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FOR JULY, 1832.
MEMOIR OF THE LATE REV. JAMES DOBSON,
OF CHISSHILL, ESSEX.
The subject of the present brief and hasty narrative was, with his parents, moving in respectable circumstances in Lancashire, until, by the hand of Providence, they were led to fix their abode in the metropolis of this kingdom. Shortly after this, both father and mother were called to their rest; and their orphan, while yet a child, was left to the exclusive care and protection of Heaven.
Notwithstanding this heavy bereavement, it was fully apparent that, in early youth, his whole mental character had become wedded to objects of a sublime and celestial kind. Instead of being seduced by the bewitching smiles of those pleasures to which his orphan state left him exposed, he ever displayed an entire separation from those indulgences, which, however fair to the eye, invariably lead to disappointment and pain. In him, an attachment to the holiest of causes, a fervour of character, and an unwearied zeal of effort, were the bud of promise as to future unremitting and well-rewarded labours in the vineyard of gospel
ordinances. Few men have received a more heavenly bias in childhood, or exhibited a more willing obedience in riper youth. When the period arrived at which he should personally enter upon the labours of life, he commenced a secular employment of the most important and extensive description. As a proof that religion does not unfit a man for lawful worldly pursuits, we may mention, that, so attentive and remarkable was he, even in temporal business, that he might have obtained a mark of approbation from that monarch toward whom his unbiassed loyalty was ever cherished, and often evidenced in verbal declaration and actual fact. This public tribute was offered to him while in connexion with the extensive brewery over part of which the new London Docks have since been erected. While thus occupied, his soul was not immersed in earthly things. He has often been heard to say, that he never called a dependent to labour on the Sabbath; and on a Saturday evening he has often laid aside his own clothes, and 2 E
laboured in the hottest and most unpleasant part of his occupation, so that nothing should be left to be done on the day of God. During the whole of his youth he displayed a watchful pre-eminence in his regard to the Sabbath, and, without ceasing, endeavoured to diffuse around him the same reverence for the institutions of religion. Thus he evinced that the spirit of benevolence which the Saviour embodied was taking the lead in his own heart. But, while the duties and obligations of business were met with becoming diligence, it was clearly seen that the string most responsive to the appeal of all-engrossing labour had not been left untouched, and that his heart was fully resolved to enter upon the exhausting, responsible, but glorious office of an ambassador of Christ. When the duties of the day were finished, he was often found in the cottages of the poor, breaking unto them the bread of life, and pointing the erring feet of mortals into that path which leads to happiness and God.
About this period he was united in holy bonds with the church of Christ assembling in the New Road Chapel, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Bryson. This was a step which, in the retrospect, furnished matter for sincere gratitude and joy. He was a striking proof that decision in religion, during the period of youth, is the surest safeguard from evil, and the richest source of comfort while life continues.
After this public avowal of his love to the Saviour, it became his hourly wish and prayer that his life and energies might be all consecrated to the work of winning souls. Under the fostering care of his pastor's affection and experience, he commenced a course of study with this object directly in view. His first discourse, delivered
before the church of which he was a member, was founded upon these words :—" How shall they hear without a preacher?" When this was concluded, his spiritual father immediately required him to prepare a second from the words that follow :—" How shall they preach except they be sent?" Though to a spirit zealous as his this advice had for a moment a discouraging influence, yet, in after life, he frequently expressed his thankfulness that he had been thus led carefully to examine what are the prerequisites and qualifications for that holy office which so nearly connects itself with the destinies of men.
This soldier of the cross had not long buckled on his armour before the field of labour opened before him. With unwearied fidelity, though in the midst of many trials, he ministered for God at Newport, in Essex ; until Providence guided his feet to that department of the Christian church where he lived, and laboured, and died. His first visit to Chisshill was paid on April 24th, 1795, and, after waiting for the finger of God to point out his way, he was set apart to the office of pastor on May 19, 1796.
On his arrival, the church, though venerable through age, had fallen into a condition of the most alarming decline. The sanctuary was almost deserted, and the church composed of at most but three members.
Amidst these depressing circumstances, faith and hope were the anchor of his soul. At the close of the account of his ordination, he carried his immortal and now happy spirit to the Ebenezer which be so devoutly reared; and the prayer and hope with which he closed the report in the church-book are in these words: — "Thus has God, for more than a century, maintained his own cause. May he loDg tot
tinue to shine upon his people here, and, as long as time shall last, continue his candlestick and a light among them. Amen."
