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till dinner, write the address on the hymns at dinner time, work till tea, read Young at tea.”
“I intend either to rise by five in the morning, or to live on bread and water all day to-morrow. I mean to give an hour to Dwight, and an hour to D’Oyley. Breakfast, to the Bible; dinner, the same.
“ June 17th.--Again have I to mourn over moments, minutes, and hours thrown away in bed, in sinful sloth,-in the most contemptible idleness, Oh! how little do I deserve the least of the mercies of God, or the least favour from my dear parents! What shall I do? I am making very little progress in my studies. I have made some little progress in accounts this week; but not one tenth part of what I might have done had I been diligent. May the Lord enable me to overcome this sloth. Without his assistance it appears that I shall not be able.to conquer this habit.”
“I have had some painful conflicts on the old subject, I fear I shall never gain my dear parents' consent. I leave myself in the Lord's hands.”
Aug. 10th, 1836.-I have had some painful exercises on the subject of preaching, and have sometimes almost determined to give it up. The consciousness of my want of ability for this great work, and my want of success, have appeared sufficient reasons for my declining the work altogether. And I have often gone to my appointments with a very heavy heart. But I have generally found that the Lord has been with me, and has been better to me than all my doubts and fears. Last Sunday I had almost determined that if there were not some fruit of my labour, I would give it up: but I found the Lord with me to assist me ; and though I saw no souls saved, I feel no doubt that some good impressions were made. May the Lord grant that they may be lasting. I felt, as I was coming home, a sweet peace, a holy calm, which I would not exchange for all the world calls great or good.”
The abhorrence of sin in every form, that indicates the Christian mind; the intense desire for the salvation of souls, that ever attends a true call to the Christian ministry ; the veneration for parental authority, that invariably marks the right sense of filial duty; and the anxiety to be right in all respects, that springs from a correct view of Christian responsibility; are all observable in the foregoing extracts. The next page in the diary is strongly indicative of fraternal affection. It is surrounded with a mourning border, and records the sufferings and decease of a little brother, at a little under six years of age, being the first death that had then taken place in the family. The child died on the 14th of December, 1836.
About this time considerable attention was drawn to the subject of temperance, in relation to the drinking customs of society, and the reclamation of drunkards from their vicious and destructive habits. John Skevington had seen and mourned over the drunkenness prevalent among the colliers and some other classes of Old Radford and the neighbourhood, and its ruinous consequences in some unhappy cases of individual
He entered at once into the cause of total abstinence, therefore, as soon as it came under his notice. Among the records of his diary immediately following that of the death of his little brother, we find the following:
“I have been actively engaged in advocating the Tee-total cause; and though my labours have been extremely feeble they have not been
without fruit. God has made this cause the instrument of much good to many immortal souls: hundreds of drunkards have been reclaimed ; and, thank God! the greater number of them, I believe, have been converted, Two, if not three, in our own neighbourhood have been reclaimed. I signed the pledge, I think, about the middle of June. My object was to do good to others: but it has been useful to me. My health has improved ; my appetite is better and more regular. I can get through the labours of the Sabbath better, and never feel ‘Mondayish. I have been engaged in advocating the cause in our own neighbourhood, in Nottingham, at Arnold, and in other places : and in Christmas week I was out the first three days; Monday at Hucknall Torkard, Tuesday at Beverlee, Wednesday in the afternoon at Heanor in Derbyshire, and in the evening at Smalley. May God prosper the cause !"
A few pages further on in his diary he records his attendance at a Juvenile Missionary meeting, held in Hockley chapel a commodious place of worship in the town, first opened by Mr. Wesley, afterwards held for some years by the New Connexion, from whom it was recovered by legal process in the Court of Chancery. Subsequently, when a larger chapel was built in a more convenient situation in the Centenary year of Methodism, it was sold to the Primitive Methodists, who still retain it.
He speaks of this Missionary meeting as “a very interesting” one, and states that one of the speakers, the Rev. G. B. Macdonald, “presented a fearful picture of the moral state of the heathen world, and showed that though our Missionaries might not be perfect in the learning of the schools, they were wise unto salvation, and knew how to point perishing men to “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.”
The following extract from his diary, penned about this time, shows the tenderness of his conscience, his anxiety to be really useful in life, and to glorify God in all things.
my last entry I have felt considerable fear that I have not been faithful in warning a sick man whom I have visited, of his danger; and now he has gone to his long home: and oh! if his blood should be found on the skirts of my garments! I showed him the plan of salvation as plainly as I could ; but I fear I was not sufficiently anxious to set before him his danger. May God forgive me, and enable me to be more faithful in future!”
