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progress in classical learning ; being well acquainted with the Greek Testament in the fifteenth year of his age.
In the latter end of 1789, he became deeply affected by the consideration of the solemn realities of eternity. This was occasioned by a visit of Dr. Coke to his native town. The Doctor preached on “ divine illumination,” and subsequently delivered one of his favourite discourses from,“ Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her bands unto God." “ This subject,” says Mr. Hughes, “ was very interesting to me. It gratified my taste for history. I intensely wished to be able to pursue the chain of argument in reference to the origin of nations. I thought, also, that there must be something extraordinary in the heart of the Preacher to induce him to cross the ocean for the benefit of the poor negro slaves; but little did I think of the intimate friendship I should afterwards enjoy with that estimable man.” Previously to this time he had been strongly inclined to idle and hurtful amusements, especially cards; but an indelible impression was now made upon him, which subdued all those inclinations. His more thoughtful demeanour attracted the notice of his friends. His convictions of personal guilt and sin were deepened by the perusal of Fletcher's “ Address to Earnest Seekers of Salvation.” The Holy Spirit presented to his mind such views of his sinfulness, that for several months, although at times he was in some degree comforted, he was overwhelmed by the most doleful apprehensions. “Many a night"--I use his own words
-“the anguish of my mind was such that sleep forsook me; awful fears, and the most gloomy reflections, continually occupied me." Indeed, his mental distress appears to have seriously affected bis health. His friends formed no adequate conception either of the nature or intensity of the feelings which troubled him. No one directed him to that only remedy which could meet his case, the great atoning sacrifice. He says, “ The Lord gave me to see that he himself was the cause of my grief, and that it would not be removed until I knew his pardoning love. My father at length began to perceive the cause of my sorrow, and sought to comfort me; but, although he was a member of the Methodist society, he had not himself experienced the forgiveness of sins, which I was seeking after, like one groping in the dark. Many wearisome days did I pass in this state of wretchedness and unbelief. Sometimes I seemed to be given over to a rooted melancholy. Being so young, my gloomy appearance made me a laughing-stock to some of my companions at school; while others pitied me, and wondered why I was so much changed from my former self. Eternity occupied my thoughts; and I sometimes retired into the fields and woods, where I wept for hours together. My nights were often sleepless, and I would leave my bed to pray that I might be saved from the wrath to come.”
Justice requires that we should here raise a humble monument to the memory of a lame schoolmaster, generally called "lame John," whose piety was acknowledged by all. With him young John Hughes contracted a close intimacy, spent much time in his company, and received considerable spiritual aid from his conversations. This good man's heart was filled with the spirit of praise and prayer; and when his scholars had been dismissed, his friends, if they called to see him, mostly found him engaged in the devotional exercises in which he delighted. He had “ learned, in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content;” for he was enabled to maintain that sacred fellowship with God, which made him happy in the midst of poverty. Young Hughes opened his mind freely to this poor man, and often from him obtained much encouragement. More than once “ lame John” cheered him with the assurance that there was some gracious purpose to be answered by those heavy mental trials, through which his heavenly Father was permitting him to pass. “You may hereafter," the good man observed, “ be the better able to comfort others whom you may find oppressed in a similar manner.” He added, “ The Lord will come, and drive away these dark clouds."
From his conversations with this good man, and from reading Dr. Doddridge's “ Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul,” John Hughes saw clearly the difference between a renewed and an unrenewed state ; but how the transition from death unto life was to be effected, he saw not with equal clearness. Like Bunyan's “ Pilgrim," he had long felt the “great burden ;” but, as yet, he did not perceive the simple way of obtaining relief by faith in Christ. Anxious to improve every opportunity of hearing the word of God, he attended both Lady Huntingdon's and the Wesleyan chapels. Some good Calvinists told him that “he must not be cast down, but wait the Lord's time.” This increased his perplexity, so that he was as though in “ the slough of despond;” and could not see “the stepping-stones to get out. He wanted to be directed to the cross in the exercise of simple faith.
