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By Thomas S. Sheardown
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My Birth, Parentage, Education, Mercantile Employments, Conversion, and Baptism—Peculiar and Profitable Usages of the English Baptist Churches—invited to the Village of Skidby, and, with much trepidation, opened my mouth for Jesus—Called to Account by my Church—Received Approbation to Improve my Gifts for Speaking.
I was born, November 4th, 1791, in Little Coats parish, near Great Grimsby, in the county of Lincoln, England. My father, JOHN SHEARDOWN, was pure English; my mother, whose maiden name was ANN RABY, was mixed with Welsh. Religiously, they were strict adherents of the Established Church, until a few years before I was born, when they were hopefully converted, joined the Dissenters, and became members of an Independent church, (a branch of believers who most resemble the Congregationalists of any church in America.) At my birth, however, they had me "christened," and I had my "god-fathers" and "god-mothers," according to the Episcopalian formula. Consequently, the clergyman of that church considered me one of his lambs, and under his watch-care. I distinctly remember when he would take me upon his lap, and repeat to me the Catechism, in which I was taught, that, by my baptism, "I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven!" As light broke in upon the minds of my parents, I was taken from under the charge of my ecclesiastical instructor.
Youthful Religious Training
My father always read the Bible, and prayed, in his family. From his prayers, I gathered in my early childhood the idea of a God, but I had no clear view of who or what He was. I though Him to be some very superior Being, but where located I could not tell. Hearing my father ask God, in his prayers, for so many things that he needed, I was led to do the same. In my childish ignorance and simplicity, in little things that I wanted, of which I was denied by my parents, I would ask God to give them to me. I remember when I was so small that I played with a bow and arrow, and, as I often lost my arrow, I would hide myself in the grass, and ask God to tell me where it was; and, as I often found it soon after, that gave me encouragement always to go to Him for anything that I was greatly troubled about. My parents were very strict with their children, guarding them against all evil. The family always attended church on the Sabbath, and that day must never be desecrated by either children or servants. I recollect, one day, hearing one of my father’s hired men using words to his team that I had never heard before. After he was gone, I stood upon the same stone that he had stood upon, and repeated his language at the top of my voice. My father heard me, called me to him, and asked me what I was saying, and where I heard those words? I told him, "from Richard." He took me kindly by the hand, led me into the house, and told me those words were very naughty, and God was angry with every individual who used them. He talked to me, and wept. The man was discharged, and that was the end of it—but, from that time onward, I dreaded profanity. Thus passed my early boyhood.
My Father’s Death—The Property
My father died when I was about eleven years old, and, having died suddenly, he left no Will; consequently, under the English law of primogeniture, there was no provision for any of the children except the oldest son. When my mother died—which occurred after my removal to America—her Will was prosecuted in the Court of Chancery, and that used up the balance of my father’s property. I do not know that any of the family reaped any benefit from it.
My time was spent in school from my seventh to my twelfth year. For that day, I had obtained a tolerable knowledge of the English language, and made some little advance in Latin. In my fourteenth year, my mother bound me as an apprentice in a wholesale and retail dry-goods and grocery establishment. About two years after, my master failed in business, and I prevailed upon my mother, if possible, to get my indentures, which were kindly given up. She was then living in Great Grimsby, where my father died. She had watched my morals with intense anxiety. I loved her—and to this day there is no word, except "Jesus," in the English language, so dear to me, as "Mother."
At this old age, I have no recollection of every designedly doing anything, that I thought would injure her feelings.
Try My Hand in London—Am Robbed
After my mother had got everything settled relative to my indentures, I concluded to launch out upon the world for myself. She assisted me, and I started for London, knowing very little about a large city, although the place where I had been was quite a market-town, a borough, and a sea-port. Nothing of importance occurred on my journey to the great Metropolis. But I had been in the city only a short time, when I found my pocket was picked. I had a number of guineas—seventy-five, I think—which my mother had carefully sewed up in a little pocket, inside my vest. To my utter astonishment, my vest was cut, and the pocket and guineas were gone. I soon found friends, and got into employ. For years, I never mentioned my loss to any individual, but concluded, if that was the way the world was to use me, I must look out for it.
