Phillipson, Featherstone (1827-1881)
of Stanhope, Weardale
FEATHERSTON PHILLIPSON was born in the little village of Eastgate, about three miles west of Stanhope, on September 28, 1827, and finished, his mortal life on July 19, 1881, in his fifty-fourth year. His father was ‘a just and devout man,’ and a member of the Wesleyan Society. His mother was a quiet, thrifty manager of the household, and a consistent spiritually-minded Christian. Indeed, both father and mother sought to surround their children with moral and spiritual healthfulness, to bring them up in the ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ Under these circumstances his early training was exceptionally good, and many of the excellences of the character we have to describe, may be traced to home influence.
When he was just verging on the fuller life of manhood, he was called to witness the closing scene of his father’s life, which made a deep impression upon his mind. Very soon afterward the turning-point of his life came, when he was led to give himself to God. He was converted in a Primitive Methodist chapel in the year 1847, but as his training and associations had been with the Wesleyan body, he identified himself with them, and gave his services to the cause of Christ zealously and faithfully. He continued an active member of society with them until the wave of reform of 1851-2 swept over the whole of the Wesleyan Connexion, and left so many outside their ranks. In his broad liberal views he held with the Reformers, and for having the courage of his convictions was, like many others, cut off from church fellowship.
Emigrated to America
Shortly after this he and his wife and young family emigrated to America, where, for five years, amid the heat and cold of Canada, he struggled with the trying conditions of a settler’s life. During this time he never joined any religious society, but lived, as his letters show, in possession of religious principles, and aimed in his life to exemplify the precepts of Christ. After five years had expired, America was on the eve of a terrible civil war, which has now become a subject of history. Before the war broke out, he, with wife and family, returned to his native land and dale.
Revival in Weardale
For some time after his return, he did not identify himself with any church. However, in a gracious revival of God’s work which visited the churches in Weardale, he consecrated himself afresh to the Saviour, and joined the Primitive Methodist Society, Wearhead, in the Westgate Circuit. This was in the year 1864 or ’65. from that time he has maintained unbroken membership with the church of his choice, and has been called to occupy the official positions of class-leader and Sunday-school superintendent.
More than ordinary intelligence
He was a man of more than ordinary intelligence. His early education was considerably better than many in like circumstances, and then the indirect, or what may be called the unconscious educational forces of life — such as contact with men, interchange of thought, and interest in passing events — always had great influence in moulding and developing his mental powers. Besides, he was a reader of books, a student of the Bible, and ‘a lover of his fellowmen;’ and having travelled far and seen much, and learned many useful lessons, his counsel, especially in the last years of his life, was frequently sought. He always took a lively interest in the social condition of the toiling multitude with whom his lot in life was cast.
He had broad liberal views, a generous kindly disposition, of which many can testify, and none more than the members of his own family, yet, combined with this kindliness and gentleness, there was great firmness of character, and an unflinching love of truth, and right, and justice. He said himself, not long before the end came, that ‘his life had been a constant struggle to do right.’ In his religious experience he was prone to look at times on the dark side of things, and his mind would be perplexed and doubtful as he dwelt upon some of the problems of life, the sins and sufferings of humanity, the eternal, the Divine, the incomprehensible, and huge shadows at times would float darkly across his mind.
‘Yet he fought his doubts,
He would not leave his judgment blind,
But laid the spectres of his mind.’
In his Christian profession he was never very demonstrative, yet no one could be intimate with him without feeling the healthy influence and religious force of his Christian life.
A good man and true
The Rev. J. Atkinson in a letter says, ‘In the removal of Featherston Phillipson by death, I feel poorer in the friendships of the earthly life, but I trust to meet him and continue that friendship in the higher life of heaven. When stationed in Weardale I always found in him an earnest helper in the church, and a consistent follower of Christ.’
The Rev. H. Gilmore writes of him, ‘Your father was a good man and true; he has warred a good warfare. I admired his quiet, determined manner, and his resolute adherence to what he considered right, though he had discrimination always to discern the difference between principles and trifles, and could surrender the trifles with grace for the sake of peace. I was thrown a good deal into his company during my stay in Weardale, and his large humanness, sound judgment, and manly bearing, was always a help to me personally, and did much for the cause of God. He will be much missed in Stanhope; no man that I know could have been worse spared.’
End of his life
The end came somewhat unexpectedly. To those who were with him there were indications that his strength was failing, that his physical system was breaking, but it was fondly hoped that his life might have been spared to his family and to the church for many many years. But the Divine Father, who knows what is best for every one of His children, ordered it otherwise. He met his end with Christian fortitude, resignation, and hope; indeed, for some time he seemed to have been ripening for heaven. In one of his letters, written about two months before his death, he says, ‘It has been a winter that has dealt hardly with the old and feeble, and carried many, both high and low, to their long, long home, and it is a pleasing thought, that after the conflicts of this probationary state there is a home prepared.’ In his dying hours he told of his confidence in Christ, and manifested remarkable patience in the midst of great suffering. A member of his family said to him —
‘Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Are dressed in living green.’
‘Aye,’ said he, ‘it’s far grander than that.’
When in great bodily pain and weakness, his son said to him, ‘To patient faith the prize is sure.’ He caught up the words and repeated earnestly, ‘They that to the end endure the cross, shall wear the crown.’ On Tuesday, July 19, the final struggle came, and the ‘silver cord was loosed,’ ‘the golden bowl was broken,’ and his spirit passed away to ‘the land of the pure and the holy.’ In his death the church has lost a faithful Christian, his widow a loving husband, and his children a good father; but their loss is his gain. ‘They sorrow, but not as those that have no hope.’ Fallen he may be, but fallen in Christ.
His mortal remains were laid in Stanhope Cemetery, on the green hillside, from whence may be seen the dark rounded moors, the murmuring Wear, and the dale he loved so well. When last I stood by his grave, in the evening hour, there were gloomy clouds above me, filling the place with dark shadows, sad but fitting emblems of the shadows and bereavements of the life of earth. But, looking into the far west, I was cheered as I saw the sun sinking behind the distant hills, and filling the western sky with bars of golden light, bright emblems of ‘the hope beyond,’ of the grander, nobler, and purer life of heaven.
The Primitive Methodist Magazine, 1883, pp 753-54
Featherstone Phillipson was the son of John Phillipson (1791-1846) and Deborah Featherstone (1790-1849). He married Jane, the daughter of Emerson and Mary Featherstone, and they had eight children, two of whom became Primitive Methodist ministers: John and Emerson.