his son, John Brown could say it. That the youth turned out as he did was one of those mysterious exceptions with which we sometimes meet to the general rule of God's dealing with families: "Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." At the time it perplexed me not a little.
But though John "left it," let no one think that he cast off all care for his boy and tried to forget him.
"I can pray for him," he said; "it's all I can do now."
And every day John prayed that God would lead back His prodigal to Himself. He left the mystery for God to explain in His own time; and he left his son in the hands of God.
Three years passed, and John was on his death-bed. Still from the day George Brown had left he had never written either to his father or anybody else that we knew of. One morning, however, I received a letter from a friend of mine, a minister in Australia. It informed me that George was dead. My friend had heard that a poor young man from England was very ill, and he went to visit him. He found him humbled and penitent. He related to Mr. Croft the story of his life, told him what a good father he had, and how wickedly and ungratefully he had behaved to him. He was too weak to write much, but he did write a few lines to his father, in which he told him how deeply sorry he was for all he had done, and craved his forgiveness. The scrap of paper on which this was written was enclosed to me. He had intended to add that he had found peace with God through Jesus, but he was too weak, and Mr. Croft added all particulars about that and about his end.
I went down immediately to John Brown's, and told him,
after a little quiet preliminary talk, that I had received a letter that morning from Australia.
The old man's lip quivered as he said, "Is it about George?"
I told him what I had heard, and put into his hands his son's unfinished letter. His eyes were dim, and they were filled with tears, so he asked me to read it.
"Thank God!" he said. "I should have liked to see him again; but it's little matter. He's found his way to his heavenly Father, and that's a vast deal better than his coming back to me. Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace!"
The words have passed into something like a proverb amongst those who knew John Brown, and every now and then I have heard them repeated in times of deep trial and perplexity, "We must just leave it, as John Brown said."
It may be that these pages will fall into the hands of some one who is in great anxiety and trouble, and who feels sorely perplexed about it. You hardly know how to reconcile it with your ideas of God's wisdom and love, and you don't see what gracious end is to be accomplished by the way He is dealing with you. "Just leave it." You will know it all some day, perhaps, before you die; if not, when you get to heaven.
"Blind unbelief is sure to err,
Perhaps it is a great part of your trouble that you are in anxious suspense about the issue—the earthly issue, we mean —of your present trials, and you would give very much to have your suspense ended. Meantime, you draw all kinds of dark pictures of what may befal you. Cannot you "leave it?" Do what you will, you cannot pierce the cloud