I have now reached the point when I can first speak of my dear father from personal recollection. The very first thing I can recall is the tone of his voice; and I can remember his playing with us, and can almost see him groping his way in blind man’s buff; but perhaps nothing made a more lasting impression on my mind than the way in which, when bidding me “good-night,” he would say some little word of a hymn or prayer. Sometimes it would be a short verse, such as—
“Jesus, Thou our Guardian be; Sweet it is to trust in Thee.”
“None but Jesus, none but Jesus, Can do helpless sinners good.”
“Jesus only can supply Boldness if we’re called to die.”
But I think that most frequently it was some loving desire that the blessed Lord might draw me to Himself, and keep me from “the snares of this naughty world.” (An expression he often quoted when mentioning children in prayer.) Whatever the parting word might be it reminded me constantly where his heart was.
My great-aunt, Alice Dyer, whom I have before mentioned, was my grandmother, Mrs. Bellett’s, younger sister, and had come to Ireland with her without intending to remain. But she became so attached to my father, even from his birth, that nothing could induce her to leave him. Friends in England wanted her to return; but never, except for one short visit, did she leave Ireland again; and after the death of my grandparents she came to live with us. She used often to talk to me of the early days at “North Lodge.” Her love for her sister’s four children was great; and, when they each left the old home and made homes for themselves, her heart followed them; but it was most closely bound to her “dear John.” I shall have occasion to speak of this aunt again.
As my brother and I grew older my father would sometimes sing with us; and used to enjoy the old psalm and hymn tunes with which he had been familiar. His voice was ever sweet and true. The first hymn that I remember his writing was composed to the tune of “Woodman, spare that tree,” which we had learned to sing, and which my father much enjoyed.
“My heart is bounding onward,
Home to the land I love;
Its distant vales and mountains
My wishful passions move.
“Fain would my fainting spirit
Its living freshness breathe,
And wearied feet find resting,
Its hallow’d shades beneath.
“No soil of nature’s evil,
No touch of man’s rude hand,
Shall e’er disturb around us
That bright and peaceful land.
“The charms that woo our senses
Shall be as pure, as fair;
For all while stealing o’er us
Shall tell of Jesus there.
“What light! when all its beaming
Shall own Him as its Sun;
What music! when its breathing
Shall bear His name along.
“No change, no pause those pleasures
Shall ever seek to know;
The draught that lulls our thirsting,
But wakes that thirst anew.”16
I can remember the sorrow to which my father refers in the following letter, and my consciousness, when quite a little child, of how much it affected him.
It was the death of my mother’s youngest sister. She had been an invalid all her life, and was the object of tenderest love to all her family. With her two other sisters she lived next door to us.
“My dearest Bessy,—Our darling sister Louisa has been taken from the midst of us, after a short inflammatory attack of only six days, from the 18th to the 24th of April. But her mind was fully preserved throughout, and her peace flowed like a river from her entrance upon, till her close of, the dark valley. It was indeed a mingled scene of light and darkness. Darkness as to nature and the poor body, but God’s light in the spirit all the way. But she has been very dear to me from the beginning, and for years our minds had been trained together in sweetest harmony. Scarcely a meditation of mine on the blessed Word that she was not familiar with. … I have felt abundant reason in my soul to thank my God with an especial note of praise for it, for it was all needed I am sure, and it will, I trust, be made a good and holy practical lesson to us. My poor Mary and sisters are in the deepest sorrow.
* * * * * *
“‘Happy, quite happy,’ were the first words dearest Louisa said to me; and many a sweet word passed between us. The whole was the most perfect peace, not broken for a moment. On one occasion saying to her, ‘You shall behold His glory, and be raised in His likeness,’ ‘Sure of that,’ she just said. When dear Aunt came in to see her, she was almost too weak to say anything, but she lifted her hand to heaven as intimating that she was soon going there. She wanted nothing but the Lord Jesus. He was her boast and holy confidence all through.
“I said to her, ‘It is a blessing to us, darling, to know that you are as safe in the hands of Jesus as the Apostle Paul.’ She raised her poor arm and laid hold on my coat and said, ‘I have such a grip of Christ.’
