Lowly Heroes and Heroines of Primitive Methodism - The Old Scotch Soldier
Transcription of Sketch in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Rev. Chas. H. Boden
Amidst that constellation of illustrious names which have shone boldly forth like stars of the first magnitude, and accomplished great things in literature, art, and religion, are many who bore the distinctive appellation of Watson. Prominent amongst these were two learned monks who were driven homeless into the world from their Westmoreland monastic home on its dissolution by order of Henry the Eighth. At the same place lived Dr. Watson, whose father followed the occupation of tutor, Chambers, the lexicographer, being one of his pupils. Dr. Watson rendered himself almost penniless by paying the debts of a deceased profligate brother, but he acquired fame by his literary productions, and died wealthy and honoured by all who knew him.
There are, in addition to these, Thomas Watson, of Puritan fame, whose writings were full of point and power, and bore a striking resemblance to those of the quaint and pungent Adams. There was also Richard Watson, the incomparably eloquent writer and preacher of Wesleyanism, and less in the esteem of men, but not in that of the Infinite, was one David Watson, who, though, void of the eloquence of the one, or the intellectual grasp of the others, was a man to whom Primitive Methodism is much indebted, and one whom the King delighteth to honour.
David, who, though hailing from the Land of the Thistle, could not trace his pedigree to any of the Davids who had worn the royal crown of Scotland, was not unworthy to bear the name of the conqueror of Goliath of Gath, for, like his namesake, the warrior king of Israel, he could say, “I come unto thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts.”
He was an old army pensioner. I am not prepared positively to state that he was a defender of the heights of Torres Vedras, or present at the siege of Badajoz, or that he accompanied the victorious army to Salamanca or Madrid, but he certainly served with the Iron Duke through some parts of the Peninsular campaigns, and followed that valiant commander (who though of Irish blood was truly a British hero), to the decisive battle on the field of Waterloo, where Europe’s dark shadow was dispersed, Napoleon’s power was broken, and the career of the ambitious Corsican terminated.
David eked out a living as a carrier, not of passengers or of letters, but of butcher’s meat. He lived in Derby, which, although an antiquated town, was comparatively small, with five churches and eight chapels, one of which latter belonged to the denomination called Primitive Methodists. Everything in that town was small. The now important railway-works were just springing into being. The passenger station was of diminutive size, with a staff merely sufficient to meet the limited requirements of a town which boasted of a population of only twenty thousand. The parent chapel of the denomination in Derby was then a recent erection, with a large working, though not rich, society. It was situated at the end of Traffic Street, and though vastly inferior to the present, considered a denominational cathedral. It had a numerous Sabbath School, taught partly in a cellar underneath the chapel, and partly in a large room over a draper’s shop.
David was in every sense a unique character. A stranger would in all probability have judged him to be at least twenty years in advance of his real age. His face was nearly square, with a mouth and other features to match. His skin was yellowish and puckered like an old parchment title-deed. His height was about five feet seven, and his form somewhat bent. His demeanour was not obsequious, but respectful to all in every sphere of life. He had no spare flesh. His language was fluent. He was absolutely innocent of conceit. The income side of his weekly balance-sheet was small, and the expenditure side was regulated accordingly. His best suit, once black, was threadbare and very seedy. His exchequer did not admit of the purchase of purple and fine linen; but in person, and clothing he was always scrupulously clean. I never heard him bemoan his poverty, but if you gave out the hymn —
“Come, brethren dear, who know the Lord,
And taste the sweets of Jesus’ word;
In Jesus‘ name go on.
Our poverty and trials here,
Will only make us richer there,
When we arrive at home.”
As the song of Zion trembled on his lips, friction would produce fire, and his eyes literally sparkled.
The query often occurred to me how it was that one so good should be so poor; then a still small voice seemed to whisper, “Though I give him the bread of adversity and the waters of affliction, yet shall not his teachers be removed from him, but he shall hear a voice behind him, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” He took everything from the hand of God, saying, in humble acquiescence, Thy will be done. I never heard him complain of temptation, but have often heard him sing with great gusto —
“In vain doth Satan rage his hour,
Beyond his chain he cannot go;
Our Jesus will stir up His power,
And soon avenge us of our foe.”
