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WESLEY PREACHING ON HIS FATHER'S TOMB.
« The natal soil to all how strangely sweet!
The place where first he breathed, who can forget?” Tas engraving presented to our readers with the first Number of the “ Miscellany,” for the year 1861, represents one of the most impressive and deeply-interesting incidents in Wesley's long and marvellous career. He had commenced his glorious itinerancy and proclaimed the Gospel in many pulpits of the land, and to gathering crowds in the open fields and market-places of the country; and now the time had come when his native neighbourhood must hear his trumpet-voice calling sinners to repentance, and offering them salvation in the name of Christ. The last time he was on the spot where he first breathed the vital air was to commend his dying sire to the mercy of God, give security for the payment of some of his father's debts, and commit the dear old man's body to its last resting-place, in sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. Seven years had passed away, during which time he had obtained the blessing of a new heart, published many admirable books, both in prose and verse, preached thousands of sermons, laid the foundations of a distinet Christian community, and filled the whole United Kingdom with his fame.
On Saturday, June 5th, 1742, he arrived in Epworth, and “went to an inn in the middle of the town," not knowing whether there were any left in it who would not be ashamed of his acquaintance. He had not gone, however, to pay a quiet visit to the cottage of his birth, to roam unknown over the scenes of his boyhood, or to weep at the shrine of his honoured sire. He was on the “King's business ;' he had “a message from God," and he must make himself known in order to deliver it. His name had become “familiar as household words” to the dwellers of his native place. The very truths which he preached had been proclaimed there, and he found a company of disciples who gladdened his heart with the clear statements of their own inward experience of the things of God. The first to greet him was an old maid-servant of his father's, who hastened to him with two or three other poor women. The “man of one business" was instantly made manifest. There was no talk of old times; no gossip about the old people who knew him when he was a boy. He had a higher mission, and at once began to fulfil it. “Do you know any in Epworth who are in earnest to be saved ?" was almost his
grace of God; and I know I am saved through faith,” “Have you then
VOL. VII. - Secon1 Series.- JANUARY, 1861.
WESLEY PREACHING ON IIS FATHER'S TOMB.
the peace of God? Do you know that He has forgiven your sins ?" “I thank God, I know it well : and many here can say the same thing."
The next day was the Sabbath, and, as was his wont, Wesley called upon Mr. Romley, the Curate, a little before service-time, and offered to assist him, either by preaching or reading prayers. The Curate, however, was no friend to the new evangelical movement, and declined the offer. The church in the afternoon was densely crowded, a rumour having spread abroad that Wesley was to preach. Mr. Romley girded himself for the occasion, and, “ in a very florid and oratorical manner,” warned the vast congregation against quenching the Spirit by enthusiasm. The sermon was distasteful to most of the hearers, who had gone expecting to hear Wesley expound and enforce his own doctrine, and not to hear him and his teaching assailed. As the vast congregation streamed from the church-porch, John Taylor-of whom we know nothing more *-gave notice that “Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church,
At the hour of six “such a congregation as Epworth never saw before" covered the places of the dead, earnestly awaiting the arrival of the faithful evangelist. Near the east end of the church, “ toward the sunrising,” there is "a plain grit tomb-stone, supported by brick-work," on which is cut the following inscription :
incarnate: and the only
Acts iv. 12.
Rev. xiv. 13. f
* The American historian of Methodism says that this was “ David Taylor, Lady Huntingdon's servant, who was with” Mr. Wesley. This is a manifest error, as is evident from the following passage which Wesley wrote eight days afterwards on leaving Epworth:-“Monday, 14th. Having a great desire to see David Taylor, whom God had made an instrument of good to many souls, I rode to Sheffield.” It would be well if Dr. Stevens's interesting volumes were a little more accurate in dates and names, both of persons and places.
+ Pressing and continuous engagements having prevented my visiting Epworth WESLEY PREACHING ON HIS FATHER'S TOMB.