“It is sweet to me to talk of her, dearest sister. My poor Mary has been left a little weaker by all this. She will never be fully strong again on her limbs, I judge, but she lays herself without a murmur on the Lord.”
One of our pleasantest days each summer was when my father would drive out with my brother, my mother’s two nieces and myself, to spend the day at Ballycorus (near “North Lodge”), the Dargle, and Powerscourt Waterfall, first going to breakfast with Mr. Kearney at Kilternan Glebe.
Mr. Kearney’s love for my father was very strong; and their friendship was not the least shaken by my father’s separation from the Church of England.
Visits to Kilternan Glebe were continued up to the time of Mr. Kearney’s death; and on the last day of his life my father watched beside him for hours, and saw him breathe his last (1852).
This “day in the country” was continued in after years; and friends sometimes joined us. My dear father used to enjoy it with a sweet natural pleasure, especially if we had the company of any friend, to whom the beautiful scenery was new.
On these occasions we generally dined at Mrs. Walker’s farm; and I think we were never there without his getting together whoever might be in the house, and either reading a little of the Bible, or speaking to them in his own happy, loving way. His kindly manner made all the tenants feel at ease with him.
I cannot remember much about my father’s work and ministry in those early days, but I think that then, as afterwards, a part of each day was spent in visits of Christian counsel and sympathy amongst the Brethren, or others.
He usually took part in the Sunday morning meeting, and frequently preached in the evening also, as well as on Thursday evenings. There were also occasional Bible readings at friends’ houses.
He was always an early riser. On winter mornings he would have his table by the kitchen fire, with his Bible and writing materials on it, and there read, and meditate, and write, for some time before breakfast.
The Short Meditations on the Psalms, and On the Gospels according to St. Luke and St. John, were written before we left the clear old Herbert Place home, and also, no doubt, many other meditations which appeared from time to time in the Christian Witness.
In later years he would often sit with my dear mother and me, with his Bible open, and a pen in his hand, meditating and writing, always ready to answer any question, or to say some loving word; and I can truly say that I never remember his shewing any impatience at being interrupted.
It was his habit to read aloud at breakfast and in the evening. The first book I remember his reading to Johnny and me when we were children was Uncle Philip’s Conversations on Animals; and after the lapse of many years, when I alone was left to listen to him, the last he was able to read thus was The Land and the Book, by Dr. Thompson. He often chose history and biography to read, and would say that the reading of history was useful in a special way, to shew how “the bubble had burst,” and to remind us that many things which may seem very important to us to-day will one day be as nothing.
One of the biographies he enjoyed was that of the Rev. H. Venn, of whom his physician said, it was impossible for him to die while in such a state of joy at the prospect. The thought of such experience as this greatly delighted my father. He used to repeat with much pleasure what Mr. Venn said about his solitary parish rides—“I rode along with no companion but my pocket Bible and its Divine Author.”
When my dear father wrote of my aunt’s death as being such a cause of sorrow, he little thought of the greater grief that was slowly but steadily approaching, nor of the eternal joy that was to spring up in the midst of it.
I refer to the illness and death of my brother, the only one of his three boys who lived to grow up.
The letters at the end of this little volume were written during his illness and after his death to Aunt Alice; and my father afterwards found comfort in putting them together. My own recollection of this dear brother (some years older than myself) is a very bright one. Although often suffering and requiring care, he was full of life and spirits. His bright face and sunny temperament made him a most pleasant companion, while his love of poetry and music, and all the refined enjoyments of life, and his readiness for pleasure and society, might have been even greater temptations to him than they were, if it had not been that his love for our father had such an influence over him. I can remember hearing them speak of books in which Johnny found enjoyment, but which my father had laid aside. He had doubtless many anxious thoughts about his boy; but, while fearing to encourage too much his love for merely intellectual pleasures, he yet felt much sympathy with his tasteful mind. When my brother’s illness assumed a serious aspect, the doctor advised a total change, and we left Dublin for Ryde, and other places. These changes, however, were of no lasting service; but a greater blessing was vouchsafed to him than restored health. The prayers of so many years were answered, and Johnny was, as he himself expressed it, “Shocked out of a life of vanity into real life”; and during the months that followed, until his death, the change was indeed proved to be real. The beauty of his mind expressed itself in new channels; and the things of God and the love of Christ were ever first in his thoughts. He was entirely free from religious phraseology; and, as far as his health allowed, enjoyed social intercourse, and entered into surrounding interests.
