I obtained a photocopy of James Comley’s book from the British Library. I have scanned this, and OCR’d it. The photocopy was poor, so many sections did not produce good copy and have had to be re-typed by hand. There are, therefore, many errors in the following. If you notice any obvious mistakes, please let me know, giving sufficient information (a large enough section of text and the original page number) so that I can correct it (although I may never find time to do so!!). The book is ‘bookmarked’ using the page breaks in the original, and the shortcuts below should take you to specific pages.
1st July 2003
Back to COMLEY Home page
OF SOME OF
MANY YEARS A PROFESSED
BUT NOW A
DISCIPLE OF JESUS CHRIST
“The life which I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – GAL. ii. 20
The following account of my deliverance from the clutches of Satan, and the thraldom of infidelity, is intended to show that God speaks now, by events and circumstances, as audibly as he did in the days of the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Apostles. To afford a better opportunity of determining the truth of this assertion, and recognizing the principle that the solution of one problem is the key to another, I shall preface the account of my recent conversion to God, by a notice of some of the most striking incidents of which my life has been made up. May the Lord make the perusal of the narrative a blessing to the careless, the concerned, the doubting, the sceptic, the backslider, and the earnest seeker after the great salvation
OF SOME OF
I was born in what may be called “a hovel” – a sort of thatched shed, without a floor in a lane leading from the village of Corston to Malmesbury Common, in Wiltshire. At that time my father worked in a saw-pit. My earliest recollections relate, alas, to my mother's funeral. I saw but little of my father for, several years afterwards. My education was furnished, partly, by the wife of a village shoemaker, and partly at a parish school I was the middle one of three brothers; in some particulars, the favorite. I was initiated, at a very early age, into “the secrets and mysteries of hardwork.” Before I was sixteen, I had made myself familiar with all the drudgery of field-labour; I had obtained a practical knowledge of the use of the “mortar-board;” had worked in a stone-quarry; and followed the steps of my father, in the exercises of the “saw-pit"
At seven years of, age with no small pride, my father introduced me at the Independent Chapel, Malmesbury, as a performer on the diminutive flute. At the age of ten, I had acquired considerable proficiency on the violoncello, or, as it was usually termed, the “bass". The rapid growth of my fingers, in spite of stone picking, having facilitated my acquaintance with the oboe the violin prima and the full-keyed German flute, an opportunity was afforded me of attending the Moravian church, where, for the first time, I heard and saw an organ. My astonishment and admiration knew no bounds. I had no rest until permission was given me “to see if I could learn to play the organ.” A fortnight afterwards, without the assistance of either book or tutor, I played upon it during service. When the Rev. Rowland Hill, or the Rev William Jay, of Bath or any other celebrated, preacher visited the neighbourhood, the self-acquired accomplishments of “the little boy in fustian and corduroy” were duly brought into notice. It was a common thing to get a seat near the organ, “to see young Comley play.” Some idea may be formed of my aptness for musical acquirements, from the well known fact, that I obtained the loan of a trombone, “to see if I could learn to play it,” on a Friday evening, and on the following Monday, although I had never touched the instrument previously, nor had I ever heard one, except in a “street band,” I performed some critical pieces of music upon it a public meeting. With all my enthusiasm I never coveted the gratification of indulging in
profane music. I was decidedly religious, and cared only for sacred music. I embraced every opportunity of attending religious services.
Before I was nine years old, I was frequently in the habit of shedding tears, on account of the desperate tediousness which the wearing up of so many years would involve, before I should be old enough to be a Christian, and receive the sacrament of the Lord's supper. I used to wonder if there was any “mark” by which the minister knew who were “worthy to receive it.” Why did he always pass me by? No one, I thought, could love the Lord of life and glory more than I did! Why did I never see a child treated as a Christian? Did not the Saviour remonstrate with his disciples on that very subject, and insisted on even little children being suffered to come to him? When should I be “big enough” to be a Christian? Sometimes I would obtain a piece of bread, seek some solitary spot (generally in a hay loft), and, after meditating on the sufferings of Christ, the institution of the Lord's supper, and the cruel death of the Saviour the anguish of whose countenance was always most vividly pictured to my mind, I would kneel down and pray; then, dedicating myself and the bread, and beseeching God to bless both, would most devoutly break the bread, and eat it in remembrance of the love of him, whose body was broken upon the cross, that I might be made whole. I was not afraid that GOD would think it presumption, because it was “the love of God” that constrained me; but can anyone imagine what a sin I supposed it would be thought were it known to MAN ? What would “the minister” have said had he known what I had done? Such was the feeling which “the constitution” of the Christian church produced.
But, notwithstanding my being somewhat of a favourite, I was continually getting into scrapes with my father. Being a very passionate man when he chastised, he “did it with a vengeance,” and very often, it seemed to me, I had to suffer, and that most severely, “for nothing at all.” People in a passion, often make use of language which they do not think of at other times. Some vent their anger in curses, some in predictions, and some in kicks and blows. My father's “remedy for a rage” was composed of three blows, two kicks and one prediction. It was a very common thing for him to declare his belief, that I should “one day come to the gallows;” while I felt as certain that such a heart-breaking penitent would never do anything of the sort. I regret to say, that to a very great extent, his examples has not been lost upon his son. May the Lord now teach me a better way, even the way of faith and prayer, the example of a holy life, and the constant application of gospel precepts. Notwithstanding this, I was held up, in common with my brothers, as a pattern for others. Before I was
seventeen, being but a poor but promising lad, I had many friends; anxious to assist me. Ministers, musicians, and merchants, all were on the look out for me. A missionary training was offered me, but my modesty rejected it. Several persons were interesting themselves on my behalf, when a factor, from Birmingham, procured me a situation in that town. For some time I went on well, but, becoming imbued with chartist notions, and the excitement of the immense “political union gatherings” which I attended, I became so idle and so mean in my appearance, that I was sent home. So completely had I become the slave of indolence, that I had even discontinued wearing a shirt. I thus saved the expense of washing, and had the gratification of spending the proceeds of the sale of my linen. Not having the means of paying my fare, I walked home, by a way which made the journey 136 miles. I accounted for my want of clothing, by telling my father that I had been robbed of it, by two men, on Berkley Common. Poor man, I shall never forget his looks, as the two emotions met. Joy, to see his son again; and anguish, that his first word should be A LIE! Again I had to turn into the potatoe-field to work. I was put to much shame, by having to figure in the family as a detected sinner. But all was soon forgotten - soon forgiven. A situation was then obtained for me with a grocer, in the town of Cardiff. In that town I attended the Baptist Chapel, and deep sorrow for sin was the result A more intense desire to live alone for God began to influence me in all my actions. I applied for admission to the church, and was baptized. For about two years I led a consistent and zealous life. When about twenty-one, a conjurer visited the place, and I went to witness his performances. I also learned and practised some of his tricks. This caused me to sink in the estimation of the church; and I was put under discipline. I refused to acknowledge that I had done wrong. The treatment I received hardened me. I was prevented from occupying my usual place with the singers. I sat, the first Sunday after the occurrence, on one of the “free” benches. A brother immediately rose, and went to another seat. Another brother, with whom I lodged, refused, for a time, to eat with me at the same table. I invented a trick to punish him for treating me with contempt; and the feeling produced was just what I intended it should be. On going down stairs one morning, he found twelve candles, which I had prepared the night before, emitting a terrible smoke. This scared him. He thought that I had entertained certain imps, who had remained in that room all night; and had only just blown the lights out, and departed, when they heard him descending the stairs. Some verdigris, in the tallow, had kept the fire on the wicks of the candles all night. At that time I did not see anything wrong in my own conduct; but I saw much in
the conduct of the church towards me. The minister, when I last went before the church meeting, declared that if mine was “a case to be treated with lenity, he knew not the case to be treated with severity.” I took up my hat and left the place.
Defending my folly, I soon became the slave, not of folly only, but of gross sins. I gave myself up to levity and wrecklessness. I induced a young man to leave his parents, and go to London with me. We had a very narrow escape in sailing for Bristol. No other vessel moved in the Channel that day. Several attempted, but were compelled to put back. The waves were washing over continually; and all hands were engaged in shifting the cable boxes and other heavy matters from one side to the other, to keep the vessel up. I felt indeed that I was the “Jonah'' in that vessel. We reached London: but, for want of confidence in the opinion of my previous employers, I could not find courage to refer to them: and, consequently, could get nothing to do. The young man's friends sent him money to get him home. I wandered from London towards my native place, living upon what came in my way, as the result of stating my condition on applying for employment. I slept under hedges during two nights. After this, all hope of regaining a position in society left me. Nothing was before me but an abandoned life; or shame and disgrace, which I could not find courage to meet. The temptation was strong to steal something. I had seen many opportunities for taking things, but had not valued them. I had no wish to do a trade in stealing. I only wanted a tolerable sum of money in my hands, to enable me to get into something, which would obviate the necessity for stealing again. It occurred to me that a horse would answer the purpose best; and could easily he obtained. For two or three nights I wandered from place to place, watching for the opportunity.
Having, on the second night, seen some horses in a field, I entered, and went to a haystack in one corner of the field for a little hay, with which to entice one of the horses. Here I unexpectedly met a man who had been put to watch the horses. He demanded what I wanted. I replied, that I was a distressed traveller and thought of sheltering under the haystack for the night. He ordered me to leave the field, which I did, thankful enough that he had not noticed the halter with which I had purposed leading away one of the horses. As I wandered on, I was led to reflect that, no doubt a merciful God had arranged that I should have been prevented from the commission of such a crime. I felt happy in the conviction. I felt that I had been spared that I had been saved; but the next day, I determined to try again, and to be more cautious. Night came; an opportunity presented itself, near Calne, Wilts. I put the halter on the horse's head, mounted,
and rode, first to Chippenham; then through my native village, Corston; then through Malmesbury and Tetbury, to Avening, in Gloucestershire. Here I called on a man that dealt in horses, whom I had known when a boy. I invented as good a tale as I could; but the man was, evidently, well versed in his business I had journeyed about thirty miles, and was there too early in the morning to admit of my tale being a true one. I represented that I had only ridden the horse from Malmesbury. I had forgotten, or it did not strike me that a horse offered for sale, would have been sent in good trim. The animal was completely exhausted. The man told me plainly that he believed I had stolen the horse. I felt all the blood run from my fingers. I merely replied, “Then I must take the horse back, and say as much” I was scarcely allowed to do so. However, I returned, taking the growing corn, from fields, to feed the horse with, as I proceeded. When between Chippenham and Calne, I dismounted and left the horse to itself not doubting but it would find its way home; or be found by the owner. I prayed God to forgive me and to direct that the owner might receive his property back again.
