While we were living at Booterstown, my father was invited by the curate of the parish to attend a meeting held by him once a week, where a few gentlemen met together for Bible reading and conversation, and he went regularly unless some other engagement prevented him.
He had at that time a weekly meeting for exposition of Scripture at the house of an old lady, who, though herself one of the Brethren, would invite any friends and neighbours who wished to come; and it was always a pleasure to my father when any who loved his Lord, though “they followed not with him,” were present.
His own convictions were sure and unwavering, and seemed to grow stronger from year to year, but he could appreciate to the full Christian worth in those whose opinions were not his own, where he felt they were held “as to the Lord.” He would refer often to Romans 14 in connection with this.
He often said, “We will not agree to differ, because that would be making little of truth, but we will love in spite of differences.”
My father’s temperament did not lead him to active work; and he the more admired those who were bearing “the burden and heat of the day.” Those (such as city missionaries and others) who go out into the lanes and alleys, the highways and hedges, he greatly honoured, and loved to remember them in family prayer. He would speak of himself as fit only to sit at their feet.
I do not know whether he had ever felt ambitious of success in his profession as a barrister; but I think he liked it, and had he continued in it, his accurate mind and fitting perception of firings would probably have ensured success; but nothing that he had given up seemed to be felt a sacrifice. He would speak with admiration of any who had suffered for the cause of Christ; and of himself, as one to whom the lines had fallen “in pleasant places”; and no one who can recall his happy smile can doubt that he felt this.
His social nature was fully alive to the enjoyments of refined society; but so completely was it kept in check by what he felt to be loyalty to his Lord, that I never remember thinking it was any trial to him to abstain from many things, nor yet that he judged harshly those who did otherwise. With his shrinking from everything in which he felt not his Lord’s approval, there was no touch of hardness or of gloom in his intercourse with others.
Satisfied cheerfulness was characteristic of him. I remember how we were amused by the remark of a Dutch Pastor, who had come to Dublin from Amsterdam, and breakfasted with us one morning. He asked my father if he had ever been on the Rhine, and being answered in the negative, he said with a smile, “How can you be so cheerful, never having seen the Rhine!”
My dear father’s simplicity of character I have scarcely thought of mentioning, it was so entirely a part of himself. The following anecdote was told me by a friend whose remembrance of him after thirty years is as fresh as that of so many others. He said that one evening my father had been spending a little time at their house, and on going away he met a poor man at the gate selling brushes, and touched, I suppose by his importunity, he bought one. They were surprised to see him returning to the door with a sweeping brush in his hand. He told them how he had got it, and asked if they would have it, as he hardly liked to carry it home!
This brings to my mind his constant readiness to give alms; and I remember that almost always, when he gave anything to a beggar, he would say, “That is for the Lord Jesus’ sake.” If any doubt were suggested as to the integrity of anyone in want, he would say pityingly, “Ah, we don’t know the temptations of poverty!”
As far as his means would allow, my father was ever ready to give to those who were in want, his sympathies being always specially called out when there were large families of children to be provided for.
I may perhaps mention a little circumstance which has been a treasured memory to myself. One day coming home from his usual rounds, he told me that he had been attracted by a davenport which he saw in a shop window, and looked at it, wishing very much to buy it for me. “But then,” he added, “I thought, how many are wanting a loaf, and I turned away.”
I think he had almost a dread of wealth. To hear of anyone dying “worth so much” (as the expression is), especially if he were known as one who made a profession of religion, pained him very much. But the luxury of giving away largely, he fully understood, and used to say that this was the one thing for which wealth could be valued. Hearing of any act of self-denying generosity at once stirred his admiration.
His work from day to day did not lead him much to the very poor: but amongst those he did visit and relieve from time to time were a poor man, his wife, and sister-in-law, all old and feeble. I remember his saying with admiration of their simple faith, “They have only about half an eye between them; and yet they are cheerful and happy!”
He would relate with pleasure the following little history told him by the Hector of a poor parish called “The Liberties,” in Dublin, whom he greatly esteemed for his “unobtrusive work.” Mr. H—— had been visiting a poor, sick woman for a long time, without making any impression upon her. It seemed as if she were incapable even of understanding his words, and she would always repeat, “I’m a stupid old woman, I can’t understand.” Still Mr. H—— would not give her up, but continued to read and speak to her of the Lord. One day as soon as he entered the room she raised her head and said, “I understand it all now!” and then she told him how all that he had been saying to her seemed to be made quite plain; and he had the comfort of feeling that the Holy Spirit had indeed been her teacher.