From the time when he became increasingly dependent (after the loss of his arm), our father’s devotion to him was beautiful. Could I have taken note of it all then, as I now look back upon it, I should have been filled with admiring love. It is little to say, that at any hour, day or night, it was his one pleasure and comfort to wait on his suffering child. His own letters shew something of this, but they do not, of course, convey the extent of his devotion. During all those months of gradual decline, he and our dear and faithful Mary Perrott, whose name is found in the letters, entirely nursed my brother. My dear mother’s feeble health prevented her from taking her share in this labour of love.
This sorrow and loss did most deeply wound my father’s loving heart. It gave occasion to his Meditations on the Book of Job, and doubtless gave colour to some of his other writings about the same time.
During his own illness, in 1864, he spoke of this dear son to some who, I suppose, had never even heard of him before, and gave them copies of one or two hymns written by him.
The following extracts are taken from letters written to my dear aunt, Mrs. Richey, who had been with us for some time before my brother’s death:
“… I esteem it among the sweetest mercies of a mere circumstantial nature, that we were so together in that dear and precious season—precious, I need not say, to the fondest recollections that can ever fill our hearts… How little, when we traversed the Three Rock Mountain together in the freedom of young days, we counted on the style of the more serious and advanced stages of life. How little did I think that dear Mary’s heart and mine would be linked by such a common sorrow.
“I pray that the memory of him may never be a faded or distant impression on my heart, for I believe it has its virtue, and such virtue, I trust, as the Spirit sanctions. Did you ever meet with the beautiful rendering of Jer. 31:20, in Tyndale, I believe, ‘Ephraim, my dear son! the child with whom I have had all delight and pastime, since I first communed with him I have him ever in remembrance. My very heart driveth me unto him. Most lovingly and gladly will I have mercy on him, saith the Lord of hosts.’
“How sweet that verse of Tersteegen’s hymn is:
“‘Mid conflict be Thy love my peace,
In weakness be Thy love my strength,
And when the storms of life shall cease,
And Thou to earth shalt come at length,
Then, to the Glory be my Guide,
And shew me Him who for me died.’
“To live to serve Him, is the highest desire.
“To die, to enjoy Him as our portion.”
During the summer of 1849, after my brother’s death, we remained at Bath with my mother’s sisters and nieces, who were then living there.
Much sympathy was shown by many friends, and very specially by those in Dublin. My father went back for a short time to attend a large meeting, and the tender and deep sympathy that awaited him there must have been very comforting.
He returned to Bath for a time, but before the winter he and my dear mother went back to the now shadowed home, where Aunt Alice was waiting for them with her most loving welcome. I remained with my aunts and cousins at Bath, and this gave occasion to my having letters from my father, some extracts from which I can give here,
“This is a new scene to us, without our darling children who once gave it, in our heart’s esteem, its chiefest attraction—one ‘is not,’ and the other beyond the seas. May the blessed Spirit guide your heart as He did that of your loved and now happy brother! What can a father’s fondest wishes desire more for you? We have heard of the death of Georgy T—— by a fall from his horse. What recollections of our mercy this again gives us! What a different departure did our eyes witness, my child, just twelve months since!
“I grieve much to hear of dear Mr. Jukes, and would indeed most sincerely pray and desire that he may be soon in health and strength again; but he has better possessions than either—conscious peace with God, and a well-known title to His presence and kingdom.
“Think of the Lord and of all His love in the simplicity of a believing heart. May He be near to teach and keep you, my dear child.
“I need not say, my love to your dear aunts and cousins; they know how I love them, and so does my heart know it.