I reflected, "Now, I am alone, and will mark out a path that I must walk in if I am ever to be anybody." The first point was, I will be punctually honest; whoever shall be my employer, I will make his interests my own. I will never profane the Sabbath, but, under every possible circumstance, will attend church. I will never indulge in tippling, gambling, nor swearing—and will see to it that I am never found in lewd company. These resolutions, thank God! I was able to live up to. I was naturally light, vain, and fond of amusements. Perhaps my greatest sin was a passionate fondness for the theater. I was cured of that evil, by the following circumstance: A gentleman, on the stage, was performing his part in the "Castle Specter," and where he called upon God to strike him dead if he was not telling the truth, he fell lifeless upon the floor! From that time onward, my great anxiety for the theater was gone. There was nothing in my daily life worthy of note as widely differing from that of other young men under like circumstances. I confined myself to the dry-goods business entirely, in a house that sold both by wholesale and retail.
Up to this time, I had always been the subject, more or less, of religious impressions, and at times was very much distressed in relation to my future state. I was unprepared to meet God, and often longed and wished I were a Christian. While living in Brentford, seven miles west of London, I heard a very faithful minister, every Sabbath, and under every sermon felt worse. We had many clerks, both male and female, who would often speak about my being cast down, and would cautiously say they must rally me; when, in order to prevent them from thinking I was serious on the subject of religion, I would join with them in their merriment, and dissipate the feeling as soon as I could.
My Christian Brother-In-Law, Not Faithful
My employer was also my brother-in-law. After going to church one Sabbath, on our return, as we were sitting in concert in the family circle, he said to me, "I am going down into the country, sir, and want to take the coach, at five o’clock in the morning, from Golden Cross, Charing Cross." I asked, "What coach will you take?" He replied, "I prefer to walk, sir, it being only about ten miles; but I wish you to go with me. We will start about two o’clock in the morning—it will be a pleasant morning walk." I was much delighted with the idea of walking in company with him, for he was a religious man, and prayed with us every morning and evening. I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to talk with me about the interests of my soul. But, alas! Although I taxed all my powers to draw him into conversation on the subject of religion, it was an utter failure. His only theme was the business which was necessary to be done while he was gone. I was the particular and confidential clerk, therefore had to submit to all the instructions he had to give concerning the things of this world. When I returned home, I felt sick, for I did neither eat nor drink while walking the twenty miles. That left me rather feeble, but it would not have been so much the case if it had not been for the distress of my mind. I went to my room, and laid down. I was soon called upon by one of the servants, who took to my sister the message that I was sick. She came, and tried to nurse me as best she could, but nothing that she could do would relieve the pain and anguish. Finally, one of the clerks came up to my room, and said I must get up, for there was a gentleman who had some business to attend to, and he wanted to have it done before the King passed through, on his return from Windsor to London, which would be in about an hour. Amidst the world of business, my convictions soon wore off in a great measure, and I resumed my former appearance.
Removal from London to Hull
Nothing especial occurred with me for quite a length of time. My employer was a member of a London linen drapers’ company, who were opening new establishments in different cities and towns. One day he called me into his private room, where he told me he had bought an establishment in the city of Hull, and the stock would be ready to ship from London in a short time. He wanted I should take charge of the goods, get them all in order in the new store, and, when ready to do business, write to him, when he would come with a set of clerks to open the house.
