When the consumptive woman died, she left four little children. It was such a test for her husband that he fell into bad habits through drink, and much neglected them. Mr. Howells one day was burdened about this, and the Lord showed him plainly that something would have to be done for these children. He asked him what He should do with them, and Mr. Howells gave Him no reply. He said, “Unless you give Me an answer, they will have to go to the workhouse.” Then He asked him, “If anything happened to your brother or sister-in-law, would you allow their children to go there?” “Certainly I wouldn’t,” answered Mr. Howells. “Why do you answer Me so quickly about your own folk,” the Lord said, “yet you have nothing to say about these four little orphans?” “Well, of course, blood is thicker than water.” “Yes, but spirit is thicker than blood!”
Things came to a crisis when the father went away and left the children. Mr. Howells’ first thought was that he would make himself responsible for them, as a guardian, and pay a woman to go to the house to look after them. That was more than many would have done, but the Lord said to him, “It is a father they need — not a guardian. I am a Father of the fatherless, but I cannot be a Father to them in heaven, so I must be one through you.”
He had to face up to what that would mean — to make a home with them and earn enough to keep them until the youngest was of age. It would mean fifteen to twenty years of his life going, and all the hopes he had of one day taking the message of the Holy Ghost to the world. Moreover, they were not his children; he had not got a father’s love for them, and there was nothing in him that wanted to do it.
It was the first test on the reality of his position as a martyr, and it came suddenly against him. It was on this that the Spirit challenged him. He was to have taken the mother’s place in consumption and death. But the Lord had taken her and brought him back as a “living martyr”. If that was real, then he must take her place now in caring for her four little ones. There was no answer to that, and he dare not question the authority of the Holy Ghost in his life. “But,” he said, “you must have God’s nature to love other people’s children as your own.” So he told the Lord, “I am willing for You to be a Father through me, but I cannot do it unless You love them through me, so that they are not like adopted, but begotten children. And to do that, You will have to change my nature.”
Really he never thought God could do it, but He did. One night by his bedside he found God’s love pouring into him — His love for the fatherless. There were no bounds to it. It went out towards those four little children — nothing now could stop him going to live with them. He felt that they had a claim on him. He put it this way, “Any child without parents has a claim on God to be a Father to him, so these four orphans had a claim on the Holy Spirit who was to be a Father to them through me.” But divine love could not be limited to four. He said, “I felt I loved every little child in the world that had no one to look after it. It was the love of God flowing through me.”
He arranged for someone to look after the children temporarily while he made all preparations to go and live with them. It was no test to him now, but all joy. However, on the very day that he was to go, three sisters of their mother said they would like to take them and give them a home. The Lord showed him that that was His provision for them, but that he had gained the position of “a father to the orphans”.
The proof of the reality of this was to be seen in the coming years. No one could live with Mr. Howells in his later days in the Bible College and see him and Mrs. Howells taking and loving children of missionaries and Jewish refugee children, some in their own home, and many in the happy home for missionaries’ children near by, without realizing the extent to which God had indeed given them the father and mother heart, which could gather, not four, but seventy, under their wings.
Commenting later on this, Mr. Howells said: “The place of intercession gained at that time holds good today. There was no need for the Lord to test it over again, unless there had been indifference or backsliding. From that gained position, one can continually pray for the orphans, and ask the Lord to be a Father to them even through others, because one only asks Him to do through another what he is willing for the Lord to do through him. That is the law of intercession on every level of life, that only so far as we have been tested and proved willing to do a thing ourselves, can we intercede for others. Christ is an Intercessor, because He took the place of each one prayed for. We are never called to intercede for sin, that has been done once and for all; but we are often called to intercede for sinners and their needs, and the Holy Ghost can never ‘bind the strong man’ through us on a higher level than that in which He has first had victory in us. ‘It cannot drive the world, until itself be driven.'”
