Harris, Joseph (1824-1903)
Transcription of Obituary in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Joseph Ferguson
Our sainted brother was born into this world January 30th, 1824, and went to his undefiled inheritance January 31st, 1903, “Full of age, like a shock of corn cometh in its season.” He had a godly mother, and moved in the sacred circle of a family life the atmosphere of which was morally healthy. Joseph, the child of hope and prophecy, was soon dedicated to God by baptism, the parents, themselves fulfilling the sponsorial duties. Our friend was early carried to the “Round Oak” Primitive Methodist Church – for his parents were members. Here he saw, before he understood, phenomenal manifestations of Divine grace, and the untold ecstasy of men and women emerging out of darkness into marvellous light. His child-mind was excited to wonder, and his quiet questions were not a few. His parents, though their own education had been neglected, in common with eighty per cent. of the people, were longingly anxious that Joseph should not be mentally barren, and so they sent him to school, and when able he was translated into Mr. Geary’s academy, wherein to living lads inspiration came. In this place, so intellectually helpful, Joseph’s time was necessarily short, but sufficient to create mental hunger and sharpen the appetite of soul. At the early age of seven he went to work to help his father to meet the claims of home. How sadly soon the struggle of life commenced, how soon the burden fell upon his tender shoulders, and the worry and weariness came to the child-mind and muscles. Joseph’s intellect at the aforesaid academic school had been quickened and was sufficient to incite him to attend our now venerable Mr. Clarke’s night-school, which in some measure compensated for his daily loss. Our dear brother was early converted to God. He consciously became a new creature in Christ Jesus. He was born from above, born of the Holy Spirit, and soon the fruit of his inward paradise was reaped by others. His Christian activity was coeval with his regeneration. He hastened through the gates of the vineyard to work for Him, whose command he heard. He taught in the Sunday school, in which subsequently he found, as a co-teacher, his wife, who for more than half-a-century was a helpmeet indeed. For fifty-three years he laboured as a teacher and local preacher. As a minister he was sincere, feeling the weight of responsibility. As a preacher he was not a son-of-thunder. This does not imply that he timorously whispered the truth of God lest the furious should hear. Robert Hall called John Wesley “The quiescence of turbulence,” and anxious and even stormy crowds heard his message Divine. Our friend was quiet and yet enthusiastic, steady in his advance and logical in his sequence. His power was in his heart and not in his voice; his eloquence was in his sweet reasonableness, and not in the thunder-calls. He knew the power to save men lay not in physical organism, not in mental constitution, not in quality of the human temperament, but in the wisdom and power of God. Our sainted brother was a Barnabas – a son of consolation. How many troubled hearts have received the comfort and peace of God through his message? What numbers through the emphasis of his Christly life have turned their eyes towards the Father’s House with confessions of unworthiness. He was a faithful steward of the mysteries of God. The circuit, in his early days, was wide and taxing. Rain and distance were no apology to his conscience and God for the neglect of his work. “Woe be to me if I preach not the gospel,” as a personal motto, was hung up in the sanctuary of his soul. A charge of neglect would have darkened his life and saddened his heart. Our friend had grown, by the grace of God, above the motive of duty or even that of conscience, and had reached that condition in which he could say, “The love of Christ constraineth me.” His ambitions lay along the lines of the spiritual. The kingdom of God and His righteousness were first, and matters operating on a lower life-level came after in order; he lived as seeing the invisible, and in a good hope of eternal fellowship. Our friend had some literary taste; this is shown in his written sermons. His last, which was written not long before his ascension, on Psalm xlii., reveals mind-culture and soul-longing. He also had some poetic genius, which exhibited itself in his poems on Christ’s birth, Christ’s invitation to sinners, and His final Supper. His love of children fired his spirit of poesy and evolved in anniversary hymns sung in our churches. His love of the Sabbath touched also his lyre, and the love of God, as manifested in the parable of the Prodigal Son, marshalled his verses. He was a Liberal in politics, and wrote an ode on Gladstone, the greatest statesman of the last century.
Our sainted friend has gone to immortality, leaving behind his few defects and weaknesses, as Joseph dolled his prison clothes ere he entered the palace of the king. His Christian hope was a shining lamp in a shaded way. In our visits, for many saw him – no dark doubt, like a stumbling-block, lay athwart the Valley of the Shadow of Death along which he walked. The glory from beyond the death-stream shone into time, and he feasted on fruits celestial. It was no little pleasure to hear his holy ejaculations and his unfaltering testimony to the power of “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” He spoke of his sainted wife, of his comrades of early toil, and of the everlasting communion with God. Our friend closed his eyes on the life that now is, January 31st, 1903, and was buried in the Baptist Cemetery, in the grave of his wife, February 4th; and on the 15th of that month his death was improved in Hill Street Church by the writer.
Joseph was baptised on 23 March 1824 at Brierley Hill, Staffordshire. His parents were Thomas, an iron miner, and Anne
Census returns identify the following occupations for Joseph.
- 1851 stone miner
- 1861 coal miner
- 1871 mine agent
- 1881 clay mine agent
- 1891 clay check agent
- 1901 machine check agent & baker
Joseph married Matilda Wilkes (abt1827-1898) on 21 December 1845 at St. Thomas, Dudley, Staffordshire. Census returns identify nine children.
- Samuel (b abt1847) – an iron worker (1891)
- William (1849-1894) – an iron puddler
- Thomas (b1851)
- Mary Ann (b abt1855)
- Lucy (d1858) – a domestic servant (out of work) (1881)
- Francis Joseph (1860-1864)
- Henry (b abt1865) – a glass maker: emigrated to USA in 1906
- Benjamin (b abt1870) – a railway company station master (1911)
- Clara (b1871)
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1904/242
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers
Note Matilda’s surname is given as Wilker in the BMD record.