On riding through my native place, the turnpike-gate was opened by a woman who had nursed my youngest brother from his birth until he was six years old; but she did not recognize me. After leaving the horse upon the high road, I returned, and made myself known at the turnpike. I was penniless; and my feet were covered with blisters. The poor woman took me in; washed my feet, and dressed them; fed me and put me into a bed. What a luxury! She wept over me all the while. When her poor, hard working husband came home, they both kneeled down, prayed f or me and wept over me; and, for the sake of my poor mother they were, for a time, both father and mother to me. A small sum of money was raised for me, and I walked to Bristol (28 miles), and crossed the Channel again, to Cardiff. From thence I wandered into the country, doing a little for one and a little for another, just for my food and a few pence.
I had already spent several nights in barns, stables, cow-sheds, and under hedges. Having had employment with a farmer, to dig some potatoes, I had a quarrel with his son and, in the heat of my temper I left him, without waiting for my money. I had nothing then but what I stood in; except a pair of stockings, a shirt, and a handkerchief. I went into a wood and gathered some nuts which I sold for eighteenpence in the market, at Newport, Monmouthshire. With one shilling of this I paid my fare to Bristol; fourpence spent for food; and, on reaching Keynsham, on the Bath road, I spent one penny for beer. I had now but one penny left. I was straining my eyes for a place to
sleep in when I was overtaken by a fish-cart, containing several half tipsy men, who insisted on my riding to Bath with them. On reaching the inn at which they pulled up, the driver demanded payment. I reminded him of the plea I urged against availing myself of his offer; namely that I had but a penny in the world. I tendered him that. The result was my being provided with a splendid supper and a bed for the night. A collection was set on foot for me, by a farmer from “Lark Hall,” which amounted to seventeen shillings and elevenpence! The next day, Sunday I went on to Holt, near Bradford, Wilts; where I had a poor aunt living. Here, again, humble piety in poverty, was made the means of lifting me up. I soon became a general favourite in the little village, and entreated the owners of a factory there, (Messrs. J. and H. Davies) to allow me to work for them. This, for a considerable time, was objected to; as it was evident that. I had been accustomed to superior employment. At length, they consented. I had seven shillings per week. I was the “hack” to the dye-house men. I distinguished myself, in this place, by my application to music; and was an especial favourite with the curate.
After a lapse of about six months, a gentleman, residing in the village, procured me a situation, as groom, with a Mr. R. D. Little, of Chippenham. My wages were to be six pounds a year. I was now twenty-two years of age. I had been much tamed. I attended places of worship at every opportunity, and had a sacred corner in my hayloft. My proximity to Calne, gave me an opportunity, of learning that the horse, which I had removed from a field, about twelve months before, had been recovered. This made me very thankful to the God who had interposed his mercy, and delivered me from the power of the devil. It was not long, however, before I again forgot the God of my providences. I absented myself from church, one Sunday morning, and offended my employer, by not giving him a respectful reason for it. He spoke angrily, although he was a, kind, good master; and I instantly gave him notice that I should leave him. He gave me an excellent character, a sovereign in excess of my wages, and a warm overcoat.
A second time I set off for London, and again I had to suffer for my imprudence. I soon obtained a situation; but with one of the most cruel masters in existence. (I hope the reader marks the evidence of God's dealings.) This man had never retained a man-servant more than a fortnight; but, prior to my engagement, I was assured that he had parted with seven in three weeks. I left him, and failed to procure employment after that, until I had part with all my money and clothing. I was leaving London with a breaking heart, when, having to inquire of a policeman respecting the direction which I wished to take, he, noticing my
distress, inquired the cause; and then informed me that a light porter, was required at 8, Ludgate Hill, City, London. I applied for the situation, and obtained it. My wages were to be £14 a year. Six weeks after my engagement intimation was made to me, that instead of £14, it was the intention of my employers to make my salary £20 a year. In two years I married, and, agreeably with the regulations of the establishment, gave up my situation. I obtained another, as warehouseman, with a Jew, in Berners' Street, Oxford Street. A year after my engagement he made me his correspondent and book-keeper, with a very considerable increase of salary, and reduction of business hours. He was the most liberal employer I ever had. During a long illness he paid me double wages; although he had filled up the vacancy which my illness had occasioned, there being no hopes of my recovery. He visited me almost daily; and took care that my family wanted for nothing.
I left that excellent master, to gratify the absurd idea that I could do better without one. When I told him what I intended doing, he assured me that I was deceived. I was dreaming of a fortune upon advertisements, which (during the railway mania), brought me inconsiderable sums. He warned me of my folly; made me very liberal offers; reminded me of his kindness; and urged the advantage of a permanency to a fascinating risk. I disregarded. his kindness and his counsel; I left him. Now, mark what followed, in less than a month, an Act of Parliament ruined all the newspapers upon which I was employed, and my support from them was at an end. Only a month after this, I became the helpless victim of a base swindle. While proceedings were pending in this case, one of my children came to an untimely end, and my wife. pined away, dying of a broken heart. I then attempted a patent medicine business; but that soon failed for want of funds. For a few weeks after this I held a situation as city traveller, with a. Fusee and Congreve Manufacturer; but, through his death, I was again out of employment. It occurred to me, that if I could only start a similar business, I could easily retain his “connexion.” I therefore engaged suitable premises, and by disposing of some household furniture which I did not require, was enabled to purchase a stock of materials. I engaged a number of hands, and obtained a good supply of orders.: When the produce of my money and a week's labour was ready for delivery, the terrible storm which caused the fall of two houses, two suicides, bursted the sewers, floated the pavements, drove many vessels from their moorings, and made such a general havoc – destroyed all my stock; and left me without means to pay the men, until I had made further sales of household articles.
I again advertised for employment; and, through a well-guarded
misrepresentation, fell into a predicament with a non-certificated bankruptcy firm. Through the kindness of Messrs. Bush and Mullens, Solicitors to “The Society for the Protection of Trades,” I was rescued from the responsibilities which I had unconsciously involved myself in. As the engagement had been a very promising one, (£100 per annum, and one-fourth of the profits,) the disappointment, after so many misfortune, made sad havoc with my state of mind. Immediately after this, I had to sustain three heavy afflictions of a domestic character, which, even if words could express them, must he nameless here. These bereavements, afflictions and misfortunes, gave me a relish for the excitement of theatres.
Another source of relief to my habitual melancholy was found in the excitement of the Sunday discussions in Smithfield, where my liberal views gained me the esteem of all but the truly pious. The man of science had the first place in my affections. The infidel had the next. The Catholic was warmly defended against the Protestant; and the Disseneters were taken in bulk, as having neither gospel, sense nor manners, of which they could make any practical use. It may seem unaccountable that, whatever the gratification afforded at these “crowd discussions,” I generally ran in to St. Sepulchre's Church, to hear the Rev. Thomas Bale's Sunday Evening Lecture.
My mind was now completely given over to Infidelity, and a sinful disposition was again fast gaining upon me. I formed associates, not of a criminal character, (although I was often obliged to lodge, even with such,) but men who delighted in what are called “harmless pranks.” The result of one of these pranks was, that I got an introduction to, and obtained the. affections of a most amiable and wealthy young lady but so violently did my honour struggle with my folly, that I afterwards shrunk from the consummation, and relinquished the prize that was within my grasp. Thus again I escaped the stains of guilt. For the purpose of carrying out one of these pranks I had occasion to visit Peterboro'. Having no means of paying my expenses while there, I filled some little trumpery boxes with rubbish, and sealed them up in paper to resemble valuable parcels. Having delivered these to the landlord at the inn where I put up, (I think it was “The Greyhound,") I represented that they were for a “Mr. Green,” a gentleman whom I had expected to meet there. I believe I had written that name on the parcels. I was well entertained, but was very modest. Had I complied with the landlord's wishes, I might have made a good thing out of him. I entered his house on the Saturday night, and left on the following Monday, after consenting to allow him to drive me into the country, to see “a fine ruin.” In this, however, I disappointed him, gave him the slip, and
returned to London. A day or two after, I was returning from Uxbridge where another of my sprees had taken me; when, being very tired and hungry, I had recourse to the “parcel” expedient again. I tied up a paper parcel of straw; went to an inn at Hanwell; ordered supper (bread and cheese); and, delivering my “parcel” into the hands of the landlord, went out for a “walk.” I walked home. These are, fortunately, the only instances of my having obtained anything by misrepresentation. In both cases, my “leaning to virtue's side” prevented me from taking “the value of a hair, beyond what I then needed. I might have pocketed enough for another meal, but that seemed too great a sin. I have lately taken steps to find up the parties I thus wronged, and hope I shall succeed.
But, although these were the only instances of my ever having obtained anything by deception, I was induced, when very hardly driven by poverty, to try the “J – h A – y” dodge: using a fictitious name. I addressed letters to certain parties in my native place, who, I knew, had property expectations, representing a very promising state of things; and stating the “fee” required for the necessary assistance. I was so ashamed of my conduct, after I had done this, that I took no steps to ascertain if my letters were replied to. One of the persons I thus intended to have imposed upon, was a Mr. George Pike, Back Street, Malmesbury. This worthy man had given me half a sovereign, at the time that I abandoned the stolen horse on the Calne road. From my own he must learn it, for from no other lips would he ever believe the son of his old friend capable of such a wicked suggestion.
My attachment to theatres begat in me a desire to become an actor. I consulted a Mr. Hodgkinson, of the Sadie's Wells Theatre, who kindly gave me some “properties,” and an introduction to a Mr. Robertson, of the Lincoln Theatre. With him I had an opportunity of “Strutting and fretting an hour upon the stage.” Sad mistake! No words can paint the misery it occasioned me. I left it. I also left my lodgings without paying my debts. I lodged with a Mr. Chapman, grocer. He is now at Boston. I left early on a Sunday morning. I sat up in my room during the previous night. In the morning, taking a violin, and what few things I possessed, I quietly waited until I heard some one descending the stairs, I then moved off quickly; and, in a few minutes, was at the railway station booked for Birmingham. Every time the train stopped I expected to realize the effect of “a telegraphic message.” When I reached Derby, I had to change carriages. My luggage was put in the van, and I by some mistake, was put into a carriage that did not go on. It became necessary to telegraph to Birmingham respecting my luggage. This was awkward, as I
had to mention the “violin;” for, should a telegraphic message move along from Lincoln on the subject, that would tell tales.. Having to wait for another train, I went into a Catholic church. Here, for want of my night's rest, I fell asleep, and was awoke by the priest sprinkling “holy water” in my face.
The next day I reached Birmingham; received my luggage, and found some assistance. This was but trifling; and my means having become exhausted I joined a travelling show. It was my only chance to earn the bread I so much needed, I had to go through the most contemptible duties, before a drunken crowd, in a riotous fair. O, how I felt that desperate degradation!
With the first sum of money that I received, I determined to brave any disaster rather than thus outrage my feelings again. I made a dead set against every suggestion that would add guilt to misery. Experience, to say nothing of conscience, had taught me the folly of, attempting trickery. Besides, I lacked the courage to carry it out. I despised it too much to be able to practise it. I seized “honour” as a jewel that even a beggar might deck himself with. From that hour, O how I have clung to it! It is the virtue by which I have aimed to distinguish myself in all my movements. I wrote some poetry. But what is poetry from the pen of a penniless outcast? It just served to let me down the last steps to beggary. I begged my bread from door to door, Such are God's judgments.