“I have just come from the poor M.’s. Dear Mrs. M.’s last hours were lovely. She said, ‘Pray for me passing the dark place; but no, it is not dark, it is bright, glorious light.’
“She charged her husband to hold fast by the people of the Lord. ‘Jesus, my light, my joy,’ she said. Great comfort in thinking that her warfare is accomplished and her journey ended, and ‘them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.’ The Lord bless you. Keep your heart open to Himself, and He will pour in only light, which, though at first it may rebuke, will for ever gladden.
“The subject I had last evening was the brightness of Jacob’s closing hours, as shewn in Gen. 48. At the beginning (see ch. 27) he had craftily got the blessing from his father, as though he were not satisfied with the promise of God. Through weakness of faith he sought to have his title to the inheritance scaled by his father’s blessing, as it had been previously by God’s promise. But now, at the end he listens to nothing but God’s purpose, believing surely that he is blessed whom God blesses, and that nothing shall hinder. Therefore, though Joseph may plead for Manasseh, he puts the blessing upon Ephraim, because this is God’s way, to set the younger above the elder, that all blessing may come through the grace of God, and not through the rights, or claims, or the efforts of nature. At the end all Jacob’s undivided boast and confidence is in the sovereign grace of God.
“How happy it is to know that we, in like measure, must be ‘debtors to mercy alone’! We have no title in ourselves; we are like the younger child, not the natural heirs of blessing. But God (jives to those who deserve nothing.
“I sometimes remember our piano and songs; but the humming of a tune is never my custom now. We have, however, far better things to remember.
“May His presence and approbation be our present joy, my dear child, and the assurance of His everlasting love, the spring of our constant confidence and hope.”
Referring again to my brother’s death, he writes:
“His dealing was marked by the most signal tokens of His love. And when I consider what the world is and what it is becoming; the temptations specially which young men like our darling are subject to, and the thousands that go to the wide gate and the broad way, I am almost lost in admiration and praise in the presence of my Heavenly Father, though all the world could not repair the loss.
“The Lord bless my dear, dear child; keep her in the midst of the corruptions and distractions abroad, under the shelter of the name of Jesus, for it is a strong tower, and they that trust in it shall never be confounded….I have been thinking a little this morning of the meaning we may attach to the ‘talent,’ or the ‘pound’ which the Lord gave to His people to use till He return. We may, as a practical word for our conscience, say, that every circumstance may be used as a talent. I mean, if we seek to go through it, or to meet it, or to be exercised in it and by it, in reference to Christ. Every opportunity, every advantage we should learn to regard as an occasion of service to the Lord, not seeking to turn it to our own account, but to the account of His praise. And the more we love Him, the more this will be done. Where there is love, even amongst ourselves, we know this. We know how to prize an opportunity or a circumstance, if it can be made to serve the wishes or interests of a person we love. And this man in the parable who had no heart for the Lord, but who feared Him, never used His talent, never took up any opportunity or circumstance with love and desire, as a means of serving or pleasing Him.
“And happy, my child, it is when the heart is so true to Jesus that it can regard all things that arise, not in their relation to ourselves, but as occasions of thus pleasing and honouring Him; to try to get out of every little event, something that may tell Him we love Him.
“And then, when we discover our coldness in our best estate, and our short-comings in everything, to remember His covenant, everlasting, electing love, which made us His object in spite of all things, and will never leave, never forsake us.”
My dear father and mother finally left the home in Herbert Place in the following summer, and returned to Bath for a time. He took me into Devonshire, and on the way we stayed for two or three days at Wellington, in order to visit my brother’s grave in Sampford Churchyard, and to see the inscription which had been placed in the church to his memory.
The names of many relations are there also, among them some much loved and honoured.
While at Wellington we were the guests of Mr. Charles and Mr. Henry Fox. I can recollect the kindness and sympathy shewn to my father by these friends, and after the lapse of thirty-five years I met again one member of the family, whose happy remembrance of him touched me very much. She had scarcely seen him, I think, since that visit when she was a girl of about fifteen, but the length of time had not dimmed her recollection. She loved to speak of him, and said, “I never saw anyone so full of love as Mr. Bellett.”