He who despises not the day of small things was graciously pleased to hear his servant's prayer, and to answer it with a blessing so copious that there was not room enough to receive it. After a new erection, and several subsequent enlargements, the subject of this memoir beheld himself the honoured shepherd, amidst a united and affectionate congregation of 800 souls. In his last hours he looked back upon the way in which God had led him, and bore this rare but honourable testimony respecting his bereaved flock :—" / was never, during the period of nearly forty years, for a tingle hour made uneasy by my church." This his mourning family desire to write as in letters of brass, and to lay it in the rock as a memorial of them before the Lord for ever and evermore. Oh, that every minister had such a church, and every church such a minister!
The course of ministerial exertion, which was commenced in a spirit of devotion, was carried on with increasing vigour, until bodily maladies began to exert over mental energies a damping and impairing influence. Still, however, this beloved individual exhibited a beautiful instance that a celestial inhabitant may tenant a frail tabernacle, which the wind has shaken, and the storm made to tremble. His heart was ever in his work; and,the moment disease had a little subsided, every particle of strength was laid on that altar where both the gift and the giver are sanctified. A cloud of witnesses remain who well know that the motto which influenced him, both in the study and the pulpit, was this :—" I seek not yours, but you." On several occasions, when his countenance resembled the pale hue of death,
he would be carried toward the table of communion, that he might once more preside at the feast of love. The last time that this privilege was granted, the flock of Christ will never forget how his spirit appeared to heave with intensity of holy joy, and how the fire of celestial rapture once more beamed in those eyes which are now so tranquilly closed in death. All perceived, while with a faltering voice he spoke of glory to come, that, though his body was perishing, his inner man was renewed day by day, and that not the very chill of death could damp his ardour in the cause of God.
Naturally irritable, and keenly susceptible of feeling while in health, when the ravages of his last sickness commenced, it appeared that his soul was visited by a power which produced a perfect tranquillity, and so soothed his mind that not a wave of trouble was suffered to roll across his peaceful breast. Every pain arrived and was welcomed without a complaining thought. He was the image of peace and quiet, like that of the summer's eve, which left nothing to ruffle or agitate the calm surface of his mind.
By those best acquainted with his peculiar cast of character, and reserve of disposition, it will not be expected that those ecstacies which others have enjoyed, should remain to be recorded as characterising his exit from the land of pilgrimage. Indeed, it was with marked reluctance that he received accounts of this nature respecting others. He considered the placid resignation of a soul matured for heaven as far more becoming that chamber where the good man meets his fate. Nor was it necessary that in his case such a testimony should be given. His people knew his heart, for his sermons were his experience, and the pulpit one of his places of self-examination. From many facts, it is known that lie was fully aware that his stewardship was about to close; but he felt no alarm; and, while leaning upon the top of his staff, he showed that he had left nothing unfinished, but that, instead of leaving the work of religion for a sick chamber alone, he lived as he wished to die. In confirmation of this, a few instances may be recorded. Amidst the severest attacks of disease he often said, "The greatest part of my affliction is my absence from my work." To a long-tried friend he thus expressed all that piety could prompt, or weeping relatives require :—" I know in whom I have believed; I have one refuge, and I desire no other." On the morning of the Sabbath he had no wish for a renewal of strength, except that he might recommence a subject which had been, and is still,
his theme. His words were, " Oh, that I could preach to-day on this subject: 'I will sing of mercy!'" and immediately added, "but that is a theme that will never end." To a relative he said, in the near prospect of death, "I could wish to live for my beloved family;" and then checking himself he added, "I desire to have no will of my own—the Judge of all the earth must do right I"
Thus died this devoted servant of the Lord, at the age of sixty-one years, after being the pastor of the church in which God had made him an overseer thirty-eight years. His happy spirit took its flight on the first hour of the Sabbath, May 6th, as he was peacefully sitting in his chair. "Tell me, my soul, can this be death?" "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace!"
(To the Editor of the Evangelical Magazine.)
