Recollections of John Pounds: The Sunday Evening Service by Reverend Henry Hawkes

Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, our venerable old Chapel was crowded for the evening service. The remembrance of our departed Friend pervaded the whole service.

The hymns were chosen in tone with his cheerful piety. The Pastor read the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew; explaining and illustrating as he went on. Our Saviour, he said, was sitting on a mountain, discoursing to his disciples, and a mixed multitude. He bade them not to do their good deeds before men, to be seen of them: otherwise they would have no reward of their Father who is in heaven. “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

“Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

“Behold the birds of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Will he not much more provide for you, his children?

“Which of you by anxious thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why are ye anxious about raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, 0 ye of little faith? Therefore be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and fulfil the duties which he hath given you to do; and you shall have all things needful for you.

“Be not anxious therefore for the morrow: for, so living, the morrow shall find you prepared for it.”

Prayer was offered up for the bereaved relatives and friends: and for the whole neighbourhood, in the midst of which the Departed had lived continually doing good; and where so many sufferers were now sorrowing for his loss.

When the Pastor rose to address the Congregation, he said, “Probably some present have come with the expectation of hearing the Lecture which was announced last Sabbath for this evening. But, my friends, an event has occurred since then, which must now take place of it. There was one amongst us then, a constant fellow-worshipper in this place, who heard that announcement but who was not to be present with us, to hear the subject illustrated.” And the Pastor dwelt on the awful suddenness of the death: – so awful a warning for every one of us. “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”

But this, he said, was not the chief subject he was now desirous to bring before them. “The life that has been so suddenly closed, was a remarkable one. Spent in quiet and almost unnoticed obscurity; with very scanty means, and labouring under great bodily disadvantages; it was a life of constant, persevering usefulness; and even extraordinary beneficence. And it has fervently brought home to heart and mind those words of our Saviour: ‘When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,’ that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

“So beautiful was our Saviour’s own spirit: so purely beneficent; the same in most retired scenes of his ministry; – all love and tenderness for the suffering and the poor; unseen of the world: – as in the most public and magnificent works of his Divine power and majesty.

“Sent by the Universal Father, in his love for the world, to be the Saviour of the world; our Saviour reveals, that the soul of this salvation was to leaven the whole world.

“But while this soul of salvation was gradually to penetrate and imbue the whole world: – all social institutions; all nations and governments; all international emulations and influences; – with its purifying, generous, loving, ennobling, happy spirit: – this life and growth of salvation was to be continually going on in the heart and conduct of every individual disciple: – in the most retired scenes of life, the most gentle and silent of social influences, as thoroughly imbuing and life-giving, – as in the most public, the most vast, and mighty of Human enterprises and achievements: – inspiring through all, to ever finer excellence and happiness.

“And this heavenward soul of salvation, our Saviour reveals, might live and flourish in the hearts and lives of the humblest and most obscure of his followers; – unseen of men; – or looked down upon with contempt; despised in their lowliness: – but seen of God, and blessed.”

The Pastor enlarged upon this view of our Saviour’s revealings: – bringing forward many and various examples from our Saviour’s own words and ministrations. “And the number of these examples,” he said, “might easily be increased.

“Who was the man that went down from the temple to his home justified? – The despised and lowly publican; who would not so much as lift up his eyes to heaven; but stood afar off, and smote on his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

“Who was it, that was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom? – The poor beggar; who was laid at the rich man’s gate, full of sores; desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table: and the dogs came and licked his sores.

“Who was it, that cast the most precious gift into the treasury for the service of God? – The poor widow: who cast in two mites. Jesus called to him his disciples, and said: ‘Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they who have cast into the treasury. For all they cast in of their abundance; but she, of her want, cast in all that she had; all her living.’

“ ‘God seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.’ And in many a rough casket, he seeth a precious jewel. Where the world looks with scorn, God may be looking down with approving smile – and cherishing love. In the lowly habitation – that men pass by from day to day with indifference, the Eye that seeth in secret – may have long seen, with Fatherly approval, the humble – persevering usefulness – of a faithful friend of the poor and needy.