Reader, pause a moment. All that I have stated, and God knows how much more, transpired in a few months from the time that I gave up the situation in which God had blessed me with such a kind master.
Look at it again and “Count the cost!” The earlier and lesser sins had been visited with punishment but there had been merciful preservations and such means provided for my restoration as were calculated to teach me humility and trust. I had been helped by the poor. What a lesson! Oh, that I had studied and valued it! Why should I have feared a condition from which mercy flowed to me in my distress? Happy poverty! Blessed poor! “Yours,” whatever mine may be, “yours is the kingdom of heaven.” “You will reign upon the earth.” You shall be the greatest in the kingdom of the faithful. When, however, the same sins were repeated - when greater guilt was involved - when hardness of heart and contempt of God's word, his mercies, his deliverances, and providences, took possession of my heart, look what plagues followed, like the plagues of Egypt, in constant and quick succession; until a wandering vagrant, subsisting chiefly on hedgefruit and the benevolence of strangers, was all that remained of the proud infidel. Like an untoward kine, I had kicked over the pail of providence, and sunk before the just judgments of God.
Could I have avoided them? Let those who think so come to me, I will refer them to tradesmen who refused me situations, only because they considered them beneath my notice; and yet I was starving. You who know my pride and independence, think what were my feelings when I had to share a vagrant's bed, endure all the filth and vulgarity of a common lodging-house, and be treated as a tramp! I felt that the hand of God was heavy on me, yet I clung to infidelity through it all. No one knows the mental sufferings my first wife endured, as the result of my “hardness of heart and contempt of God's word.” She was the most perfect Christian I ever knew. One night, after her death, as I was sleeping with my two children, the starting up of my little boy (only two years and a half old) suddenly awoke me. I distinctly saw my wife withdrawing herself from him, as if she had been embracing him. As she drew back, my boy exclaimed, “There's mother!" I slept no more that night. The circumstance was as fresh in the memory of the child, in the morning, as it was to myself, and I had to answer him the same questions, relative to the circumstance, for several days, which he put to me at the time. Infidels and Christian friends have, all along, been equally well acquainted with this fact. As an infidel, I have ever tried to disbelieve it. That, however, was only necessary to excuse the relish for my sceptical views. The reality, placed before my eyes on that occasion, is as clear to the memory still as any circumstance that has ever transpired. No wonder then that more punishments followed, when such a merciful manifestation had been spurned. In the course of my “Sunday Evening Discussions” in Smithfield Market, Place, which sometimes lasted all night, I fell in with sceptics who professed to be able to account for such a singular phenomena. This gave me great comfort. I wished to be assured that I had been deceived. I ardently desired reasons for believing that I had not seen my deceased wife, and that my child had not really seen his dear departed mother. I reasoned away the very evidences that “Dives,” and sceptics of all ages, profess to be sufficient to establish the truth of the Christian Religion.
What a deplorable truth it is that “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” “Wilful blindness” is not sufficiently expressive of that mental obstinacy which characterises infidelity. It is hard work to keep down the glaring evidences of its error. The antagonism of scepticism, is the necessary resistance of that conviction which passing events, connected with our lives, are eternally forcing upon our notice. It is the “damned spot” in Lady Macbeth's tormenting dream, which no effort can remove. Scepticism, thy name is suicide! But to proceed. After wandering about for several weeks, sometimes getting as meal by a gipsy fire-side, sometimes with a party of drovers, at another time with a group
of farm labourers, I received a small sum of money, that had been long due to me, and went to Norwich (in which city I married my present wife). I laboured under the impression that a Mr. M., formerly with Sidney and Co., of London, had commenced a business there; and I hoped that his former friendship would be remembered to my advantage. On arriving, I found that Mr. Ladyman, who I thought, was in business at Plymouth, had opened in Norwich; and that Mr. M whom I had expected to find at Norwich, was at Plymouth.
It is important to state this, because, I had been led to expect sympathy from Mr. M., believing him to have cherished similar sentiments to my own; a circumstance which ought to satisfy any one that I did not go to Norwich, as has been exultingly stated by malicious professors, to put on a religious cloak. But for Mr. Ladyman, I should have travelled on to Plymouth. He promised me, if I would remain a few days, that he would endeavour to be of service to me. On the following day, Sunday, having nothing to do, I wandered about in search of something to admire. Passing a Wesleyan Chapel, I looked in, or was about to do so, when I was informed that a members' meeting was being held; but that I might go in if I pleased. There was something so contemptible, to my mind, in the idea of such a privilege, and of such a meeting, that, although I had nothing to do, I stated that “I wished to make a better use of my time.” I walked on, and, after a little reflection, returned) and entered the chapel, I was much affected by the services. My condition, as may be imagined, predisposed me to impulsiveness of feeling. When the service was concluded I went to my lodgings, procured a sheet of paper, and, partly for want of something else to do, but chiefly in obedience to excited I gave vent to my feelings in writing. In the evening I went to the same chapel again, and handed the written paper to the door-keeper, requesting him to give it to the minister. It was a confession of infidel errors, an account of God's judgments, and a word of warning to professors. When I was about leaving the chapel, I was surrounded by several persons to whom its contents had become known, and who were very anxious to afford me the benefit of their prayers; while I was as anxious to escape. They secured me, and were praying with me till after eleven o'clock. Between the pride that despised help, and the misfortunes that had bowed me down, I can hardly say what my feelings were; but I was much more willing to give up infidelity than I was to say so. At length their prayers prevailed. I did all that words and wishes, wants and human desires could dictate, and thought I had become reconciled to God. So joyed was I with my change, that, hearing two men converse about religion, on the following day, I ventured to draw their attention to one who was bewildered with delight in
being able to appreciate the subject. They spurned me as they would a culprit. Good God! I thought, what is this religion which I have hugged again as a precious jewel? Time passed on, and so did professors of religion. Alas, that I should have allowed mere profession to influence me! I saw no Christian life in merely going to chapel and avoiding the commission of sins. I grew cold, I could not live in such an atmosphere. I cannot now. I should go mad with it.
Can I feel the tremendous importance of the claims of the Gospel, and see the Christian church, that invites me to enter into it, conforming to the world in almost all things without dreadful forebodings ? Can I hear Christian preachers of “the word of the Lord Jesus,” “pooh, pooh,” the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel, and not be wretched ? Can I hear one say that “Baptism is all moonshine?” another that “Election is all rubbish;” and a third that “The man who minds what Paul says about being called after names, is a fool,” and not become the subject of a mental conflict which tongue can never utter? Years ago, a half Gospel a half Christianity – drove me back upon the consistency of infidelity. It would again, if the grace of God did not hold me up and keep my reasonings down.
After having spent a few days in Norwich, I obtained, through the representations of Mr. Ladyman and the entreaties of a warmhearted Christian, a situation with Messrs. Copeman and Sons, During five years and a half they never discovered, shrewd as they are, what my slanderers professed to have found out in as many weeks, namely, that I was a hypocrite!
I cannot do better, here, than to caution any dear reader, who may have put his hand to the Gospel plough, never to turn back; for, be you never so virtuous, be you, as Shakspeare says, “fair as snow and chaste as ice,” you shall not escape calumny. Although Christians, while I was with them, benefitted by me, and although I never had a penny from them - although I took money from my pocket to show that I did not need the money that was offered me after I left them (not before) they spread the report,, and propagate it, in spite of all evidence, to this day, that I became a Christian for gain! Let every man then, who thinks that honesty will save him. from slander, take a hint in time. With me it was an unassailable point. Face to face, no man could bring a charge against me ; but, behind my back it was as easy to make people. "believe a lie,” and much easier, than to speak the truth. Ay the same time, I do most humbly own, even in the most wicked slander, the righteous judgments of God
In less than three years, my employers made me their representative knowing me to be an infidel; and it was not until I issued my bombastic “Challenge to the Clergymen and Ministers
of Norwich,” that they deemed it necessary to dispense with my services. I am quite satisfied that, in parting with me, they made their disposition bend to a sense of duty. They offered me a situation in another part of the country; but I clung to the hope of making religion, in Norwich, wither beneath the breath of infidelity I was bent upon lifting aloft the flag of scepticism, and of demonstrating the power of its antagonism. I spurned their proffered kindness, and God's judgments again followed. I borrowed money; went into business; failed. I left the city in debt. No one knew, for more than a year, what had become of me. I went, first of all to Newport, in Monmouthshire, where I fell in with a photographer, who, for £5 taught me what little he knew of the art. Having provided my self with apparatus, I went to place called Risca, and commenced. I had now but the change of a sovereign after paying our fares. The work I obtained, being in the depth of winter, and my practice deficient, was so limited, that, after parting with my money and whatever articles could be spared - even to my watch -- I left the place in debt. I had occupied but one room, for which I paid twelve shillings per week. It contained two four-post bedsteads, and everything that was required, both in my business and domestic arrangements. In this same double-bedded room, I had to receive my customers, and accommodate my family. From Risca I went to Abercarne. In both these places I was known as “Mr. Lander Elvin.” I took that name to protect me from the scent of my creditors. To avoid my being detected through the post, I avoided all communication, even with my dearest friends; so great was my horror of being overtaken by an unsatisfied creditor. In Abercarne my trials were even worse than at Risca. So impossible was it for me to produce a single picture for more than six weeks, that my wife repeatedly declared her belief that a certain woman in the place had bewitched my materials. I left Abercarne, as I left Norwich, clandestinely, without paying my debts, or should say, debt; for I owed no one anything but, my landlady. I owed her two pounds, which I have since paid.
From Abercarne I went to Cardiff, in Glamorganshire; where I formerly joined the Baptist church. This was in June. Here, of course I took my own name; and being well remembered, I did a good business.
You see, dear reader, that when I became honourable, even but to the extent of using my own name, God began to bless me. I began to lay by money to pay my Norwich, debts. I saved about £25 in four months; but, to my shame I state it, I took my family and my assistant, (seven persons) to England, on a pleasure trip, for more than three weeks, and spent it all. I was maddened with the though, afterwards, and had a severe punishment, in the
treachery of a friend and the affliction of one of my children. I began to save money again; and, by the end of November, had £30 laid up. Moving on to Bridgend, I increased that sum, informed my creditors of my whereabouts, and forwarded an instalment of my debts.
