An early local preacher's record
Transcription of Sketch in the Christian Messenger by Jesse Ashworth
It has been our privilege to know a number of very zealous and successful local preachers, among whom was Thomas Barnes, with whom I became acquainted over forty years ago.
Before leaving Peterborough he gave me a written record of some of his early experiences, from which I copy the following, and which can scarcely fail to be inspiring to the thousands or our local preachers in the present day.
Thomas was a journeyman tailor, and in his young days it was customary for tailors to go to people’s houses to work by the day.
“In the summer of May, 1827,” he says, “I went to work at the mansion of a magistrate near Lynn, in Norfolk. Leaving work about six o’clock the first evening I was there, I proceeded to the village for the purpose of proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. While I was preaching the magistrate’s son and daughter, with the clergyman of the parish, came up in a carriage, stopped awhile, then passed on, and reported to the father that the young tailor was preaching in the village. The following day the magistrate and his lady came to me while I was at work and said, ‘I understand you were preaching in the village last night?’ I said, ‘ Yes, sir.’ He then asked who authorised me. ‘My Master,’ I replied. ‘Who is your master? ’ ‘The Lord Jesus Christ,’ I answered, ‘Who is Lord and Master over all. He it is who has commissioned me. My commission is in the last chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel: ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.’ The magistrate then said, ‘I have authority to keep you people out of the village.’ ‘ But you cannot,’ I replied. ‘Cannot? Why?’ ‘Because we are the people of God, sir.’ He then said they were a set of fellows going about the country doing a lot of harm. ‘Tell me of any good they have done?’ ‘Why, sir,’ I replied, ‘these bawling men, as you call them, have been instrumental in my soul being brought to a saving knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. They have gone into the open air and preached the Gospel. Poor drunkards and Sabbath-breakers have become new creatures in Christ Jesus; they have learned to make better use of their wages, their children are better fed, their wives have been comforted, and the parish has been saved from expense.’ ‘ Well,’ said he, ‘ I do not like them,’ and away he went.
“In a day or two after he came again and said, ‘I’ll tell you what, Thomas, if you will oblige me and leave these bawling fellows l’ll make it worth your while. You are a young man, just entering into the world, and if you settled in the village a word of recommendation from me would go a long way toward getting you customers. But if you are determined to continue with this set you may leave my premises.’ ‘Well, sir,’ said Thomas, ‘my Master has promised never to leave me, and I am resolved never to leave Him nor His service.’
“On Saturday night l sent word into the parlour to thank the squire for all past favours, for I expected that I was not to come again. The butler returned saying that I was to come again on Monday morning.”
“During the Monday the squire came to me again, and said, ‘Well, Thomas, were you out anywhere to preach yesterday?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ I replied. ‘I thought l told you not to go any more.’ ‘You did, sir.’ ‘Well, I tell you what, Thomas; if you will oblige me and leave this set I will send up to London for a stock of goods for you. I will make you a present of them, and let you have some money besides.’ I replied, ‘I can but thank you, sir, for your kind offer, but I must rather leave your employ than give up my people and the service of my God.’
“The next evening I met the squire and the clergyman in a carriage; they stopped and asked me if l was going to the village to preach.”
“I, purposing to do so, replied. Then the squire said, ‘well if you will go, you must, but don’t take any of the clergyman’s flock away from him. ‘No sir,’ I replied, ‘that is not my wish, I want to keep the devil from getting them.’’
“During the week a clergyman, who was visiting at the Squire’s, came into my room and was immediately followed by a servant who said with a jeer, ‘Oh, sir, Thomas is one of those bawling ranters.’ ‘Indeed,’ said the clergyman, ‘I am glad to hear that he is one of those ranters, for I believe those ranters have done more good than any other denomination of people.’ They then both left the room.”