Sir,—Many ministers have their hearts desolated by the lamentable state of their prayer-meetings. There is not one out of ten of their hearers who frequent these invaluable ordinances. To what can this be attributable? Is it not to be feared that the low state of religion is the true cause? Were there a greater thirst after communion with God, might we not expect to see it evidenced by a spirit of social prayer? No wonder that we do not hear of more conversions, when churches, as such, wrestle so little with God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Is there not, moreover, a great want of spiritual endowment in many who frequent our prayer-meetings, and take part in conducting them? How cold and formal are many of the prayers ofTered up to God on these occasions! How many vain repetitions abound in them! And how little do many of them breathe of the spirit of devotion and love! Ought it not to be understood, in every Christian church, that membership involves the
obligation of attending the prayer-meeting? And ought not punctuality in this matter to be regarded as essential to high reputation in the Christian life? In the church to which I belong, one-half of the members do not attend the prayer-meeting; and it is no unusual thing for some of the deacons themselves to be habitually absent. Yet the minister is so punctual in his attendance as scarcely ever to be away; and never allows a whole month to elapse without pressing the subject most affectionately upon the attention of his hearers. Upon inquiry, I find that many other churches are in no better condition than my own; so that I am really greatly alarmed for the interests of vital religion among us.
May I suggest the propriety of all our ministers and private Christians setting themselves with fresh vigour to repair the devotional spirit of our churches? Let faithful pastors preach on the subject again and again, till the attention of their hearers is roused, and till, by the effusion
of the Spirit of grace and supplication, all things in the church are found to revive.
One word more, and I have done: let those who take the lead in our prayerlueetings study those qualities which are fitted to make them attractive and edifying. Let them study propriety, fervour, adaptation, and brevity. I think that
tedious and dull prayers tend much to discourage some valuable persons from •attending our prayer-meetings. I do not justify their culpable neglect; but I do say to the individuals referred to, remove this stumbling-block out of the way of your brethren. May God bless this hint to the good of many!
Mr. Editor,—As an aged minister permit me, through the medium of your pages, to express the very painful sense which I entertain of the bad taste which is evinced bymanyofmy younger breth ren in the present day. I do not charge them with the neglect of vital truth, nor do I believe them to be indifferent to the conversion of souls; but I do fear that they are in danger of cultivating an intricate and ornamental style of composition, too far removed from the associations of ordinary minds.
Now I would venture to suggest to my beloved young friends, that such a course is not more inconsistent with the solemn demands of conscience, than it is with the dictates of sound taste, and the most approved models of pulpit eloquence. If my younger brethren will allow me to speak freely, I will make bold to tell them, that the labor verborum is too generally dissociated from genuine vigour of thought; and that the most intricate preachers are, in general, the most uninteresting. It is quite common for a spruce young divine to hide the poverty of his thoughts in a heap of cramp words and involved sentences. A more excellent way would be to search for valuable
thoughts, and to allow them to fall into their own natural forms. I must say that the pious clergy of the Church of England are justly famed for the simplicity of their pulpit compositions; and that, if the young men who are leaving our Dissenting Academies do not imitate them in this particular, there is the utmost danger of the poor and unlettered being driven from our sanctuaries. It is a sad mistake for any minister to imagine that he will increase his acceptance or usefulness by a style elevated above the conceptions of the ordinary run of his hearers. It is absurd and wicked to preach to the few, when, by addressing ourselves to the many, we may preach to all. Conceit is one of the most unhappy qualities that can be chargeable upon a minister of the cross. I beseech my dear young friends to study simplicity of style and riches of thought. This will screen them from many painful censures, will augment the sphere of their usefulness, and will confer on them every desirable measure of popularity. I have laid these hints before them as the result of having heard many distressing remarks on the subject to which they refer.
HINTS IN REFERENCE TO THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND: OR, A CAVEAT AGAINST BIGOTRY.
(To the Editor of the Evangelical Magazine.)
Sir,—I have been much concerned of late to perceive, among some highly respectable Protestant Dissenters, a growing spirit of opposition to the Church of England. In periodicals, tracts, and sermons, I think I have more than once marked this hostility; and I must say I anticipate but little benefit to the interests of evangelical truth from the prevalence
of such a habit, and still less to the cause of separation from the National Church. It may be pleaded, indeed, that some of the clergy are constantly employed in hurling their anathemas against the nonconformists, and that others are endeavouring to undermine their plans of usefulness; but allow me to say, that the example of such bigots ought not to be