The Lost Sheep

From John Warburton’s “Mercies of a Covenant God.”

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I shall now relate another sore trial that I passed through (It was about 1830), which was one of the keenest I ever had in all my life, so much so that at times I felt as if my very heart-strings were breaking. It was respecting my youngest son, who is the youngest of ten children now living.

I agreed with a person in Trowbridge, who was a tailor, to teach him the business, to whom he went for a few years.

I expected he would learn his business and do well. But one day, on a Tuesday, which was the preaching night at chapel, he did not come home to dinner as usual, when I began to fear something was the matter; and though our people said that no doubt he was at his sister’s, I felt such fears that all was not right that I sent to enquire if he had been at his work. The answer returned was, No; that he had not been there.

O what a shaking and trembling immediately came upon me!

I sent messengers up and down the town, but could get no tidings of him, neither could we hear of one soul in all the town that had seen him. How I got through the preaching the Lord knows, for I don’t. I cannot recollect that ever he had up to that time slept a night from home in his life. If I recollect right, he was in the sixteenth year of his age, and being the youngest, I was over careful of him.

We stopped up until one or two o’clock in the morning, but there were no tidings nor appearance of the lad; and indeed we might as well have stopped up all night for what sleep we got. The day after we searched and enquired in every place that we could think of, but we could not hear of anybody that had seen or that knew anything about him. Here we were till Friday, about eleven o’clock, when a person came to our house to tell me that he had been seen in Salisbury either on Wednesday or Thursday.

The moment I heard this intelligence, I sent for my son-in-law, hired a horse and gig, and borrowed ten pounds; and after dinner off we set for Salisbury, and I felt that I could have followed him if it had been across the seas. My very soul was wrapped up in the lad, that I felt determined I would never return more till I could find him.

I set off from Trowbridge with a weighted down soul indeed.

“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop.”

O how my soul went out to the Lord as we journeyed on, that He would direct me, and that we might go the right way; and whilst my poor soul was secretly begging that He would direct us right, how sweet and precious did these blessed words break into my heart: “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee.”

O how my poor soul was revived!

It was the first promise that had come to my soul since the lad ran off. O what confidence I had that I was doing right in going after the lad, and I felt firmly persuaded that God would direct us right, and that we should find the lad, and bring him back in peace.

So on we went till we got to the Half-way House, where we stopped to feed the horse; and just as we were getting up in the gig to start off again, a man stepped out of the house, and calling out to me, asked me how I did, and then said, “I saw your son John yesterday going on his road to Winchester.”

I stood astonished, and thought the man must be mistaken, but he told me he was not, for he knew him as well as he knew me, as he was a Trowbridge man that had been over to Winchester to work. So on we went again, with my soul resting on the sweet promise: “I am with thee, and will keep thee in the way thou goest, and will bring thee back in peace.”

We arrived safe in Salisbury, where we stopped all night, and early on Saturday morning we set off for Winchester, where we arrived, I think, about eleven o’clock, and enquired after him at what they term the house of call for tailors. We found that he had slept there on Thursday night, but the man told us he could get not work, and had therefore left for Southampton on Friday.

After we had got a little refreshment, we set off for Southampton, where we arrived, I think, about three o’clock, and found out the house of call, where I went in and enquired of the landlady, as I took her to be, if a young man had been there last night asking after work. But before I had time to say more, she answered, “Yes, and I see he is your son; he comes from Trowbridge, in Wilts.”

My bowels were so overcome that I could not contain my feelings, and I wept aloud. “O my dear child, my dear child,” I cried, “had he anything to eat?” She told me that he had had something to eat, and had stopped there last night; “and I asked him,” she said, “if he had not run away from a good home for you appear to me not to be a common tramp”; to which he said that he had, and wished he was at home again, and what to do he could not tell; but his father had a friend in Portsmouth, and he would start for that place in the morning, and if he could reach there he knew he could get something to eat.

“I fully intended,” added she, “to have given him a good breakfast this morning, but when I got downstairs he was gone.”

I went straight to the inn where we had put up the horse, and found that in a few minutes they expected the Bath coach to come in, which was going to Portsmouth, and which came up directly. So we left the horse and gig, and took coach for Portsmouth; and being quite tired and, to my feeling, nearly worn out, I got inside; and there being no other inside passenger, I had it all to myself.

Sometimes it came to my mind, “Perhaps he is dead in some ditch, and has dropped into hell, where there is no hope to a never-ending eternity.” O how I did cry to God in that coach that He would remember His promise that He had caused my soul to
hope in, and that He would not suffer the enemy to swallow me up; and what a blessed, sweet pouring out of my soul I had from Southampton to Portsmouth, which if I recollect right, is about twenty-one miles.

I shall never forget that text coming into my soul when we got about half-way from Southampton to Portsmouth: “As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.”

“O,” cried out my soul, “what are my feelings to my poor child? Why,
nothing but love, tenderness and affection.”
And such was my love to my child, that it covered all his vileness and ungodliness. O what an overpowering sight I had of the electing love of God the Father fixed upon my poor soul from eternity to eternity!

“O,” exclaimed my poor soul, “I love Thee because Thou hast loved me.” O the killing sight I had of the love, care and pity of God the Son in taking all my sins upon Himself, and carrying them to the cross and enduring all that curse and damnation that my soul had richly merited at the hands of a just God!

He showed me His hands, and His feet, and His side; and a humbling sight it was.

“O” cried I, “my Lord and my God! O wretch that I am, to crucify the Lord of life and glory!” O what a sight I had of the love, pity and kindness of God the Holy Ghost in calling me, supplying me, upholding me, defending me, delivering me to the present moment out of all my miseries and troubles that I had ever been in!