Here, on this solemn spot, Wesley takes his stand, and over the ashes of his sainted father, and the former Pastor of his assembled hearers, he announces that, “ the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” What emotions must have stirred his heart, what thoughts and reminiscences must have swept through his mind, during that one service! Among the thousand topics which rose to his memory would not his departed sire's last words hold a prominent place? “Be steady,” said the venerable man, as he laid his trembling hands upon the head of his youngest son, “Be steady. The Christian faith will surely revive in this kingdom: you shall see it, though I shall not.” Blessed words ! so prophetic at the time of their utterance, and so soon to be fulfilled by the godly toils of his own gifted sons. Whatever Wesley felt on this memorable occasion, he locked up the secret in his own breast : not one word in his Journals or letters hints at any peculiar emotion. He has been accused of great want of feeling for standing over his father's remains, even to publish the Gospel ; and Southey, who undertakes to rebuke the accusation, supposes him to have been infiuenced in his selection of a rostrum by the conviction, “that he should derive a deeper passion from the ground upon which he stood; like the Greek tragedian, who when he performed `Electra,' brought into the theatre the urn containing the ashes of his own child !” All this may be very pretty and very classical ; but to apply it to John Wesley shows a lamentable ignorance of his true character. He was neither stoic, enthusiast, nor play-actor ; but a sober, earnest, and godly Minister, who never descended even to tricks of oratory, much less to tricks of the stage, under the false idea that they would give effect to the truths which he proclaimed. His father's tomb was probably the most convenient spot for commanding his congregation, “and he had not stood with a holier or more reverential feeling beside that grave” when his eyes rained down their rivers of tears upon his father's coffin than he now stands over the very spot and preaches “the kingdom of God.” To his congregation the scene was, no doubt, impressive and monitory; and Wesley, with his accustomed facility of seizing hold of every circumstance calculated to render his discourses impressive, might possibly press the fact into the service of illustration ; but that he deliberately selected this solemn standing-place for the sake of effect, is a flight of fancy too wonderful for our wildest imaginings to take.
Eight successive nights did he stand upon the same spot; and in few places during his whole life did he preach with more glorious results. Every day the interest became more intense ; and every night augmented crowds hung upon his lips, and felt that his doctrine dropped as the rain, his speech distilled as the dew, “as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass,” because he published the name of the
before writing this paper, I have been compelled to take the inscription at second-hand. It is copied from Dr. Clarke's “ Wesley Family," where the Doctor says, “ I give it line for line with the original.” I have no doubt, therefore, of its accuracy,
WESLEY PREACHING ON DIS FATHER'S TOUB.
. (Deut. xxxii. 2, 3.) On the sixth night he expounded and applied Ezekiel's vision of the resurrection of the dry bones : "and great indeed was the shaking among them; lamentation and great mourning were heard; God bowing their hearts, so that on every side, as with one accord, they lift up their voice and wept aloud.” The seventh night was more remarkable still. He preached from one of his favourite subjects,— “the righteousness of the law, and the righteousness of faith ;” and, while he was speaking, “ several dropped down as dead; and among the rest, such a cry was heard, of sinners groaning for the righteousness of faith, as almost drowned” his “ voice. But many of these soon lifted up their heads with joy, and broke out into thanksgiving; being assured they now had the desire of their soul,—the forgiveness of their sins.”
On this memorable night, also, there was one case of religious awakening too deeply interesting to be passed over without a separate notice. Somewhere in the neighbourhood there resided a wealthy, godless man, in well-to-do circumstances, who boasted that he was “of no religion," and had not been to any service of public worship for more than thirty years. From some motive or other he swelled the crowd of Wesley's hearers; and the Preacher's earnest and pungent appeals found a way to his heart. At the close of the sermon he stood motionless as a statue. Wesley, who had observed him during the service, asked him abruptly, “Sir, are you a sinner?” “Sinner enough !" was the prompt reply: " and he continued staring upwards till his wife and a servant or two, who were all in tears, put him into his chaise and carried him home.” Nearly ten years afterwards Wesley found this same gentleman still in the neighbourhood, “and was agreeably surprised to find him strong in faith, though exceeding weak in body.” For some years" he had been rejoicing in God, without either doubt or fear; and was then waiting for the welcome hour, when he should depart and be with Christ."
The eighth and last night of his stay, the devoted evangelist preached on the beginning of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, to “a vast multitude gathered from all parts." He continued among them nearly three hours, from six to nine; and they then scarcely knew how to part. As he surveys the result of his week's hallowed toil, and looks upon the whitened harvest-field inviting the sickle of the reaper, he exclaims, “O, let none think his labour of love is lost because the fruit does not immediately appear! Near forty years did my father labour here; but he saw little fruit of all his labour. I took some pains among this people too; and my strength also seemed spent in vain. But now the fruit appeared. There were scarce any in the town on whom either my
father or I had taken any pains formerly, but the seed sown so long since, now sprung up, bringing forth repentance and remission of sins.”
We should, however, form but a very imperfect conception of the labours of these eight days of refreshing, if we confined our attention to the evening scrmon delivered from the tombstone. Epworth was made the head of a Circuit for the time being, from which Wesley sallied forth, on horseback or on foot, to many surrounding villages. Burnham,