« AnteriorContinuar »
sacrament of the Lord's Supper at the hands of Mr. Dikes, in company with John Batty, one of his father's servants, who was also the subject of serious impressions, with whom he often conversed on spiritual matters, and who had grown up into a kind of band-mate for him. The minds of both were impressed with sacred awe; vows, promises, and protestations were made; and the Week's Preparation' was not only seriously read, but its directions were rigidly observed. Though the day of liberty was still in hazy twilight, his ardour for salvation was considerably increased by the solemnity of the occasion. All was anxiety within; the spirit was struggling to be free; and the very solicitudeexperienced was so strained and overbent, that it seemed to break and prove a hindrance to itself; like a body of water, which, in consequence of its own superabundance and onward force, is prevented from finding a ready issue through the straitened sluice. He was unable to give full expression to his feelings; and hence, sat brooding over his inward wretchedness."
In the pages from which we have extracted the foregoing brief outline of William Dawson's conflict with unbelief, we think we discern an index to the character of the theology he studied or listened to. Soundly evangelical as it was esteemed, there may have been, we venture to think, a lack of encouragement to look out of self to Christ; too much insisting by inference, if not by direct teaching, on a certain amount of preparation by the law ere the troubled soul might take the Saviour to be his "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." Had the "Warrant of Faith" been more clearly exhibited, peace might have been sooner attained. He was for a long time in the kingdom of God's dear Son, but with eyes only partially opened, he could not enjoy the blessedness of the sight of the King in his beauty. In his case, however, as in that of many of his children, the Lord sovereignly permitted his servant to be thus exercised, that he might in after days be the better able to comfort the mourners in Zion but no thanks to unbelief!
Besides John Batty, William had another companion in the King's highway, who had somewhat outstripped the two; this was Samuel Settle-a somewhat significant name, by the way-who afterwards. "settled down" as a clergyman of the Established Church, and was often instrumental, by his godly letters, in settling many anxious questions propounded by William in subsequent years. This young man was, at the time to which we are alluding, servant to a miller in the neighbourhood. He had sought the Lord, and been found of him, and told his friend William that he enjoyed an assurance of the favour of God. "This was a light unexpectedly springing up in a dark place; and he kept his eye as steadily fixed upon it till he was led to the Saviour, as did the 'wise men' on the portentous 'star' that finally guided their steps to Bethlehem. . . Samuel was William's guiding star. The latter had read of Christian assurance, and had heard what he deemed something like it urged from the pulpit; but he had been led to contemplate it as the privilege only of a highly-favoured few-of saints of the highest order, and rather to be held in prospect, approaching nearer and nearer to it, till just on the verge of the grave, than to be enjoyed at present: and till now, he had never conversed with any who
experienced the blessing. He embraced every opportunity for conversing with Samuel, and of corresponding with him on the all-absorbing subject. On leaving church, they often slipped notes into the hands of each other, and thus, for some time, enjoyed the advantages of Christian fellowship." Are not these communings set down in God's "book of remembrance"? How much of our communications with "those that fear the Lord, and that speak often one to another," are thought fit by the Lord for his note-book?
In the years 1790-91 two circumstances of deepest interest to young Dawson occurred the death of his father, and his own deliverance from his long spiritual bondage, and an assurance of eternal life in Christ Jesus. He was between eighteen and nineteen years of age when his father died, and William succeeded him in the stewardship over the collieries of Sir Thomas Gascoigne, and the management of the farm; his brother, however, principally attended to the farm, on the produce of which the family chiefly depended. William Dawson thus became, at this early period of life, the father of the family.
About this time, his friend and pastor, Mr. Dikes, was succeeded in the curacy of Barwick by Mr. Graham, another godly minister of Christ," who had not been long at Barwick before the subject of these pages was enabled to lay hold on Christ by faith, and to rejoice in a sense of sin forgiven. This took place in the church, while Mr. Graham was administering the Lord's Supper, and just as he was uttering, The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy soul and body unto everlasting life; take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving:' he was overwhelmed with a sense of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and had the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him."