From Bridgend I went to Neath. Here I was equally successful; and began to invest my money in the Swansea Savings' Bank. An incident occurred while in Neath, worthy of remark. I had never witnessed a conjuring performance since the period alluded to, when I disgraced myself through it, in Cardiff. A conjuror was now in Neath. I went to see him. As a source of gratification, he threw sundry articles amongst the people. A metal shaving-box, struck me above the eye, occasioning considerable alarm to the audience. The blood flowed in a full stream, making quite a pool. The remembrance of this incident has very materially altered my opinion, with regard to the correctness of my conduct at Cardiff, in reference to conjuring. While at Neath, too, the minister who baptized me, eighteen years ago, died. During the six months that I spent in Cardiff, I had taken his portrait about thirty times; but I did not once go to his chapel I journeyed, however, from Neath, to see him in his coffin; and to see him put into the ground. No one could ever picture my feelings. The last words he ever uttered, while I was in his church, were, “If James Comley's is a case for lenity, then I know not the case to be treated with severity.” The Rev. T. Thomas, of the Baptist College at Pontypool, preached on the occasion. I gave this gentleman an excellent portrait of my once beloved pastor; in token that, however far removed from him in belief, I buried every unkind feeling in his grave. That was all; but perhaps even that trifle was noticed by the Father of all our mercies. Who can tell? While in the town of Neath, also, I was complained of for taking portraits on Sundays. A tract was sent me on the subject, and a note. I placed the note in a conspicuous position to be read by visitors, and ridiculed it by attaching a paper to it containing the following – “Presented to Mr. Comley, by a member of the Poking-your-Nose-into-other-people's-business Society.”
Shortly after this, I and three of my children were afflicted with a severe illness. For some time my illness occasioned very serious apprehensions. My stock of money, which had been saved for my creditors, was nearly exhausted. Much of this was spent, with a view to my more speedy restoration, in travelling, from Haverford West, through the South Wales counties, to Gloster, Cheltenham, Bath, Bristol, Wells, Glastonbury, Taunton, Exeter, and back again. While in Haverford West, there being a Moravian Chapel there, I was induced to solicit
permission to use the organ occasionally. I was invited to assist at the services; and, it so happened that I had to perform at the service held over the corpse of the organist; an aged, and most respected member of the church. The organist, who preceded me in early life, committed suicide. Another organist and composer, who visited me when a boy, to hear me play ended his days by a similar act. I was always very serious about my part of the work; but, during the sermons, I invariably closed the curtains (to keep out prying eyes) and enjoyed myself with a book. I liked these Moravians, because they showed no disposition to ask me questions about the state of my soul, My principles were not, therefore, liable to discovery.
After leaving Haverford West, I visited Swansea, Llanelly, Carmarthen, Narberth, Pembroke, Pater, Tenby, Milford, St. David's, Fishguard, Newport, (Pembrokeshire,) and Cardigan; besides many smaller places, and noblemen's and gentlemen's seats. In all of which, except St. David's, I had much success; led a virtuous life (that is, was liberal, and paid everybody,) without God and without hope; acting honourably in the sight of men, to the glory of unbelief.
As the cause of my returning to Norwich was an alarming accident; it may not be amiss to notice some of the many providential deliverances of which I have been the subject. When about twelve years old, I was standing on the ground-floor of a lofty unfinished building. A large stone fell through the joists, and so narrow was my escape from having my brains knocked out, that it actually smashed one of my toes. This was in my native place. About a year after this, I was walking behind a cart-load of beans that was being taken from an allotment field, in Malmesbury common. On attempting the ascent from the field on to the road, the load, being a lofty one, swung back, snapped the shafts and buried me beneath it. My face was bent forwards, and my body backwards so that my back was like a bent stick, threatening every moment to snap; while the load was settling down more heavily upon me. There were four persons present, but neither of them had a knife to cut the rope, which had been fastened behind; nor were their united efforts of any avail to remove the load. Their cries for help, fortunately, attracted the notice of a man whose knife became the instrument of my deliverance from certain death.
When about fifteen years of age, I had mind to climb a chimney; being in a new house in which there was one that had never been used. I proceeded; gained the top; stood out on the roof; lost my balance; and fell to the ground.
Returning from Stroudwater market, one Saturday afternoon,
the driver of another market-cart prevented me from passing him. I left the reins to my brother, and ran forward to stop my opponent's horse. In doing so I fell, and the horse fell over me, trampling me under its feet in getting up again.
When I left my situation at Chippenham, I travelled, by one of Tanner and Baylis's waggons, to London. During the first night I slept beneath the covering, on the top of the load. Getting up in a dream, I was climbing down the fore part of the waggon. The waggoner awoke me; and, with no small risk to himself, saved me from the mercy of the wheels. It did not strike me, then, that it was a hint from the God of that providence which I had so often cast from me. I was leaving a kind master.
On a foggy November night, soon after I reached London, I had to carry a carpet from Oxenham's Sale Rooms to Hanover Street, Regent Street. In crossing Regent Street, I fell; and the wheels of an omnibus passed over my right arm and right leg, inflicting only a few slight bruises. The carpet protected me.
While in the service of Messrs. Copeman and Sons, of Norwich, I was three times thrown from vehicles without sustaining any injury. In the month of February, last year, I was travelling in a phaeton, between Haverford West and Fishguard. The horse took fright on going down a hill, and kicked the vehicle and harness to pieces. I had two of my children with me. We all escaped unhurt.
On a dark and tempestuous night, during the same winter, while crossing Milford Haven, I had a very narrow escape, in. consequence of the boat, having been carried from her course by the strength of the tide, striking against a “buoy.”
Of exposures by railway accidents, falls from horses, and horses running away with me, the instances are too numerous, and, comparatively, too trifling to notice here; but not too trifling to be remembered with gratitude for deliverance. My last narrow escape deserves more particular attention.
During my stay in Tenby and Pembroke dock, I was constantly advertising-my intention to revisit Haverford West and Milford. I had gone to Haverford West to make arrangements. After this, in direct opposition to interest, inclination, and convenience, a strange infatuation (I can call it nothing else) led me to fix on Llandilo, a place fifty miles further off, for my next operations. I was preparing to start on a Thursday; but as l was not ready in time, I allowed myself, for the first time in my life, to be superstitiously averse to making the journey on Friday. Saturday being an inconvenient day to provide furnished lodgings for a family, in a strange place, I put off the journey until Monday. I had to travel by coach fourteen miles, by rail twenty miles, and by coach, again, sixteen miles. Myself and wife,
five children, stock in trade, and domestic luggage, was, a large accession to the usual load. Every part of the coach was filled with luggage, merchandize, and human beings. It was watched in its progress with alarming apprehensions. Being overtaken by a gentleman who urged upon the coachman the evidence of danger, a brief examination of the springs, &c., resulted, and the coach proceeded. I and my family occupied outside-seats. When but two miles from Llandilo, one of the wheels came off; and it turned completely over. A lad who, for want of room elsewhere, was sitting on the door-step, managed to escape as it was falling upon him. My wife fell to the ground; and the coach, with its frightful load, fell upon her with fearful violence. To say that there was a dead weight of two tons, would be making an under-statement. The projecting iron rail of the coach, which came in contact with her stomach was bent like a how. It just glanced off the lower ribs. Although every one looked upon her as a mangled corpse, her injuries were merely muscular; but her sufferings were very great. She was far advanced in pregnancy, but no miscarriage took place. Not one of the other passengers, seventeen in number, received the slightest injury. Pending her recovery, I visited Norwich for the purpose of paying my debts, and receiving the homage that I felt an honourable infidel was entitled to. I wished for the gratification of being shaken by the hand by men who might exultingly ask, – “Where will you find a Christian case to match Comley's? He left the place in debt. Nobody knew whereto find him. He comes back, like an honest man, and says, ‘Creditors, here's your money!’ When did a Christian do the like?” On my return to Landilo, I had to arrange for removing to a fresh locality. Indecision, which had perplexed me for weeks, again stood in my way. My wife had an aversion to the places proposed. She wished to return to Norwich. I gratified that wish, regretting, of course, that it had not been expressed before, so that I might have saved much time and many pounds in expenses. I wrote to one of my sceptical associates, informing him of my intention immediately to return to Norwich, with my family. He met me at the station. My chief thoughts were now directed to the commencement of infidel advocacy. I lost no time in putting myself in communication with men, of the same class, for that purpose. No stone was left unturned with a view to action. My first public act was to send a paragraph to the “Norfolk News” on the “Zetetic Astronomy” question, in which I edged in a word in favour of “my Sunday views.” This did not appear. I wrote a sarcastic reply, in “verse,” to the “City Mission Report.” This was not published, on account of the only printer, in whom I had confidence, being from home. I tried to obtain the chapel, which was then on let, on Tombland. I failed. It remained, now, to
concoct a scheme by which the use of the “Lecture Hall” might be obtained. The mention of this fact will account for the disappointment; which my associates felt, when they found that I was really turned to God. So “quickly” did the “Spirit of the Lord" come upon me that, when I made the announcement that God had bidden me to preach the gospel, they supposed that I had taken the Hall ostensibly to preach, but, really, to develop infidel sentiments; and it is singular that, while the infidel says that "facts have since convinced him of the utter impossibility of my being capable of the motives attributed to me by him,” and expresses the regret with which he sees “how inextricably I am. committed to the course I have taken,” Christians, or rather professors, believe I am still working for infidelity.
On reading the “Lectures on the Authenticity of the Bible," by Joseph Barker, formerly a Wesleyan minister, but, now, the leading man amongst the revilers of God and the gospel, I was much concerned about the efforts which Mr. Barker had, apparently, made to blacken the character of Jesus Christ, by distorting his word's and misinterpreting his motives. I had no sympathy with the feeling which prompted an attack on the moral character of Christ. It also appeared to me, that the writers in the “Reasoner,” after the delivery of those lectures, had shown a greater disposition to follow in the same track. Detecting myself, after this, in the act of searching for matters in which my ingenuity might discover a fault, I asked myself if such conduct was worthy of me? If it became my pride? What was my object? To what could it lead? Was I simply endeavouring to maintain a false position? or was the prospect of accomplishing a great good the incentive to action? Had I meditated honestly, fairly, and candidly? or had I said, “SCEPTICISM, thou art God, and all things shall bend unto thee.” I could not get rid of the question, “Is antagonism, for the sake of itself, worthy of COMLEY?” And is not scepticism, or secularism, or non-theism, or atheism, infidelity – or by whatever name proclaimed – more a sentiment of opposition and antagonism than an endeavour to develope any practical and really beneficial system? Have not sceptics found themselves in the position of men working without any definite object in view, beyond being able to refute the Christian's arguments? Have they not felt the need of a systematized arrangement of ideas? Is it not their Complaint to each other, that they are helpless and powerless, for good, as sceptics? The Question then suggested itself, whether it would be inconsistent with my cherished pride and high regard for character, to reconsider those subjects upon which my doubts had been built, and my infidelity established? I found courage to step out upon neutral ground. I disentangled myself entirely from all “isms,” of every description, religions and sceptical;
determining to make a careful investigation of every question that could lead to conviction; and to abide by that conviction, whatever it might be. Among others, the. following questions were started in my mind. Why does man apprehend death? Do animals apprehend death? Whence the idea of ETERNITY? Why is it not the common notion that the present is an eternal state? Whence the idea of a Supreme Being, if not from himself? Who can conceive of what does not exist, and create a universal belief in it? Why are not man's affections and desires like the affections and desires of animals, subject to local limits? Why is man endowed with faculties that enable him to demonstrate his own nature? What great lesson should he learn from the fact? What truth is discovered in the demonstration? Is there another account of the origin of all things beside the one contained in the Bible? Did any account precede that one? When the Bible account of creation was given was it disputed? Did it profess to correct, or supersede any previously given account? What truth should be discovered the fact, that “fire” is an essential element in human arrangements and in the earth's composition; taken in consideration with the belief that the earth will, ultimately, be DESTROYED BY FIRE ? What animal kindles a fire, or knows the use of it? Why is man possessed of the secret, as to how it is produced? Why can man control, extinguish and reproduce it? What lesson is the everlasting presence of fire intended to teach him? Why does the astronomer mount the wings of science, and travel through the vastness of the star-studded plain, “ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the whole truth?” Does he not represent the condition of humanity, drifting upon time's doomed and shattered raft, peering for a glimpse of land? - of eternity? Is that what it means? Why is the whole world too little for man's wants? Why is it not man, like an animal, satisfied with a belly-full? Why do we trouble for more than bodily comfort? In short - Why does man, in everything, differ from everything else?