My dear father’s sympathies were very strong, and for suffering of any and every kind he felt deeply, especially so (perhaps from his own dread of it) in the case of illness accompanied by much pain.
I remember once a person whom we knew was threatened with a very painful disease, unless a successful operation were performed. My father felt tenderly about it, and (as if taking it to himself) he said, “There are moments of mid-night darkness to the soul, but there will be noon-day brightness for ever!” His relief and happiness were great when the danger was past and health restored.
The remembrance of what he felt during my brother’s months of intense suffering gave, no doubt, additional tenderness to his sympathy. Thank God! he was never again called upon to pass through such a time of trial as that. My dear mother’s weakness, increasing gradually as it did from year to year, until she could only move from room to room, was not such a trial as might have been thought, because she suffered but little.
Her even cheerfulness was unfailing. It was his delight to have her beside him, or to minister to her in little ways, and her sweet, bright smile was quite enough to cheer him, even when anything arose to trouble him.
Her truthfulness and simplicity of character were such a rest and joy to him. The friends whom she was only able to see occasionally, little knew, how his happiness depended on her. He often said to me when I was a girl, “I will give up all my expectations of you, if you will be like your mother.”
He used to say that in character she was like “Aunt Roberts,” for whose memory he and others had much veneration; and he was not a little pleased to hear Mr. Darby once say, “Mrs. Bellett has been my mentor for twenty years.” Her straightforward and clear-sighted judgment gave much weight to her opinion and advice.
I have now to give some extracts from my father’s letters, though they rather belong to Chapter II, written after the death of my dear aunts, to whom he was summoned as each drew near her end. He was closely bound in affection to each of them; and the loss of them made a fresh blank in his life. Never did sisters more truly love a brother than those dear aunts loved my father.
The first letter refers to the death of the eldest of the three:
“I am sitting between your dear aunts, who are still in sorrow. But all is richly well. She was as full a sample of ‘peace in Jesus’ as your own dear mamma, and she could not be more. All is well, eternally well, and the joys of the Glory will awaken all our faculties for enjoyment, and give them their perfection for ever.
“Thankful I am to hear of the meetings on Sunday—‘Manifestly declared to be the Epistle of Christ’ is said of that church at Corinth, where so much had to be corrected and rebuked. But the Spirit discerned the work of God in the midst of the rubbish of nature.”
The next extract speaks of the dear aunt that was called away last.
“… It is a coming and a going, my clear child—a living and a dying—but perfections, and brightness, and purity are all in His presence in Glory. We must know ‘Scripture’ as the ‘power of God.’ (Matt. 22:29.) If He say, He can do it; if He promise, He can make it good; and it is the business of faith to learn what He has said, and know the power that will accomplish it.
“The body and the spirit of the saints are given their different histories in Scripture. The spirit is not contemplated in 1 Cor. 15; that concerns the body, and tells that a day is coming when it shall be glorified.
“The spirit is instructed, by other Scripture, to know its history also. It is taught that it will return to Him who gave it. (Ecc. 12:7.) And we know that God gave it to Adam, a living soul, and Jesus gives it to His elect. Jesus having given it to His elect, it returns to Him when the body returns to the dust. (Acts 7:59.)
“These ‘Scriptures,’ which we ought to ‘know,’ will be made good by the ‘power of God,’ for God is able to make them good.
‘“According to your faith be it unto you’—a precious sentence—and we want the believing mind and not the agitated intellect.
“Faith has to do not with difficult problems or abstruse propositions, but with simple facts, and declarations, and promises, while the more the reader is a child and a wayfaring man, the easier he will find them. And they are as sure as they are simple—the words of Him who cannot lie— yea, and the words of Him who is Himself glorified in their being that.
“Indeed, indeed, if there were a loveable person it was your dear aunt; and such a sweet picture in death, as her body, I think I never saw. It is pure, white marble, no disfiguring, and the dear hands so exquisite. But it is vile, my child—in its day to be made glorious.
