Brown, Louise - A Methodist 'Mother in Israel'

Brown family group in the 1920's
Louise on her 21st birthday (1910)
Hockham Chapel 1980's

Our Christmas greeting outreach to fifteen of our neighbours brought me into closer acquaintance with Brian and Judy Brown.  I knew Brian years ago as a manager at Dingles Ford Garage in Attleborough. Grateful for my leaflet, Brian has told me of his grandmother Louise Brown (1889-1965?). Born at Hockham, Norfolk and educated at Thetford Grammar School, she became a Methodist Christian and school teacher at nearby Shropham.  

During the dark days of WWII, Louise also served on the Methodist Circuit as a ‘helper’ (as she humbly called herself). Besides entertaining American B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ aircrew from the nearby Snetterton Heath base, along with her husband, she ministered in many chapels in the south Norfolk area, from Shropham and Hockham, near Attleborough to Thetford and Coney Weston, West Suffolk. 

Brian has lent me 15 scripts dated from 1942 to 1948. Currently exploring these hand-written messages, I am deeply impressed by Louise’s faithful Christian testimony.  Modern Methodists and others would benefit greatly from this series of wonderful texts. Here in rural Norfolk, unaffected by the deplorable liberalism of leading contemporary Methodists like Arthur Peake, Leslie Weatherhead, Donald Soper and others, here was a Christian lady who knew her Bible, loved her Lord and cared deeply about spreading the Gospel in these out-of-the-way communities. 

It is arguable that Louise’s family (her parents are buried in Hockham churchyard) reflected the wonderful Gospel influence of the great Primitive Methodist preacher Robert Key (1805-76), the ‘Apostle of Norfolk’, whose ministry had extended to nearby Rocklands and Attleborough. Seven of the sermons, some for young people specifically, were preached at Hockham. While the chapels have long since become private dwellings, the faithful and fragrant testimony of Louise Brown deserves the attention of a nation and culture in terminal spiritual decline. When ministers – men and women – have drifted alarmingly from their biblical moorings, though dead, this unknown ‘mother in Israel’ has much to say at the present time. As time, duties and energy permit, it is my intention to rescue the gracious legacy of Louise Brown from oblivion.                    

(22 February 2023)

MESSAGE IN TIME OF WAR

A message preached by Louise Brown at Hockham Methodist Church, Norfolk on 27th Sept. 1942

‘But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned his anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath’ (Psalm 78:38).

This Psalm is historical. The Psalmist here is going back over the pages of history, the things which parents had told to their children through many generations. He calls it opening his mouth in parables. Jesus in His day taught many things by means of parables.

People read history in different ways. Some see only what is secular and others what is religious. The Psalmist’s reading is such that he sees God in every part of it. To him it is one long parable telling to generations to come the praises of the Lord – His strength and His wonderful works. We may find it so too if we take this attitude in reading history. There is a Divine Sovereignty in human affairs, the increasing purpose runs through all the ages, God’s will is paramount; though often thwarted, and His wrath is kindled against all unrighteousness. But I think that most wonderful of all is the long suffering and patience of God which can be traced through all the centuries of history, whether it be the history of the world – or a nation or your history and mine. God is divinely patient with us. When we realise it fully it makes us ashamed and humble, or it ought to anyway.

‘But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them. Yes, many a time He turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath’. In this particular Psalm the Psalmist is referring to the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness. You know the story well. And from the beginning when God chose Moses to be their leader how patiently God listened to him as he made his excuses and showed his unwillingness to take the commission, but as He always does God promised to be with him. As I have said before many times, God never asks us to do anything for Him without supplying the necessary strength and I can assure you that it is because I trust Him and His promises that I stand up here. (I wonder if any of you had the least idea how I felt last Sunday when my name was announced. To follow such a man as Mr Scarlett). That is by the way. 