His biographer here tells us that "though he considered himself a member of the Established Church, yet he had, from boyhood, been in the habit of attending the prayer-meetings amongst the Wesleyans, and of hearing the local preachers in the afternoon of the Lord's-day, but without any intention or disposition to unite himself to the body. During the successive labours of Messrs. Dikes and Graham at Barwick, his attachment to the Establishment was still more strongly marked; the former minister influencing his heart by fervent zeal, the latter maintaining his authority over his intellect by superior talent; the two combined, not only nailed him to the door-posts of God's house, but exercised a beneficial influence on his character in after life; and a spirit at once so ardent, and a genius so exuberant, required the more sedate training of the clergy of the Established Church, to moderate the strength of the one, and prune the luxuriant shoots of the other." With all due respect to the "fervent zeal of the one," and to the "superior talent of the other" of these good ministers of Jesus Christ, and also to the opinion of the gifted biographer, we heartily thank the Great Husbandman that the sequel goes to prove that the very qualities which the process described would have "improved away," were his gifts, and made Dawson the successful soul winner he afterwards became, and that therefore his servant was not allowed to continue under the sole care of such under-gardeners. "Prune " as they might,
the branches of this fruitful vine "ran over the wall" and out of the reach of their pruning-knives; for the contagious influence of the Methodist locals,' and the holy fire of their prayer-meetings, were more than a match for "the more sedate training of the clergy."
Very gradual was the process by which William Dawson made manifest that he was called to the work of speaking in the name of the Lord. He continued regularly to attend Mr. Graham's ministry on the mornings and afternoons of the Lord's-day in the church, and in the evenings in the schoolroom, where Mr. Graham was in the habit of conducting a less formal service, generally selecting a chapter and expounding it in a lucid and interesting manner. Similar meetings were held on Thursday evenings in his own house, or some other private dwelling. Mr. Graham also kept a school, and during the vacation and at other times when he was called from home, "William supplied his place, read a portion of Scripture, and offered a passing remark upon it; or, as he playfully observed, in the language of an illiterate man, whom he sometimes quoted-expunged a little." Here also he often prayed, but never, in any public meeting, without a printed form. He also continued to mingle with the Methodists; and on one occasion an old class-leader called out, "Willy, go to prayer." He refused, and felt indignant at the request, but this led to great searchings of heart, and he came to the conclusion that "pride or shame was the cause of his refusal, and that neither of these were fit companions for a professor of religion in a place of worship." Soon after the old class-leader, "stuck the hymn-book in his face," to use his own words, saying unceremoniously, "Here, give out a hymn, and go to prayer." He did so, and though ashamed of himself that he "made but poorly out," continued to exhort and pray in private meetings, avoiding the formality of a sermon, but not without prayerful preparation, as meditations on passages of Scripture written at this period and found among his papers seem to show. "He began to read more freely the publications which issued from the press among the Wesleyans, and to pick up, when at Leeds, selections from their poetry," and not a few of the hymn books with which we are all familiar. He acquired a great liking for poetry, and himself attempted the composition of some hymns, together with other poetic pieces.
Finding that the diary in which he was wont to jot down the day's doings, secular and sacred, was scarcely adapted to religious purposes, and that "he required something in which to minute the workings of his soul, he commenced another-a day-book for the heart." As it is from this that we gather his desire to be devoted to the Lord's work, we give a few extracts from it. The dashes mark off entries for each respective day. The first entry is dated "April 28, 1796," and is followed by a long prayer for a blessing upon his plan thus to record the Lord's dealings and his own heart's exercises. We cull a few lines here and there as a sample: "July. A sweet nearness of soul to Jesus in private prayer-Carried away with a bad spirit-Why should God permit such a wretch to speak to him-Tasted that the Lord is gracious, and yet rather light-Spoke on Psalm lv. 6. Well may a Christian wish to be at rest. In all I do, there seems to be something of pride mixed up with it-Read Watts on the Mind'-Friday set apart for
prayer-Overcome with anger.' "August.-At Leeds. Heard Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Thom; useful sermons, but derive most profit in attending our church at home-Thursday, sweet views of Jesus and heaven. Spoke on 2 Cor. i. 3-6; if any benefit, God be praisedFeel the risings of pride-Was advised, with others, not to frequent Methodist meetings-Sweet time with Settle in the B [arn?], Lord answer our united prayer.""" October.-"Ministry of the Word irresistibly impressed upon my soul. Enable me, Lord, to follow thy will in all things.""
