The Life of Rachel Pearce
Rachel Lucas Pearce, for 59 years a member of the church at Bethel, Luton, entered her eternal rest on May 9th, 2010, aged 96.
The following is her own account:
As some of my children have repeatedly asked me to write a little concerning my hope of salvation, I venture with much fearfulness, feeling to know so little, yet hoping there may be a few things come sweetly to my remembrance.
I was born at Eastleigh near Southampton on May 25th, 1913. My father, Mr. Caleb Sawyer, became pastor at Mayfield chapel when I was five, and we moved from Eastleigh to Mayfield to live in the chapel house.
As a child, I had some serious thoughts and when I was ill (as I very often was) would tell the Lord I would do better if he made me better, but when well again, was no more inclined to do that which was right. Yet I did not usually dislike going to chapel. Once I had a dream that I was standing by the cross of Jesus and he bowed his head down to me while I repeated the hymn, ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.’ This impressed me very much at the time, and I have never forgotten it, but as I was so worldly afterwards, I could take no comfort from it.
Between 15 and 17 years old, I much wanted the world, and a few times friends took me to places which I knew my parents would not like; also reading books which were harmful, but I often felt guilty as I had love and great respect for my parents. Swearing I did not like and unfaithfulness, yet I cannot say I never told a lie to cover up my wrong-doings. What a grief this has been to me since!
Well now, when I reached the age of about 17, I lost a friend (Anna) who was only 15, who for a time I went to school with, and who also attended the chapel. She died rather suddenly, but just before she died she said to her parents, ‘Have we all done wrong?’ and then repeated the children’s hymn, ‘Gentle Jesus,’ quite plainly. Her father came late at night to fetch my father to pray with her.
Anna’s death seemed to fall on me with concern, almost more about her soul than my own at first, and at her memorial service I listened as I had never listened before. My father preached from Isaiah 40:11: ‘He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.’ [When her eldest daughter was born, she was named Anna after her.]
I believe my concern for my soul started from this time, yet I was in much temptation at this time and also had much trouble at work. My steps were often slipping but I felt the only thing I could do about it was to pray, but felt I could not pray to a holy God and expect answers if I clung to my sins. So one thing after another had to be given up. Having a lot of illness at this time, it seemed I must give up work for a time. I began to feel how vain were all things here below and that to know my sins were forgiven was above everything else. Sometimes I felt afraid to go to sleep at night for fear I should awake in hell, yet felt my convictions were so slight compared to many of the Lord’s people, which has often made me afraid that I have not had real convictions.
The house of God was very dear to me now. I listened indeed for myself. The hymns were sweet to me – before the service Sunday morning I would go for a walk and take my hymnbook with me. How I listened for myself to the preaching, but feared there may be no hope.
The first sermon which seemed all for me was when my father preached at a chapel at a place called Little London, right in the country. The text was, ‘Thou hast been my help.’ Looking back I wondered how it could have suited me at that time, being so young in the way, but when Mr. Ramsbottom preached from it recently, he brought it back by saying that God has been our help in convicting of sin, bringing out of the world and causing us to look only to Jesus, he being so very needful.
Other sermons were so good to me at this time when my father preached from Ruth 2:13: ‘Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.’
Another time from Ruth, ‘The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ Mr. Collier gave me these words when receiving me into the church.
Once I went to special services at Shovers Green. I was about 22 years of age. I caught two buses to get there and then walked over the fields. I thought nothing of it. Mr. Raven preached so sweetly (to me) from, ‘How shall I put thee among the children? . . . Thou shall call me, my Father; and shall not turn away from me.’
One other text stands out, when Mr Raven preached from, ‘Despise not the day of small things.’ I felt it was just for me, and seekers, but taking home an old saint, he said how good it was to him, to my great surprise.
One Good Friday, I asked my sister if she would walk to Shovers Green to hear Mr. Frank Gosden. I was so pleased she was willing. Now I felt my sister seemed to have so much religion and I so little. Mr. Gosden’s text was, ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.’ How suitable this was to me! Those ‘precious littles,’ he kept saying.
On holiday in Wales with my sister, we stayed at a youth hostel, something like a Y.W.C.A. There were those there who pitied me my bondage, as they said, and tried much to convince me I should be as happy as they, for it was as much presumption to say I did not know if Christ died for me as to say he had died for me. I began one evening to wonder if they were right and I was wrong, but going to bed early and taking my Bible, I opened on the words, ‘With a mighty hand and a stretched out arm have I saved you.’ God was speaking to Moses about his people. It came to me with much comfort and I felt so confirmed that it was all the work of the Lord and thankful it was so.