Not long after we returned to Ireland, and during the next few years lived in the neighbourhood of Dublin.
It was either on that journey or on another, a year or two later, that, in conversation with a fellow-traveller, my father (as he was always ready to do, though without any undue effort) led the thoughts to higher things, and in answer to some remarks about the pleasures of travelling, said that life was too serious a thing to be spent in pleasure. The reply instantly was, “I think I know some friends of yours, sir; are you not one of the Plymouth Brethren?”
This surprised, and, I think, pleased him.
There is nothing special to mark the next year or two, except the remembrance of friends who gathered round my father, and who were welcomed to our house chiefly as guests at breakfast.
He used to quote a saying of Lord Macaulay’s (I believe), “You ask a man to dinner because he knew your grandfather, or because he has done you some service; you ask a man to breakfast because you like him.”
There are still some remaining who can recall, I think, the charm that he gave to these simple morning gatherings. He made them opportunities of friendly intercourse with some not belonging to the Brethren, whom he was always glad to welcome. At such times, whilst ready to converse cheerfully on different subjects (when too, his appreciation of humour would occasionally shew itself), the one ever nearest to his heart would continually come to the surface, and the claims of Christ be felt as the words fell with persuasive power from his lips. Some of his choicest sentences were uttered in these happy moments of familiar intercourse, or at our family Bible reading from day to day. A few of these, remembered and written down afterwards, may not be out of place here:—
“The more we live in expectation, the less we shall grudge another; and the less we shall seek to acquire for ourselves, for, even if obtained, what would it be but a vanity?
“The gate of the domains of heaven is on earth.
“I often think of the two worlds—the difference between them—victory here will be dignity there. (1 John 5:4.)
“That which disappears here in widow’s weeds will reappear there in bridal attire. (This sentence was explained to mean that the faith which has here been tried by ‘manifold temptations’ will there be found ‘unto praise and honour and glory.’ (1 Peter 1:7.)
“There is nothing like faith which attaches you to a victorious Christ.
“By the bleeding hand of Christ we have received from God the reconciliation, that He might satisfy the mystery of God’s eternal love for sinners, and satisfy the conscience for eternity.
“He was numbered with the transgressors—He who had had Moses and Elias on either side of Him! (See St. Luke 9:30-31.)
“The service that humbles you is true Christian service.
“Love does not wait for great occasions, but buckles on its service-suit at once (like St. Paul preaching at Damascus).
“What was the apostle’s temper of mind in writing the Epistle to the Galatians? In Romans it was the calmness of a teacher. In Corinthians he was a pained rebuker, a disappointed father. In Ephesians all is elevation, looking around on a world of glories.
“Justification by faith was no mere dogma to the man who wrote the Epistle to the Galatians.
“Where is the blessedness ye spake of? We do not know the power of the thought that God’s favour is towards us—the greatest lever which can be put under the soul. The Galatians knew it at the time to which the apostle looked back.
“Thessalonians has a deep glow of pastoral devotedness throughout.
“The God of all grace. How little do we let the majesty of such words in upon the soul!
“It is a terrible thing to lay oneself out to be an object; it is like a worm at the root.
“Heb. 10:32-39. It is as if the Lord would remind them of His goodness in illuminating them, and ask if they so valued what they had in Him as to part with present things. It would not do for them to pass at once from ‘illumination’ to ‘glory.’ The time of ‘patience’ was necessary to prove that they did value what He could give.
“Passages that may seem startling, read in the light of others, are found to be necessary truths. Such is the fearlessness of Scripture, an honest man does not fear to speak his mind.”
(In answer to some remark about what we might “expect” to find in the Bible) “It is a perfect book; I expect what I find there.
“How minute the links between the different parts of Scripture are, and how many silent references there are from one part to another! How the divine writers provide for one another! Judges for Hebrews; Genesis for Galatians. How the volume rolls in upon itself! Paul rolls in upon Habbakuk. (Rom. 1:17; 2:4.)