Visit My Mother—Much Enjoyment
The vessel in which I embarked, anchored at the mouth of the river Humber, opposite the port where my mother lived. I went ashore in the evening, and about nine o’clock found her, with her little grand-daughter, sitting around the table, with her daily companion—an open Bible. She embraced me with all the affection and love of a mother. When a boy at home, I used to read to her a great deal in that Book. While she was preparing me some supper, I took her Bible, and commenced reading at the place where it was opened, in the prophecies of Isaiah. I read several chapters. I never read the Scriptures with so much interest before. I though my satisfaction in reading grew out of the idea, in my own mind, that it was because she was pleased to hear me read again. When ready to retire for the night, she showed me into my room. She said the house was new, the doors were swollen, and would not shut close, and therefore she left mine entirely open. When I was laid away in bed, she came into my room, and I requested her to put my curtains to one side, as I had to leave at four o’clock in the morning. Her lodging room adjoined mine. When she retired, she kneeled down by her bedside and prayed. I never had such feelings in my life, before. My mind was in a state that I cannot describe. Some time elapsed. I thought I must pray, but had no hope that God would hear me. I thought, if I could only remember some portions of my father’s prayers, I might be heard; but I could not call up in my mind words that I could so connect as to make any sense. Then, I tried to pray in my own way. A thought struck me, that, to lie in bed and pray, did not become one in my state of mind. I got upon my knees, and prayed, and while praying, all my trouble appeared to be removed. I fell into a sweet sleep, for a short time. Awaking, I arose, and bade farewell to that dear mother. I did not think, at that time, that it was any religious change, and I am not prepared to say, even now, that it was.
Darkness of Mind
My business called me to the docks, and about the ships, where I heard much profanity. It sounded more harshly in my ears than it has ever done before. But my cares and responsibilities soon wore away that blessed state of mind which I enjoyed when I left my mother’s house. I punctually attended church, every Sabbath, hearing different ministers, but did not have much religious feeling. Afterwards—in immediate connection with a change of sentiments in a prominent minister—my mind became much interested in view of my condition.
Mr. Arbon Becomes a Baptist
Rev. William Arbon, my favorite preacher in Dagger Lane, was a graduate of Lady Huntingdon’s College, and followed the peculiarities of the clergymen in her connection. They wore the gown and bands, and used part of the liturgy, with other modes of worship, of the Episcopalians. At one time, having a number of children to sprinkle, he thought he would thoroughly investigate the subject. He was a Welshman, a ripe scholar, and had all the means for a close investigation. He proposed to base his sermon upon the First Epistle of Peter, 3d chapter, 21st verse: "The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." But he found that, upon that point, he had always been in error. When he went to his chapel Sabbath morning, expecting to have the children presented for christening, he told his congregation that he should not attend to it, then. Returning home, after service, he took his gown and bands and threw them on the fire. His wife said, "William, you are crazy." He replied, "No, wife, I am clothed and in my right mind." In the afternoon, he preached on baptism, and told them it was his farewell sermon to them.
Was Baptized—A New Church Formed
At that time, there were but two Baptist churches in the city, and they evidently saw that he was too good a man to be lost—consequently, they agreed to colonize a few members from their two churches, as a nucleus for a third. They at once rented a chapel in which there was no preaching, built a baptistery, and invited him to join them. A council was held, he told his Christian experience, was baptized, ordained, and called to be their pastor. He afterwards went down in to the liquid tomb and immersed some who followed him from his original church, and also several converts who had not before made a profession of religion.
All this had passed, unknown to me, until I heard that he was preaching on Princess street. I immediately went and hired a sitting in his chapel, and my mind became very much stirred up in view of my condition.
Brought Into Full Hope
A short time after this, I heard Mr. Arbon preach from Solomon’s Songs, 6th chapter, 13th verse: "Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies." My eyes were opened. I did not only see men as trees walking, but I appeared to enter into the full-orbed light of the Gospel. Old things had passed away, all things had become new; and I felt, then, that it would have been no sacrifice for me to make, if a person had said to me, "Now, Sir, if you will give all you possess, you may go into that pulpit and speak half an hour." I would have given it, freely. I must confess that I did not know what I wanted to say—but I saw such a beauty in the plan of God’s salvation, that I felt I must say something about it. I went home from chapel, expecting everybody knew just how I felt. I did not know, then, that this was religion. I thought, if it was, Christians certainly would know about it, and they would say something to me upon the subject. But, alas!, not a word from any individual. My employer was a Baptist by profession, and afterward became a member of that church, but he never conversed with me upon the subject of personal, experimental religion. The idea appeared to be universal, in that day, when they saw a person who appeared to be under religious exercises, they must not say anything to him; God would do his own work.
