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MEMOIR OF CHARLOTTE SOPHIA STEIGEN BERGER,
OF SAFFRON-WALDEN :
BY THE REV. J. HOLLAND BROWN, CHARLOTTE SOPHIA STEIGEN BERGER was born, December 15th, 1791, of highly respectable parents, who gave to her educational advantages becoming their circumstances and her uncommon powers of mind. The Principal of the boarding school to which she was sent was Madame de la Vieux, formerly maid of honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of George the Third. From that accomplished lady Miss Berger soon secured marked commendation for general proficiency, and especially in the French and Italian languages.
In very early life. Miss Berger became the subject of serious thoughts about personal religion. When about seven years old, while reading the words, 'In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ : who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power,' she was penetrated with tearful concern about her soul's salvation, feeling herself to be there and then arraigned before the bar of God. This concern, however, proved but transient, giving way to the usual thoughtlessness of early life, and was not again experienced until, on her leaving school at the age of fifteen, it constrained her to solemnly vow constancy of service to God. Accordingly, she began zealously to engage in whatever seemed to her to be works of religion. In that very year, having been deeply impressed by a sermon, she took from a little box, with which. her father had just presented her, a number of guineas, and contributed them uncounted towards the collection made for the poor at the Lord's. Supper. Though performed with careful secrecy, this act of generosity brought her into publicity exceedingly objectionable to her unostentatioue. disposition. The same spirit of unselfishness which marked everything she did was specially evidenced a few years later by exhausting attentions to an invalid sister whom she had accompanied to Bath. Though well-nigh sacrificing her life to this heavy responsibility, it was never oppressive to her spirit; for, in addition to the satisfaction of having done everything that sisterly solicitude could suggest, she realized the comfort accruing from effort to please God, often saying, as she laboriously ascended the stone staircase of the high house in which they were staying, “I do it for Christ's sake.'
Though thus outwardly exemplary, not before the year 1813 could she say, 'Being justified by faith, I have peace with God.' Soon after the death,
in 1812, of her sister, whom she had so lovingly nursed, her friends, now anxious on account of her own feeble health, persuaded her to pay a visit to another sister, who was residing at Budleigh-Salterton. In his house, just opposite her sister's, Mr. Lackington, who had been a Wesleyan, conducted public worship according to the forms and creed to which he had been accustomed. A pious person, who regularly attended this worship, perceiving the state of Miss Berger's health, invited her to hear Mr. Lackington preach, which at length she consented to do (the church being three miles away), overcoming her strong aversion to public worship in a private house. Never thoroughly conquering this repugnance, she rejoiced when the room was superseded by a chapel close by, at which she became from the opening a regular and earnest attendant. Experiencing a strong desire to flee from the wrath to come,' she read, as a preventive of what she dreaded above all things-a return to her former unconcernedness,—the most awakening sermons, and engaged in whatever other exercises seemed most likely to help her.
Three suggestions now especially harassed her : First, that she must be as long a time repenting as she had been sinning; second, that the blessing she was seeking was only bestowed on a favoured few; and third, that possibly she had committed the unpardonable sin. But the snare was soon broken by a very powerful unfolding before her mind, by the Spirit of God, of the all-sufficiency of the death of Christ. Through the application to her soul, in a time of very deep anxiety, of the words, They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,' and by the testimony of two persons in the Class-meeting to the fact of their having recently been admitted to the enjoyment of the conscious forgiveness of their sins, she became animated with more eager desire, faith and hope in her quest after salvation. On the evening of November 12th, 1813, being overwhelmed with penitential grief, she retired to her room. What she then experienced will be best understood from her own words :
While thus waiting upon God in an agony between hope and despair, the following reflections entered into my mind : “Were not all things prepared and made ready when I came into the world? Had I any claim or title to, or did I merit, any of the numerous mercies which at the moment of my birth I was made a partaker of ? And have I not been entirely dependent upon the Giver of my life for all the blessings I have ever since received ? And can I doubt His love and gracious regard which have thus been strikingly manifested towards me?” These reflections were attended with light and power, as though a sunbeam rested on them, entirely dispelling the painful fears and unbelieving views which had just before engrossed my mind. And I then, with the eye of faith, clearly saw the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sin of the world”; and felt that my sins were all laid on Him. The next morning-the 13thI awoke at three o'clock, with this Scripture applied to my heart, " Come ; for all things
now ready.” As I meditated thereon, a delightful view of the wondrous provision made for my salvation by a gracious God was presented to my mind; and I said, “Lord, is this from Thee? Surely it is !” my soul's joy in this belief increasing until it became quite ecstatic and indescribable ; such as I had never known before ; one of its chief elements being an exulting hope, full of immortality. I felt that old things had passed away, and all things had become new ; that there was rejoicing in bearen on my account ; that I had commenced a new existence in a new world ; and that
an unwonted sympathy expanded my heart in good will towards, and earnest desire for the salvation of, the whole of the human family.'