“Goodness and mercy,” I cried, “have followed me all my life long to this present day.”

O what a sight I had of my ungodly ways towards such a kind Father!

I wept again and again, and exclaimed, “My dear Father, my child has never done anything against me as I have abused Thy goodness; and how canst Thou love such a wretch that has been such an out-of-the-way wretch?”

But how sweetly did He smile, and whisper in my heart with His still small voice, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.I will be with thee in six troubles, and in the seventh
not leave thee; when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”

My soul melted like wax before the sun, for every word He seemed to speak came with such power and sweetness as all ended with thee: “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flames kindle upon thee; for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”

The coach stopped in a few minutes, and I began to wonder where we were, and stepping out, I asked the coachman how far we were from Portsmouth, and he told me between two or three miles. I asked him if he knew a person of the name of Doudney, (His son was Dr. D. A. Doudney, Editor of the Gospel Magazine) a tallow chandler, that lived at Mile End, Portsea, and he replied that he knew him very well; so I told him to set me down there.

But when I got into the coach again, my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and on my fears came again with double force: “What will you do if the lad is not at your friend Doudney’s?”

I began to shake and tremble from head to foot, and I felt as if it would be my death if I found him not there.

Some professors wonder how it is that a man of God can be as strong as a giant one hour, and the next hour as weak and helpless as a worm, and shaken to and fro like a reed. But David knew something of it: “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong; Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.”

Good old Hart knew the same, or else he never could have so exactly described it:

[blockquote]But ah! when these short visits end,
Though not quite left alone,
I miss the presence of my Friend,
Like one whose comfort’s gone.

“I to my own sad place return,
My wretched state to feel;
I tire, and faint, and mope, and mourn.
And am but barren still.

More frequent let Thy visits be,
Or let them longer last;
I can do nothing without Thee;
Make haste, O God, make haste.”[/blockquote]

And my soul knows it too.

O how my soul and body trembled when the coach stopped at my friend Doudney’s door, for fear the dear lad was not there!

In I went, without any ceremony whatever, and cried out, “Have you seen my child? Is my child here?”

They did not answer my question, but seemed quite surprised at seeing me, and asked me to sit down.

But I cried out, “Is my child here? If he is not here, I must be off again; for I cannot rest till I can find him.”

They smiled, and told me to look behind me in the corner. I turned round to look, and there sat my beloved child.

O I thought my very soul would have burst through my body!

I cannot tell a thousandth part of my feelings, but I believe there was not one dry cheek in the room. O I had hard work to keep from taking him up in my arms, and I could not help blessing and praising my God that had led me the right way. I suppose we had travelled betwixt eighty and ninety miles, and I do not know that we had gone a hundred yards from the way the lad had trod with his feet save about ten of the last miles to Portsmouth.

O what a night did I pass through of wonder, praise and adoration to my God!

I got to bed, and how precious did the sweet promise come again to my soul that propped it up in hope soon after we left Trowbridge: “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee.”

And how sweet did these words follow upon the back of it: “Has any good thing failed of all the Lord hath said?” My soul exclaimed, “Not one thing has failed; it has all come to pass.”

Sleep appeared to be entirely taken away with the goodness and glory of God. For the four last nights I had had no rest for sorrow of heart, and now I could not sleep for joy of heart.

I got, however, a little sleep towards morning, and when I awoke I could not for some time think what day it was. I seemed all confusion for a time, as if I could not tell either where I was or yet what day it was. It then came into my mind that I was at Portsmouth, and that it was Lord’s day morning.

“O,” cried I, “what will they do at Trowbridge? for they have no one to go before them in the name of the Lord; and, poor things, they don’t know where I am,” for I had had no time nor even thought about home; my thoughts were all swallowed up about the lad. But how powerfully did these words drop into my mind, “And He must needs go through Samaria.”

“Lord,” cried I, “I left the few sheep in the wilderness, and have been after the lost one, and have found it; hast Thou a poor lost sheep to find? Hast Thou sent me here to pick up some poor sheep of Thine?”

He blessedly answered, “He must needs go through Samaria.” So my friend Doudney got a chapel for me to preach in in the evening, and the words, if I recollect right, that struck me to preach from were these: “He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel”; and a good time I think it was to some of the poor outcasts that were there.

If I recollect right, on the Monday morning there came a person to my friend Doudney’s, and told me he had brought me some good news, for his wife had been in great distress for some time, so much so that she was driven to her wit’s end, and had entirely given it all up for lost, when, some time ago, she had had a dream, which was a very remarkable one. As near as I can recollect, this was her dream. She was standing on the sea shore in the midst of the most terrible storm that she ever witnessed, expecting the sea to burst its bounds every moment and swallow her up. Never did she see such a terrible sea. By and by she saw a man walking on the waves of the sea who came right to her and said, “The Lord will soon come and deliver you”; and such was the powerful impression of the dream that she declared, “if ever I see that man I shall know him if it is among a hundred people.”

“Before you came in the chapel,” said the man, “we were got into our seat, and when you ascended the pulpit stairs, she whispered to me, That is the man whom I saw in my dream’; and truly the Lord did deliver her; and she has been blessing and praising Him ever since.”

I was quite struck at hearing the circumstance, and could not help being astonished at the wonder-working hand of God, for I had indeed, in my mind, come to Portsmouth upon a tumultuous sea at times in my feelings. I had to preach on Monday evening at another chapel, and I believe the Lord was there, for I felt it a good time to my own soul; and I think some of the people did too, for they seemed to be all alive; and as I was coming down the aisle into the vestry, some said one thing and some another; but one person called out loud enough for me to hear, “If your son runs
away again, tell him to come to Portsmouth.”

(The boy who ran away was John Warburton the younger, later for 47 years pastor at Southill).

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