“This event seems to have opened, a little wider, the world of faith to the eye of the soul.
“…Dearest aunt said nothing that I need mention, for we all looked to her being with us again till the last twenty minutes.
“But how quietly her blameless path ended! characteristic we may say, and in fullest, brightest certainty; because of grace and the gift of grace we know where they are all of them in spirit now.
“…Dearest mamma is so sweet in telling me not to leave this soon. Augusta and Isabella18 feel this love from her. Oh, it is like her! but I need not say that. My heart blesses God for her, the only branch now of the old tree, and that a broken one.”
When this dear aunt was taken ill my father was summoned by my cousins; and he went at once to Cheltenham. After a time she seemed to be getting better. When the unexpected increase of illness came on she scarcely spoke, except to ask for “John.” He was soon at her bedside, and she was satisfied. Just before she breathed her last she gazed at one corner of the room, and as she looked, her face became radiant with joy, as though some blessed object were presented to her view.
About ten years before my father’s death we went back to live in the house 2, Upper Pembroke Street, which had been the first home of lvis married life, where almost all his children were born, and some died in infancy;. and there his manner of life was very much the same from day to day.
Although he never wished to be considered chief, or in a place of authority amongst the Brethren, yet they loved to give him such a place; and Sunday after Sunday, as I have said before, he preached in the evening, and usually took part in the morning meeting.
Perhaps the word preaching scarcely conveys the true description of his ministry. It was rather an unfolding of Holy Scripture in a way peculiar, to himself. His fervour would betray itself as he went along; and the heart and conscience of the hearer be touched as he spoke of the beauty and delight of the “Book of God” (as he loved to call the Bible). Never at a loss for a theme full of profit and interest, his own enjoyment seemed to increase as he spoke.
To trace his Lord’s life in all its details was indeed his delight; and to bring out for others the treasures he found there, his happy work.
Subjects from the Gospel according to St. Luke he specially loved; also the early days of the Patriarchs and the Epistle to the Hebrews;19 and I suppose that none who were in the habit of hearing him could forget how he loved to dwell upon our blessed Lord’s conversation at the “Well of Sychar.”
Among the different meetings and Bible readings, there was an early prayer meeting at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings, which he never missed whilst it continued, though it was attended by very few others.
I have lately met a lady who was once at a lecture given at Rathmines: she never heard my father before or after; but his words made a strong impression on her. She said that she had never heard anything like it before. She only saw him once after; but her recollection of him was very vivid.
From time to time there were social gatherings for reading and conversation on Scripture, where he was always welcomed. Friends would sometimes bring questions about disputed or difficult points for liim to answer. He had no taste for controversy, or mere intellectual reasoning; but his accuracy and clearness in explaining any passage was ever felt.
Indeed this was the natural consequence of his constant study and meditation of God’s Word. It was his companion at all times. But any question that he thought might be merely for intellectual gratification he greatly disliked. A friend once said most truly, “Mr. Bellett does not answer your difficulties always; he raises you above them.”
Thus it was indeed; it was not that he did not well know what difficulties were, whether intellectual, moral, or spiritual; but it was that his sense of the sufficiency of the Blessed Lord to meet and quiet every thought by His own Presence was all powerful.
Often did he repeat with fervour the following lines:
“His purpose and His course He takes,
Treads all my reasonings down,
Commands me out of nature’s depths,
And hides me in His own.”
To speak to him about Holy Scripture, to get his thoughts on any passage; (and one always felt there was no part he had not thought about), seemed entirely to rest and satisfy the mind. Then his sweet deference to others, as well as his clear grasp of his subject and his bright and loving way of presenting it, gave a charm to all he said.
In a letter written when he was in the North of Ireland for a short time, he told me the subject on which he thought of speaking at a meeting, but at the close of the letter, written after the meeting he says: “We had a crowded room last evening, and I was happy; but my mind was turned to another subject, and you know, I like to be thus in God’s hands.” This reminds me of how he used sometimes, when we were walking together to an evening meeting, to tell me the subject he thought of taking, and I was surprised to find that he sometimes took one entirely different. His mind was full of meditations on almost all parts of Scripture, and it seemed as though the Master on whom he waited, would at such times direct him to one or another, for His own gracious purposes.