“Variety in unity; unity in variety—the dislocated parts of the volume carrying out one line of thought, or a single passage presented in different lights. It is a book of wonders, but the volume itself is a wonder.
“Though we may not have capacity to put things together, Scripture has.
“We should lean upon the Word as David leaned upon his harp, and press music out of it.
“We must leave reason with God; believing is our’s. God will take care of His own glory.
“There is no citadel for the heart like confidence in God.
“No accuracy of doctrine will give the soul rest; there must be the knowledge of a Person.
“Christ was the manifestation of God to man, and of man to God. He was the man in whom God could delight.
“If there is an entertainment for the heart this side the glory, it is tracking the moral glory of the Lord Jesus; as one says, ‘The conception of such a character would be more wonderful than the reality.’
“The story of the life of Christ as ‘given by the four evangelists is an enlarging, living wonder to the soul from day to day.”
After the lapse of many years, I had a touching proof of the impression left on the mind of one who occasionally joined us at breakfast, in some letters, from which I take the following extracts:
“…Your father’s kind notice of me when a lad, his gentleness, his courtesy, his originality, have left with me an indelible memorial of him, but his love to his God and Saviour, and the light he was enabled to cast upon his Saviour’s life in the gospels, endear him in an extraordinary manner to all who knew him, and I can say, with sincerity, to myself also.
“He is at times vividly before me, as though no long period of time had passed since I saw him; his tone of voice, his warm, loving pressure of hand, his sweet, graceful, high-bred courtesy, above all, his unbounded faith, his realization of the person and character of the Lord Jesus, create before me an unspeakably precious and unique personality.”
I shall have to quote from the same friend later on.
About two years after my brother’s death another great trouble came into my dear father’s life, caused by the division which took place amongst the Brethren who had “hitherto been united in Christian love and service.17
In looking back, I can see how great was the mercy which did not suffer this sorrow to visit him until the former wound was in a measure healed.
It was at this time that my father wrote two papers in the Present Testimony, called “The Son of God.” His mind was led to the subject (as he has explained) by thoughts concerning the person of our blessed Lord, which he felt to be erroneous, and which had been suggested by some whom he knew.
The controversy assumed a grave form. Decided judgments had to be formed and acted upon, and much sorrow followed in the separation (in many instances) of close and tried friends. My father’s judgment was not shared by the greater number of those amongst whom he had ministered for so many years in Dublin, and by whom he was greatly beloved. Many meetings for conference were held; and I well remember the pain and anxiety he suffered.
His dear friend Mr. Darby was of the same mind as himself; but his visits to Dublin at that time were few; and at first my father stood much alone.
He felt it all most keenly; and the temptation must have been very great to silence his conscience, and remain, as before, united with so many whom he loved, and who wished still to have him as their friend and teacher.
The trouble began to tell upon his health, and he was persuaded to leave Dublin for a time.
On his return, a separate meeting was formed by the few who felt with him, and whose numbers gradually increased. With them he resumed his ministry, and continued it with only occasional interruptions until his last illness began.
It was a comfort to him that living a few miles from Dublin, at Booterstown, he was spared the more frequent meetings with those friends from whom he differed, but whom he never ceased to love. But, by degrees, when the pain was in a measure softened, on coming home, he would sometimes say with a smile, “I had to run the gauntlet to-day!” and would then mention the familiar names of some of these friends whom he had met.
After a while these meetings became less painful, and he found it a happiness to see the old friends from time to time.
There is a circumstance which comes to my memory, as part of the refining process through which my dear father was called to pass, though not connected with this period of his life, that I may here mention. It was the gradual withdrawal from his ministry (in consequence of a difference in their judgment on another matter of some importance) of one who had been a constant hearer, who always took copious notes of his lectures, and who had given many proofs of his affectionate regard.
My father must have been deeply pained, but he had the full approval of his conscience in the matter, and no touch of wounded feelings seemed to remain.
16 This hymn was first printed by smie one years ago without our knowledge.
17 The controversy that arose about the writings of Mr. Benjamin Newton had already taken place; and this was consequent upon it.