Thoughts As To My Duty
I was, otherwise, very happily situated. I had my own lodging room, where I could enjoy reading my Bible, praying alone, and meditating upon my situation—not knowing what this great change meant. The blessed Spirit, in a great measure, was pleased to give me a ground of hope, from the reading of the Word of God, that I was a Christian. In the multitude of thoughts that were within me, this one struck my mind with great power: Now, if you are a child of God, He has claims upon you that He has not had before. I believed that I had duties to perform, and commands to obey; but I was ignorant of what they were. I thought they must be revealed, somewhere; and I was led to search, carefully and prayerfully, the New Testament. With my Testament open before me, and on my knees before God, I found it was my duty to be baptized; and Jesus revealed to me no other way, but immersion. I had never seen a person immersed. I had never heard what is called a Christian experience. I was continually passing through light and shade, no person saying anything to me relative to my condition. Sometimes I thought Christians knew all about the workings of my mind, but had no confidence in me as a Christian, and therefore withheld from me everything upon the subject.
Inquiry Made—But No Progress
I was in the habit, after the business of the day was over, of taking a walk with my employer. One evening, while walking out pretty late, he remarked to me, "Sir, has not a great change come over your mind, in a short time?" This opened the door of my lips: it was, indeed, as oil to my head, and marrow to my bones. I told him many of the changes through which I had passed. We walked till a late hour, but I do not recollect, now, that he, has an individual, ever named to me the subject again, until I had become a member of the church.
A Good Deacon Helps Me
I did not know how to get my case before the brethren. There was a deacon of that church, whom I esteemed, very highly, as a great and good man. Being an upholsterer, he was doing with us a pretty large business. One day, while with him, I thought I would ask him some questions, but did not mean to betray myself. The first question was, what a person had to do, who wished to become a member of their Church? He went on and told me, in the first place, the individual must make his request known to the pastor, or some of the deacons. In the next place, the pastor or some of the deacons would call upon the one thus requesting admission, and, when the individual had been conversed with, if they thought best they would lay it before the church. The church would then appoint a committee to wait upon the individual, and converse with him, and he with them, and they mutually pray with and for each other. If there were religious individuals in the family, they would be inquired of by the committee to know what kind of a life the applicant had been living, what was thought of his moral character, etc. The committee, and the candidate, would arrange the times of meeting according to their own convenience; and this was to be as often as circumstances would permit for one month. Then the committee reported to the church their progress, and their observations in the case, if they had any, with several other matters of minor importance.
I had calculated, through this conversation, to keep myself entirely in the shade, but the good man read me all through. Immediately after the details were ended, he said: "Sir, you have been asking these questions on your own account?" and I had to own up the whole truth.
Before The Church
The month was passed through in this way, and I was notified to attend the next meeting of the church. On the appointed day I went, and met with several others, whose errand was the same as my own. We were put into a small room, or vestry, until the church had heard the reports of the committees relative to the evidence they had obtained of the genuineness of our conversion. We were then taken before the church, one at a time. When in the presence of the church, we were kindly invited to give a relation of our Christian experience. Here I stumbled. I told them I did not know what was meant by a Christian experience. A good old brother said, with an overflowing heart, "My dear young brother, it is very simple; just begin where God began with you, and talk out familiarly your thoughts, and actions, up to the present time." I related, as best I could, the way that God had led me. After I got through, the deacon went with me into another side-room, where I awaited the decision of the church. Then I was permitted to return to the room where the church were. During the examination, no two candidates were permitted to be in the presence of the church at the same time, (so that they might not hear or use each other’s phraseology in giving in their testimony.) The candidates were received, and, the next day, were baptized. At this time, I was in my twenty-first year.