A conversion so pronounced in its main features could never be forgotten, or even indistinctly remembered, by its subject. It was not the almost imperceptible changing of the hazy morning into the brilliantly bright day, but rather the illumination of a dismal prison by a searching sun-flash, suddenly admitted. Accordingly, after the lapse of fifty-three years, Miss Berger made this record : 'I write on the anniversary of my spiritual birthday—a day ever memorable to me : when I saw with the eye of faith, with indubitable clearness, the great atoning Sacrifice for sin in my crucified Saviour; and felt not only set at liberty, but also filled with joy unutterable, the Spirit of God witnessing with my spirit that I was born of God. To the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be the eternal praise !! This record must not be viewed as the mere crystallization of the flowing fancies of a mind morbid with musing for years upon one subject, but as the result of accumulated experience.
As soon as opportunity offered, Miss Berger made those who had hitherto been her spiritual helpers acquainted with the blessed change she had experienced ; and they gave hearty thanks to God on her behalf. Attacked on her return home by the suggestion that possibly she had deceived herself, she successfully resisted the assault, realizing such an accession of assurance that she was glad to seek a retired spot on the beach, where she might express her joy in unrestrained hymns of praise; and she did not desist until completely overcome by physical exhaustion. The following verses,' she
“ stated, 'are descriptive of what I then experienced : "His name the sinner hears,
Stung by the scorpion sin,
My poor expiring soul 'Tis music in his ears,
The balmy sound drinks in, 'Tis life and victory:
And is at once made whole : New songs do now his lips employ, See there my Lord upon the tree !
And dances his glad heart for joy. I hear, I feel, He died for me!”, The Scriptures, before to her a dead letter, were now all spirit and life'; and all the means of grace were unspeakably precious. Of these, as well as of the jubilance of her general experiences, the following entries in her journal bear testimony:
Nov. 14.-Found the house of God the gate of heaven to my happy soul. O Lord, help me to watch and pray always! The dead's alive, the lost is found ! O, enable me to rejoice evermore, my Lord and my God! Thou hast bought for me an inheritance that fadeth not away. Give me true humility : make me always sensible of my own vileness. A vessel becomes empty by continual outletting; therefore make me, O Lord, more ready to hear than to speak! Enable me to seek the good of others always.
Nov. 19.—“Behold ! God is my salvation ; I will trust, and not be afraid : for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song ; He also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy” I “ draw water ont of the wells of salvation....Sing unto the Lord; for He hath done excellent things.” But Miss Berger did not continue long in this happy state ; for, through
some unpleasant circumstances, which occasioned much reproach to the cause of God in connection with the sanctuary in which she had so often been blessed, she unwisely ceased to attend its services. Concerning this painful experience she wrote : ‘Instead of following the advice of our Lord to Peter, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me,” I dwelt upon the objectionable matters, took offence, was thrown off my centre, became shorn of the locks of my strength, and lost that sweet communion with my
Saviour which I before enjoyed. When in this state of mind she received from her brother a letter, bearing date March 4th, 1814, expressing his profound joy in her change of heart, and containing, amongst other excellent sentiments, the following:
* It is our duty to bless God for the measure of grace we have, and to rest satisfied with His appointments in spirituals as well as in temporals. Every degree of real grace is His gift. To be thankful for lower degrees of grace, notwithstanding the most ardent desires after the highest, is perhaps the truest, as well as the most difficult, kind of humility and resignation.... The desire to be relieved from temptation frequently reminds me of the importunity of a dying man to be received into the bosom of his Maker, merely for the sake of getting rid of the pains of the body. God grant that we may view suffering as disciplinary: working patience, experience, hope ! Try to adorn the doctrine of God by a cheerful disposition and demeanour in society.'