I remember being surprised when he told me that he could speak with more comfort to himself when in his regular work at home (two or three lectures a week, beside Sunday), where of course the subjects were fresh each time, than when he was going from place to place and could repeat his subject.
His influence in social life must have been greater than he was at all aware of. At times difficulties arose which his wise counsel and careful allowance for difference of judgment, and above all his loving spirit and gentleness, smoothed over. “Do not stand upon your rights,” was a sentence he often uttered, “but be willing to be a cypher in the great account.” I may truly say that on every occasion, whether of joy or sorrow amongst the little company in Dublin, his sympathy was at once sought for and heartily given.
He was always anxious to encourage those who might be less favoured than others; and after seeing or hearing of any proof of faith and love in one who might have been under-rated, he would say with fervent pleasure, “The last are first.” If anyone passed hasty judgment on another, he would say, “Remember, the law considers everyone innocent until he be proved guilty.”
He often quoted the words, “Ye know the heart of a stranger,” when he heard of anyone lonely, or a stranger, to whom he might shew kindness. No difference of rank hindered the welcome he gave to any whom he believed to be followers of his Lord.
Simplicity of faith, leading to a spirit of constant praise, delighted him; he felt it to be a level of Christian experience higher than his own, and he would mention, with much pleasure, the reply once made to him by a friend, to whom he had said, “What is the character of your communion with God when in prayer? Mine is chiefly confession.” With a beaming face, the answer was given, “Oh! mine is praise.”
He delighted in the simplicity and naturalness of children, and often referred to those verses which tell of our blessed Lord taking a little child in His arms, a symbol, as he felt, of what the Church and each member of it ought to be—“A cypher in the world’s account (as a little child is), but in the arms of Christ.”
The following verses, translated from the German of Tersteegen, he greatly enjoyed:—
“Dear soul, could’st thou become a child
While yet on earth, meek, undefil’d,
Then God Himself were alway near,
And Paradise around thee here.
“A child cares not for gold or treasure,
Nor fame nor glory yield him pleasure;
In perfect trust he asketh not
If rich or poor shall be his lot.
“No questions dark his spirit vex,
No faithless doubts his soul perplex;
Simply from day to day he lives,
Content with what the present gives.
“He will not stay to pause or choose,
His father’s guidance e’er refuse,
Thinks not of danger, fears no harm,
Wrapt in obedience, holy, calm.
* * * * *
“O childhood’s innocence! the voice
Of thy deep wisdom be my choice;
Who hath thy lore is truly wise,
And precious in our Father’s eyes.
“Spirit of childhood! loved of God;
By Jesus’ Spirit now bestow’d,
How often have I longed for thee?
O Jesus! form Thyself in me.
“And help me to become a child
While yet on earth—meek, undefil’d;
That I may find God alway near,
And Paradise around me here!”
My father never took in a daily paper; but if there were any special public events at any time, and a paper were lent to him, he read it with interest.
I think I used to notice that, whatever turn affairs might be taking in the world at large, it seemed to be just what he, from his prophetic point of view, expected. He did not, perhaps, take prophetic subjects as often as others for his expositions; but at times he clearly expressed his mind concerning prophecy. He often remarked that, just as in a landscape, the distant parts look hazy, while the foreground stands out clear and strong, so is it with unfulfilled prophecy—we must not expect to find it as clear as the other parts of the word of God.
The prophecies of Daniel and others, led him to expect changes that have taken place, or are taking place, in Christendom.
From 2 Peter 3 and other parts of Scripture, he expected the world to grow worse instead of better; and he was fully prepared for the lawlessness which is now so ready to show itself everywhere. I remember his once saying to my uncle, “We shall not see it, but the children will.”
All efforts merely to “elevate the masses” he regarded with fear, and used to say, “people do not know what they are doing.”
A feature of the last days (as he fully believed these to be), of which he sometimes spoke, was the union of superstition and infidelity. He expected an increase of the former; and when the Pope’s temporal power was taken away, he believed it would lead to further increase of spiritual power over the minds of men.
His thoughts as to coming judgment were very strong. He used to say, “the world is incurable; and before He comes Whose right it is, and Who will reign in righteousness, it must be cleansed by judgment.”