The result of this enquiry was an utter inability to arrive at anything satisfactory. My mind became dark, and to darkness it held on, like the frozen embraces of an arctic grave. In my miserable perplexity, I addressed the following letter to the Rev. Thomas G. S ––– of H–––, in Pembrokeshire.
"17 Davey Place, Norwich, Nov. 20th 1856
"You may remember having had some conversation with me, some two months ago, in a railway carriage. It was the first conversation I had with a minister of the gospel for a long time. You spoke of Taylor,
who you said was an infidel and designated himself 'the devil's chaplain.' I was much more deeply interested in your remarks respecting the career of that unhappy man, than you had opportunity for observing. I was deeply interested, because you were speaking of an infidel, and because you did not denounce him. I made but little allusion to my own sentiments; but I think I told you that my course of life had been productive of a state of perplexing indecision; scepticism, and faith in God, each at different periods, having been decidedly dominant. I have not always had credit for it, but I have always been sincere. I have never deceived any man by a profession of religion. I was never a hypocrite. How deeply I felt it, to be thought one, no tongue can utter. My nature is too frank and open for the practice of hypocrisy. I know well enough what it means; but my life is the best answer to the accusation that I have practised it. I am too proud, too daring, too independent, too much in love with the claims of individuality, to be a hypocrite. No! When I felt the force of inward compunctions, I let loose the tear. When sorrow and suffering, misfortune and misery heaved their afflicting billows on my soul, I sunk beneath their power. When religion, with its soothings and solaces, came to my relief, I did not refuse to be comforted.
And when, again, my heart became estranged,
And doubts and discord stifled down belief;
I own'd the wreck - the sad catastrophe-
To feel, and own, were weight enough to bear.
Hypocrisy had made a pleasing suit,
And gone attired a mail-clad Christian still.
Gentle in looks; in words a canon'd saint;
His lifeless prayers still mingling with the breath
Of silenter devotion. Not so I!
Hypocrisy in me took other turns;
I bar'd, to vulgar gaze, the cank'rous wound.
What foul disease had fatten'd on my soul;
Lay, uh-hypocrised, exposed. What then?
Enraged with honesty so ill-attired,
Men called me “hypocrite!” though poor indeed,
Is that concealment which confession seeks ?
If I now revert to your notice of Taylor, you will understand why I felt a kind of comfort in marking how tenderly you touched upon a subject so closely related to the cause of much suffering in my own mind. I have been an infidel. My employers discharged me because I was an infidel. I was refused support in my business, because I was an infidel. I could not live in Norwich, because I was an infidel; yet through the whole course of my life, my nature has instinctively attached to the good and beautiful. I never could vilify the NAME which Dr. Watts mentions, as 'all harmonious names at once.' There is no virtue in it. It suits my natural tastes. Would that the love of music were the love of God! Music always seems to breath the sympathies of the Saviour; and although I neither believe in HIM, nor in God, nor in the immortality and responsibility of the soul, yet I could shed tears while I think “how sweet the name of Jesus sounds,” even to an unbeliever's ear I say unbeliever, because the teaching of the Bible seems so much at variance with reason, consistency, and probability; and because I am required to believe that my safety, or ruin, depends on my admission or rejection of its claims. There is no 1ack of sympathy in my nature towards my fellow creatures; then why this want of faith? Why does not the gift of a believing, as well as well as of a feeling heart manifest itself in my nature? I cannot witness any scene of suffering, but my sympathies are moved. How it pains me to see the thoughtless ridicule the afflicted! I cannot but pity the drunkard, reeling beneath the influence of
his insidious foe. That people should make sport of the idiot, or the insane, seems to me a proof of insanity in themselves. Then again, how I love the sight of an infant - humanity in a state of innocence. Where is the innocence that was mine once? Can I not redeem it? It cannot be destructible. Is it not a part of myself? It must be: else why this incompleteness - this spirit- sinking - this eternal void? I cannot believe the Bible; and yet with me the issues of life and death are an everlasting argument. My brain is on the rack. If I have a soul destined to external existence, there is nothing else that can, by any policy have so great a claim, or, in comparison, any claim whatever on my most serious, most desperate attention. I am growing older. Events of a startling character are transpiring. Indications of a mysterious something thicken around me. What many call “interpositions of Providence," I have had to notice, of late, in very remarkable instances. Being still an infidel and seeing that the Bible fails to assert its authority that sermons fall like stones upon a rock; and prayers, and what are termed the ordinary means of grace, only muddle my ears, without affecting my heart - I ask myself, seriously and solemnly, are these eventful circumstances these indications of a connexion between an unseen influence and human condition and feeling - intended for my acceptance, in the dark journey of life, as a lantern to a benighted traveller, to enable me to catch a glimpse of those realities which, by the ordinary rays of light, did not come within the compass of my vision? From my very infancy I have been the subject, apparently, of an unseen influence. Three years ago, under the pressure of pecuniary difficulties, caused by a persecuting influence, I fled from Norwich, risking the ruin of my reputation by leaving clandestinely. But perseverance, where my sentiments formed no barrier to my success, soon enabled me to pay everybody.
I am indebted to misfortune for my acquaintance with Pembrokeshire, and with photography. Why then am I again in the place from which that misfortune drove me? My first visit to this city was followed by an event, in my history, as perplexing to myself as inexplicable to others. I told you of the upsetting of the coach, and the accident to my wife.
There were circumstances connected with that accident which have occasioned very serious reflections. The journey on which it happened; was a postponed one. It was an inconvenient, and very unreasonable one; and was made in violation of advertized arrangements. Many other events which now occur to my mind, bear a very perplexing aspect. What am I to understand by them?. In three years, although I had to struggle long and desperately against want, I have been enabled to discharge debts to a large amount. I have been the means of lifting several families to a condition of comparative independence. I have also furnished a home, and started a business, without involving any credit; reserving a sum for contingencies. I obtained the means of doing these things in Wales. I knew I could not do the like in Norwich; perhaps in no part of England. My return, therefore, admits of no ordinary solution. My wife is now sleeping before me She, too, is a infidel. Three months ago she was looking into her grave. And she is still an infidel. I know you pitied Taylor. If there be angels - angels such as the imagination loves to picture - I am sure they pity her, pity me and pity all whose lives are rendered wretched by lofty aspirations and uncontrollable doubts, I have done.
Many years have now elapsed since I communicated with a-minister of the gospel on the subject of religious difficulties. At this moment, I should best describe my state of mind and feelings by that one word DARK! O for light! whatever it might reveal would it were light! I cannot ask you to distress yourself by replying to this; for what could you? One or two questions, however, now suggest themselves, which, in the confusion and wretchedness of my mind, I had nearly forgotten. Is a word of God
possible? Is the idea of a divine revelation, in the present day, and without the Bible, consistent with human necessities and eternal consequences? Are religious impressions possible, apart from the influence of Bible teaching, and the employment of what are termed the ordinary means of grace? In fine, are the ways of God made known to man independent of Bible testimony? I hear a voice, whose language cannot be transcribed in words, sounding incessantly in the mind's ear. What is it? Why can I never rest from reasoning, calculating, conjecturing, resolving, hoping, doubting, longing, dreading, purposing, hesitating; smothered, as it were, in the hurricane of thought, and, withered by the fever-working heat of scorching anxiety? I am become so much the subject of mental effort; so engrossing, under all circumstances, has become the conflicting claims of opinions, that an everlasting necessity, an eternal mandate, pinions my thoughts. A mental controversy has become a part of my very being. Were it possible that every form of entertainment could be presented to my notice, my thoughts would still hold on in their course, in the same undefinable maze. This must be poor matter for your perusal. Human misery, in any shape, has something of a repulsive ingredient in it, but the complaints of a puzzled brain must necessarily be tediously irritating.
One question I had nearly forgotten. Do you think the conversion of a man possible, who had been a sincere believer in Jesus Christ and a lover of divine ordinances, (as they are called;) afterwards influenced by scepticism, again professing religion, and again relapsing into infidelity? Such a one am I, I feel no repugnance to mercy, goodness, and truth; but I doubt the authority of the Christian-teaching documents. I feel that while I am writing these things to you, I am doing an act of folly; that you, being, like myself, but human, although you can bid me hope, you cannot remove my doubts. You may bid me pray; but you cannot inspire me with a belief in the existence of the Being you would propose as the object of my worship. I have not recognized the existence of such a Being for nine years! Sermons have been mere strings of words; prayers the bewilderment of dreams. If there be a God (for that 'if' seems indispensable), my only hope of ever obtaining a clear view of that truth - without the discovery of which, my life will have been but the chasing of a shadow rests on the evidence of a still tender conscience, a well of unspent tears, and an often swelling heart. Light! Light! 0 for light!
"I am, Sir,
"Yours very respectfully,
"THE REV. T. G. S–––” “JAMES COMELY”
If any one had asked me why I wrote that letter, I am sure I could not have given a reason. I was miserable. Perhaps I addressed it to a person so far away, because there was less probability of his troubling me with prayers and advice. I did not wish him to reply to it. I felt only “an aching void” which neither reason, philosophy, wealth, pleasure, nor any conceivable thing could satisfy. Instead of writing such a long letter, I might have contented myself by exclaiming, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me!"
After I had posted it, the mind still unsatisfied, I became so deeply impressed with the idea that I must devote the following Sunday to attendance at a place of worship, that I became, as it were, superstitiously disposed to regard it as an indication that
something would transpire to throw light on my difficulties. No one can conceive the misery I have endured in the interval. I would not have died then, or have lost the opportunity of following the dictates of my mind, for worlds. I had but one want. That one want I could not satisfy. I wanted an answer to the inquiry, “What is truth?” While others slept, I was nursing my miseries, and brooding over my thoughts, wondering if I should ever be “myself again” At length Sunday arrived. How mysterious were my thoughts! An unseen influence was strongly exerting itself with me. What was I to learn in a chapel? And in what chapel? No matter “what chapel.” I was to have an answer to the inquiry, in some way, “What is truth?” I went to Mr. Crompton's chapel, or, as it is called, the “Free Church.”