The workings of his mind in reference to the obligation under which he felt himself to improve time and to cultivate his intellect and heart, have been shown already; but another extract upon the same subject may be added, as it reveals his thorough honesty in narration, his fidelity to his own convictions, and the stirrings of such aspirations as draw a man out of his original position, into character, usefulness, and influence; sometimes to comfort and competency.
“ March 1, 1837.-Time still rolls on, its rapid current carrying me fast into the eternal world. And how much of it I still allow to pass on unimproved! How many months and years have I thrown away! And they are gone, past my power to recall them. Even this day I have lost some hours that might have been profitably employed. I wish-but I scarcely dare indulge a hope--that this first of March might be the commencement of a new era in my life. And why may it not be so? I am thoroughly convinced of the folly of my former proceedings. I have an opportunity for raising myself in the scale of society. I have now plenty of time on my hands. I have the necessary means for making considerable progress. All I want is resolution and perseverance, to
carry my plans into effect. I feel that I am not acting as a faithful steward of my Lord's goods. He is giving me talents of which I shall have to give an account, and I see very clearly that I am not improving them as I ought. I cannot say that He is 'a hard master; for he pays me present wages when I am employed for him : and I should be ashamed to act in the service of an earthly master as I do in that of my Heavenly Master. But I seem so fixed in the habits of sloth that nothing short of the power of divine grace will gain the conquest. I still feel an anxious wish that I may be altogether the Lord's, and live entirely to his glory: and my ardent prayer is that God would sanctify me wholly. He is still bringing us through deep waters: our way seems almost made up: but I thank God He keeps me in perfect peace when my mind is staid upon him. To-day I have found great pleasure and profit while reading God's word. I have been reading the account of the burning bush, &c., of Christ's healing the withered hand on the Sabbath day, his sending forth the apostles and rebuking the hypocrites May God grant I may not be an hypocrite."
In the middle of March he made the following entry. “Perhaps I might have been called into the Missionary work if I had improved my mind : and it has been a question with me this week whether God is not disappointing my hopes of obtaining a situation for this cause. What I must do to release myself from my present slothful habits I do not know. This I will do: I will pray more earnestly to God for help, and strive against it with more resolution: and if it be the Lord's will that I should go abroad, if he will fit me for it, and give me the commission and the call, I am willing to go.”
Among the works that occupied his reading time during this year, he mentions Watts on the Improvement of the Mind, and his treatise on Logic,—Rollin's Ancient History, Wesley's works, Abbott's Young Christian, D'Oyley on Gospel Preaching, &c. Self-upbraiding, on account of sloth and scanty progress in the acquisition of knowledge, runs throughout his diary, intermingled with details of a varied experience, and a repetition of resolutions to gird himself anew for labour and conflict. Two of his brethren are mentioned as candidates, one for the home work of Methodism, the other for its foreign department, both of whom passed with honour, and each of whom continues still to labour honourably and usefully in his chosen sphere. With these he contrasts himself, to his own disparagement, lamenting his slow advancement and small attainments in comparison with theirs. The fact, however, was that. they both had been favoured with early educational advantages which had not fallen within his reach ; while they were drilled into the habit of study, he was under a necessity to labour with his hands in aid of the scanty income of a mechanic's family. The habit they had acquired by the training hands of others, he had to obtain by wrestling and fighting with difficulties and the stubbornness of an unploughed soil. Only those whose intellects have lain fallow in childhood and youth, know anything of the desperate effort required for the breaking up of the fallow of his own mind, and reducing it to form and order, by a young man recently aroused to a due sense of the importance and necessity of self-culture. John Skevington was in this position ; and the littleness of what he could accomplish in comparison with the much that he saw to be necessary and desirable, almost threw him into despair of ever being able to effect what was indispensable to an efficient exercise of
ministerial functions, which had now become the great object of his solicitude.
An event in his history that occurred in the evening of Good Friday, March 28, 1837, must not be passed without notice. It will best be told in his own words :-"Last Friday evening was a time which I shall long remember with painful feelings. I went to hear Mr. C-preach at Arnold. After preaching I went with Miss I fear, for the last time. I have long feared it would come to that: and although it has given me more pain than I can describe, I feel satisfaction from the consideration that I have made this sacrifice from a sense of duty. * * * As it appeared to be a hindrance to my usefulness, and the general opinion of my friends that it was improper, I resolved in the strength of the Lord to make the sacrifice, at least for the present."
