Brethren Archive
Thursday February 16, 2017

Charles Hargrove; Reminiscences of a Brethren Upbringing in the 1840's

Came across an interesting book which is one of those rare ones that shines some light into the social dimensions of Brethren life in it's early days.

Charles Hargrove (?-1869) is already mentioned on this site, as the writer of a book entitled, Reasons for Retiring from the Established Church. Also he attended the 1831 Powerscourt Conference and contributed in volume 2, page 36.

He was an early convert to 'Brethrenism'; I think he left the Church of Ireland in 1835, and became (what is known as) a full time worker for the Lord. Though it seems from this book here he was supported by others and not his own means. He was evidently close to JND, a quote from "Reasons for Retiring ... " refering to JND seems to establish this clearly, 

"No; in excitement from unreasonable opposition, he may have said things, and given offence, that I am sorry for, and for which, I believe, were he now by me, he would authorise me to express his sorrow; but he is labouring far away, among those whom the Lord has called, even amid much trial and persecution, into the same principles of the " Separating Brethren," and this without any intercourse or knowledge of each other. While I defend not all that he has said, this I would say ; let our blessed Lord's discourses be dealt with as was his pamphlet; let the apostles—let the faithful men of God of this day, or any day—and how may they not be misrepresented?"

However in the 1848 division it appears he took the other side from those who seceded. I know one friend has a pamphlet of C.H.'s writing against GVW at the time (if you are reading would be great to get a scan!). Also in his will he left money to George Muller which again would suggest he identified with the 'open / independent' companies after the division.

So coming to the book itself; it is actually a biography of his son, also called Charles (born 1840), who alas in his late teens turned to the Church of Rome, and then later in life to Unitarianism. But the book gives many letters of both Charles the son and father, which give details of what assembly life and family circumstances were like at the time. I give here only some extracts chapter 3, "Childhood", but the later chapter, "The Early Years Reviewed" is worth reading too, as well as the section on his father's last days. The book is called "From Authority to Freedom" and i'll post a link on the site.

"It was in an atmosphere of the strictest piety that my earlier years were spent. We had two servants, but our home and living was of an extreme simplicity. We were not *of the world,' and the world's pleasures and super fluities were unbecoming to our position. There was not a picture on our walls, not an ornament on the mantelpiece. We were very poor for people living in a house of £50 a year, and only the strictest economy of a capable housewife carried us through. But we were not bred to wish for money or the things money would buy, and I have no doubt if we had been possessed of wealth we should have lived in much the same way, and all that was over would have gone *in the Lord's work.'

"Our religion was mainly Bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible as the Word of God. As soon as we learnt to read, a copy was given to each of us, and as we grew up we took it with us wherever we went, to school or on holiday. I remember well the feeling of doing something wicked and perilous when I ventured for the first time—but that was years afterwards—to go somewhere without one. It was read every day in family worship and then again as a regular lesson, and we were urged to read and ponder it in private, and did so occasionally when unhappy or frightened or religiously inclined. No other book, was ever allowed to be placed upon it. We were taught that every word of it was inspired by God, that it was His Book. And then we were told that certain doctrines were plainly stated in it which no reader of it could deny except because he did not wish to find them there. I think as they impressed my infant mind they came in this order :—

"First, that I was a dreadful sinner, just as bad as it was possible to be. I once busied an idle hour in calculating how many sins I should commit in a day if I committed so many every minute, I forget whether a hundred or a thousand. I thought this was very much under the mark, for I was accustomed to hear my sinfulness described in language which left no room for exaggeration. I remember well my father's expression in a sermon of a later date—speaking of the happiness of the children of God, he said, ' but as for you poor sinners every word you speak is sin, every act you do is sin, every thought you think is sin.' So I really believed that my sins were past all computation. Nevertheless here was an attempt at an estimate which, joined with a confession of its inadequacy, I felt was not without merit, and I showed my mother the enormous figure with some pride. When I was told that it was impossible to commit so many sins in a minute I felt humiliated at not being so monstrously depraved as I had imagined.

"Secondly, and as a just and natural consequence, came Hell. It was the fit and only place for sinners, and it was their doom to be tormented there for ever and ever. If I died as I was, and I might die at any time, I should go straight to Hell. Impressible as I was, this belief, which I held most firmly, did not trouble me except when now and again I got a fright by reason of a sermon or a death or a dream. And I think this is generally so. The belief in Hell has been universal. The effect of it to terrify or to convert has been of little account.