He had an intimate friend and yoke-fellow in the person of John Lockyer, the soldier mentioned in the History of the Connexion, as having in his barrack-lodgings made a home for the early preachers. John was in every respect in diametric contrast to David. He was tall and sedate, with long upper lip and receding chin – in fact, possessing every attribute of a model orderly of the early days of the nineteenth century. He had a number of coadjutors in the service of Christ, each worthy of mention. There was Robert Hind, tall, dark, vigorous, and gentlemanly, a dealer in valuable horses. There was Thomas Smith, a butcher, a valiant soldier in the cause of the Redeemer, for which he had suffered and was prepared to suffer. There were also William Reedman, a soda-water manufacturer, I. Sharratt, S. Holmes, S. Allicock, Joseph and John Wait, all estimable local preachers, though not eccentric like David, excepting John Wait, who always used one formula, in public exercises. In the pulpit and lovefeast he invariably said, “In my time I have dressed many a rough tree, but the Lord chopped the knots off me at last,” – a statement to which some may have dissented, thinking just a few remained.
David was always on Pisgah’s summit. I never remember seeing him depressed. I recollect him at a crowded lovefeast after a camp-meeting on Chester Green when some sixty spoke in an hour with singing interspersed. In the prayer-meeting there were about forty converted. David seemed as though he were caught up into the third heavens and there saw what ordinary mortals never see. Again, I recollect him some months afterwards, when the old veteran was engaged in a contest with principalities and powers on the occasion of at visit of the Rev. James Caughey, who held a day’s services in connection with Traffic Street chapel. I took down the names and addresses of one hundred and sixty-eight persons who professed to have received good. During this season of grace, David’s soul seemed ready to burst the bonds of mortality and rush into the region of the invisible. The words, “Pless Him,” were escaping his lips from early morn till long past dewy eve; as he left the chapel late at night, his heart was overflowing with divine love, so that he was scarcely able to speak. Next day when I met him he exclaimed with deep emotion, “Oh, it’s all Clory, Clory, Clory. Hallelujah, I’m going where pleasures never die.”
David’s oratory, like himself, was unique. His utterance was not loud, but rapid and accompanied by a compound of laugh and cry, and when his military fire was kindled it reached its climax in a splutter terminating with the words, “Pless. Him, pless Him! Clory, Clory, Cloryl ” His enunciation did not reach perfection, for David he said, “Tavid,” for Divinity, “Tivinity,” for brethren, “prethren,” and frequently misplaced the “pless Him,” but his exclamations possessed the right ring. They came from him as he stood at the gates of heaven, and were accompanied by a fire almost seraphic. It is insufficient to say his soul was in his preaching, for it was in his every religious exercise, but especially was it in his preaching.
The first sermon I heard from him was on “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” It was at Spondon, a village overlooking the romantic vale of the Derwent, three miles east of Derby, where we had purchased a chapel we could not ?oat, nor could the denomination from whom the purchase was made. I had conducted the afternoon service, and was to occupy the pulpit again at night. David was of opinion there ought to be an open-air service at five, as numbers had come from all parts of the circuit to hear the new preacher, and a large congregation might be expected. He attempted to prevail on some one of the local preachers present to hold a service; but being unable to succeed, announced that he would preach himself, which he did. His text was, “I have five brethren.” He spoke of the servants “going about with plates of roast beef and potatoes smoking hot, and wouldn’t give poor Lazarus a crust, but the Lord sent the ‘togs’ to lick his sores, pless Him. But this did not last long. Angels fetched him, and the rich man was not long after him. Tevils fetched him, and dragged him down to hell.” He warned us to avoid going there. He said, “Sinners were going by thousands, it was full, it was crowded; people were sitting on the ‘winder-sills.’ The rich man was there, and his riches were of no use to him. They had been of some use; some had bought him good things to eat and drink, and fine clothes to wear; some had bought him doctors’ medicines, (pless him), but he died. Some had bought him a splendid coffin and palisades to palisade him in from the poor, but all the rest could not buy him one drop of water to cool his parched tongue.”
