Thursday 30 April 2015

Frances Ridley Havergal - Gower vol 48 1997

Devotion, Desire and Heart: Frances Ridley Havergal - Gower Journal volume 48 (1997)
  Born just before Queen Victoria came to the throne, Frances was the youngest of six children of the Rector of Astley in Worcestershire.  She was proud to be linked through her middle name with the former Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley, martyred at Oxford in 1555 along with Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester.  Each morning her elder sister would teach Frances reading and spelling for half an hour, and each afternoon twenty to thirty stitches of patchwork, as well as giving her a short Biblical text to learn.  Of a fair complexion with light curling hair, Frances was often engrossed in books - from the age of four she had learned to write, and could read from the Bible.  She would join in the Sunday evening hymn singing, and by the age of seven was writing verses herself.
  Although her parents were Christians, and both her brothers sought ordination, Frances realised that more than family connections was needed.  When aged nine she longed for God to make her a Christian before that summer, so that she could really enjoy the beauty of nature, for she knew that she was "a naughty child".  When reading in a William Cowper poem the phrase ‘my Father made them all’ she realised she could say ‘God made them all’, but not ‘my Father’.  She thought she might become converted by praying very hard, but had no clear idea at that time of believing on Christ Jesus.
  When aged eleven she experienced 'what must be childhood's greatest grief' - the death of her mother.  Two years later she began praying for faith, having no doubt of her own unrighteous condition, and, during a visit to Oakhampton, spoke with her future step-mother of spiritual matters, and was able to commit her soul to Christ Jesus.  
She summed this up in a later hymn in the words:
  I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
  Trusting only Thee,
  Trusting Thee for full salvation,
  Great and free.
  Frances thrived on academic study at the Belmont Christian boarding school - where the girls conversed in French!  She was a fine linguist, starting to learn Welsh from a donkey-girl during a visit in Colwyn Bay, and subsequently obtaining a Welsh New Testament and prayer book, and later becoming fluent in German.    In November 1852 she accompanied her parents to Germany so that her father (having incipient cataracts) could consult an oculist.  At school in Dusseldorf she found German easy enough, and especially enjoyed the music and drawing classes.  Munster cathedral was enchanting, but she commented that 'Popery knows well how to lull and deceive, knows well how to entrap the senses and feelings, and nothing can be better suited to the natural heart than such a religion'.  She did very well at school in Germany, coming first in the class, and stood firm in her faith as the only apparent believer there.
  Finishing school, she was aware of her responsibility, commenting that 'in a measure one's whole life ... must be greatly influenced by...the first year after leaving school'.
Her regime was a salutary example of 'redeeming the time': staying at Obercassel in 1853 she used to get up at 5am, have breakfast at 7am, and then study for four hours, devoting one hour to French literature; but she also enjoyed such physical activities as rowing on the Rhine.  During a later stay in Harlech she climbed Snowdon, and found the ascent very easy after mountains in Germany and Switzerland!
  She thought much about confirmation, writing when it was still two years away: 'It seems such a solemn vow ... one of my most constant prayers, if I am spared to be confirmed, (is).. that I may never act as if I had not been (confirmed).'  How different from some of us who may have approached such an occasion as a mere duty!  Frances felt the reality of God's blessing when confirmed at Worcester Cathedral on 17 July 1854, aged seventeen, and subsequently renewed her confirmation vows on each anniversary of that occasion.  She worked at memorising complete books of Scripture - the gospels, epistles, Revelation, Isaiah.  Her father had helped her acquire enough Greek to study the New Testament, and that summer she studied Hebrew. 
  Illness in the form of erysipelas had at times curtailed her schooling, and she always found the enforced rest from any 'head study' most trying.  Her health was in a critical state when she was twenty, and she commented 'It is very strange to think that I was in real danger, the erysipelas having gone to my head; it seems like a new life given me, and I do hope that He who has restored it will give me grace to use it for Him.' 