His anxieties about his call and fitness for the ministry were very deep, and he freely consulted Mr. Graham on the matter, who being persuaded as to his gifts and his grace, "asked him pleasantly, yet not without sincerity, whether he was disposed to exchange the drab for a black coat.' On replying in the affirmative, the Rev. interlocutor told him that he would recommend him to the ELLAND SOCIETY,' of which the Rev. Miles Atkinson, of Leeds, was a member; a society near Halifax, composed of clergymen, whose object was to recommend young men of character and talent, and to furnish them with a preparatory education, to enable them ultimately to discharge the duties incumbent on clergymen of the Established Church. Mr. Graham, with a view to pave the way to future studies, advised him to procure a Latin grammar; but like most persons who permit the teens to pass away before they enter upon the study of the foreign classics, he found it hard work to fix his mind with any degree of satisfaction on his task. After a time he returned to Mr. Graham in a fit of despondency, observing that he could make nothing of it,' that he was afraid it would crack his brain.'" He did not, however, wholly give up the attempt, for his desire was strong to enter the ministry. This longing was kept alive by the frequent letters of his friend Settle, who was at this period at Cambridge University, preparing for the church. His friend's communications were not always very encouraging, but sometimes unsettling we should think, if we may judge by the following short extract:-" Lately, I have been much engaged in the schools; and am surprised that wise men will regard such nonsense. But, the fact is, I am tired of Cambridge studies; and I am persuaded I shall always consider my time spent in Mathematics, the least beneficial of any employed in the whole course of my life. Had I been engaged in searching the Scriptures, in composing sermons, and in reading the history of mankind, I should then have possessed some useful knowledge on going forth into the world. Instead of that, I shall have spent three or four years in grammar, and three or four more in again forgetting it. Such is my tale."
Happily for the church of Christ, such was not to be Dawson's " tale," for there was long delay in obtaining any satisfactory reply to the application of his friends on his behalf to the "Elland Society," which was short of funds; but the Master had need of him, and supplied him with education in a far different college. "In addition to his arduous secular avocation; his regular perusal of the Word of God; a new sermon for some months successively for his Thursday auditory; the public ordinances at Barwick; visiting the sick; attending prayermeetings at schools and elsewhere; writing letters of reproof, advice,
and encouragement ;-he found time for the perusal of Law's 'Serious Call,' part of Fletcher's Works, of Madeley, Young's 'Night Thoughts," the Arminian Magazine,' 'D. Brainerd's Journal,' etc.; faithfully recording the effects of the latter upon his mind, and accompanying each letter with an ardent prayer to God to bless it to its intended use. He set apart days for fasting and prayer, and otherwise practised great self-denial." Without remitting his regular attendance at church twice on the Lord's-day, he sought every opportunity to hear any godly minister or evangelist who came within reach. These, of course, were nearly all Methodists. Hearing one preach in the open air a new thing to him-he caught the spirit, and was led to enter upon the same work himself.
"Doors of usefulness continued to open in different directions, and in 1798, became next to oppressively numerous. His zeal induced him readily to yield to the promptings of friendship at home, and to the calls of strangers at a distance, to favour the villages and hamlets with the word of life. Colton was the first place at which he preached and formally took a text, out of his own parish; first in the house of Grace, the next time on the stone at her door, and subsequently on the common. This led to the establishment of preaching at Whitkirk, in the vicinity, at the house of Mrs. Dean, a relative of Lady Irvin, who was much attached to him as a preacher, and was in the habit of designating him, 'My Willy."" He there preached this good lady's funeral sermon, great crowds were attracted, and they had to adjourn to the open air; it being in the night, exceedingly dark, a friend suspended a lantern to a tree that the crowd might see as well as hear the preacher," while he proclaimed, like the Baptist in the wilderness, the doctrine of the kingdom."
"With all his attachment to the Established Church, several things occurred, like so many small driftings, to bear him out of his original course." His engagements became so numerous, that by degrees he was obliged to give up attendance upon the services at church on the Lord'sday, for he often preached in places some miles apart from each other on that day. Moreover, he was more frequently at meetings of Methodist brethren; and soon 66 a further advance was made, by stepping from the outer to the inner court of Wesleyan Methodism, by attending some of their love-feasts." On one of these occasions he remarks, "I found a near approach to God. Blessed be the Lord!" He no longer was able to enjoy the services at the parish church, even had his engagements allowed of his attending. Mr. Dikes and Mr. Graham had both been removed, and the pulpit was occupied by one, of whom he observed that not only were" his notions of religion incorrect, but his life was opposed to the ministerial character."
His singular position, halting between the desire to enter the church, and the stronger attraction of immediate usefulness in winning souls to God, was at length changed to one of decision; he attended class-metings, and thus, to use his biographer's simile, passed the Rubicon. Returning to the narrative, we find that he was no less active below than above ground. His duties required him often to descend the mines under his stewardship. " He had a dress for the occasion; and after finishing his survey, he was often accosted by the colliers with, 'Come, give us a