My Baptism—Partake of the Lord’s Supper
On the morning of the day of my baptism—which was in the fall of 1812—the pastor preached a very strong and lucid sermon upon the subject. After baptism, the new members received the right hand of fellowship, from the pastor, with appropriate remarks to each individual. In the afternoon of the same day, the church celebrated the Lord’s supper. It was a time of great interest, especially to the converts who were permitted for the first time to attend to that solemn institution.
Conferring With No One As To Duty
Strange as it may appear, through all these important changes, I never so much as thought of advising with any individual, not even with my own mother, in relation to what I ought to be, and what I ought not to do. I was taught by the Spirit, and felt myself amenable to God, and to Him only, walking in the footsteps that appeared to me to be marked out in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament had been my only guide thus far, and I felt to trust God for the future.
Two Churches Paupers, Rich in Faith
Converts, in those days, were the same as now—babes in Christ, needing instruction from those in riper years. There were a very pious old brother and sister, who although supported by the church, were rich in faith, and heirs to the kingdom of God. Their little attic room was always the converts’ home. They would pray with us, and we with them, and here we were schooled, and nourished up in the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Although many years have passed since then, and those pious friends long, ver long ago, have entered into their rest, they live in my memory fresh and green as when I sat at their feet for instruction.
Members Punctual in Meetings
It was expected that the members of that church should attend all its meetings; if absent, they were supposed to be sick, or out of the city. Even a member was missed from public worship on the Sabbath, it was seldom, if ever, that the deacons returned home without calling to ascertain the reason of the absence.
We were indeed a band of brothers, striving for the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. Though my business responsibilities were great, yet, when in the city, I could always so arrange affairs as to be able to attend all the meetings of the church. For we were taught, in that day, to regard our religious duties as first, and business, secondary.
Church Activity and Faithfulness
Our pastor preached three sermons, always, on the Sabbath; held prayer meeting on Monday evening when he recapitulated his Sabbath morning’s discourse; another prayer meeting, Wednesday evening; and such other meetings as were necessary, were appointed from time to time. If we were taken sick, the first thing was to drop a line to the pastor, or one of the deacons, informing them of our condition, and, if severely sick, a messenger was sent without delay. We always had a prayer meeting on Sabbath morning, at five o’clock in the summer, and at seven in the winter, to pray especially for the pastor, and that God would be pleased to bless His word through the day, in his public administrations. Members of the church, going from home, were expected to send a line to their pastor, notifying him of their intended absence, requesting him, and the church, to pray, in the public congregation on the Sabbath, for God’s special protection and care in their behalf. On their return, the pastor would give thanks to God, publicly, on Sabbath morning, for protecting them on their journey. Such things, with us, in this fast age, are obsolete.
Praying, And Searching The Scriptures
We had also, in those days, very interesting social meetings. A few converts and friends would meet at a brother’s house to spend an hour or two in prayer and reading the Scriptures. The one who read, was expected to explain that which he had read. The reader, having been appointed the week previous, had therefore more or less time to prepare his mind for the work assigned him. Others present would criticise the remarks made by him, why such things were so; and in doing this, we always did it with the most brotherly kindness and good feeling. If there were any questions that we could not satisfactorily dispose of, they were generally referred to the pastor, who gave his views upon the subject. There was great familiarity between the pastor and his people. If at any time they heard him announce a doctrine or sentiment which they did not understand, it was customary to appeal to him for further enlightenment upon the subject. It was no uncommon thing for the pastor to be present at some of our little family meetings, and take part in the services; but never to take the place of the reader, or to give any explanations of a text unless called upon to do so. Those were very interesting seasons, and kept us from being alienated one from another.