He expected the return of the Lord Jesus at any moment, to take all His redeemed to Himself; and believed that this event was in no wise dependent upon, or necessarily delayed by, anything here, except the gathering in of the people of the Lord.
With a strong feeling that the world is at enmity with the Church, and that the natural path of a Christian through this world is one of suffering like that of his divine Master, he used to say, “Martyrdom is the natural death of a Christian.” But he fervently thanked God for peace and quietness, given, as he would say, for the sake of “timid ones like me, who are not of the stuff that martyrs are made of;” and greatly did he admire any bold testimony for truth which did not shrink from consequences.
With thankfulness he would say that God’s ways never end in judgment. In tracing, for instance, in Isaiah different “strains of judgment,” he would notice how they all lead up to, and end in, mercy and praise. And so, whatever solemn thought of present evil or future judgment might present itself, he would remember the end, and dwell upon the thought of the world to come. He often repeated the closing words of Hebrews 2:5, “Whereof we speak” delighting in the thought that the “world to come” was the apostle’s theme; and surely it was his.
His strong conviction that “the Church is a heavenly stranger” in the world kept him apart from politics, while he yet carried out to the full the principle of subjection to the powers that be, and was thankful for the protection of our English laws. While he took no part in politics he was by no means indifferent to public events. His natural likings and sympathies were all Conservative.
In anything that concerned the Queen, or her family, he felt a true interest. This was shown specially at the time of the Prince Consort’s death. He shared very fully the deep sympathy that was felt.
At a time when there was a great deal said about the abolition of Capital Punishment, be felt very strongly against such a measure, because, as he said, when the government of the earth was committed to Noah, the command was clear—“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed;” and it was never abrogated.
The following extract from a letter written after the Crimean war is an index of his mind:
“I would acknowledge the blessings of peace. Surely we should rejoice that the sword is in the scabbard again; but in all prayer or thanksgiving on these subjects, we must remember that it is in the way of over-ruling and not in the way of governing, that the Lord now holds the nations of the world in His hand. In millennial days it will be otherwise. Then he will govern and not simply over-rule.
“We are to submit to Powers; but to share with them is not the calling of the Church. She will sit and share power when her Lord governs.
“I see more to dread from peace than from war; for the world will get further opportunities to ripen its superstitious and infidel thoughts, and prepare itself in its ecclesiastical and civil apostasies for the judgments of the Lord.”
I will end this chapter by giving a few sentences, taken verbatim from lectures of my father, given at different times:
“The more morally we read scripture the safer; because it keeps us in company with our own conscience and delivers us from our speculations.
“The minute touches of scripture are full of divinity.
“Faith links you with God—your necessities with His resources, but if faith be omnipotent, it is also self-renouncing.
“Romans 8 is dedicated to us individually, that we may be educated in Christ for a bright eternity.
“The refuge of the soul, the object and end of confidence—to go right up to Him as the Home of the heart and conscience!
“A believing heart cures the narrowness and coldness that we have. The understanding of Himself must form the link between our souls and Him.
“Ephesians 2:20-22—‘Every stone in the Temple, big or little, has the value of Christ upon it.
“It was not the Sun of the morning that came after the three hours’ darkness; it was the very glory of God breaking out—the full light of His everlasting love.
“Faith adopts God’s thoughts; it is wisdom and obedience.
“Instead of keeping the ear nailed to the door-post of God, we turn to reasonings.
“John 14:27—‘The world will give what it can spare, the Lord gives what cost Him everything.’
“The 1st Epistle of Peter is the epistle of the lamp, the girdle, and the furnace.
“Charity is always active — never idle; busy, skilful, unceasing vividness.
“If I don’t bring my own individual history to God, I come short of eternal alliance with Him.
“You must learn Christ by your necessities and His resources.
“He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him—the glory of Christ is the property of the Church.
“Oh that thoughts of God’s future for His people may be familiar to our hearts! But even above that, may a simple, believing mind be in us, a mind not so much formed by thinking and watching, as generated naturally and artlessly, and without effort, by believing.
“You may lean on the bosom of Divine salvation with eternal confidence.
“The Lord at the Paschal Table was the living Christ, presenting to the faith of the sinner a crucified Christ.