  During a visit to Germany the following year she returned to their lodgings one day, and sat down to rest by a print of Durer's painting of the crucified Christ, with the words 'All this I did for thee: what hast thou done for Me?'  This painting, in the gallery in Dusseldorf, had led to the conversion of Count Zinzendorf, founder of the Moravians.  Frances was inspired to write some verses, but after reading them over felt dissatisfied, and threw them into the fire: however they fell out unmarked.  Some months later she showed the verses to her father, who wrote the tune 'Baca' for what became her most popular hymn during her lifetime, usually rendered 'Thy Life was given for me'.  This hymn is currently in such collections as 'Christian Hymns' and 'Hymns Ancient and Modern'.
  At her eldest sister's home in Oakhampton Frances taught her nieces Evelyn and Constance, also joining them in swimming and riding, until they went away to school.  During this time she sang with the Philharmonic Society in Kidderminster.  Later she was greatly grieved by the news of Evelyn's death, though she had been able to lead her niece into a relationship with Christ Jesus.  
  With the increasing influence of the Oxford Movement on some Anglican services, she wrote to a friend about the differences between Evangelical doctrine, which her father and she held, and the 'High Church' position.  Evangelicals stressed the supremacy of Christ and His atonement, believed that conversion (sudden or gradual) was an absolute necessity, taught that good works followed justification, rather than being the means of it (which came only through faith in Christ), and felt that outward forms and ceremonies had no merit or virtue in themselves.  The 'High Church' position seemed to stress the role of the Church rather than Christ's atonement, teach that regenerating grace was given in baptism (so one should beware of 'falling from grace'), and suggest there was implicit virtue in the performance of rites.  Frances felt that the High Church position had more devoutness than devotion, more a feeling of duty than of desire, and it worked on the intellect and imagination rather than on the heart.
  A visit to London enabled her to worship at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Southwark, whose minister, C.H.Spurgeon, was the leading nonconformist preacher of his generation.  Frances wrote: 'I heard Spurgeon on Sunday morning.  Magnificent! I don't recollect hearing anything finer.... That 'Tabernacle' is certainly one of the most remarkable sights in the world - the end of the season and London half empty, but it was thronged, and always is, twice every Sunday; and more than half are men, and intellectual looking ones too.'  Although the building could hold five thousand, persons had to come early to be sure of admittance.  
  After the death of her father, who had composed chants and sacred songs, Frances prepared Havergal's Psalmody for the press.  She said 'Writing is like praying with  me, for I never seem to write even a verse by myself, and feel like a child writing; you know a child would look up at every sentence and say 'What shall I say next?'  That is just what I do; I ask that at every line He would give me not merely thoughts and power, but also every word, even the very rhymes.  Very often I have a most distinct and happy consciousness of direct answers' (one of her own hymns is 'Master speak, Thy servant heareth' - she certainly recognised His voice).  After hearing one of her tunes sung in church it struck her 'what a privilege it is even to have contributed a bit of music for His direct praise.'
  She would be approached by all sorts of people with problems, and wrote 'I actually dread a visit to a large household; for each one separately, as a rule, seems to imagine they must pour out all their difficulties and feelings to me in private, often down to the very servants; and though I am thankful for the opportunities this gives, you cannot think what a strain it often becomes upon heart and nerves.  I hope not many are the repositories of as many sad secrets, spiritual and temporal, as I am.'
  Although intellectually she enjoyed reading Shakespeare, she was saddened that 'there is so much that is entirely of the earth earthy, amid all the marvellous genius and even the sparkles of the highest truth which flash here and there, so much that jars upon one's spirit, so much that is downward instead of upward.'
  Frances was not immune to life's frustrations, and experienced on a smaller scale a catastrophe similar to Thomas Carlyle's loss of the first draft of his 'History of the French Revolution' (the manuscript was loaned to a friend, whose servant mistakenly burned it).  Sheets of manuscript music which she had prepared for the press (for the Appendix to 'Songs of Glory') were destroyed at a fire in the printer's.  On that occasion she had kept no copy, not even a list of the tunes, and it meant another six months of hard work before she was able to turn to writing the book that she had envisioned.  Her comment was 'Thy way, not mine, O Lord'.