Sabbath Social Exercises
While a member of that blessed church, as I have said before, we had a prayer meeting at the vestry, every Sabbath morning. At that meeting, it was customary for some one to read a portion of Scripture, (more or less, as he chose,) and he was expected to give an explanation of what he had read. The reason for this was unknown at that time, to the junior portion of the church. The pastor, and older brethren, had adopted this plan in order to discover the gifts that were in the church. They generally arranged matters so that when it appeared to fall to the lot of an aged brother to read, he would very kindly invite one of the younger members to do it for him. Consequently, we never knew when we might be called upon; and this induced us to search the Scriptures diligently, always try to have a stock of information on hand, and to be ready on all occasions to meet such an emergency. This enabled the older brethren to notice the different gifts among the younger. When we erred in our exposition of any subject, the pastor, or deacon, or some one, would very tenderly endeavor to correct us. To these meetings, I am very much indebted, for what little amount of Bible knowledge I possess.
Invited To Hold A Meeting in Skidby
While pursuing this course, one day, I met one of the aged brethren on the street. He said to me, "You are the very man I wanted to see." I asked him what he wanted of me? He told me that there was a little village, by the name of Skidby, some seven miles from the city, and that its people were living in great ignorance of the way of life. "Now, sir, I want you should go to that village, next Sabbath, and hold a meeting with them," remarking that there were but three or four in all the community, who might be said to be experimental Christians. I replied "Sir, that I cannot do. In the first place, I do not know where the village is, and secondly, I have no acquaintances there." "That," he said, "will make no difference. I can give you the necessary directions." I told him, again and again, that I could not hold a meeting; that I had no gift, or calling, for anything of the kind. He, however, argued, "You can sing, you can pray, you can read the Bible, and you can talk some from what you read; and that will be meeting enough, for those poor, ignorant people." Still I persisted in my former statement that I could not go. He then importuned, "Now, you go this time, and I will tell you where to call. Enquire for Mr. William Wilberforce; he is a Dissenter, and he and his wife are very pious people. You need not fear, at all; the house in which he lives is licensed, by the Bishop of the diocese, for Dissenting ministers to hold meetings in. And now, sir, you must say you’ll go." He pressed me so hard that I said, "Yes, I will go."
Undertake What I Did Not Anticipate
After hearing preaching the next Sabbath morning, from my pastor, I went, afoot and alone, to the village, all the while pondering in my mind what course I should take. I had expected to meet only a few persons; but, to my utter astonishment, the house was not only full, but a number were on the green by the door and windows. The moment I went in, the gentleman named met me with all the familiarity of an old acquaintance. He showed me to a standing place, in one corner of the room, with a desk convenient for a speaker, and a beautiful napkin spread over it, with a Bible, and Watts’ old hymn book thereon. I had taken my own hymn book in my pocket, for I did not expect, in such a community, to find any Dissenters’ hymn books. The very sight of that desk and Bible, impressed me as I had never been impressed before. Everything spoke, though in silence, yet louder to my heart than thunder tones, "This means that you are to preach." I took my seat behind the desk, thought a few moments, and came to this conclusion: "I will read, and sing a long hymn; I then will pray as long as I can; then I will read a long chapter (thinking I might be able to say something from the whole of it, that would make a respectable talk;) then I will read another long hymn; and make a long, concluding prayer—and get out of this, the best way I can."
Led To Say Something—Break Down
To my utter astonishment, when I had read the first hymn, they arose, and I saw there were three, four, or more hymn books, and a group of youngerly folks who looked to me like singers. A main raised the tune, and gave the pitch, and they sang most heavenly; I was so enamored with the singing, that my troubles subsided, at least for a season. I prayed, and then read another long hymn, after which I read part, or the whole, (I do not now know which,) of the 3d chapter of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. The first thing that I was really conscious of, was, that I was in the highest state of perspiration, speaking from the 57th verse, which reads as follows: "Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon Thee; Thou saidest, Fear not." I instantly broke down, and said no more. I then proceeded to read the third hymn, prayed, and dismissed the congregation.