My husband and I were married in September 1939 just three weeks after war was declared. We lived at Brighton and attended Galeed chapel. After we were married I was much taken up with caring for my husband and my new home, but then the bombing came and I did not feel fit to die. This brought on more concern. There were helps from time to time from the ministry. Being ill, and at home one Sunday, I read a sermon of Mr. Philpot’s. The text was from Deuteronomy 33:29: ‘Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord?’ This was good to me.
Here our son Roy was born and it was a time of much anxiety. A bomb fell near our house at the end of the road and our door was blown in and our little boy was covered in glass.
When our second son Caleb was a baby, we moved up to Hitchin to live. Seventy people applied for the house we moved to. It seemed wonderful that we should have been favoured to have it. We attended Welwyn chapel as we could not find anywhere good to attend in Hitchin. We enjoyed some of the sermons of Philpot that were read there. Mr. Goldsmith used to read them so well, but I cannot remember anything else in particular, except my father once preaching from, ‘Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand.’
But we got weary of the journeys to Welwyn and felt such a desire to have a pastor. When my husband’s father wanted to move and was vacating his house in Luton, we were asked to leave our house in Hitchin. We felt the way was made for us to move to Luton and be near the chapel, although we were leaving the country to a very enclosed house in the town of Luton. But the unattractiveness of this situation was forgotten in the joy of being near a chapel and a good minister. My husband had been brought up at Ebenezer chapel, Luton, but we felt much drawn to the friends at Bethel. What was our consternation when only three weeks afterwards Mr. Fookes, the pastor at Bethel, where we were now attending, died suddenly!
We felt much drawn to the friends at Bethel, sharing in their sorrow at the loss of their pastor, but now we wondered if we had done right in attending Bethel as my husband had been brought up at Ebenezer. We felt that had Mr. Fookes died just before we arrived instead of just after, we should have felt we must attend the chapel with a pastor. We continued at Bethel, and a real Bethel it has been to us at times.
About a week after we moved to Luton, it had to be decided if we would take over my husband’s father’s business, and the evening it was decided to do so, I was feeling very sad as for several reasons I did not want to do so. But that evening at chapel, Mr. Fookes preached from Job 23:10: ‘He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.’ It just all seemed for me and I could not lift up a finger against the decision, though my dear husband gave me the opportunity.
The war ended in May 1945 and John was born on VE day.
We had many good Sundays with different ministers. One evening, being in troubled circumstances and cast down in soul, I went to chapel in much need. Mr Collier preached from Isaiah 5:17: ‘Then shall the lambs feed after their manner.’ He described an experience so like mine, and then said, ‘If this is your experience, you are one of these lambs.’ O the sweetness with which it came to me, it raised me up to a hope. I have never forgotten it.
Another time Mr. Collier preached from Genesis 42:25: ‘Then Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn, and to restore every man’s money into his sack, and to give them provision for the way.’ He spoke much on baptism saying it was not necessary to salvation but had we prayerfully considered it as being a command of God? Up to this time I felt I had not the experience to go forward with, not being necessary for salvation. Also, I dislike responsibility and would rather take a back seat, and it would have to come into everything, even dress. But now I could not leave it and felt I must pray about it to be shown the ordinance.
A blessed service was when Mr. Collier preached from Job 33:26: ‘He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he shall render unto man his righteousness.’ Yes, I felt the Lord had heard my poor prayers and had been favourable unto me, and a good hope that I should see his face with joy, because he had rendered unto man his righteousness, the dear Lord Jesus taking all our sins. It was as if we had no sin at all in the sight of a Holy God. I felt as if my sins were covered, for I could not feel the weight of them. O the sweetness of it. For a little while I went on my way rejoicing.
Before Susan was born, it was a most trying time for me. A girl from chapel had died and her baby in the nursing home I was soon to go to. I often cried as it seemed my little hope had gone. Yet it was a relief that others were praying for me and felt I could pray myself and knowing my dear parents were praying for me, whose prayers I valued so much and had often been answered, was a help. Eventually I entered the nursing home. Susan was born at midnight, things went wrong and the heavens seemed as brass, feeling the Lord did not hear my cry. I was given a blood transfusion and mercifully brought through but in the morning felt rebellious. Why was all this allowed to happen? My dear husband came and amongst other things he repeated that text Lamentations 3:22: ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.’ That was the word I needed. Now I could see it was a mercy I was not cut off as a cumberer of the ground. Reading the chapter in Lamentations 3 was so comforting and so suitable to me. Also I enjoyed reading Philpot’s sermons.
Yet I still could not understand the (as I thought) unanswered prayers, but the first time I was able to attend chapel, Mr. Janes preached from, ‘Behold, he prayeth’ (Acts 9:11). He spoke of prayers not being answered as we expected, which was right to my case.
Mr. Oliver Pack came soon after and spoke of Hezekiah’s night of mourning. He might have known all my fears of the night Susan was born. When I spoke to him about it afterwards he said, ‘If you have a night like that, you will have a bright day,’ or similar words.