Reader, picture to yourself an infidel going to a place of worship; not for ridicule not to pass away an idle hour; not to be benefited by the services. Going in obedience to an impulse that he himself, or any other infidel, would, as a rule, ridicule as the reasoning of a madman. I could not help charging myself with folly. It seemed ridiculous. What could I hear? What could be made known? I knew what was in the Bible; there was nothing in that for which I cared a rush. What a fool, to follow the dictates of a waking dream. I entered the chapel and took my seat. There was something truly awful in the sensations of which I became the subject. Now, I thought, if there be a God, and He has brought me here, it is a fearful thing to be in His presence. If such be the fact, of what use is it, unless I am made acquainted with it? And how is that to be accomplished? My infidelity, of course, told me that such a disclosure was only impossible, because “there is no God.” My heart replied, “that's true;” with this qualification, however, that only in case “there is no God,” would the disclosure be impossible. I believed that if there were a God, it was possible to demonstrate the fact; and it seemed to me that I had been drawn to that place on purpose to have that demonstration presented to me. I could scarcely sit still, my emotions shook me so violently. I took up a hymn book. I hoped that a little reading would settle down my thoughts. Remember, reader, what I had said, three days previously, in the foregoing letter. “At this moment, I should best describe my state of mind by that one word - Dark! “O for light! whatever it might revel, would it were light!” What was I to think then, when the first word that caught my eye was “Dark!"
"Dark, dark indeed the grave would be
Had we no light, O God from THEE."
This was a strange coincidence. I suppose I began to feel very much as a “not guilty"-pleading criminal feels when “the evidence” begins to tell against him. It was impossible for me to account.
for that statement being brought under my notice. The first hymn, sung on the occasion particularly addressed itself to me but the first lesson much more so. It began thus, –
"Come and let us return unto the Lord; for He hath smitten, and He will heal us; He hath torn, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us. He will raise us up and we shall live in His sight."
No philosophy could stand against this. I began “to doubt the equivocation of the fiend” that had told me how impossible it was that I could have the fact of God's existence demonstrated. All that was coming under: my notice related to myself. How was this to be accounted for; bearing in mind that I had been led there by a strange influence, and that it was a solitary instance of my attending such a place? I had been a wanderer from God. It seemed that I was to have an invitation to return.
I had been guilty of strange inconsistencies. I was now told that it was God who had smitten me. I had also been subjected to much affliction of mind. The message stated that God had torn and that He would bind me up, I had twice joined the ranks of infidels. The message said that after those “Two days" the Lord would “revive” me. I had before occupied a slippery position, and had fallen. The message said that God would now "raise me up” and that, in future, I should “live in His sight.” “Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord, that His going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain.” I take the true reading of this verse to be “Then shall we know (if our object is to know) that His going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain.”
Reader, trusting you will be faithful and diligent in marking the hand of God in these things, let me refer you again to my letter Mr. S. “If there be a God, my only hope of ever obtaining a clear knowledge of the fact rests in the evidence of a still tender conscience, a well of unspent tears, and an often swelling heart.” You see then, on this point again how peculiarly my case was met. If I would return unto the Lord and be healed, I should know him; and more, I should know that although no audible voice bid me go to His house of prayer, the influence which led me was as truly indicative of his ordering, as the rustling wind and gathering clouds indicate the coming shower, or the brightening horizon proclaims the sun's return. Whenever God intends making himself known to a sinner “His going forth is prepared.” This was the impression which the reading made on my mind. During the prayer that followed, I gave vent to my tears. They had long been pent up. They did me good service. I did not pray. I was heart-broken with bewilderment. My tears seemed to rush out, as it were, pleading mercy for me. They stood between God and my proud debating spirit.
The second lesson commenced, – “Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.” Now, only mark the goodness and mercy of God. While the stirring coincidents that preceded had left me debating, here came another proof for the side of salvation. I had been hungering - was hungering for truth. I had been weeping over the miseries of my wants. And, dear reader, is not that a “blessed” opportunity (O how blessed!) which the Spirit of God leads us to? Were not these incidents glorious proofs of the immediate direction of an unseen influence? Does the reader still think such incidents might occur by chance? Listen again. The text was, “A man built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundations on a rock.” Here, again, was direct reference to my mental efforts during the past week. “What is truth?” had been my night and day labour to discover.
I spent the interval, between the morning and evening services, in serious meditation on the remarkable peculiarity of the circumstances with which I thus stood connected. To say that I was most unhappy would be like showing a shaving to give an idea of the solidity of the forest oak, I held to nothing but the resolution to go, in the evening, again. I did go again. Through my watch stopping, I was very late. The text, on the occasion, was taken from the Old and New Testament, - “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God” “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters” Here, then, were two questions raised. If it were not the Spirit of God which moved upon the dark waters of my soul, what then? And could that Spirit so operate as to make that unquestionably clear, which, up to that time, did not even appear to have an existence? My eye ran on to the next verse, “And God said, let there be light, and” before another pulse beat, “there was light.” O what a light! How long I might have sought for light by the guide of reason and argument, let those who have died in the difficulty testify. But as soon as God said, “Let there be light,” there was light.
Then burst the dismal clouds of light
The dungeon doors fell back. The prison walls,
Like shadows, smitten by a darting ray,
Let in the glory of the celestial day.
Of the hymns sung on that occasion, I will only mention the last. O that every reader may ponder well the peculiar applicability of it! Only applicable, however, because the dark mind had just been illuminated by “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, shining in the face of Jesus Christ.” It begins with an exclamation so naturally resulting from a contemplation of that day's wonders, that it is impossible not to recognize in it an evidence of divine arrangement.
“BLESSED BE THY NAME FOR EVER!
Thou of life the guard and giver;
Thou cans't guard thy creatures sleeping,
Heal the heart long broke with weeping.
God of stillness and of motion,
Of the desert and the ocean,
Of the mountain, rock, and river,
Blessed be thy name for ever!
Thou who slumberest not nor sleepest,
Blest are they thou kindly keepest
God of evening's parting ray,
Of midnight gloom and dawning day
That rises from the azure sea,
Like breathings from eternity.
God of life, that fadeth never,
BLESSED BE THY NAME FOR EVER!"
Spiritualize the words in italics, and its peculiar application to the necessary feelings of a recovered wanderer, will not only be striking, but the effect of gospel light, in indicating that spiritual application to this mind, will necessarily be perceived. O that I could convey, by the recital of this strange tale, only a twentieth part of the effect it produced on my own heart! There is nothing that I would not then have attempted, so completely did I throw myself on the mercy of God. My heart was all devotion and gratitude. I saw nothing but Divine favour. I had neither doubt nor fear about it. The message was all “love and mercy.” Only faith was wanted; and that I laid hold of with an eager and devoted grasp. I had no feeling of dread. There was bewilderment, and a most awkward sense of shame; but no fear - no horror. It was a sudden consciousness of safety, not of danger, of which I became the subject. God called me. He called me in mercy. He spoke “words of love.” I lost sight of my sins, My thoughts only took in two things, myself and God. How surely does that yearning, which I continue to feel, prove that “God is love!” Now I had encouragement to pray, and I did, pray. O to what an extent had sin abounded with me! and yet grace abounded more. During the two previous Sundays, I had been hard at work. My eldest boy had been helping me. A London printer had got me up some immense posting bills, eclipsing every thing of the kind in city. These posters set forth that the “Tea business,” which I introduced in addition to my photography was the “Eastern Counties' Branch of the Great European Tea Company.” To show my contempt of Sunday, and to turn the necessity of shutting my shop to account, I covered my shutters having a surface of two hundred feet, with these posters. The whole front of my house, up to the roof, was also covered; while thousands of handbills, every week, set forth the immense wealth of the company, their large possessions in China, their enormous
importations, and highly advantageous mode of doing business. To give force to these falsehoods, I had engaged a man to purchase about seventy empty tea chests, which were arranged in my shop, as to suggest the idea of an “immense stock.” Now it became an absolute necessity, that I should either clear myself from such an abomination, or allow that abomination to destroy the grace of God, which had brought salvation, by Jesus Christ, to my unworthy soul. It required small consideration. “No liar shall enter the kingdom of God.” How shall we who are dead unto sin, live any longer therein.” I at once resolved on ridding myself of such influences. I disposed of the “beggarly account of empty boxes,” tore down the deluding falsehoods, and resolved on burning all that had not been used, and which formed. a huge bale. On Christmas day, according to announcement, I carried this “bundle of lies” into the Norwich market-place, where I addressed the crowd that awaited my arrival with it, and then, like “Christian” with his bundle of sins at his back, I carried it to Mousehold heath where, after the singing of a hymn, praying and addressing the crowds that had accompanied me, the bundle of falsehoods was committed to the flames. How true it is that, bad as we are, grace abounds much more than sin. I had much more than this to do, but the grace of God was sufficient for me.
My mind became so much impressed with the idea that I must preach the gospel of Jesus, that I could not rest day nor night. A voice, as it were the voice of eternity, was constantly ringing in my ears. There was no escaping, nor mistaking it. It insisted on my publicly renouncing the diabolical errors of infidelity, which I had promulgated. I could attend to no business. The importunity was incessant. In every engagement, at every meal, - still THAT VOICE. My conviction deepened that “the pleading voice” was the same that before said, “Let there be light.” I had but one desire, namely, to be found in Him. I prayed for grace to enable me to sink into entire dependence on Him who is all our strength; and I had much assurance of faith. Blessed-blessed be His name for ever! Reader, think from what I am saved! Think how large my debt! Think if my love is trifling! No. Come shame, come taunt, come the mocking laugh, - let infidels point the finger of scorn, and the professor turn on me the cold look of suspicion, - let slander do its worst, and honest indignation its best, - call me “hypocrite!” “deserter!” what you will! Saviour, I obey thy voice, bless the cross, glory in the shame, and thirst to suffer with thee.
The following notice relates to the first occasion of my standing up for God.
"Men of Norwich,
"Having devoted the last nine years to the study of infidel or sceptical principles, I had returned to Norwich for the purpose of more zealously advocating the same, but; God has willed it otherwise, and bids me on pain of eternal condemnation, to preach that Gospel instead, which I had been-industriously endeavouring to destroy. On Sunday next, December 7th, 1856, with God's permission and assistance, I intend preaching two sermons in the Lecture Hall, Bazaar; when all persons who entertain doubts about religious truths, are affectionately invited to attend.
Before Sunday arrived, I became the subject of a similar influence to that which led me to Mr. Crompton's chapel. It now urged me-to go, on the following Sunday, to an early prayer meeting. The place, and the people, where I went, were strangers to me. Why I was to go, I could not tell, but it seemed of so much importance that, on the Saturday night, I promised my children a reward if they would wake me early to go there.