Another Appointment—Feel Grieved
To my utter astonishment, Mr. Wilberforce jumped up and said, "This man will preach to us again, next Sabbath, at half-past two in the afternoon. The word preach almost petrified me. I said, as soon as I could speak, "No, sir, I shall not be here anymore." But the old gentleman insisted upon it that I would be there, and told his neighbors and friends all to come out, for they would not be disappointed. I thought I was very much misused, so much so that I had some trouble to keep John Bull from showing his horns. The friends were very kind, and asked me to stay and have some refreshments, but I had so little fellowship with the old brother’s conduct, that I would not stay with them even to eat, and went home feeling very badly—sometimes, crusty. When I went to church in the evening, no one said to me, "Where have you been?" and I was glad they did not.
On Monday morning, more calmly and dispassionately reviewing the scene through which I had passed, I was rather glad than otherwise that I did go. By Wednesday of the same week, I felt as though I was not sorry that I had to go again the next Sabbath—and, if the old brother had not said "preach" to the people, I thought it would have been a privilege for me to go, but I could not bear the idea of "preaching".
The Church Calls Me To Order
On Thursday, the same Deacon with whom I had had the conversation about what was necessary for an individual to do in order to join the church, came into the store, on business, and said to me, "We have a special meeting of the church, to-morrow night, sir, and we would be glad to have you attend, at six o’clock. You will be there, will you? The meeting is important, and we shall especially need you." I told him, if Providence did not hedge up my way, I would certainly be there. I thought of the thing after he was gone. I had heard of no notice being given for a special meeting, and could not think what it meant.
Have To Try To Talk Again—Break Down
At the appointed hour, I left my business, and went to chapel. I was walking through the aisle, to my own seat—the minister and deacons were sitting in what was called "the deacons’ pew," at the foot of the pulpit—but, as I came opposite the slip, about to turn to my left, one of the deacons beckoned to me. I turned to see what he wanted. He said, "Come into this pew, and sit down beside the pastor." This was indeed strange to me—I did not know what it could mean. After sitting a few moments, the meeting was opened by singing and prayer, after which one remarked, "Shall we not proceed to business?" An aged brother looked up and said, "Our business is with you, Brother Sheardown." I arose and told them that I was not conscious of any wrong—I had not meant to violate any rules of the church, or any principle of Christian propriety. The first thing that came to my ears, was "You have been preaching, sir, without our authority; and we do not suffer our brethren to run around, preaching, without our knowledge of it." I here referred them to the brother, then present, who induced me to go. They then said, "If you can preach to others, you can preach to us." I told them that I had not preached, and that I could not preach. They affirmed that I had preached, and that I must preach to them, that night. When I saw that it was impossible to get clear, I said to the pastor—whom I loved next to my life—"Brother Arbon, if I must speak, will you pray?" His answer was, "If you are going to be a preacher, you must do your own praying." That, coming from the one who I claimed as my spiritual father, was the severest blow yet. I tried to pray, but know little or nothing of what it amounted to. They said, "Now, take your text." I named the 41st chapter, 10th verse of Isaiah, which reads as follows: "Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness." I felt pained, crushed, and distressed in heart. I commenced making remarks from the passage. After awhile, I felt some freedom of utterance. This part of the text struck me with peculiar force; "Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God." Then arose in my mind something like this: "Now, you are telling the people that you are not going to fear, and that God is going to help you:"—and I was broken down, and stopped then and there. I then told them, if they would only forgive me for going to Skidby on the Sabbath and saying what I did to the congregation, I would never do the like again; and I besought them with tears, to pardon me.
They Require Me To Go To Skidby Again
But nothing in answer to my petition. They said, "You have another appointment there, and we do not allow our brethren to run at loose ends, and make appointments for preaching and not fulfill them." I told them I had made no appointment—then went on and recapitulated the conduct of the old gentleman who made the appointment, but that I did gainsay it, and gave him to understand that I should not be there. "Well, but did he not say, in your presence, that you would be there? That all might come? That they would not be disappointed? You should not have allowed the appointment to go out." I begged of them not to urge it upon me, but they said, "You must go."