Soon after this, receiving tidings that her father was dangerously ill, Miss Berger prepared to return home; but before leaving, impelled by gratitude, she paid once more a visit to Mr. Lackington, who recommended her, on arriving at Hackney, to enquire for the Wesleyans,—advice which, under God, ultimately issued in unspeakably blessed results, not only to its subject, but to many others, of whose faith she became a powerful helper. The determination to follow it, however, caused her a mighty effort, for she knew not how her attendance at a Wesleyan chapel might be viewed by her parents, to whom she ever delighted to manifest loving deference, her ' affectionate attention' to them gaining special commendatory notice from her brother. But having resolved, whatever the cost might be, to pursue what seemed to be her Providential course, she arrived at home, to find her much-loved father, whose displeasure her daughterly heart had apprehended, removed from this world. Deepened by so heavy a cloud, her gloom of spirit became almost intolerable, and was by no means relieved by her reperusal of a perplexing Calvinian treatise. Incessant temptations now assailed her; one, as she considered, having as its object the destruction of her body, she being in such feeble health as absolutely to forbid the fasting which it represented as necessary for her to obtain again possession of the grace lost; and another being the revival, in a more subtle form, of her old notion that she had sinned away the day of grace. Frequent meditation upon the precious promises failed to afford her the slightest comfort, and she was altogether in a most pitiable state of darkness and disquietude when the Lord laid her case upon the mind of that holy woman, Mrs. Harriet Elizabeth Webster, who by prayer and spiritual counsel, oral and written, was made the means of unspeakable blessing to her. So greatly
was this counsel prized that one of the letters containing it was nearly worn away by being constantly carried in Miss Berger's pocket.
During this period of sadness her character and life were blameless; and, on a Note of Removal, bearing date July 2nd, 1814, the Rev. Thomas Vasey wrote : 'Her Leader believes she is truly serious and an ornament to her profession.' After the expiration of the eight months in which there had been this predominating shade in her experience, Miss Berger was again brought into the enjoyment of unclouded day on August 3rd, 1814. The passage was applied to her mind, 'The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek, etc. Of this, and immediately subsequent experiences, she made the following notes :
*These words passed through my mind like the flow of still waters, as I was going to 2 place of retirement for prayer. And viewing my gracious Saviour, to Whom they refer, as willing to bind up my broken heart, I was emboldened to venture again upon His mercy and lovingkindness, as at the first ; having been greatly encouraged to do so by my dear friend Mrs. Webster, to whose sympathetic care, manifested towards me ander these circumstances, I owe a debt of gratitude which I never can repay. Thanks be to the Divine mercy, which has enabled me from this period to hold fast my confidence, sotwithstanding occasional short conflicts with the adversary!'
Miss Berger now began the habit of simplicity in dress which characterized her to the end of life ; Mr. Wesley's sermon on Dress, and the Rev. J. Macdonald's letter on the same subject, greatly influencing her thereto. She sold nearly all her jewellery, devoting the proceeds to philanthropic purposes. Dying daily to the world, and coveting earnestly the best gifts, she soon realized completeness in Christ. On the first day of this new joy she wrote out with her own hands, and endorsed from the depth of her heart, the precious words of the Covenant Service. Her own account of this important epoch is as follows :
By Divine assistance I continued to walk " in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost ;” and my mind was gradually opened to perceive that a further work of grace was needfal for me. I sought this blessing-entire sanctification, assisted by the prayers and instructions of my dear friend; and on Saturday, October 28th, the Lord graciously granted my request in the application of these words to my heart, “ He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities,” which I felt power to believe. And when going, on the following Sabbath morning, to the seven o'clock Prayer-meeting, rejoicing in the sense I had of the love of God, this assurance was presented to my mind, " Thy peace” shall be “as a river ;” and later in the day this exhortation, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” O, what a blessed Sabbath was this to my soul! I have since experienced a greater establishment in grace ; and the Lord gives me to believe that He will “perfect that which is lacking in " my "faith," and bring me safely through probation to wave my palm before His throne. To Him be glory for ever and ererAmen and amen.'
About this time, Miss Berger began to feel that it was the will of God that she should permanently reside with, and share in, the spiritual labours of Mrs. Webster, who was then living in Epping Forest, with her excellent husband, and her devout parents, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. But, though this conviction deepened daily, the step involved in yielding to it was of such magnitude