Up to this Saturday night, my wife, who had long been an invalid, and confined to her room had not been made acquainted with my state of mind. As an infidel, she was even more bold than myself, and decidedly more careless of consequences. In character she is most determined. I dreaded the disclosure of my change of heart; but I looked to God for help, and He helped me. Already she had begun to warn me, by remarks indicative of suspicious surmisings. My going to chapel had displeased her. The reproachful manner in which she spoke of believers, told me, but too plainly, the fate I might have to prepare 'for. In proceeding, therefore, to break the subject to -her, I availed myself of the expedient of alluding to the fact, that we had been disciples of the same school, but that we had 'always been the subjects of independent responsibility; (so anxious are we to wash our hands of the guilt of others) that the belief of the one had never, necessarily, influenced the sentiments of the other. This admitted I began to explain the cause of-my sleepless nights, and- the -mental suffering which she remarked, but- the cause of which she had not learned. Having received the assurance that my change, in views and feelings, should not be made the-sport of her-own scepticism, I begged to be allowed to exercise that influence with my children which a sense of the pardoning love of God and the danger to which I could not but regard them as being necessarily exposed, rendered so important. This was granted me; with what feelings, with what emotions, let the reader endeavour to determine. What is that condition which a father dare not leave his children in? Is it one in which a solitary individual can be happy? Can a wife be happy in it - left in it? Can a mother be happy in it? Yet, dear reader, such was my estimate of the strength of infidel chains, and the weight of sceptical fetters, that the possibility, much less
the probability of my wife being converted to God, had not even crossed my mind,. Conviction, like the lightning's flash, darted through her soul. “What is that dreadful thing to which I am to be abandoned? What! Is not infidelity safe? Dare you not trust yourself on the ground upon which you have built your faith and planted your hopes? Am I to be deserted, after all this fidelity to the faith of infidels and the creed of scepticism? What! leave me alone? 0 James, nothing but the evidence of your senses, could thus have shook your confidence. Will you then leave me to the wretchedness of a cruel dungeon? Mother! Husband! Children! Have ye all found peace in believing the gospel that I have reviled and trampled on - spurned and despised - and must I, alone, defend the honour of our proud profession of antagonism, and singly dare the consequences? What! Shall all my little ones indeed be carried by angels to a better world, and, leave me clinging, to this? - to perish with it? Emily! Edward! Lander! My darling Lander! All? Would you have them turn their backs upon me as upon a hated - a dreadful enemy? I, their mother? And yet, why should I keep them back ? What have I to offer them, but misery; or to ,bid them hope for, but despair? Better be the object of their pity than of their curses. Curses? My children curse me?, What, curse their mother? 0 all that is merciful, save me from The curses of my children! Yes; take them under your care, 0 my mother, my mother, it ,was your last prayer - the prayer of your last look upon your infidel child - your dying groan - that I might be led to see my error. 0 James, James, why have you taught me thus to torture me now? I relied on you, believed on you, reasoned as you reasoned, thought as you thought, gloried for your glory. 0 my husband! my husband! my children! my children! Yes, take the children.” And thus my guilty soul stood charged At the bar of God, and well - ah. well indeed, for me, that Jesus: Christ the Righteous was not on the judgment, but on the mercy Seat. Well for me, well for her, well for our children. I was Verily guilty concerning my wife. We had long been in bed and it was now an hour after midnight. I pleaded the mercy of Almighty God; of Jesus, the sinner's ransom; the sense - the then grateful sense of pardoning love, which alone could, sustain me in such an extremity; the certainty that God had appeared for me. I urged the souls immortality, and. its necessary responsibility; the great fact of human depravity, as illustrated I our own fall; the greater need of a Saviour; the applicability of the gospel to human wants; the folly and fruitlessness of endeavouring to destroy religion, it being part of man's very nature; and having shown that all who apply the remedy lose, as a common consequence, all love of life and worldly enjoyment;
it pleased God to overwhelm her with the contemplation - to afflict her with the wretchedness of a contrite spirit, and to wring from the very depths of her soul the agonizing cry, “What must I do to be saved?” I got up. I could not keep longer from my knees, I prayed a prayer that night that moved the throne of mercy - shook the “tree of life,” and brought down the fruit in showers. God had mercy on us sinners. That night we understood what was meant by the light which the children of Israel had in their dwellings, while it was dark with the Egyptians; and that night we came up in haste from the land of darkness and bondage. “It is a night long to be remembered." May it never be forgotten.
O sceptic! no human power accomplished this. Of my own will, with no earthly inducement, how, or where could I have found the courage? Be honest. Are there not, in this city, believing husbands with unbelieving wives? Are there not (I know it to be a fact) Christian women, with infidel or sceptical husbands? Do you believe in the power of the one to change the other? If so let that power be exerted. If it should fail; tell me what power changed the heart of my wife, made her a hater of what she had loved before, and a devoted lover of that which she had before despised, scouted, and reviled ? This fact, much more than any words I could use, appeals to you. God grant that every one of you, with the poor unworthy worm who now addresses you, as from the doors of eternity, may find shelter in the saving mercy of Jesus Christ, and be delivered from the power of a deceived heart.
After having been permitted to rejoice in the power of Omnipotent grace, as manifested in the sudden and unlooked for conversion Of my wife (who, but an hour before, had taunted me with going to chapel, and showing friendship to a Christian), I vowed to God that on my return from the prayer meeting to which I had purposed going in the morning, I would confess my guilt to my children; begin to pray with them for the mercy we all so much needed, and to read to them that blessed word of which they had grown up in ignorance. It was now long past midnight. Soon after four my little boy called me; I spent the interval in reading and prayer. At seven o'clock I went to a prayer meeting, held at New City chapel. My only reason for going there was, that I did not know of another place where Sunday morning prayer meetings were held. When I reached the chapel, an incident occurred which could not fail to impress me with the reason why I had been so mysteriously urged to attend a prayer meeting that morning. I had to wait some time before I could gain admittance. When the doors were opened, a blind man, with whom I had held conversation on the state
of his soul, held out his hand for me to lead him in. In this incident I read God's answer to my prayer, as to whether he would have me attempt to lead blind sinners to Him who opens their eyes by the power of His Spirit, and illuminates their understanding by the light of His word.
On my return home, I gathered my children about me, explained the nature of those errors of which I had long been guilty, confessed to them the enormity of that sin which had kept them in ignorance of God, of a Saviour, of their responsibility, of eternity, of judgment, of heaven, and of perdition. I implored their forgiveness; making such promises of amendment as, I trust, through the amazing mercy of our Heavenly Father, I shall keep inviolate; and which I humbly beseech Him to sanctify to their souls’ salvation, through the prevailing merits of the Lord Jesus; to whom be endless acclamations of highest praise. For the first time since they were born, I opened the bible to read to them. (Two of them are in their fourteenth year) I read where I opened. It was the account of the sickness, death, and resurrection of Lazarus. I then knelt down with them, and made a full confession of my sins before Almighty God; beseeching Him to destroy the mischief I had done, and to forgive the enormity of my wickedness. At first, my children only laughed at me; supposing that I was jesting with them. When, however, I bent my knees and lifted my voice to heaven, imploring the mercy of God, and a further manifestation of the quickening influences of His Holy Spirit,
Jest gave its place to earnest prayer,
And laughter clouded into tears.
At the appointed hours, I stood, before large congregations, of christians and infidels, to declare what God had done for me And my poor wife, and to proclaim the glad tidings of a slighted gospel. Then, for the first time, I felt that I had acted like a man. Hitherto I had been a fool. On the evening of the same day, a christian put into my hand “A Narrative of some of the Lord's Dealings with George Muller,” a man who has done immense service for Christ, and has lived by faith, depending solely upon God for his own support, and the support of various institutions which he has established. In this incident, remembering what took place in the morning, I saw another manifestation of God’s will, and one which could not but lead me to pity those, whose mistaken view of my conversion to “the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God” had led them to suppose that had an eye to the improvement of my business. I have sought no business, in any way, since God made himself known to my heart. Before, I thought of business, and of the
body; now I think of my soul, of my God, and of His service. As for worldly interest, I shall be content with food and shelter; which is more than I deserve. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.”
When, a few days ago, I assured an infidel that there really was a possibility of his having the same happiness that I possessed - the same evidence that I enjoyed; “Yes,” he said, “by doing as you say you did, by praying for it, with a disposition to believe that I shall get it.” “Exactly so,” I replied. “Ah, then,” said he, “I shall never get it.” He despised the way. May the mercy of God soften his heart, turn him from his foolishness, and convince him that there is no other way by which he can be saved. O that we should reject the only way, especially as that way is so simple; costing nothing, but yielding pleasures for evermore.
O sceptic! think not of me. I am but a worm, crawling to my grave. Never waste precious time in giving entertainment to questions and doubts about my motives, about my sincerity. This appeal is to you - this warning is to you – this manifestation of the power of divine truth is for your consideration; therefore, as you value your interests as you love life and dread death – look to it. Prefer not the gnawing worm, and the unquenchable fire of eternal perdition, to the boundless love of the Lord of life and glory. Better weep here, than wail in hell. Better break your heart now, than gnash your teeth in eternity.
Make Him your friend, whose look, whose word, whose
Can sink your soul in everlasting death!
I am not dreaming. God’s mercies are not fancies; nor is His love a conceit. Nay, nor is there any sense of shame in serving Him. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” and why should you? It cannot harm you. Shame is not for those who have laid their help on “One that is mighty to save.” The man that has made friends with Him “who shutteth and no man, openeth, who openeth and no man shutteth” has nothing to do with shame. Shame is the portion of the disobedient. “I spake unto him in his prosperity; but he said, I will not hear. This hath been his manner from his youth.” What then? “As I live saith the Lord, though he were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck him thence; and cast him out, into another country. Surely then shall he be ashamed and confounded for all his wickedness. And there shall he die.” But, there is mercy with God that he may be feared.” You don’t believe there is a God? But you say you would believe it, if you had evidence that it were true. Would you? Do you own all that you believe? Does your unwillingness to own that you have
been wrong – the dread of being laughed at and ridiculed as a turncoat – hold your heart in rebellion against God, and prompt you to spurn the invitations of the gospel? Would you indeed have your mind set at rest – have all doubts removed, and peace which passeth all understanding implanted in your agitated breast? Go to the foot of the Cross and leave your burden there.
Go into your closet – go alone – own that there is a God, the God that Comley believes in; plead that you wish to know Him – that you would serve him, if you did know Him; pray for the manifestation of His love, and of His mercy, and of His power. Let the experiment be a sincere experiment, you will not pray the second time as an experiment; but you will do as all do, on whom God has had mercy, you will be glad to pray again for more of those blessings of which God's gracious answers are so full. Religion will then be a fact in your own heart, God its author and you the happy subject of its influence.
O Thou who hast spoken for me, and speakest by me, deliver the readers of this testimony to Thy mysterious, unfathomable, and inexhaustible love and mercy, from that hardness of heart and contempt of this feeble effort to promote Thy glory, which will drag it into judgment against them in “the great day;” and of Thy mercy, remember the poor wanderer whom Thou didst seek upon the dark mountains; and save, with an everlasting salvation, the unworthiest of Thy servants,
17, Davey Place, Norwich
Since the foregoing was put into the printer's hands, I have been taxing steps to find up parties that I had wronged, years ago. In some cases I have succeeded; in others I have, at present, failed. Two considerations have induced me to introduce a portion of the correspondence. First – the kind feeling which has been manifested towards me, by those whom I had defrauded, naturally makes me anxious to give the fullest expression to my gratitude; and, secondly, its evidence that the contents are matters of simple truth. If it shall he perused by any that have been wronged, or have done wrong, there is encouragement for the offender, and magnanimous examples for the sufferer.