Now comes a time when I had a special help when Mr. Foster came and preached from: ‘If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.’ All my fears were removed and I felt it confirmed the reality of the hearing times that I had had, but I had been leaning on them more than Christ himself. Also, that particular minister was a sent servant of God. I went on my way rejoicing.
We had many difficulties at Cowper Street, Luton, with the family increasing. We looked out on a brick wall but it was easy to bear to be near chapel and yet being so bad for the children, we looked around for somewhere else to live. The house at Harpenden was brought to our notice and felt it was to be our home and yet we did not go the right way to obtain it and we felt very guilty of going before the Lord. I went to a special service when Mr. John Gosden was preaching and felt so bowed down with sin. These words came in his text, ‘How much more shall the blood of Christ,’ etc. He spoke of the willingness of Christ to die for sinners, the Father so willing to send his beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit willing to reveal him to poor sinners. I had difficulty in keeping back tears – sweet tears. ‘How willing was Jesus to die, that we fellow-sinners might live!’ Then when this sweet discourse was ended we sang the hymn 984:
Hark! how the gospel trumpet sounds!
Christ and free grace therein abounds;
Free grace to such as sinners be;
And if free grace, why not for me?
The blood of Christ, how sweet it sounds,
To cleanse and heal the sinner’s wounds!
The streams thereof are rich and free;
And why, my soul, why not for thee?
Every verse was good to me. How happy I went to bed that night!
When in hospital when Cynthia was born, I felt to be so dead spiritually, but opened my Bible one day on Luke 24, and verse 40 seemed especially sweet to me. I opened on the words, ‘He shewed them his hands and his feet.’ What lovely condescension it seemed, and I much wanted to hear it preached from. Five years afterwards, Mr. Foster preached at Stotfold and took the subject, only from John 20:20. How blessedly he preached from it two services! Truly a time to be remembered!
Ministers spoke often on baptism and the Lord’s supper. I began to see a sweetness in the ordinances and love drew me to them as a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and it was for sinners. My father came to Bethel and spoke at our special services from Ezekiel 36:26, 27: ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.’ I felt I must go forward, yet wanted something more.
One Sunday evening, Mr. Windridge was preaching. While I was sitting waiting for the service to commence, I was pondering over the matter of the ordinance and wondering what would enable me to go forward. I thought if there was a character in the Word of God like me, but felt that could not be, as I had been dealt with so gently with just a ‘still small voice’ at times so quiet that I would wonder if it was the voice of God. But Mr. Windridge read Acts 16. When he came to the verse about Lydia I felt it was going to be for me – verse 14: ‘And a certain woman named Lydia . . . which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.’ I felt only the Lord could open my heart; and then he spoke of that faithfulness or worthiness, that all we have is in Christ, none of ourselves. I could hold back no longer. But before I spoke to the deacons I once more opened the Word of God and lighted on a passage about being baptized but I forget which one it was.
My husband gave his name in at the same time and we rejoiced together. He was away the Sunday the church meeting was announced, being best man at Mr. Bert Banfield’s wedding. Mr. Oxlade took for his text: ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will call upon the name of the Lord . . . I will pay my vows’ (Psa. 116:12-14). I thought, This cannot be only for me; but no-one else came forward, so felt it must be, and he spoke so much my feelings.
When my husband came back, he was most dejected and a great darkness had come upon him, and he sank lower and lower till his distress was so great. This was a great trial. I feared for his mind. I thought I should lose my hope too, but Mr. Collier preached from, ‘In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.’ My husband was afterwards helped by a sermon from, ‘And unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.’ Also he woke with the words, ‘Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?’ He was much comforted, and when my father baptized us (in June 1951) he preached from that text. What is it, he said, to receive the Holy Ghost? One thing is to be given a spirit of prayer as it was said of Paul, ‘Behold, he prayeth.’ We both went through the ordinance with peace and calmness.
When Mr. Collier received us into the church, the words he gave me were the words once good to me when my father preached from them in the Book of Ruth: ‘A full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ The first Lord’s supper was a sacred time. My mind went to the dying thief and I felt there was mercy for me too. ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Myrtle was born a few months later.
Many were my trials and difficulties but I was helped through them from time to time and raised above them. One time, feeling everything was wrong providentially, the words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ were a strength, feeling that if God was over all, then all must come right. I felt if he was my God (and the effect of the words made me hope he was), then come what may, all would be well. Another time of trial the verse, ‘No thought can fly, nor thing can move, unknown to him that sits above,’ was a great support to me.