“The Monday evening following, when the family had done card-playing, they introduced prayers. The next evening they invited me in to prayers, and while l and the servants were kneeling down, the squire unfortunately lost his spectacles, and he began to swear at the butler about them. The next evening I could not think to go in to such prayers mixed with oaths. The following day the squire came to ask me the reason. I said, ‘If the Lord had answered your prayer, sir, swearing, we should all now have been in hell.’ The squire acknowledged that he was wrong and away he went, bidding me to attend prayers again in the evening. Accordingly, I attended, and the squire read a prayer which began with the following language, ‘O Lord do Thou in Thy tender mercy convert this family.’ I most earnestly and solemnly answered, ‘ Amen.’ When prayers were over, I was ordered to stay awhile in the room, and the squire insisted upon knowing why I made such a disturbance during prayers. ‘Why sir,’ I replied, ‘you prayed that the Lord might in His tender mercy convert your family unto Himself; and that is what I wish from my very heart, and may Almighty God grant the petition.’ One of the clergymen then present said to the squire, ‘Sir, that is very good.’ The next morning the squire and some of his friends came to me and asked if I thought he was a converted man. I replied, ‘If I told you, sir, what I think of you in that respect I might offend you, but I have not seen any proofs of it.’ ‘Proofs, proofs, proofs,’ said the squire ‘you answer me what I asked you.’ I then said, ‘My best way will be to tell you how a converted man leads his life and you then will be the best judge.’ I stated some of the marks by which they are known; I said, ‘they keep Sabbath holy, forbear swearing, and keep family worship with a pure motive to God’s glory.’ His son at once said, ‘Well, papa, if this be it, you are one of the devil’s converts, for you have nothing like this.’ They all then left the room without a word. On July 16th, the same summer, the squire had a party, and there was not sleeping room for all the guests without using my bedroom, which was a double-bedded one, so one of the clergy had to sleep there. I had to light him to bed, and thought if he prayed out I would do so too, but he hastily undressed and got into bed. I knew that method would not do for me, so I blew out the light and began to pray; I prayed for the king, the magistrates and the clergy, that God would make them holy men, not ashamed to thank God for His goodness to them, and then I retired to rest. After a short time, the clergyman in the other bed said, ‘Thomas, do you often pray so?’ I told him that I should be very sorry to lay my body down to rest without acknowledging the Lord as being my protector, and imploring His protection for the night. He then asked me if I was one of the elect. I asked him what that was, and he said, ‘one whom Christ died for.’ I said ‘Yes,’ for I believed that by the grace of God Christ tasted death for every man. He then wished me ‘good night.’ In the morning I prayed again and left the room. About a fortnight after, the lady came to my room with a letter in her hand, which she had received from this clergyman, and asked me if I remembered the gentlemen sleeping in my room. I said ‘yes,’ then she asked if l had any conversation with him. I said ‘yes.’ She said, ‘We have received a letter from him; would you like me to read it to you?’ ‘If you please, madam.’ She began to read it: ‘Dear madam, I am glad to inform you that I have reason to bless God that you had no other accommodation for me but to sleep in the same bedroom where there was a poor ranter, for he has been instrumental in the hand of God of my soul’s conversion. I have been a minister of the Gospel for many years, but had never been saved up to that night ; but now I feel determined to live and preach the Gospel.’ By this time I could not refrain from shouting, ‘ Glory be to God.’ ‘ There, there,’ said the lady, ‘don’t, Thomas, make that to do.’ ‘Oh, madam,’ I said, ‘it is the Lord’s doing, and He shall have the glory. Glory be to God.’ The lady then retired.
“ A few days after the squire came again to my room, soliciting me to ‘leave the people,’ telling me what a friend he had been to me; also offered me fifty sovereigns, laid them upon the table, and said if I would oblige him and leave the people he would never name them to me again. I said, ‘No, sir, for if it were fifty thousand sovereigns what profit would it be to me, even to gain the whole world and lose my own soul? This people shall be my people, and their God my God, who hath said, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ “
Thomas remained faithful unto death, and is gone to receive the promised crown of life and to meet the clergyman who was saved through his instrumentality, with numerous others, who will be the crown of his rejoicing in the day of the Lord. His heroic steadfastness cannot but be a strong incentive to young men, surrounded by all kinds of temptations, not to leave the ship which has rescued them from their perilous condition.
Does not this narrative give us a brief glimpse into the character of earlier times?‘ We see a wealthy family mixing up card-playing, swearing, and evening prayers.
This narrative carries us back over a period of seventy-five years of our Connexion’s history, and gives us to see that “the Lord was working with them,” and what “were the signs following.” It also furnishes us with a striking sample of what kind of stuff our earlier local preachers were made. There stands before us a young man, filled with the constraining love of Christ, who, evening after evening, after finishing his day’s work, could visit neglected villages, and where we had no places of worship, proclaim in the open air the glad tidings of the Gospel. There stands before us a man, who, when the Connexion was everywhere spoken against, oven came every temptation presented by wealth, prestige, influence, and every prospect of worldly prosperity, to carry out the conscientious convictions of his mind. Was not this a faith something like that of Moses, who “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season?”
Christian Messenger 1903/152
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