  After receiving a booklet 'All for Jesus', she consecrated herself fully to God, commenting that there had to be full surrender before there could be full blessedness, and regarded that time, Advent 1873, as a milestone in her life.  Some months later she stayed at a house in Worcester where there were twelve people, some unconverted, but all having received much prayer.  During her five-day stay, each one experienced God's blessing, and on the last night Frances, too happy to sleep, wrote the couplets of the hymn 'Take my life and let it be'.  She had strong opinions about the most suitable tune for this, as when writing to the compiler of Songs of Peace and Joy:  'I cannot possibly sanction ... the setting of my Consecration hymn, 'Take my life', to that wearisomely hackneyed Kyrie of Mozart ... I particularly wish that hymn kept to my dear father's sweet little tune 'Patmos', which suits it perfectly.'  But it is the Mozart tune that is more prevalent for that hymn today.  She worked on a book of verses and practical thoughts for children, for morning and evening use, feeling that there were several such available for adults but none at that time for younger persons.
  To her correspondents she might endeavour tactfully to correct any failings, as when writing:
            Would you like any one to retail, and dwell upon, little incidents which made you appear weak, tiresome, capricious, foolish?  Yet, dear, everything which we say of another which we would not like them to say of us is transgression of this distinct command of our dear Lord's...  Do not think I am condemning you without seeing my own failures.  It is just because it is a special battle-field of my own that I am the more pained and quick to feel it when others, who love Jesus, yield to the temptation or do not see it to be temptation.
  About clothing she commented:
            I must dress both as a lady and a Christian.  I do not consider myself at liberty to spend on dress that which might be spared for God's work, but it costs no more to have a thing well and prettily made, and I should only feel justified in getting a costly dress if it would last proportionately longer.
  After the death of her stepmother in May 1878 the Leamington home was sold.  Ornaments and jewellery were packed up and sent to Church Missionary House for sale.  She wrote 'I had no idea I had such a jeweller's shop, nearly fifty articles being packed off.  I never packed a box with such pleasure.'
  Frances had visited the Mumbles area during a previous stay in Swansea, and in October she joined her sister Maria in lodgings in the hamlet of Newton, at a house then called 'Park Villa'.  She wrote on 23 October 1878, 'We have been most graciously guided here .. for God has not only supplied our need and our notions in a most wonderful way in the details of our little lodgings and their surroundings.  We came the beginning of October, and consider it 'home' till next June, and so far as we see at present, this arrangement is likely to last our lives! for I do not see how anything could suit us better.'  Her mention of it being home 'till next June' would turn out to be prophetic.    Maria wrote that her sister:
  Enjoyed walks and scrambles on the cliffs, at low tide springing lightly over boulders to beds of seaweeds, and rocky pools bright with sea anemones.  Watching the vessels with all sails up entering the harbour made her think of 'the abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom'.  She studied the Nautical Almanac, and at the top of Mumbles Lighthouse listened attentively to all the lighthouse keeper told her.
   In her study was her favourite chair from Astley Rectory, her American typewriter with Hebrew Bible, Greek New Testament and lexicons at hand.  At her study table she would be reading her Bible by 7am in summer, and by 8am in winter.  Her harp-piano was on a stand nearby.  Her sofa faced the west window, looking out over Caswell Bay and the rocks, and from there she enjoyed the sunsets.  She preferred early visiting and early study to late nights and frittering late talks.  'I don't think I ever felt more thankful and glad for anything than on reaching this quiet little nest.  Our present abode suits us so perfectly in all manner of little ways.
  Frances was accustomed to huge postal demands - during the first half of 1872 she had received six hundred letters (by comparison novelist Catherine Cookson received about five hundred letters over a similar period in 1972): now correspondence poured in to 'Park Villa'.  Frances wrote that she had 'fifteen to twenty letters to write each morning, proofs to correct, editors waiting for articles, poems and music I cannot touch, American publishers clamouring for poems or any manuscripts, four Bible readings or classes weekly, many anxious ones waiting for help, a mission week coming.  And my dear doctor says my physique is too weak to balance the nerves and brain, and that I ought not to touch a pen!'