Continue Speaking At Skidby And Before The Church
The next Sabbath I went, according to appointment, with a determination of heart that it should be the last time. I got along a little better, that time, than the first—but, as soon as I had got through with the services, Mr. Wilberforce made another appointment for me, next Sabbath. My spirit was somewhat subdued, and I made no resistance, for the church also had made an appointment for me to speak again the next Friday evening. This was in the latter part of the year 1813. I spoke to the church, once a week, for several months, and also continued going to the aforesaid little village.
Failure To Get At The Work
During this time, there was a young brother who wished to preach. He appeared to have the "preach fever." Not so with me—mine was the chill, without the fever. This brother wished me to let him go with me to Skidby, and let him preach—which he did, to the best of his ability. He went again, and preached from Isaiah, 7th chapter, 25th verse, which reads as follows: "And on all hills that shall be digged with the mattock, there shall not come thither the fear of briers or thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth of oxen, and for the treading of lesser cattle." He was very much embarrassed, and talked pretty much all the time about digging with the mattock. It appeared to have made an impression on the minds of the children, for the next time he went they ran in the streets and cried out, "There comes the mattock man—there comes the mattock man!" I do not recollect that he attempted to preach much afterwards.
Encouraged at Skidby
That village had been noted for its immorality; and it was very difficult for a Dissenting minister to go there, preach, and get away without personal insult. The clergyman of the Established church was also the Justice of the Peace in the place; consequently, it would have availed nothing to enter a complaint. But there was not so much as a dog to move his tongue against unworthy me.
Some Discouragements At Home
Brethren of our church would occasionally go over with me, to hear me (as they said) "preach." One who sometimes went along, would use all the effort in his power to prevail on me to quit. He would often say, "You disgrace yourself and your family." Knowing, as he did, the situation in which I was placed, I thought it cruel in him. But it was the opinion of some good men, in that day, that if a young man could be induced to give up trying to preach, or by harsh means be driven from it, it was a proof that he was not called of God to the work!
Distressed As To My Duty—The Load Removed
I had, all this time, a great anxiety to do good—to be the means of saving souls—but had not the least evidence of being called to preach the Gospel. It wore upon my physical nature, so much so that the first inquiry of my friends was, "Are you sick, sir? You look very poorly." My wife—for I was married, as I will hereafter narrate—was afraid that I would die. While thus afflicted, both mentally and bodily, I was going to hear my pastor preach, one Sabbath morning, weighed down with sorrow, because I thought I was (like one of old) running, but had no tidings. I can clearly see, in my mind’s eye, now, the very spot, with its surroundings in the street, where this passage of Scripture came to my relief—Acts 9th chapter, 15th verse: "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel." I felt, at once, volatile as air. My trouble was all gone. I was a happy, it appeared to me, as it was possible for any one to be. I cannot describe the state of my mind at that time. I took my accustomed seat in the chapel. I thought my pastor looked unusually lovely. When he arose and read his text, he took the same passage which had so richly relieved my own mind! He appeared to enter into the very depths of my heart—and, before he was through, I had no doubt left that God designed I should preach his Gospel, as best I could.
After that meeting was out, the brother who had endeavored to dissuade me from ever standing up before the people again, said to me, "Are you going to Skidby, to-day?" I answered, "Yes, sir." Said he, "I want to go with you." We agreed upon a certain corner of a street where we would meet. I was sorry that he proposed to go, for I feared he would mar my meditations, and disturb my sweet communion with God. He heard me speak, and I asked him to pray. After the service, he appeared to be in very good spirits; and when we had left the house to return home, he took hold of my arm, very familiarly, and said, "Brother Thomas, you WILL preach, in spite of all of us. You have preached, to-day. And now, sir, I bid you God-speed." From that day onward, I had a comfortable evidence that God had been pleased to appoint me to the work of the ministry.