“The life of the Lord Jesus was the great moral illustration of all Divine glories.
“If there is an exquisite thing in the Creation of God, it is the disclosures of the mind of Christ.”
I have also a few notes which, though not strictly verbatim, are accurate, and give the true sense of my father’s words.
“There is blessed consolation in knowing that it is in my sinner character I come to Christ. The convicting light of the Gospel is as severe as the law; and there would be no comfort without the Lord exposed the very dregs of our nature, because it tells that He has taken us up knowing the very worst of us. He tells us that we have destroyed ourselves—but He lays the sentence of death in us that we may trust in Him that raiseth the dead.
“‘Sanctified by faith that is in Me’ (Acts 26:18)—this is rather separation to God than a progressive work; though sanctification in other places means this. By nature we know separation from God, but in Christ we know separation to Him.
“Zechariah 11 may be read as an epitome of Matthew’s Gospel. It is only in that Gospel that the quotation is made from this prophet (under the general title of ‘Jeremy’) and in the striking language of verse 12 the Lord takes the matter into His own Hand, and speaks as if He had sold Himself,—and we know He did give up His life, or it never could have been taken. Thus there is exact coincidence between Prophet and Evangelist, though apparent historical variance.
“The Lord had been ‘Beauty’ and ‘Bands ‘to Israel; but in rejecting Him they lost both.
“To whatever He touches He imparts strength and beauty.
“Zechariah 12:12 is a vivid illustration of the separating power of conviction.
“Where the presence of God is felt in a soul, everything must stand aside.
“Peter, under this power (Luke 5:8), was separated in spirit from the ship that was ready to sink; apparently he had no fears about it. The presence he was awakened to feel absorbed his whole mind.
“Abraham’s history was the varied, picturesque exhibition of the life of faith (Heb. 11:13)… They were persuaded it was a reality. They gave their heart to it. The way back was not lost to them; but, how beautiful, they were not ‘mindful’ of it.
“Isaac was all to Abraham, but he surrendered all; because he believed in God as a Quickener of the dead.
“Jacob and Isaac did not exhibit much of the life of faith; but the small and the great are before Him. They laid hold upon the same object, and ascended the same heavens.
“Fill your vision with the glories of Scripture, and all the darts of ‘wicked’ and ‘unreasonable’ men will be as so many straws. God has put into His own oracles all the vindication they require.
“The more we ponder upon the story (i.e. the gospel history), the more we put an instrument into the hand of the Holy Ghost to seal comfort on our souls.
“The Atonement will be our music through the endless ages of eternity. The sight of glory is not so great as the song which celebrates grace. ‘Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.’
“The Spirit will give out the shadows of Lev. 16, and the substance of Matt, 27 with all calmness; but you and I ought not to be calm over it.
“Mary chose the good part which should remain with her. Let us cultivate the principle of hidden satisfaction in Christ; it is the beginning of eternal communion.”
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that preach the gospel of peace. It is God’s delight in the gospel that has ordained preachers of the gospel— the joy of God, the gospel of God, and the eternal counsels of God have sent them forth, Can I doubt that ‘joy’ sends forth the message, since, when it returns full-handed, there is ‘joy’? (See Luke 15:10).
“It was not Jacob wrestling, but God wrestling with him. He has plenty to withstand in me, and is it not pleasant that He should withstand it? Faith is able to stand under a Divine rebuke. Did you ever come away from the rebuking presence of God with fresh strength in the manhood of faith? It was heaven to Jacob’s spirit.
“When the Samaritan leper, instead of going on to the High Priest, turned back and fell down at the feet of the Lord, Jesus owned Himself the Lord of the temple, and His presence the temple of the Lord. ‘There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.’
“‘Master, where dwellest Thou?’ ‘Come and see.’ As though He had said, ‘follow Me, and you shall know; do not lose sight of Me, but follow Me even to the Father’s bosom.’”
18 My mother’s two dear nieces.
19 The pamphlet entitled Musings on Hebrews is the substance of notes taken at a weekly Bible reading at a friend’s house. It was not written for the Press. I think this ought to be mentioned; because the familiar conversational style was not what my father used in writing. This is also the ease, I believe, with Notes on St. Luke, published after his death.