A little further on he writes, “I feel sometimes a painful anxiety about my future lot. I have never entirely lost the impression that I was called to the Mission work: but I feel very jealous of myself lest it should be ambition, and a desire of fame, that leads me to think of that work. If I know anything of my own heart, it is my most anxious wish that the Lord should place me where I shall be the most useful: but I sometimes find my heart rather unwilling to leave the matter in the Lord's hands. I feel that there is much in my heart that wants destroying. May God make me a new man in Christ Jesus, filled with the love of God.”
At the end of March or beginning of April in this year he had an interview with Thomas Bailey, Esq., the father of the celebrated author of that unique and elaborate poem, “Festus,” Mr. Bailey had for many years carried on a large business in the wine and spirit trade in Nottingham. He had always a high literary taste, and for a long period before his decease he devoted himself to literary pursuits, part of the time conducting a local newspaper of which he had become the proprietor. At this time he was either wholly or partially withdrawn from business, and had retired to an old mansion at the village of Basford, about three miles distant from the town. He was a man of philanthropic sentiments in some respects, and took an interest in social and individual progress. Mr. Skevington's object was to obtain information about certain meetings for mutual instruction. The record states, “He received us with very great kindness, and promised to render us any assistance that he could, and to give us a few books for the library, for which I am to call in a few days.”—He called as appointed for the books, and in further conversation was told by Mr. Bailey that “ The great preparation for public speaking is to get well master of your thoughts, and to write much.”
Under the consciousness of some advancement in the arduous work of self-improvement, he writes, “I can plainly see that if I am industrious, my improvement may be considerable: for, from the contemptible efforts that I have already made I find new views open before me, new feelings are excited, and my mind is expanded in a way that gives me the greatest encouragement to proceed. May God keep me humble, and help me always to keep in view the great object, viz. my moral improvement and the glory of God.”
His experience in connection with preaching, like that of every other man, and especially in the earlier period of the work, was very fluctuating. Sometimes he was very depressed, at other times as elevated;
but generally much easier and happier after preaching than before. Commonly he held a prayer meeting after delivering the sermon, but not invariably. When a man has walked six or eight miles to an appointment, and has to return home after the labours of the day, the addition of a prayer meeting to the duty of the pulpit must defer to an unseasonable hour his return home. His feelings on the subject, however, may be understood from what he says:
“Sunday, June 4,- Went to Gotham (nine miles from his residence). Had a warm journey. The Lord was with me in an unusual manner. There was a very powerful feeling, and, I believe, some deep convictions, God grant they may end in sound conversion. I came away condemned for not staying to the prayer-meeting. I feel that I want more of the love of God in my heart, more of the mind that was in Christ, more of that love that led him to die for our salvation."
“ June 18.–Preached at Colgrave to-day. I went with a very light heart, although I had been much depressed through the state of trade; -having heard that a glorious revival of the work of God had broken out among them. We had a very good time in the afternoon. We felt the Lord to be with us whilst I exhorted the people to “pray without ceasing. But in the evening, such was the overwhelming influence of the Holy Spirit, that I was completely taken out of myself. I felt that I was nothing, and that God was all in all. Eleven professed to find peace with God, two or three of whom were backsliders. Praise the Lord for his goodness! I feel disposed to give him all the glory; for I know that it is the Lord's doings, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
In the middle of July he writes, “I have often within these few last days indulged in castle-building ; and I find, as Dr. Blair observes, that these thoughts unfit the mind for applying with vigour to rational pursuits, or for acquiescing in sober plans of conduct. From that ideal world it returns unbent and relaxed, sickly and tainted, averse to discharging the duties, and sometimes disqualified even for relishing the pleasures of life."
The following record reveals so much of his mental constitution, and indicates so distinctly his intellectual progress, that it is presented unhesitatingly to the reader without abridgment. Let us premise that it was at the house of an intelligent farmer, long since gone to a better world, who at that time and for many years hospitably entertained all the preachers that went to the village of Bradmore, nearly seven miles south of Nottingham, that the incident narrated occurred. “I saw and handled a curiosity to-day with which I was extremely pleased. Mr. Walker, my host at B., visited, some time ago, the birth-place of Sir Isaac Newton. It so happened that at the time he was there, the apple tree from which Sir Isaac saw the apple fall which gave rise to his reflections on the laws of matter and motion, was blown over by a gust of wind. He procured a piece of one of the main branches of the tree, which of course he highly values. He showed it to me and allowed me take it in my hand; at the same time assuring me that he would not take £50 for it. The tree had been in a state of decay for some time, and had been supported by props; but was completely blown over, and the root turned upwards, while Mr. W. was there.
“Such a sight naturally leads to some reflections :
First, on the labours and triumphs of the human mind. But here I feel that so limite! are the powers of my mind, and so little am I in the habit of pursuing a train of reflections,