But the day of deliverance was at hand. He says, “ At length, when I had no immediate expectation of release from my bondage, the new and living way was opened to my view.” In the year 1790, he heard the Rev. John M'Kersey preach, who was then stationed in the Pembroke Circuit. His text was John iv. 10: “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” The Preacher displayed the fulness of divine mercy, and the overflowing streams of redeeming love ; and while he was thus setting forth the treasures of the Saviour's grace as free for all, the word came with power; all doubts and fears were removed in an instant; and from the fulness of his soul he could say,—
" My God is reconciled,
His pardoning voice I hear;
I can no longer fear :
And, Father, Abba, Father, cry.” His youthful heart was filled with love to his gracious Saviour and to all mankind. For some days he rejoiced with a joy unspeakable and full of glory, and afterwards possessed a calm and settled peace with God. The following Sabbath he was invited to a lovefeast, where, to the edification and surprise of many, he ventured to tell what God had done for him. He became, also, a member of the Wesleyan society, in communion with which he spent his life, and at length peacefully expired.
The Conference being held that year at Bristol, Mr. Wesley, in the course of his journey through South Wales, came to Brecon in August, and preached in the Town Hall and in Watton chapel, on the state of the church at Ephesus, and our Lord's lamentation over Jerusalem. These services appear to have produced a deep and very salutary impression upon the mind of this young convert. He observes, “I well remember Mr. Wesley going down from the Hall to the chapel, and meeting the little society, with whom were several of the constant hearers. He stayed at the door, and kindly shook hands with us all. I was the only young person presented to him.” Some months afterwards, the mournful intelligence of Mr. Wesley's death was communicated by Mr. Cricket at one of the weekly prayer-meetings. “That good man wept like a child, and said, “The Lord hath taken away our shepherd : what now shall we do ?' The funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Fish, who afterwards went to Jamaica as a Missionary. The service was attended by many respectable gentlemen of the town; for Mr. Wesley was always highly esteemed in Brecon.”
Mr. Hughes continued to cultivate his classical learning, and to improve his opportunities of doing good. He attended the means of grace, and sought to benefit the sick and the careless by visiting them, reading to them the word of God, and praying with them. His attention was also seriously directed to the works of Mr. Fletcher, of Madeley. The perusal of the Life of that excellent man, and the anecdotes of him which he heard during his visits to Trevecca, prepared him for a careful perusal of his writings; and he gathered from them a plentiful harvest of mental and moral improvement. “My belief,” he observes, “ of the doctrines there defended, was never afterwards shaken; my knowledge of the truth, as it is in Jesus, was enlarged; and I was excited to greater diligence in pursuing my way to the kingdom of God.”
During the summer of 1792, he had many anxious thoughts as to the future. He had been at the College-school five years, and could read with facility the principal works of the classical writers. His friends, having now proof of his capacity for learning, wished him to decide on advancing still farther, and to direct his attention to the established Church. His father thought he could procure his admission into St. Paul's school, London; and his uncle could introduce him to the head of his college at Oxford. To all this, however, Mr. Hughes objected; and when they spoke to him about entering into business, he felt the same repugnance. He believed that he was called to the ministry of the word ; and, though the Church of England had some attractions, yet he felt that his conscience would not allow him to leave a pious community, of the truth of whose doctrines he was firmly persuaded, for the sake of temporal emolument. It was next proposed that he should go to reside for some time with his relation, the Rev. J. Thomas. In the summer of 1793, being little more than seventeen years old, he took leave of the old College-school, his venerable Master, and his early Methodist companions, fully aware that he should have to pass through many conflicts, while modestly, but firmly, maintaining his own judgment, and preserving his conscience unstained, and his peace of mind undisturbed. His own remark, in reference to this period, is, “ It was hard work to oppose the whole family, who were so anxious to promote my worldly interests."
Mr. Hughes was fully aware of the abilities of his clerical relation, with whom he had become a resident. Mr. Thomas had now been
Vicar of Caerleon seven or eight years. He was considered a fine reader, and his sermons were generally good compositions, if any can be called such that are not expositions of evangelical truth, and addressed to the heart and conscience. Doubtless he designed to promote the improvement of his young relation in those qualities that would fit him for a respectable situation in life; but the principal aim of his nephew was to please God, without regard to the honours and wealth of the present world. His residence at Caerleon was of great -service to him in pursuing his studies. It was likewise the test of his religious principles. His relation evidently intended, by giving him more refined views, and elevating his mind, to draw him away from the Methodists. In the first point he succeeded; but in the second he failed. After spending some time at Caerleon, where he had been treated with great kindness, Mr. Hughes resolved to return to Brecon, renouncing all prospect of entering the Church, as he believed that he could not become a Clergyman without violating his conscientious convictions. He therefore went home, renewed his connexion with his former Christian friends, and waited the openings of Providence in diligent attention to duty. He therefore became a Local Preacher. It was not long, however, before it was judged proper to recommend him to the Conference as a candidate for the ministry. He was accepted, and appointed to the Cardiff Circuit. This was in the year 1796. Caerleon, where he had so lately resided, was in that Circuit. An aged widow had recently opened her house for preaching, and Mr. Hughes visited the place in his turn. One evening, while he was preaching, some young persons came to the house and behaved rudely. When the Vicar was informed of this, he was greatly displeased. The next morning he called upon Mr. Hughes, and kindly blamed him for not coming to his house to pass the night there. He was very affectionate to his nephew, and told him, somewhat humorously, that he had hardly nerve enough for such rough work, and that he would never be promoted among the Methodists.” It was not for ecclesiastical preferment that he had undertaken the office to which he had devoted his life; but he knew that fidelity would secure esteem, and the experience of his whole life proved that his judgment was correct.