"Thirdly came Conversion, the only way of escape from Hell. For us the whole of mankind were divided into the Unconverted and the Converted or Believers. To the former class almost everybody, including us children, belonged. To the latter, our parents and their few intimates. So it was a common question with us, Is so-and-so converted ?—though we were not encouraged to ask it; and when I did ask it of the Duke of Wellington at the time of his death, I was reproved for doing so, though why it was not a proper question, I could not understand. And what was It to be converted? It was to believe in Jesus, to accept Him as your Saviour, to be washed in His blood. How often I longed to be converted, to be saved! 'I would gladly be a slave for life if only I could find the Lord,' I said, and sincerely. But it was the work of the Holy Ghost and could not be brought about by personal endeavour, though prayer and reading the Bible might help to it. At times I thought or hoped, under the Influence of some religious emotion, that I was really converted, but this was at a later time, and the feeling soon passed away. As a child It could not be expected of me, and I was fairly content as I was. Even the sister who was ten years my senior was unconverted, and I imagine it would have been thought presumption in me to assume a place beside my father and mother and apart from the rest.

"That Jesus was God and had come on earth to pay the penalty of our sins, because In no other way could the Justice of the Father be appeased, was of course another familiar doctrine. Indeed, I have heard my mother say that we should not be judged for our sins, Jesus having made atonement for them, but only for the unbelief which refused to accept Him : though indeed I was conscious that, so far from refusing, I always longed to do so.

"This was, I imagine, about the whole of my religious belief. And beneath it and apart from it was the tacit assumption of the truth of Natural Religion. God is, and God is good, and I must be good ; and if I do wrong 1 offend Him, and 1 must pray for pardon and He would forgive me. To lie, to disobey, to hate, these were the chief forms of wrongdoing—something quite distinct from theological * sin,'—and to be truthful and kind and good were pleasing to God, though from another point of view I was hateful in His sight, and Hell was my doom.

"The good God be thanked for it that few are wholly true to their creeds. They believe with their minds what their souls disallow, and so are happily inconsistent, who if they were consistent would be harsh and cruel and unjust.

"Sundays were happy days with us, and I used to be sorry when they came to an end. Except when my father had a ' room ' in Gower Street we had no regular place of worship. If he preached anywhere—and he went wherever he was asked—we went too, if it was not very far, and all of us delighted to hear him. He preached without notes, with great earnestness and simplicity, often for over an hour, yet I do not remember ever to have tired of listening.

"He would never accept a fee. I remember my embarrassment when a sovereign was put into my little hand on one occasion after a sermon. Of course I showed it to my mother : it was taken as kindly intended, and after consultation they decided not to return it, but, as a compromise, buy with it a gold or gilded egg-spoon for the use of him whose services it was meant to recognise. More often he was away from home or not engaged to preach, and then we were allowed to go anywhere where ' the Gospel was preached.' He never went himself, as he was too deaf to hear, and my mother never went if he were not preaching.

"In the afternoon we were allowed to play ' Tabernacle,' and, having all the furniture in cardboard and the curtains, and bricks to build with, we enjoyed it just as well as we did building houses on weekdays. Then there was the Book of Esther, which was both a good story and God's Word, and Pilgrim's Progress, with judicious skippings, and the Holy War, and bits of Josephus, so that we got on well, and I do not remember at this time that I was ever bored by the Sabbath.

"It must have been some time in the late forties that a room was hired for my father in Gower Street, and handbills printed stating that ' The Gospel would be preached by Charles Hargrove on Sunday mornings.' I do not know how long these services lasted, or why they came to an end. But 1 have a clear remembrance of them ; and long after I came to the conclusion that if St Paul had come down for a Sunday in London it is here that he would have felt himself at home.

"The room I recognised thirty years later when I found myself there for a dance, and I saw what was the purpose of the small gallery at one end which used to puzzle me as a child, for there sat the musicians, as no doubt they did on weekdays at that earlier date.