  She was opposed to any Sunday post, and saddened that many Christians did not consider that an issue worth endorsing.  'I was delighted in another house to see a notice on the post box in the hall, with the post times, and "No delivery or despatch on Sundays."  No manner of work must include postal delivery, and it is not right to ignore God's commands.'  How grieved she would have been at the secularisation of Sundays nowadays!
  As there was then no church building in Newton, the schoolroom was used for Anglican services, while on many occasions Frances played the organ and was involved with the children's work at nearby Paraclete, one of six chapels in peninsular Gower erected by Diana, Lady Barham, in the early nineteenth century.
  In April 1879 Frances took a Y.W.C.A. meeting at Swansea, singing 'Precious Saviour, I live only for Thee' to her tune 'Hermas'.  Afterwards she gave each person a copy of her hymn 'Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee', with a blank space where any might sign their name in allegiance to Christ.
  Visitors to 'Park Villa' were both the humble and the famous.  With the Vicar's agreement Frances invited several nearby cottagers to a Bible reading at the house, and the month before her death she had a visit from the American musician Ira D. Sankey (who had accompanied Dwight L. Moody on his evangelistic tours), together with his wife.  Correspondents included the blind American hymn writer Frances van Alstyne (née Fanny Crosby), authoress of such hymns as 'To God be the glory' and 'Blessed Assurance'.
  Frances radiated the love of her Saviour, and was a most attractive personality.  She received a number of proposals of marriage - at least one during her short stay in Newton - all of which she declined.
Her health was always precarious, and after a succession of feverish chills in late May she awoke in the night with stabbing abdominal pains.  The doctor was summoned from Swansea, as their own doctor had toothache, and Frances was unwilling to call him out at night.  After two days of pain there was a brief relapse on Whitsunday - which disappointed Frances, who was ready to go 'home'.  Plans for a two month visit to Irish Society Mission stations the following week (staying with the Bishop of Cashel) had to be cancelled.  On Wednesday 3 June she died of peritonitis at about 1am. 
  Early in the morning a week later the vicar of Swansea addressed many villagers on the lawn outside 'Park Villa', before her coffin began the journey to the family tomb in Astley, Worcestershire, within sight of the Rectory where she was born.  The inscription states 'By her writings in prose and verse, she being dead yet speaketh', and the verse 'The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin' (1 John 1v7) is quoted.  Her dying wish was that, if space permitted, that verse might be on her tomb.
  In 1864 she had written: 'If I had my choice, I should like to be a 'Christian Poetess', but I do not feel I have ability enough ever to turn this line to much account.  I feel as if music were a stronger talent.'  Whether she would have revised that opinion during the subsequent fifteen years of her life we do not know, but when in 1937 a memorial plaque was unveiled, outside the house (by then re-named 'Havergal'*), where she had died, it described her as a 'Christian Poetess and Hymnwriter'. 
  Her hymns may not be so frequently sung these days, but their sentiments continue to challenge each of us into a deeper relationship with her Lord: 
                                                O let my life be given,
                                                My years for Thee be spent,
                                                World-fetters all be riven,
                                                And joy with suffering blent:
                                                Thou gav'st Thyself for me
                                                I give myself to Thee.

* in 1930-31 the house was already named ‘Havergal’.
Paraclete chapel in Newton was built in 1818, the fourth of six chapels in peninsular Gower erected by Diana Middleton, Lady Barham. The others are Bethesda in Burry Green and Trinity in Cheriton (both belong to the Presbyterian Church in Wales, originally known as the Calvinistic Methodists), the original Bethel in Penclawdd (now a much enlarged Welsh Independent chapel), Immanuel in Pilton Green (now a private house), and Mount Pisgah in Parkmill (now part of the United Reformed Church).

The name Paraclete occurs five times in the Bible – four times in John's gospel when referring to the Holy Spirit – in the New International Version translated as the Counsellor. In John 14v16 Jesus promises the disciples "I will ask the Father and he will give you the Counsellor to be with you – the Spirit of Truth". See also John 14v26, 15v26 and 16v7.

The fifth instance is in 1 John 2v1 "We have an Advocate (or 'one who speaks to the Father in our defence') – Jesus Christ the righteous." The word translated Advocate is the same word Paraclete, from the Greek Parakletos. So the chapel is named after both Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

No comments:

Post a Comment