In a wonderful way the Lord also used Mr. Howells to reveal His love to the father who had deserted the children. For over sixteen years, since he had been a boy, Mr. Howells had paid money into the Rechabites Sick Benefit Club, but the Lord now told him that he was not to keep his payment up any longer. “As the Lord had the ownership of the money,” said Mr. Howells, “I could not use it without His permission. The devil was busy warning me that I would have no provision for a rainy day, and, in plain language, my end would be in the workhouse — and all my life I had dreaded even the name of that place!” But the Lord made him stand to one Scripture: “He that gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack” (2 Cor. 8:15), so the Rechabite Club had “to go to the altar”, nor was he allowed to put in a claim for the amounts already paid.
But three months after the man had deserted his children and had also been compelled to leave the district through a gin he had committed, Mr. Howells was guided, strangely enough, to pay the arrears on the man’s Sick Benefit Club, and thereafter to keep it up to date. It was a surprising guidance, for if it had been wrong for him to pay his own Club money, how could it be right to pay this man’s? But the Holy Ghost revealed that the wrong for him had not been in paying the Club, but in the motive he had in maintaining his payments. God had called him to the school of faith, and therefore, for him, the position of faith once gained would be a complete substitute for the Club against the workhouse. “But it was equally clear,” said Mr. Howells, “that we cannot say a thing is wrong for others, just because we have been called to give it up; it depends on our position or grade in life.” So he paid this man’s Club, and no one else knew about it.
He never heard a word from the man till about five months later, when he had a letter from him saying that he was laid up in bed with consumption and had had a severe hemorrhage. For two weeks he had struggled with himself to go on his knees and ask the Lord for forgiveness, but he was too much ashamed to do so, because he had dishonored “the blessed Name”. But one Sunday morning the Salvation Army workers came in front of the house where he was staying, and while they were singing, he got out of bed, went on his knees, and received forgiveness and peace. He was now writing to say how sorry he was that he had yielded to temptation and disgraced the mission through the sin into which he had fallen, and asked the friends to forgive him, since the Lord had done so. He had no money to pay his lodgings, but the doctor had arranged for him to be taken to the workhouse the following week. When the man heard what Mr. Howells had done for him, the love of God broke him down. Instead of the workhouse, he was taken to his father’s home, and had a guinea a week for five months, until he passed peacefully away into the presence of the Lord; and his little ones had ú38 after his death. The incident had a great effect on the village, and was also a proof to His servant that the Lord could not only keep him out of the workhouse, but also keep others through him, if he gave perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit.
In all these experiences the Lord had a twofold purpose — the blessing of the needy and the transformation of His servant. “The Holy Ghost took me through grade after grade,” he said. “The process of changing one’s natures (replacing self nature by the divine nature) was very slow and bitter. It was a daily dying and showing forth the life of Christ, but that life was the life of a victim. Christ was the greatest Victim this side of the Cross, but the greatest Victor on the other; and the daily path was the way of the Cross: every selfish motive and every selfish thought was at once dealt with by the Holy Spirit. In my boyhood days the strictest man I knew was my schoolmaster, but how often I said that the Holy Ghost was a thousand times more strict-the schoolmaster could only judge by actions, but the Holy Ghost was judging by the motive.”
One evening, for instance, when his friend and he were speaking in the open air, the friend preached first, and the Holy Ghost so used him that Mr. Howells began to wonder how he would ever preach after him (he was not a gifted open-air speaker), and that grew into a thought of jealousy. “No one knew it,” he said, “but that night the Holy Ghost whipped me and humbled me to the dust. He showed me the ugliness of it and how the devil would take advantage of such a thing to damage the souls of those people. I never saw a thing I hated more than that, and I could have cursed myself for it. ‘Didn’t you come out to the open air for these souls to be blessed?’ He said. ‘And if so, what difference does it make through whom I bless them?’ He told me to confess the sin to my friend, and if ever He found it in me again, I would have to make a public confession. From that day on I have not dared to cherish a thought of jealousy, because not once did the Holy Ghost go back on His word to me. Whatever warning of punishment He had given me, if I disobeyed, I had to pay the full penalty. A person might think it was a life of bondage and fear. It would be to the flesh, but to the new man in Christ it was a life of fullest liberty. At first I had a tendency to pity myself and grumble at the penalty for disobedience, but as I saw that I must either lose this corrupt self here or bear the shame of its exposure hereafter, I began to side with the Holy Spirit against myself, and looked on the stripping as a deliverance rather than a loss.”