Shortly after Mr. Howells had handed over the mission to his friend, the anticipated letter came from London asking him to go up the following week to be Mr. Gosset’s guest. His first thought was that he couldn’t go, because he had been called to gain this new place of intercession, and it would take three months. He went to bed feeling he had made a real sacrifice, but the next morning the Lord asked him. “Why are you not going to London?” “Because of my intercession.” “Why, can’t you intercede in London?” The Holy Spirit would always probe down to the very root of the self He wanted to get at. “Tell Me your real reason for not going,” He said. Mr. Howells had to confess that it was because he could not face going to London without his hat. “I had victory over being without one at home,” he said, “but going to London like that to be the guest of people of rank was out of the question. I knew Mr. Gosset would never allow me to insult him. I was sensitive to other people’s feelings, and, after his kindness, I would have refused any amount of money rather than do that. The hundred and one excuses the flesh made! But the Holy Ghost would have none of them. He had planned all this to prove whether I would obey Him rather than man. People say very flippantly sometimes that if; is an honour to be a fool for Christ’s sake, but it is quite another thing actually to be called to do it by the Holy Ghost.”
The conflict was sharp. It even came into his mind momentarily whether it was possible to turn back from “this life of surrender, this bondslave life, this daily dying, and just live an ordinary Christian life, and preach the Gospel and help the poor,” as many of his friends did. But the Spirit held him to the reality of his “living martyr” position, with no more claim on his life down here than a dead man has. There was some questioning, as there always was until he actually came up to becoming one with the Holy Ghost in what He was doing, but he knew he had no choice in the matter, and he would not dare show any real unwillingness, lest he should forfeit the privilege of his martyr position.
The Spirit “who never pushes” drew him with the cords of love, by showing him the bitter cross the Lord bore. As the Scripture says: “He had no form nor comeliness; He was despised and rejected of men, smitten of God and afflicted.” “In the mission,” said Mr. Howells, “we used to sing: “Where He leads me I will follow… I’ll go with Him through the Garden, I’ll go with Him all the way.”
But what a bitter struggle it was to go with Him now! I asked Him to show me through the Scriptures that He had called His servants to do this kind of thing before, in case Mr. Gosset and his friends asked me to give them Scripture for what I was doing. If He did that, then I said I would go. Like a flash He brought before me John the Baptist and Elijah: the one clothed only in a garment of camel’s hair and his food locusts and wild honey, the other spending three and a half years between a cave and a widow’s home, where they were eating the last meal every day. This had been their way of the cross to power.
“The Lord would always corner me, and then I would laugh and say, ‘Yes, Lord, You pull me through.’ So I gave in, but this time I had grumbled a little, and when He reminded me of John the Baptist, I was afraid He might send me to London without something more than a hat! So I kept myself busy all that day, in case He would add a little more to the obedience.”
The day came to go to London. His mother had become used to his being without a hat in his own home town, but she had it ready and well brushed that morning. That was the first test! The devil also suggested to him that it would be better to take a cap in his pocket in case it rained; but he had to say that an umbrella would be more appropriate!
When the train was steaming into Paddington, he said he felt like a man going to the scaffold! Mr. Gosset was there to meet him and gave him a royal welcome as he stepped out of the carriage. Then he put his head into the compartment and said, “You have left your hat behind.” “No, I didn’t bring one with me.” “What! Coming to London without a hat! Oh dear no! You must realize, Rees, that you are not in the country now. “You cannot come to London without a hat.” “Then I must go back.” “It is not a question of going back,” Mr. Gosset replied; “it is a question of wearing a hat.”
“I never pitied any man as I did my host,” said Mr. Howells, “when we drove from Paddington to Piccadilly in an open cab. He was as red as a lobster, On the way he said, ‘I have a new cap at home, and it is a very expensive one; it does not fit me, and I will give it you.’ I had to tell him then, that if I were given all the caps in London for wearing one that side of Christmas, I would not take them, because to go without a hat was one of my positions of abiding to gain a place of intercession. He told me afterwards that his pride had never been touched as it was then. The Lord had tried to reach it before, but he would not allow anyone to get near it. He said he had blushed more during that drive than in all his lifetime before.”
If the cap had aroused such conflict, what about the fasting and plain food? What would he think of “Daniel’s menu”? While waiting for the meal, he read out to Mr. Howells all the invitations to dinner. “What a burden came over me!” Rees said. “Another stand had to be made. I knew I could only take two meals a day of the simplest food, so what was the use of the dinners? I didn’t say a word; I could never speak until I was compelled to, and I didn’t have too much strength to tell it even then! The bell went and we sat down to dinner. ‘All this., has been prepared for you,’ he said, ‘and I want you to taste everything on the table.’ Then I had to confess that for the next three months I was only to take two meals a day, of bread and cheese and soup! He put both hands up, and exclaimed, ‘What have you done with me, Rees? Who will they say my guest is? One of the old prophets?’ We both had a great laugh, and I told him the test it had been to me to obey the Lord and go to London.. I told him that to insult him after all his kindness was more than I had bargained for when I took my place of abiding. ‘To think you are doing all this to reach lost souls,’ was his reply, ‘and here I am now an old man, and I have done practically nothing to reach them.’ Then he told me, ‘Don’t disobey God even if the king should invite you to dinner’; but at the same time he said, ‘I can’t walk with you in Piccadilly! You will have to walk two yards in front or two yards behind me!’ We laughed for hours. Such a cross, but such a glorious victory!”
Mr. Gosset took him to visit his friends, and he had “a great welcome and a great time with them all, especially with Lord Radstock and Sir Robert Anderson. The Lord was testing me to see whether that class of society would touch me, and I could say I was dead to it all.”
But only on the last day did God’s real purpose in the visit come to light, The night before he left, Mr. Gosset came to his room, and said, “God has revealed something to me. He has told me He is going to bless my house because you are here, as He blessed the house of Obed-edom, because the Ark of God was there.” As he spoke, Mr. Howells said, “The place was filled with God, I could hardly stand it.” The next morning, the Lord led Mr. Howells to read about the Shunammite woman, and to say to Mr. Gosset, “Do you know you have done exactly the same to me as that woman did to the prophet? And I, too, am to ask, ‘What is to be done for thee?’ Any blessing you would like from God He is going to give you.”. He broke down and wept. He had one great desire, he said; that his son in the army, Captain Ralph Gosset, who had left the paths in which he was brought up, and was returning from Africa, should not bring discredit on the family. “God will do more than that,” answered Mr. Howells. “He will not return to the army without being a converted man.” It was to be a fulfillment of the Saviour’s word to the seventy: “Whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it.”