Phelps, Eleanor (nee Gosling) (1824-1898)
Transcription of Obituary In the Primitive Methodist Magazine by John Leach
Mrs. G.T. Phelps was born at Great Bedwin, a village in the county of Wilts, on Nov. 3, 1824. She lived a most exemplary life as a Christian, a mother and a friend. At a very early age she “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” From infancy she had been pure in Spirit, and a lover of the good; but in due time she saw the necessity of making a distinct surrender to Christ and the Church. She speedily won the confidence of the ministers, of officials and members of the Wesleyan Church, and though through marriage she became dissociated, she was ever held in very high esteem by them.
At the age of nineteen she was chosen a class-leader, a position for which she was pre-eminently adapted by her fervent piety, gentleness of manner, a good knowledge of the Scriptures and Methodist Hymnology, and great power in prayer, combined with general intelligence and chaste speech.
The class grew rapidly in numbers and influence, and became a tower of strength to the Church, and was the direct means of a very remarkable revival.
Some forty-eight years ago she married, and the long wedlock life has been of a most peaceful, happy and useful character. She had resolved only to accept the hand of a godly man. Her husband, at the time of the marriage, was a local preacher in the historic Shefford Circuit, and few men have rendered greater service to country Primitive Methodism than he has done. Having a soul all aflame for God’s glory and the salvation of men, he was singularly fortunate in his choice of a wife, as in home and church she was a helpmate indeed. It seemed a hard thing for her to sever herself from the Wesleyan Church, and the village that had become dear to her, but under strong conviction of duty she rose to the occasion. In connection with the society and town of Hungerford she has been an angel of light, mercy and grace. In 1872, on entering the ministry, the writer was located in the home, and for three years had his life greatly enriched by the Christian spirit, counsels, and prayers that characterised it. At that time the “Holiness question” was raised in the country, and the Rev. George Warner specially devoted himself to its advocacy in our churches. Being an intimate friend and a frequent guest, Mrs. Phelps took an intense interest in his missions. She also read the addresses given at meetings by Dr. Asa Mahan, Rev. W.E. Boardman, and others, and became greatly exercised about the so-called “second blessing.” Her life had been free from degrading vice. She had no consciousness of ever having stooped to do an evil thing. All who knew her acknowledged her saintliness “as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” The blessing known as entire sanctification, she professed, and beyond controversy enjoyed. She could not understand the allegations of the new school condemning believers as resisting the Holy Spirit, etc. If it were possible to have a second blessing she would seek for it. Years previously she had an ever memorable experience. While exercising, as her wont, at the Tuesday evening prayer meeting, an illumination (a transfiguration) of face was observed, and solemn awe filled the other worshippers. This “halo of glory” was visible to her family on her return home, but she was all the while unconscious of it. Her piety was a veritable incarnation of Psalm i. 3 and Psalm xcii. 12-15. She had her set times for daily prayer and meditation. As she moved from room to room of the house she would magnify the grace of God to her. Nor did she fail to break the box of spikenard. At meal times, in social circles, in conversation with customers in the shop, she made people feel the glow of Divine life, and spoke words of cheer and helpfulness. Her soul was a temple, and her life a psalm. Her greatest delight was to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and to abide under the shadow of the Almighty,” but she was “ready to every good work.” She had doubts as to woman’s place being in pulpits, etc., but she believed in them offering prayer in public, counselling penitents, encouraging young converts, witnessing for Christ in lovefeasts, visiting the sick in their homes, and in the latter case bestowing welcome dietetics. In these works she was proficient. Her eldest son, now stationed at Swindon, attributes his conversion to her experience given at a lovefeast. Few have comforted more of God’s beloved sick, or assisted more in “the swellings of Jordan.” She was a lovely sunbeam making touches of beauty all around. In the home and Church alike her religion was a joyous one. When exposed to intense suffering, as she frequently was, she exulted in her Saviour. When Zion languished she mourned as one jealous for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ; still believed for better times, and cheered the minister in his sorrow, and when the revival came her joy abounded. She was an ideal worshipper, punctual, consistent, devotional. It was her wont to go direct from private communion to public worship, and she carried heaven with her to the sanctuary. The light of Gods countenance was invariably lifted upon her, and her face was a study. Preachers derived inspiration while looking at her, and her subdued responses gave evidence of receiving the engrafted word with meekness.
As a mother she was inestimable. Nature had richly endowed her for this department of life, but she made motherhood a study, and gave a rich and full expression of it. The children were not only trained in commendable habits of life, but the best education means could provide was secured them. Love dominated, and rarely did the frown shadow her face or displeasure ruffle her voice. The home-coming of the children was mutually affectionate and exhilarating. To the writer she became a foster-mother, and made it next to impossible for him to feel sad and lonely in his new conditions. To all probationers who travelled the circuit her maternal care and sympathy were shown. There was eternal music in her addressing them as “My dear boy,” or “My dear child.” She fully understood the difficulties and sorrows, as well as the privileges and blessedness of the ministry, and had special aptitude for imparting antidotes and consolations.