Now to return to the text. All along the journey in the wilderness did God bear with the murmurings of the Israelites and supplied their needs, and although they deliberately turned from Him, and worshipped false gods and forsook His commandments, still God withheld His wrath and had compassion on them when they turned to Him. They tempted Him, and limited His power saying, “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” To ask such a question after all He had done for them, and all the works of God which they had witnessed – and to vindicate His own honour He had to punish them, but never did He destroy them. Again and again He turned away His anger – and did not stir up all His wrath. Indeed they did not anger Him so much as they grieved Him, for He looked on them as children, and we who are parents know that the waywardness of our children grieves us. It grieves us that they make it necessary for us to punish them, and so it was with God. It grieved Him to afflict them, which He did – not willingly.

Jeremiah in his Lamentations takes up this strain. He says “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning.”

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove.
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

If instead of complaining at our lot – sometimes we pause just a while and ponder over these words, and count our blessings instead of the supposed lack of them, it will indeed surprise us what the Lord has done. The prophet Micah says, “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity. He retaineth not His anger forever, because He delighteth in mercy” Yes God is far more eager to forgive our sins than we are to ask and accept the forgiveness of them. These words bring to my mind that lovely hymn which says:

Great God of wonders, all Thy ways
Display the attributes Divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond Thine other wonders shine.

Now I think it is time we brought the text home to ourselves isn’t it? Have not we been guilty of practically all the sins of the Israelites? We have grumbled, have been impatient, have set up other gods in our hearts, and even perhaps have gone so far as to tempt God and limit His power. Haven’t we heard it said, “Why does God allow this terrible war to continue, why all this suffering of innocent children and aged people, why should my boy be taken from me and so on.” In these and numerous other – yes in many – ways we have sinned yet God has had compassion on us, and is patient and long suffering and has not stirred up all His wrath, but is waiting – waiting patiently for us to trust Him, and to put our lives into his keeping and to fear not them that may kill the body, but He who may kill the soul.

He is patient with our weakness. Think of these words: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame. He remembers that we are dust” – and didn’t Jesus take our human nature so that He should know exactly what it was to be human? As I said at the beginning, God’s will is paramount, but it is so often thwarted in many ways. By our human weakness we are apt to do this. We are often weak, when we ought to be strong. The strong are often intolerant of the weak. They are hard and unsympathetic, but God is not, and He in whom no weakness is, condescends to the weak. He knoweth our frame and is patient with our weakness. Again He is patient with our ignorance. Ignorance which never ought to be with the Light of the Gospel revealed to us as it is today. It is marvellous, this patience of God, for He is patient even with our disobedience, and does not cast us away when we turn to Him.

The crowning point of God’s patience is in the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Peter said, “I know that through ignorance ye did it.” And Jesus in His agony said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Yes, patience tried to the utmost by the ignorance of man and yet God bore with them, and He is still doing so at the present day. Is not Jesus being crucified afresh today by the indifference of people to the vital things of life, and in the awful sufferings of mankind due to this present war, caused by sin. And many other things we could mention.

God grant that we may not add to His sufferings nor presume on His patience nor abuse His long suffering and tender mercies, because there will be a climax one day, for God has said, “Because I have called and ye have refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded – I will also laugh at your calamity – I will mock when your fear cometh!!” However I will not finish on that note, for God still waiteth to be gracious. This is the Day of Grace. Now is the day of salvation. Turn to God in true penitence. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found. Call ye upon Him while He is near.”  

Just in closing I would like to add that behind all God’s patience is His everlasting love. He loved us for while we were yet sinners He gave His only Son to die for us. And it is that immense unfathomable love which prompts and controls His patience. And we who profess to be His followers must exhibit that same quality to our brethren. We know we shall never be able to repay God, nor does He expect payment – but we can show that we appreciate His mercy, by giving up our lives into His service and serving Him faithfully in whatever sphere we are placed. So shall we dedicate ourselves afresh today and by His grace and strength go forth to do our part to bring in the Reign of Peace, which Christ Himself came to establish on earth.

Author’s Note: An audio version of this transcript can be found by following the link in the following paragraph.

This Christian message is read aloud by a dear local friend who has much common with the lady who first delivered it. Both were Norfolk born and bred, both educated at the same school, and both have shared the same faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Born in 1928, our reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) was in her early teens when the sermon was preached.

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