Mr. Hughes's fourth Circuit was Welsh-pool, including part of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, which had hitherto belonged to the Brecon Circuit. “Mr. Hicks,” he says, “ was the Superintendent. We had indeed a rambling round. Had our situation permitted us to see each other more frequently, it would have lightened our cares and fatigues ; but we had that pleasure only for an hour or two once a fortnight. We were at that period miserably accommodated at the nominal head of the Circuit. To describe some of the scenes through which we passed would really be amusing, though at the time they were inconvenient enough. Not long before, there had been a very disgraceful riot in the town. Mr. Jennings, who was about to remove, had held a lovefeast at the close of the Sabbath-evening service, and had taken leave of his friends; but when the congregation began to retire, they were followed by a mob, uttering fierce imprecations, and yelling like savages. Some of the members of the society accompanied Mr. Jennings to the house of Mr. Roberts, where he was usually entertained. When they left the house, they found a crowd waiting for them, who followed them out of the town, knocked them down, and
otherwise ill-treated them, before they allowed them to depart. The disturbance was occasioned, however, only by some of the baser sort,' and happily was never afterwards repeated.”
In the course of the winter a society was formed at Kington. At first considerable opposition was experienced; but this hindered not the prosperity of the rising cause. The word of God, as preached by his servants, prevailed even mightily, and before long a pleasing reformation was visible in the town.
Not long afterwards, Mr. Hughes spent a few weeks in the Shrewsbury Circuit, in the course of which he visited Madeley; and had, what he felt to be, the pleasure and privilege of an interview with Mrs. Fletcher. The sight of the residence of the venerable John Fletcher both powerfully and profitably affected his mind. The pious lady first requested Mr. Hughes to engage in prayer, and then prayed herself. He observes, referring to this, " There was such solemn weight in the matter of her prayer, united to such sweetness of tone and manner, that I felt as in the presence of a Christian lady of a superior order, one who was most truly “an Israelite indeed ;' and the impressions then made on my mind will never be erased.”
At the Conference of 1800, Mr. Hughes was received into “ full connexion.” Some time before there had appeared providential openings for the promotion of religion through the instrumentality of Wesleyanism, in some parts of North Wales ; and it was proposed by Dr. Coke that the Rev. Owen Davies, with Mr. Hughes, should be sent there to further what had been so happily commenced. The measure was adopted, and what was then called the “ Welsh Mission" was thus formed. Its successful results are now matters of history. He spent several years in the neighbourhood. It was a period in which his labours were incessant and heavy; but he experienced great joy and satisfaction in witnessing the triumphant spread . of true religion. Some literary duties connected with his native language likewise devolved on him. A new edition of the Welsh Hymn-book being called for, the task of preparing it was committed to him. Though he was almost continually travelling, he found time for devoting the necessary attention to the work. It was published in 1803.
In 1805 he was appointed to superintend the Welsh Mission in Liverpool. He was likewise required to pay monthly visits to Manchester, to attend to the spiritual interests of the little flock of Cambrian Wesleyans there. They were chiefly young persons, well disposed to piety and truth. The late Dr. Adam Clarke was then stationed in the Manchester Circuit; and a friendship commenced between Mr. Hughes and him which continued to the death of that great man. A number of interesting and instructive letters from the Doctor are now before the writer. They strongly express his high opinion of the literary and religious character of his correspondent.
His next appointment was to Swansea : he had therefore what was to him the painful task of bidding farewell to his much-loved friends in the Vale of Clwyd. On his way to his new Circuit he spent some days at Ruthen and Denbigh, among the fruits of his Missionary labours --places, which, for some years, he had regarded as his home. He wrote some verses at the time, expressing his feelings ; and, because they do so, a few lines are now extracted from them :