To her four sons and three daughters she was a saint-mother. No high priest carried the tribes before the Lord more truly than she did her children from childhood onward. She lived, hoped, and believed for their salvation, and as they joined themselves one after another to the Lord, her heart rejoiced.
When her eldest son left home for the ministry, weeping and delight mingled. On another being apprenticed to business in an adjoining town, she enclosed in the weekly parcel the “little letter” of loving counsel, and the writer calls to mind her ecstasy when that son sent a letter detailing his conversion. With such a mother (supported in her efforts by her husband) it is not surprising to find three of the sons in the ministry, and the other an active layman, and the three daughters married to ministers – Revs. T. Whitehead, W. Dinning and T. Graham.
It was a rule of life as long as she could hold the pen for her to write fortnightly to the children, and to have a special season of prayer, on the Sabbath, for their ministry, and they fondly admit these two things greatly helped them and enhanced their usefulness.
She had dignified conceptions of the ministry, claiming that thought and emotion, instruction and spirituality should blend. Her supreme ambition for her sons was that they should “win souls.” To them, and to preachers generally, she would say, “Be earnest, I fear preachers are not earnest enough. Urge the people to be in earnest, to get saved; you must try and get the young people saved.”
Her friendship was real, elevating, beneficent. Tales of suffering had ardent attention, and won her sympathy. Knowing much of suffering personally would tend to put her in touch with other sufferers, but the constraining love of Christ more so. The Christmas before her death, though in a weak state, she visited the Union, and gave her blessing to the inmates.
The home was emphatically an “open house” for the servants of God. Pioneers and leading lights of the Connexion, and almost every preacher stationed in the Brinkworth District during the last forty-eight years, Alliance and other Temperance agents, Joseph Arch and his associates at the formation of the N.A.L.U., local preachers of any circuit, and especially “the lads just put on the plan,” received the welcome smile and cheery words and liberal hospitality. Indeed, it was impossible for too many to call, or to call too often, or to stay too long. The wives and children of the circuit preachers loved her for her cordiality and unstinted kindness.
During the past twenty-four years she had serious illnesses, and her life has been in the balance, but the furnace revealed her purity of heart, her patience and her hope in God.
The last affliction proved the most terrible of all. It was unrelieved torture of limbs. Her well-spent life now revealed its hidden glories. The Bible and hymn book she had loved and stored in her mind gave a new strength, and were constantly quoted from. For a brief space only did she repine, and then the triumph was inexpressible. Resting sweetly in Jesus her Lord, she had no fear of death, but spoke of it as a friend.
For weeks her room was the vestibule of heaven to her own soul, and holy ground to her husband and children. To the daughters she said, “Do visit the poor sick ones sometimes, you see what it is.” To the doctor she said, “Would you solve the mystery, Come up higher, come and see.” To her husband she said, “You are first now, and then the precious children.” “God will reward them.” To the children she said‘, “Always make room for the preachers.” When informed she could not last long, she said, “Oh praise God! praise God! Glory, glory to His name! ” Again, “The pearly gates are opening wide.” Again—
“Though Jordan swells I will not fear,
My Jesus will be with me there,
My head above the waves will bear,
All, all is well.”
On Sunday morning, May 8, while the grey light was waiting to break on the horizon, her spirit was caught up to the City of Light.
“The stream is calmest as it nears the tide,
The flowers are sweetest at eventide,
The birds most melodious at close of day,
And saints divinest as they pass away.”
On Wednesday, May 11, 1898, the interment took place. The corpse was taken into the chapel, and service conducted by the Rev. P.T. Yarker. The Congregational minister read the Scriptures. The Rev. Daniel Harding offered prayer, and Rev. John Leach, of Luton, delivered an address, or tribute of memory and love. A large company accompanied the mourners to the new burial ground, and an unusual service was held. All felt “it is not death to die.” Husband, children, relatives, friends, ministers, sang with great fervour her favourite hymn, 1016 in the Hymnal, with the chorus, “What, never part again,” etc.; and in heart could say—
“When our sun is setting may we glide,
Like summer evening down the golden tide,
And leave us as we pass away,
Sweet starry twilight o’er our sleeping clay.”
Eleanor was born to parents John Gosling and Caroline. John was a cordwainer.
She married George Thomas Phelps (1820-1911) in the spring of 1850 in the Marlborough Registration District. George was a grocer and baker. Census returns identify seven children.
- Ellen (abt1851-1922) – married Thomas Whitehead, a PM Minister, in 1883
- Thomas (1852-1924) – a PM Minister
- George (1854-1922) – a grocer
- John (1856-1954) – a Congregational minister
- Annie (b1859) – married William Dinning, a PM Minister, in 1881
- Leonard (b1861) – a Methodist minister in Canada, emigrated 1882
- Elizabeth (1863-1931) – married Thomas Graham, a PM Minister, in 1894
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/226
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers
Surman Index Online – http://www.qmulreligionandliterature.co.uk/research/surman-index-online/