When my husband went to Sweden on business, the evening before he went, a load of fears came upon me, thinking what could happen while he was away, having ten children at this time. But as I went along to my bedroom that night, I felt the burden right lifted off me, so much so that I could hardly pray for help and safety, feeling I knew I would receive it and that all would be well. Only one difficulty arose and, in answer to prayer, that was soon overcome and I had such a good Sunday. Mr. Foster preached from Isaiah chapter 6, the first part: ‘In the year King Uzziah died.’ Mr. Foster spoke first of how death comes to kings and all of us and what is time compared to eternity? Then he spoke so beautifully about the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his glory and train filling the temple. It was a time to be remembered. I had, I think, never so seen the emptiness of all things here below, even the best of them, and what blessings and joys were to be found in Jesus Christ. I felt I could see and feel it. Yes, the world was killed to me then.
I was very ill at James’ birth, so when the last three children were born – Timothy, Audrey and Marion – I knew the doctor was really worried about the confinements, but just before I went into hospital each time, I received a help through the ministry, which raised me above my fears.
Once, being in much trouble, yet feeling much of my sin in it, Mr. Morris preached to me (it seemed) from Psalm 71:16: ‘I will go in the strength of the Lord God: I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.’
Mr. Ramsbottom became pastor at Bethel in 1967. His first three months were a favoured time to me. During that time he preached from: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ I had been very concerned about him becoming pastor, but that settled me.
Latterly, I have walked in a path that has been more dark than light, though there have been bright spots. One Sunday morning I awoke with the words: ‘Come, see the place where the Lord lay.’ I hoped they might be preached from. Mr. Ramsbottom’s text was Psalm 71:2: ‘Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth.’ He spoke so much about where the Lord lay. Yes, he did lie there, but O, he is a risen Christ now. This was a good hearing time.
I lost my dear husband in 1996. He said just before he died, ‘Endless blessings on the Lamb.’ He repeated so warmly, ‘His dear heart was broken, too, when he bore the curse for you.’ He looked up at me, and spoke it so warmly, and I was so thankful for this; it took away the blow of losing him.
Not very long after he passed away, I had an attempted break-in one Saturday night at 12:50 a.m., but before these men could put a foot in, a man was going by with his dog which disturbed the would-be intruders. I have felt so thankful, I thought it worth recording God’s wonderful protection.
Since then I have had the joy and blessing of many of my family and their loved ones called by grace. ‘Go on, thou mighty God, thy wonders to perform.’
Here Mrs. Pearce’s own account ends. The following are various scattered memories provided by the children.
Mum was worried about expecting so many children, and also Dad’s diabetes. One Sunday evening, when staying in with the children, and Caleb (aged about 12 or so) was with her, he was reading out the various texts that ministers had preached from, and he read out Mr. Slovold’s text: ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ It came with such power, she felt it settled the matter.
Mum also related going to Nottingham once when pastor preached from, ‘He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 1:6). She said that was really nice to her.
Mr. Joe Rutt (senior) was preaching at Bethel. The text was from Ephesians Chapter 4, verse 32: ‘And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ Mum said how much that sermon had meant to her as she had previously found it difficult to forgive after difficult circumstances in her personal relationships, and Mr. Rutt’s sermon had really touched her heart that Sunday and he had showed her that she was wrong. She was a gracious example.
At the time of the attempted burglary, mum was very nervous of intruders coming back into the house and could not sleep properly for several days but the verses 3 and 4 from Deuteronomy 20 were made a help: ‘Neither be ye terrified because of them; for the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’ She was able to sleep peacefully after that.
While in Bethesda mum said how she had to sing, ‘Prepare me, gracious God, to stand before thy face.’ She also quoted hymn 949, ‘There’s not a name beneath the skies.’
How much Mum enjoyed Mr. Ramsbottom’s ministry and in her phone calls would always talk about what he had preached from.
Mother loved the faithful and God-honouring ministry of her beloved pastor under whose ministry she constantly fed and profited.
Her first love was to the house of God and she always put the things of God first.
When her grandson lodged with her, she always got him to read the Bible after breakfast and always without fail wanted him to finish up with Psalm 23.
Several of us remember the godly conversation of Dad and Mum as they drove home after the services. They little thought that they had listeners in the back seat.
Note by her pastor
Mrs. Pearce was a most godly lady, highly esteemed by her large family and by all the congregation. She always put the things of God first; the world meant nothing to her. It was not so much what she said but her whole life, witness and gracious influence.
During recent months her eyesight was very bad and her memory had begun to fail, but on my regular visits she almost always said,
There’s not a name beneath the skies,
Nor is there one in heaven above,
But that of Jesus can suffice
The sinner’s burden to remove.
On one occasion she added, ‘That’s about all I can remember now!’ That summarised her religion.
She was one of the last people living who knew Mr. J.K. Popham well, as when young, she often met him through her father, Mr. Sawyer.
Taken with permission from The Gospel Standard, August 2010.
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