It is within my recollection that at a subsequent Quarterly Meeting, having considered the state of the circuit, it was thought advisable to put forth special efforts to secure a revival. Therefore the officials present pledged themselves before God to endeavour to secure a hundred increase during the quarter. David, on this occasion, gave his views on the subject. He called attention to the state of mind in which we must be to secure this end. Amongst other things, he told us, “We could not light a fire by pushing an icicle through the bars, but must use a lucifer match. Pless Him! And the Lord must load us with religion, and we must ‘reb it’ on the Rock of Ages until it go off – fires the church, and sinners catch the flame, pless Him!” The pledge was enthusiastically taken. A protracted meeting was arranged, and on the following Monday night David was one of the speakers. His subject was the revival of religion in answer to prayer. He exhorted us to believe as well as pray. He gave us to understand that prayer without faith would never reach heaven at all, and further said, “The prayer of weak faith would just manage to crawl up to the gates and give a feeble knock; then. The Father says, ‘Go to the door, Jesus,’ and Him go, pless Him, and the Father says, ‘Who’s there?’ and He says, ‘It’s only some ragamuffins, and I’ve sent them away about their business.’ Presently another knock goes thundering at the gates. And the Father says, ‘Go to the door,’ and He goes,‘ pless Him. ‘Who is it?’ then He turns and says, ‘Ranters, from Traffic Street, Derby.’ ‘What do they want?‘ ‘They say they want a hundred souls this quarter.’ ‘Oh, nonsense, nonsense! They don’t deserve them. Tell them they can have fifty, and then come again.’ ” Then as thought was overmastered by imagination, he ‘spluttered, stammered, and shouted, “Pless Him, pless Him! Friends, we shall get fifty!” And rather strange to state, at the close of the services the roll of membership was increased by the number of fifty.
It was equally interesting to hear David descant on the parable of the Prodigal Son, only a few fragments of which linger in my memory. But to the best of my recollection he told us how, “The togs wagged their tails when their ‘oud’ master came back again. How the father said, ‘Bring hither the best robe and put it on him,’ not an old one of his brother’s, but the best. ‘Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and let us be merry, for this my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found.’ So when a sinner is converted God the Father rejoices, and every angel and saint is merry.”
David could feel no greater joy than was occasioned by the conversion of a sinner. His heart was in the work. No distance was too great for him to travel. No appointments were too numerous for him to take. He would have walked ten miles out to preach to half a dozen. He would have gone to Burnaston, or Draycott, to preach to two or three; and I firmly believe he would have gone if appointed, with equal absence of diffidence or self-sufficiency, to St. Paul’s Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey to preach to thousands from, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” I do not think he had any fear of men or devils, earth or hell. One idea possessed him – to turn many from the error of their ways. It was a means of grace to hear him say, “Pless the Lord, we had a grand day at Borrowash on Sunday! We had three converted.” At another time, in answer to the question, “Where were you last Sabbath?” his reply would be, “At Thraycott, and there were several penitents seeking the Lord, pless Him!” And on my next visit to the said places I, on inquiry, invariably found the report proved a correct one.
David was wont to listen with inexpressible pleasure in his eyes to the singing of the words –
“There’s a beautiful land where all is bright,
Nor sickness nor sorrow nor pain nor night;
There happiness reigns and joy dwells for ever,
In that beautiful land just over the river.”
There all are equal; not so on earth. Here, one wears a crown, he is called a king. Another wears a pit-cap, he is called a collier. One can count his musty title-deeds and crisp bank-notes by bundles, he is called a millionaire. Another receives parish pay, he is called a pauper. Here one is surveying estates comprising many square miles, another lies at the rich man’s gates full of sores. But there all distinctions have melted away, and all are kings and priests of the King Immortal and Invisible.
David has long since gone to his rest. His dust moulders in an obscure grave, but his spirit has reached the estate of kingship and priesthood celestial, not to be a foot-stool to those enthroned or near the throne. That may occur in the kingdoms of this world, but not in the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
Here David has re-united with many dear comrades who were glad to see the old warrior once again, and as he entered they joined the celestial choristers in singing:—
“Soldier of Christ, well done,
Cease from thy loved employ,
Thy battle’s fought, thy victory’s won,
Enter thy Master’s joy.
Soldier of Christ, well done,
Thy time of conflicts passed,
Thy battle’s fought, thy victory won,
And thou art crowned at last.”
David was born abt1781 in Scotland.
Census returns identify the following occupations for David.
- 1841 labourer
- 1851 Chelsea pensioner
He married Sarah Peach (b abt1785) on 26 May 1817 at Derby, Derbyshire.
David died in late 1857 at Derby, Derbyshire.
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1901/440
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers