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By Thomas S. Sheardown
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In sending this work to the press, it can truly be said that its subject has contributed his share solely to gratify many old and new friends, and in deference to their view of its utility rather than his own. He is responsible only for that which appears as his.
The Sketch of his Life is printed as it fell from the venerated author’s lips, except that verbal repetitions have been erased, a few omissions were afterwards supplied by him, and some narratives are so transposed as to make the whole as far as practicable appear in the proper order of time. The language—the forms of expression—have been retained, so as to make the whole an exact representation of Elder Sheardown—as he was, and as he is.
It is not issued as a literary recreation, but is designed to meet the wishes of very numerous deeply attached admirers of the man, and for all honest, hearty workers in the Lord’s vineyard, who may open the volume. It is a deserved (though imperfect) memorial of one of those self-denying, pioneer ministers of the Gospel, whose abundant labors have been largely blessed in laying broad and deep the foundations of Christian churches. His graphic portraitures of godly, active church members, on both sides of the Atlantic, may also, it is hoped, be of lasting benefit beyond the bounds of his acquaintance.
It may be asked, by some at a distance from the scenes of his labors, why a minister whose friends require this printed volume, even in his life-time, has not a more extended reputation? The query will be answered in the contemplation of the unremitting efforts revealed in the following pages. Yet it may be well here to say, that, as far as the writer has known or heard, Elder Sheardown has always been content with his field, and, unambitious of distinction abroad, wished to be "counted faithful" at home. He had passed the "half-way house of life," and had the charge of a large family, when he was set apart to the work of the ministry—and then began, literally in the woods, to organize conferences, and churches, which claimed him as their under-shepherd. To those bodies, individually and collectively, he gave his heart and hands, with a characteristic affection, solicitude, and devotion. Those scattered flocks he could not leave, except as he extended his lines of labor beyond them. From a log cabin in the primitive wilds of Catlin, his circuit advanced on every hand, and absorbed all his time and all his heart. Year by year his Gospel range widened, but—like a true husband and father—he always returned to his own house for encouragement, and then undertook wider excursions. Taking the south end (or head) of Seneca Lake for the centre of his field, the outlines of his "diocese," as Missionary or as Evangelist, extended to the borders of Lake Ontario on the north, to Binghamton on the east, to Jersey Shore (Pa) church on the south, and to Whitesville, Allegany County, N.Y. on the west—the most distant point not being one hundred miles from his original church. In Chapter VIII, the reader will find an incidental notice of temptations—to quit the ministry, to vary his doctrines, and to seek a more popular and remunerative field—which were made and heroically subdued. These records will, it is hoped, be of material benefit, also, in showing that every field of labor affords sufficient material for any preacher’s best endeavors. Thorough cultivation—continuous and unremitted—is an essential to success in the moral world as in the physical. And there is force in the suggestion of a late aged minister, "Whether, in view of the increasing ease with which is rent asunder the tender, holy, and confidential relation which should exist between pastors and people, God hath not a controversy with many of his churches?"
To the thousands who have heard the subject of this work from the stand or pulpit, no description of his person or manners is necessary. But, for the gratification and benefit of others—children of his former hearers, and entire strangers—it may be well to make a passing reference to his peculiarities, as gathered from persons who knew him best when he was in the meridian of all his powers.
Elder Sheardown is about five feet ten inches in height—compactly built, with no waste flesh—firm, flexible, strong of muscle—of a dignified, easy carriage, piercing eyes, and serious, commanding expression. He seems to have been always temperate—unless his multifarious efforts to preach the Word may have been excessive—industrious, frugal, constantly engaged in something practical, something useful.
As a speaker, he had naturally a very strong voice, and exhibited proof of his mixed ancestry, combining some of the smoothness of English oratory with the bold fervor of the Welsh. One minister, when asked to describe the nature of Sheardown’s eloquence, said he could not analyze it; it appeared to him something like the sweep of a mighty whirlwind through a forest, prostrating in its course every tree, great or small, and giving living proof of irresistible power. A brother who heard him at Seneca Falls, in 1840, states that he was fairly magnetized by the peculiar traits of the speaker. He had never heard of Elder S., previously—but, from the outset, was rapt in admiration, not less with the solemn and momentous character of the truths presented, than with the torrent of burning words that rolled continuously from his lips, and the vehemence of his emotions. Every part of his body spoke with his tongue—the tears and perspiration seemed to mingle and flow from his face in streams—and there could not have been a dry thread upon his person.
The amazing energy of his administration of the Gospel message, rendered it impossible for his hearers to be wholly careless or asleep. The impressions of his preaching were indeed powerful, and often lasting beyond his knowledge. Eternity only can reveal the full fruit of his endeavors to win souls to the Redeemer.
His sermons were noted for their simplicity and evangelical character. The Bible was his standard of right and wrong. From it he found a lesson for saint and sinner, and each could understand the portion designed for himself. It is perhaps unfortunate that he never wrote a sermon—and to have reported one, when in the flush of his noon-day years, would have been as difficult as to have described thunder-peals while the rain was dashing upon one’s roof. He studied his sermons, and had the subject-matter at command, but not the particular words, nor was the order always chosen before-hand. Some sketches of discourses, taken down by others, are expected for the Appendix to this work, but with no hope of clothing them with the life and glow of their delivery. They are skeletons—but only skeletons, and may suffice as outlines of his sermonizing. The rich, original, world-wide illustrations, and his apt quotations (in prose and verse) must be left to the memory of those who heard, or the imaginations of those who read.
Elder Sheardown was happy in choosing texts, and in selections of unexpected emergencies; and his well worn Concordance, his ancient "breeches Bible," and various Scripture helps, rarely confuted the impressions of his tenacious memory. In the pulpit, he was perfectly at home, and self-possessed—scanned his audience critically, reading them through as though they were transparent glass—and became "all things to all men that he might by all means save some." His public performances were rarely if ever prolonged so as to become tedious, for he knew when and where to stop—a knowledge of human nature quite desirable in this fast age.
He as eminently and emphatically a man of prayer, and in that exercise was most importunate—pleading with God as a trusting child asks a loving parent for that which can and will be granted. He prayed in faith—believing—and this work contains many instances of answers to fervent supplications. When singing, it was with a will. In public and private exercises, the same large-heartedness, and "whole-souled," straight-forward devotedness, characterized him. His daily walk and conversation convinced even unbelievers that his were the sincere out-breathings of one consecrated, soul and body, to the service of a Master he truly loved.
But the bow, always bent, loses its elasticity. He knew how to withdraw his mind in social relaxation, as well as how to concentrate it on the One Great Object. He can readily weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. One of the most genial of companions, he has always attracted, as with "hooks of steel," personal friends, male and female, of all ages and positions in life. Considering the stern nature of his work—preaching the self-denying doctrines of the Cross, so repulsive to the carnal mind, amid the antagonisms of evil and error he has encountered on every side—God has graciously shielded him from great abuse and bodily harm, and scattered much joy and gladness along his pathway.
Should any be disposed to think "that great, little word, I" is used quite often in this work, let it be remembered that it professes to be an auto-biography—that is, a record of one’s life as related by one’s self. From its very nature, that which, in another work, might appear egotism, is not in this. Elder Sheardown is the subject, and was requested to prepare it, and therefore we would and should expect a book chiefly about Elder Sheardown. He has "stuck to his text" as literally as most preachers do, and could hardly have been less personal and at the same time have answered the object in view and the earnest desire of long-tried, exacting friends. His generous and spontaneous allusions to worthy individuals with whom he has been associated, although not always essential to the main design, give vent to his intense feelings of love and gratitude, and show that he desires, incidentally, to place on record the labors of others as well as of himself.
When we engaged to issue this work, we stated that it would appear "as soon as practicable, the coming Autumn," and "contain, probably, 400 pages, and be sold at $1.50 per copy. That was at the close of the armed phase of the Rebellion, when it was believed there would be a fall in the rates for paper and for labor generally. Illness on the part of the Editing Publisher has delayed the printing, and the continued high prices of labor, paper, and everything connected with the publication, compel an increase in the price above what was intended.
While reading, it will be borne in mind, that, in the State of New York, the word "town" designates a sub-division of a county, and may include one or more villages. Some of the latter are "incorporated," while others are unincorporated. In Pennsylvania, similar sub-divisions of a county are called "townships," while the word town means an unincorporated, and "borough" or "burg" an incorporated, village. In this work, localities in those States are generally given in accordance with the legal designations of each—"town," in New York, being equivalent to "township" in Pennsylvania.
On every copy of this book, sold, a portion, satisfactory to Elder Sheardown, is secured to him or to his family.
Lewisburg, Pa., August, 1865