“But in examples of usefulness in the midst of poverty and obscurity, we are in danger of looking upon them through a false medium; and therefore, of estimating them by an erroneous standard. Too easily dazzled by show, and led away in our opinions by what is popular, and commands general admiration; charmed with what is pleasant, and beautiful, and refined; we are in danger, however unintentionally, of forming low ideas of what has no external comeliness to recommend it. Even when we are rejoiced to have found a truly useful, disinterested, exemplary Christian – in the lowly recesses of obscurity; with his little means – dispensing morsels of food to the hungry; a pittance of clothing – to the almost naked; and a little useful knowledge – to the children of penury and neglect: – though we may dwell on such kind-hearted goodness with admiration, and speak of it with heartfelt praise; still, the external unseemliness – pressing painfully, and perhaps repulsively, on our daily observation, may obscure to us the real worth of the character. We may esteem the humble benefactor, dispensing his little kindnesses – to those more needy than himself; but, at the same time, there may be a conflicting feeling of distaste excited within us, by the lowly mode of life, the uncouth way of conducting his well-meant efforts, and numberless nameless circumstances continually disfiguring the scene.

“Not so – with God. God seeth worth itself. He looks through the external circumstances, into the goodness of the heart. He can divest such disinterested beneficence – of a garb unworthy of it; and look upon it in its true nature; its pure benevolence; worthy a child of the Supreme Source of all good.

“Accustomed, as we may be, to contemplate the lonely benefactor – in the midst of those to whom he directs his kind care and assistance; many of them little deserving, by their own conduct, of his persevering assiduity; – sunk in sin and profligacy: – the general impression from the wretched, debased, self- abandoned objects – to which his kind efforts are directed, may imperceptibly degrade the work to our estimation.

“Not so – with God. God sees the kind care directed to his own children. However fallen: – however gone astray: – the recipient of such goodness – is not so lost, but the Father who sent his Son to seek – and to save – all that were lost, – can reclaim – the poor outcast; – can touch the self-abandoned to a sense of remorse; – to the poignancy of self-condemnation: – and he will weep. – The penitent – will return; and seek a Father’s forgiveness; – with full – heart-felt confession of his unworthiness. And our Saviour says:
‘There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.’
“Familiarized, as we may be, with all his own personal disadvantages, that this benefactor in humble life may have had to contend with: – but little educated himself; his knowledge – desultory, partial, fragmentary; his views but little expanded; his ideas of human capabilities and interests never drawn forth beyond the confines of his own little lowly sphere of action; his own habits and conduct – uncultured, coarse, uncouth: – these disadvantages, strongly apparent, may lower the idea of his worth to our estimation.

“Not so – with God. The kind of excellence, not the extent of it, is the standard – which our Saviour reveals – for the Divine approval and acceptance. ‘My son, – give me thy heart;’ is the voice from heaven.

“So viewed: – think my friends, of the life, so suddenly passed from amongst us.

“I need not repeat to you the circumstances of the case. For, however unnoticed he may have lived for so many years, his sudden loss has excited general attention to his worth.

“You know where he dwelt. On first choosing his abode in that contentious neighbourhood; he made a resolution, that he would not suffer himself to be drawn into any of their broils; and he kept it steadfastly through a long life.

“Fond of peace, and brotherly kindness; he had another motive to this resolution. With no family of his own to provide for; his good heart led him to look abroad for objects for his fostering care. And this, he said to me, near the close of his good old age, would be enough for him to attend to; without meddling with other people’s strifes and quarrels.

“You know the little humble abode in which he lived. In that little shop he would gather the children of the poorest about him; even to numbers that astonished us to hear tell of. And there, from morning to evening, he would take care of them; and, to the best of his ability, would instruct them. Some he would feed. Some – he would clothe. In their illnesses – he would tend them with kind cherishing tenderness. He grounded them well – in some of the more useful parts of a plain education. He trained them to active use of their minds. He watched their dispositions; correcting their faults, and cherishing their better feelings. With little offers of reward, he would lead them, of their own free choice, to accompany him to the House of God. And
the only day in the seven – that he reserved to himself – as his day of rest, he watchfully procured their admission – where they might still be kindly taught and cherished. His habitual kindness to so many children, may be best inferred from the testimony, that they were all attached to him. They all loved him.
“This school – he continued for more than twenty years. So that many hundreds of children were taught and cherished by him. And he has told me himself, that he never had one – that had been long with him – who turned out ill in after life: – while many of his scholars have become highly esteemed and valuable members of society.