"The service was of the simplest possible. There was no form; no prescribed order, no choir, no proper sermon. My father, not dressed in a way to distinguish himself from any other man of his class in life, sat at a table on which were placed a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine, with a plate and knife and tumbler. One or more hymns were sung, anyone who could leading ; there was a long prayer, ' an exposition of the Word,' and then ' the breaking of bread,' in which of course only ' the Lord's people ' participated, the bread and wine passing from one to another through the room. This we always watched with interest. Those who partook were known to us by name at least, and I remember on one occasion our curiosity being aroused by a lady who was supposed to be converted not partaking when her turn came. I fancy the number who came was very few—^fifty or sixty perhaps, including the unconverted. But numbers were never talked of, so far as I know. Those came ' whose hearts the Lord moved to join His people in worship,' and whether they were many or few was for Him to determine.

"My mother took entire charge of our education till the time came for me to learn Latin, and I had to get a private tutor. We learnt, with her, reading and writing and history in Mrs Markham's entertaining book, and arithmetic, and, besides these, astronomy, in Pinnock's Catechism, for which last I have been ever thankful.

"When 1 was eleven some friends began to think of a school for me, and arranged to pay for me at one which had just been opened at Wimbledon by a Scotch gentleman, George Murray, who had been master at the High School, Edinburgh, and had come south, after the manner of his countrymen. It was from himself I first heard the story how Hugh Miller had observed that even the fossils he found in Scottish soil had their heads turned southward. The school was very select, and no boys were accepted whose fathers were in trade. It would have been entirely beyond our private means ; and when Mr Murray understood the circumstances he declined to accept the offers made to him on my father's behalf, and took me in, boarded and educated me for eight years, refusing every offer made to him, and on one occasion that my father managed to scrape together £100 and sent it to him, he returned it.

"My school days were not happy, often enough in the earlier years quite miserable. For better and for worse I was not like other boys, and there is no toleration at school for eccentricity. All must conform to a certain accepted type, which no doubt varies with circumstances, but, where and while it holds, has all the force of law. The code prescribes dress and manners and habits and opinions and language and religion, and departure from it is more severely punished in lesser things than in great. My younger brother and I were the poorest boys in the school, the worst dressed, the worst off for pocket-money, and so we suffered in many ways through no fault of our own. But these were pardonable offences. What made us contemptible in the eyes of the others was that we were physically weak and incapable. We could neither tight nor run, nor play as they did. 

"No, they were not happy, my school days, and I often pity the poor little boy, so ill equipped for the rough give and-take of boy life. In the earlier years I was horribly homesick each time 1 returned to school, and I have often thought the greatest sorrow of my life—and I have had not a few—was this homesickness. I was so lonely, so despised. I had not one real friend among some eighty boys. I got on well enough in class ; but in the playground or within bounds on the common, I was as a caged bird, fluttering to be free. If only I might have gone a walk, I should have immensely enjoyed it and profited by it. If I had had any tiniest place to call my own to which I might have retired with a book, I should have been happy enough.

"I sometimes think how much smoother and pleasanter life might have been if only it had been possible for me ever to be alone. But throughout the long half-year—the plan of dividing the scholastic year into three terms had not yet begun, and school lasted from the 22nd of January to the 22nd of June, with a week off at Easter, and from the 2nd of August to the 22nd of December—throughout all these months I was night and day, indoors and out, everywhere and always in company, and with company by no means such as I should have chosen.

"In October 1857 I left school for King's College, London. But I was too young, not indeed in years but in mind and character, to profit of the collegiate system. I looked and felt like an average boy of fifteen and ought to have been still at school, to which I happily returned the following January. And now began my time of awakening. My eyes were opened to see dimly, yet often enough ecstatically, the glory of earth and sky, my mind enlarged to discern the beauties of human thought enshrined in the literature of Greece and England, and I realised gradually something of the great problems of religion and life. I discovered Carlyle and Ruskin and, above all, Shelley, read scrappily enough but to much effect so far as impressions go.

"Hitherto I had regarded the evangelical Christianity in which I was brought up as truth so clear and evident that only ignorance or perversity could hinder its acceptance by all men. The Atheist and the Romanist I believed to be so manifestly in the wrong that they would be staggered by the simple arguments which out of my superior advantages I could bring to their knowledge. To the one I would say, ' Look at the stars, who made them if there is no God ? ' ; to the other, 'Does not the Bible say. Thou shalt not worship any graven image, and again, The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,—and you, do you not worship images and teach that sin cannot be forgiven without confession to a priest?' And now it was my fate for the first time to meet a man whose High Churchmanship was near to Romanism and to read the poems of an avowed unbeliever. "


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