At page 10, the reader will see a notice of my having wronged an hotel keeper, at Peterboro'. The following letter was received, in reply to one written on my behalf, on the 10th inst.
“Stamford, February 9th, 1857.
“Your communication, addressed to me at the Greyhound Inn, Peterboro', has been forwarded by Mr. Jenkins, the present landlord of the Greyhound. I have enclosed the account, which I believe is the amount of the bill, and if the gentleman thinks proper to favour me with it, I shall feel greatly obliged. I have a distinct recollection of the circumstance, and have often thought about him; and was greatly surprised, from his kind and gentlemanly manners, that he should have acted so strangely. But now I am convinced that the first impressions I formed of him were correct; and that he has acted from peculiar circumstances. I remember we had some very friendly chat, and, I believe, a walk together.
“Pray present my kindest respects to him and should we ever meet, I am sure it will be upon very pleasing terms.
“I remain, sir,
“Yours most respectfully,
“ALFRED W. ANDREWS”
“An honest man's the noblest work of God.”
On receipt, I forwarded the value of the account, with interest, and received the following:
“Stamford, February 12th, 1857.
“I am duly in receipt of your favour, and I beg leave to say that you have amply and honorably satisfied my humble claim.
“I almost feel ashamed to accept so much value of you; but, when we meet, I will pay you any balance you may wish, as it is not improbable that business will, ere very long, lead me to your city. In the meantime, allow me to wish you all the good and prosperity you deserve. How rare is it, my dear sir, to find such honesty as yours! You have our joint sympathy for your past, present, and future weal; and may you be spared to atone to Him whom you fear you, have provoked; and, my dear sir, pardon will not be withheld.
“I enclose a poetic effusion of my brother’s composition. I think it is rather applicable.
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you; so that if circumstances should bring you near, pray come and see me
“I should much like your pamphlet, which I trust you will send me.
“And now, dear sir, believe me to remain,
“Yours much obliged and sincerely,
“A. W. ANDREWS.”
The following is the copy of verses alluded to.
AN APPEAL TO THE ATHEIST.
a man who having look'd abroad,
Can, from his heart, exclaim "there is no God!"
And, who thinks nature and her wound'rous laws,
Subsist exclusive of a great first cause ?
Upon our pity such an one has claim,
And, while we thus deplore him, still we blame.
Look, man, again upon this teemmg earth,
And say, who gave the various creatures birth!
Viewing creation, nought is seen aright,
If, for one moment, God is out of signt.
Leviathan and Behemoth in size
And form, may well excite thy just surprise;
Yet, still, no less design and skill we see,
E'en in the mite or animalculæ.
The smallest grass blade, and a grain of sand,
Evince, as clearly, an Almighty hand,
As do th' extended heavens, where planets roll,
And all the stars that glitter round the pole,
(For when one world is blotted out of sight,
A thousand others herald on the night).
'Tis He the seasons and their course ordains,
Leads the soft spring, and o'er the summer reigns,
Sways the rich autumn with its mell'wing store,
And rules the winter winds and tempest's roar.
All things proclaim the existence of a God.
The simplest plant, which decks the rudest sod;
Beasts, reptiles, insects, fishes, birds, and flies,
And myriad forms that 'scape our wondering eyes.
Since He, who gave this universe its form,
Framed every atom, and the tiniest worm;
His autograph we trace in all around,
In every object, color, motion, sound.
In yonder sun behold His glory shine!
And in the thunder-storm His power divine!
Slight shades of beauty from Himself He throws,
T'adorn the rainbow, and to tint the rose.
He gifts the feather'd warblers with their songs;
And breathes the fragrance which to flowers belongs;
Instructs the grub to spin its silken cone;
The spider how, and where to weave alone.
The active ant, and the industrious bee,
Both in their structure and economy,
Prove some directing power, that still presides
And, by a principle called instinct, guides.
Each acts its part, subservient to His will!
And all in concert His designs fulfil.
His great designs! What foresight in the plan!
And how accommodated all to man!
He made them, and upholds - sustains them all,
None overlook'd however great or small.
He also reared thine own most curious frame,
And kindled in the the immortal flame.
In His own image, 'kin to angels thou!
Form'd to confess Him and adoring bow.
He gave thee understanding too, to look
And read the pages of fair natures book.
Thy tastes t'enjoy; thy judgement to discern;
And numerous lessons from "the creature" learn.
Reason must often give thy doubts the lie,
And conscience too against thee testify;
Since such abundant ptoofs to thee are given,
Thick, clust'ring, widespread, over earth and heaven.
But why should I recount them! Thou canst see
Objects unnumbered all addressing thee,
Urging thy heart, thus seeing to believe;
His wisdom own, and to His glory live.
Contend no more, but to conviction yield;
God, though unseen, is in his works reveal'd!
With regard to the first case mentioned on page 11, I communicated with
"the Rev. Incumbent” The following have been received from him.
“Hanwell Rectory, February 5th, 1857.
“Sir, It affords me much pleasure to hear that, by any means, God, of His infinite mercy, has brought you to a right state of mind; and that, in proof of your present contrition, you desire to make reparation to those whom you have wronged.
"I have been here ten years, and during that time both the landlords of the inns on the opposite side of the road to the asylum (the “Duke of York," and the “Viaduct"), have left. Perhaps an offering to some charitable institution might relieve your mind; but the real point is, humble and sincere confession to Almighty God, with the stedfast purpose to lead a new life for the future; and that you may have grace to do both, is the hearty hope of yours faithfully,
“Hanwell Rectory, February 7th, 1857.
“Sir, – I have received thirty stamps, the value of which, 2s. 6d., shall be faithfully applied according to your wishes. I see no prospect of my meeting with the landlord, but I shall not forget the matter.
“With every good wish for your continuance unto the end,
“Believe me, yours faithfully,
The two following letters relate to the period when I was connected with the stage at Lincoln. See page 11.
“Witham Street, Boston, February 25th 1857.
'"Dear Sir, – I am in receipt of yours, and I need not say it occasioned both surprise and pleasure. Surprise at bearing from you after a silence of ten years, and pleasure at finding, what I always believed, that you did not pay only because you could not. We have thought of you and talked of you hundreds, of times, wondering what had become of you, and also whether we should, ever meet again. But we always believed you honest, notwithstanding appearances. I do not know how much you owe. Mrs. C. says she thinks about thirty shillings; but we cannot do better than leave ourselves in the hands of one whose uprightness can prompt him to the line of conduct you are pursuing. As a proof, that lam the person you seek, I may remind you of your once going a journey with me; and, on another occasion, you went by the steam-packet to meet me. You will remember, too, that I had a good edition of Shakspeare, in twelve volumes. Mrs C. says you gave our daughter, Fanny, a pin-cushion, the night before you left. She unites with me in kind regards, and believe me to remain, dear sir, yours truly,
“S. P. CHAPMAN.”
“Witham Street, Boston, February 27th 1857.
“My dear Sir,
“I am this minute in receipt of your favour, and am greatly obliged for the same. It is, without doubt, an ample discharge of all obligation – and fully entitles you to the appellation of “an honest man,” which Pope says “is the noblest work of God.” As far as I am concerned, and I am sure
Mrs. C. too, you not only have our entire forgiveness, but also our highest admiration. Indeed the whole affair is so strange – so unusual a kind – we can hardly believe it real. “It really seems like a dream,” We have, since your last, called up many things we had before forgotten. You stated, when with us, that you were a widower, and had two children – that you had been in a great tea warehouse in London, and you used to make yourself useful in assisting us to wrap up tea and coffee. You had formed some acquaintance in
The High Street, some of which called to see you after your departure. I can well remeber our surprise on finding you were gone, and the feeling of pity, rather than anger, we experienced; for, poor as we were, we saw you were poorer still. It had not escaped our notice that you endeavoured to hide your distressed circumstances from us. We noticed crumbs of bread scattered about your chamber, and the empty water bottle in the morning, which gave us an idea of your humble meal there, of the humblest diet; perhaps the only one of that day. I am bid, by Mrs. C. to say, and my own heart responds to the same, that we shall be happy to see you for a day in Boston. I am sure I should remember you in a moment, unless much altered; I remember well the cast of countenance, the round and florid face. It would give me great pleasure to keep up a correspondence with you. I hope the next time I hear from you, your pamphlet will be ready. Again assuring you of our best wishes and forgiveness, and of our desire to be further acquainted,
“I remain, my dear Sir,
“S. P. CHAPMAN.”
Having left Lincoln, I had much difficulty in tracing this gentleman, as I had long since forgotten his name and address. A description of his person and early profession, was all that I had to depend on. I was known to him, and upon the stage as “Mr. Douglass.”
For the circumstances to which the following refers, see page 16.
“New Inn, Abercarne, Monmouthshire, Feb. 16th, 1857.
“I have received the parcel which you forwarded me, I am very grateful for it. I have sent the enclosed parcel to Mrs. Hodges, of Risca. I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Comley, for it, and remain,
Just before I left Norwich, I received, from a gentleman in London, £5 with an order for goods. The order was not executed nor was the money returned. Three months ago, when I was seeking him, for the purpose of restoring his money, I found that he had left the country under pressure of pecuniary difficulties. I therefore handed the amount to a relative.
So far the Lord has blessed me.
There is one incident that I omitted naming in the proper place. While the portrait of Mr. Spurgeon was being exhibited in my shop window, with the derisive inquiry, “WHO IS THIS SPURGEON?” appended to it, I happened to get hold of one of his sermons, in which the following passage occurs, and the perusal of which led to my removing the picture, and begging Mr. Spurgeon’s pardon for the wicked and malicious use I had made of it.
“They are like the foolish man, who goes on, and is punished; not like the prudent man, who ‘forseeth the evil, and hideth himself.’ They go on; that step is safe – they take it; the next step is safe – they take it; their foot hangs over a gulf of darkness; but they will try one step, and as that is afe, they think they will try the next; and as the last has been safe, and as for many years they have been safe, they suppose they always shall be; and because they have not died yet, they think they will never die. And so out of sheer presumption, thinking ‘all men are mortal but themselves,’ they go on making light of Christ. Tremble, ye presumptuous, you will not always be able to do that!”
Several interesting matters of correspondence have been omitted. The main object has been kept steadily in view, namely to show “the power of God unto salvation, through faith, which is in Christ Jesus.” There is no saying so “worthy of all acceptation, as, that Jesus Christ came in to the world to save sinners.” Reader, “I obtained mercy” – Go thou and do likewise.
PRINTED BY JARROLD AND SONS, LONDON STREET, NORWICH
17 JU 57
Back to COMLEY Home page