“This school of his was a charge of no small labour, and of no slight personal privations. He devoted himself to it with constant and penetrating attention. He was watchful and considerate in his care and treatment of each scholar, according to their several dispositions and capabilities. There was no negligence in his teaching and managing his scholars; no superficial hastiness. He was always thoroughly in earnest with them.

“When we consider – the mental effort, and the bodily endurance, requisite to sustain the assiduous care of so many children, – so many hours in the day, – crowded in so small a place; and think of his continuing this, day after day, – and week after week, – for more than twenty years: – a stranger might ask: – What remuneration he received – for all this work; – so unremitting; – so long continued? He would never receive any remuneration for it. He would accept gifts for the benefit of the poor children; but never any thing for himself. And what was given him for his scholars – was very little, compared with the good he was continually doing for them. His object was – to do good. He diligently sought out those children that were most destitute, and most neglected. And his remuneration was, in his own satisfaction; in seeing those happy – that he made so: – in seeing the children that he taught and trained – grow up – good men and women; useful and respected in life.
“It was this that encouraged him to persevere in so laborious a work, while all along he had to toil at his own humble trade for his own scanty maintenance. It was this generous satisfaction that enabled him to bear up against the ungenerous remarks and heartless pleasantries that often wounded his ear from passers-by. Cheered with this satisfaction, he willingly submitted to the often wearisome labour; persevering, when there was no novelty, no sound of popularity, to excite him; nothing, but the consciousness of doing good. And with this to sustain him; his labours were continued, with undiminished interest and assiduity, to the very last.

“He lived to a good old age; more than three-score years and ten; with no apparent diminution of mental or bodily energy: – cherishing those poor children in the spirit of Him who said, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me; for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ And, like his Saviour, he would take them up in his arms, and bless them.

“But his teaching and taking care of so many poor children – was only part of his usefulness; so constant, and untiring. He was continually going about among his poor neighbours doing good; carrying food to the hungering; and for the sick, taking suitable nourishing things, carefully prepared by his own hands. He would sit with them, and comfort them in their afflictions. He was always willing and ready to do any good service in his power for any one. And all this, with very meagre means; – hard earned; – working daily at his trade; and labouring under great bodily disadvantages, all through life from his boyhood, from his extreme lameness and deformity. No inclemencies of weather stopped him. Early and late, he was all assiduity; often far into the night, when some poor sufferer needed his aid. And many are now sorrowing for his loss.
“You have seen him striding along the street, with his eager alacrity; rough and uncouth in appearance; – lame – and deformed, to extreme unsightliness; distressing to look upon. That Form – is now hallowed to our remembrance, by the Spirit that animated it.

“He lived contented and happy. In the evening of Christmas day, as he sat, pleased to see some of his little scholars, who had shared his dinner with him, amusing themselves with play-things that he had provided for them; and welcoming neighbours coming in, with their grateful good wishes of the season, to partake of his little bounties: – he said, – looking up with bright beaming countenance: – He was as happy as happy could be! – That he hadn’t a wish on earth unfulfilled! – And now, – if it please God – to take him – before he could no longer help himself – No! – he said; very earnestly;
he did not wish to live so long – as to be a burden to any one.
“His last wish was fulfilled. That day week, – in the very midst of his active usefulness, – he dropped down, – and died.

“Our Saviour said: – ‘When thou makest a feast; call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: – for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.’

“And our Saviour says: – ‘Inasmuch as thou hast done it to unto one of the least of these, thou hast done it unto me.’

“My friends, does this Example of humble – persevering Beneficence – awaken in your hearts – no whispers of self-accusations? Have you done your utmost – to benefit others? Have you never relaxed too readily in your good endeavours? Have you never, – from personal annoyances, – or want of the charm of novelty – or popularity – to incite you, – grown weary in well doing; and suffered the good work to languish; and given yourselves up to more alluring pursuits?

“God grant, that it may not be laid to our charge – at the last, – that, – with more means. – we were less useful. Amen.”


These are some of the memoirs of the Reverend Henry Hawkes of Portsmouth who left the fullest account of John Pounds, the crippled cobbler of Portsmouth who inspired the formation of the Ragged Schools by example