Allison, John Watson (1851-1892)
Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Wm. Johnson
The Rev. John Watson Allison died at Blyth, Northumberland, on Monday, September 7, 1891. His call was sudden and unexpected, consequently the news of his death came like a shock to his many friends, and cast a gloom over the circuit in which he was highly esteemed as the superintendent minister. Of his beautiful and promising life, all too soon arrested by the paralysis of death, there remains a warm and living memory to all who knew him. Mr. Allison had a good presence, a genial and winsome manner; but that about him which was more valuable and which most impressed one, was the transparent sincerity of his character, and the moral earnestness with which he regarded life, its duties, its opportunities for service, and the way in which he brought all his powers to bear on the one grand aim of being a successful minister of Jesus Christ. Our dear brother was wholly dedicated to the ministry and to that of his own church. It was his parents’ desire, his own choice, and he had powers which well qualified him for the sacred office. Than this conjunction of gifts, and purpose, and consecration, what higher evidence could we have that God had called him to the office? When barely twenty years of age and but a strapping youth, a local tradesman offered to start him as a commercial traveller at a hundred pounds per year; but he was told it was not a money question with him, ‘he was meant for the ministry.’ A college career thus begun, as might be expected, did not issue in a mere functional ministry but in a ministry of vitality and power, a ministry with soul and sympathy in it, full of fire, freshness, earnest purpose and delight, a ministry with no margins but the limits of time and human strength, which, like the brimming river, never could be full enough and never could flow far enough. ‘I like to make new sermons,’ he said. Truth fresh and vigorous his own nature demanded. His joy failed him unless he drew out of the eternal wells. Unstale to himself, his sermons fell fresh on others. All his work possessed him in every department. When either pulpit, Sunday-school, sick-visiting, chapel building, or other human interest pressed, sleep, leisure, self, all were given up to meet the demand.
Even his last sensible utterances, amid the wanderings of his fevered brain, were about papers, articles, and circuit matters needing attention. Our brother was never more fitted for real service and more hopeful of achieving it than when he fell full-handed in the strife. ‘His days are past,’ however, now, and his ‘purposes broken off.’ ‘ Broken off’ only, not destroyed. Let us hope he will more truly realize and fulfil them now that he has shuttled off the flesh.
Mr. Allison was born and bred at Grassholme, Lunedale, surrounded by the Teesdale moors. The lad grew up very much a child of nature, sensitive, responsive, spiritual. Far away from the poisoned atmosphere of town-life and the witchery of vice, he fed his wonder and imagination sweetly on nature. He heard the winter’s storm tear over the Fells. He saw the marvellous snow-wreaths like sea-waves crystallised in curve. He saw the savageness of rock and mountain softened and transformed by the touch of summer. The flowers, the heather-bloom, the sweet sunlight, changed the sullenness into glory. He fished in the singing streams. The birds, the sheep, the stillness, were ever with him. He felt God before he knew Him; while he was following his own fancies in all these things, God was preparing him for his work.
At seventeen years of age the self-surrender was made in the little Primitive Methodist chapel of his native dale. Here he had sat in the family pew, been taught in the Sunday-school; and one of the forces which weighted his young mind to decision for Christ, was a hot tear from his teacher’s eye falling upon his hand during the prayer-meeting. At the age of twenty he entered the Theological Institute, Sunderland, recommended for the ministry by the Barnard-Castle Circuit. He successfully travelled his probation on the Wigton Branch in connection with the Maryport station. He then spent three years on the St. Helen’s Auckland station; five years in Sunderland Second station; three years in Newcastle Second station. Then he entered the superintendency at Blyth, where in his fourth year and at forty years of age his labours ceased, and he changed mortality for fulness of life. Our brother was highly esteemed in all his circuits, and left pleasant memories behind him. He was attentive, kindly and faithful, deeply responsive to suffering and need. He was a steady student and a hard worker, because his work was not his task but his delight. The thoroughness of the man and the spirit in him, is well illustrated by the following record from the fly-leaf of his Bible written at Wigton, his first station, and similar to many in his diaries always speaking of a great trust: ‘On this tenth day of September, I present my entire being and circumstances to thee, O Lord. I know Thou wilt, yea, that Thou hast accepted them. O Lord, I make a solemn resolve before Thee this morning, Thou knowest what it is. Dwelling in Thy Son, I shall be able to keep it.’ In such consecration and living touch with God he worked and was happy.
Mr. Allison’s faith in God and in Jesus Christ as the Divine Redeemer, was true and deep enough to give to spiritual powers a vivid reality. He had also, imagination enough to enable him to enter into and understand the needs of men. And his large human nature, sympathy, tact, and knowledge of the world, all helped to make him practical. He was no mere dreamer or theoriser. This world was very real to him in its sin and need; and the central doctrine of his sermons was Christ crucified, the real Saviour who died for it, and who is and has been redeeming it for over eighteen centuries. His daily delight and hope for men were in the living Christ, and to bring the light of His truth and the touch of His healing power where darkness and evil lodged was his one aim. His was a teaching which did not point to a Christ standing outside human life, but living, and acting, and conquering in the very midst of it. Religion with him was not periodically winding oneself up into a serious state of mind, or getting into a strained solemnity for some act of worship or consecration. His religion was living, consecrated, breathing the spirit of worship, linking everything to Christ, even the commonest things of daily life – accepting and recognising His rule in everything, His mastership everywhere. Without Him, therefore, men can do nothing.
From the stations he travelled it will be seen that Mr. Allison spent the whole of his ministry in the North of England. By his brotherliness and fraternity he became well known to many of our Northern ministers, who in letters since his death speak of him in high terms of respect, affection, and regret at his loss.
By his ability and business capacity he won the confidence of his brethren, and at a comparatively early date attained official position in his district. At his death, he had filled the office of secretary to the Sunderland and Newcastle District Sunday School Committee for nearly three years, and all his work was marked by efficiency and painstaking care. He was one of the originators of the Psalmody Association of the district, and was appointed to preside at the great Musical Festival in Newcastle Town Hall held in October, a few weeks after his death. He ably filled the office of General Committee Delegate for his district, and attended the Conference at Northampton in that capacity the summer before he died. On the district and other committees he was an interested and devoted worker – clear-headed, reasonable and ready in debate, kindly to his brethren, and loyal to his church. Beyond his own church his influence was marked, and in the locality of Blyth his sudden death was felt to be a public calamity and loss. He had interested himself in every good movement in the town, and was president of its powerful and widely known Temperance Union. His funeral was largely attended by the people of the town, and tradesmen and others showed marked respect to his name, and offered every condolence to his widow.
The means by which Mr. Allison gathered his strength and recuperation were manifold, as they must be to a man who believes that all things are yours in Christ Jesus. Speaking of their home life, his forlorn widow says, ‘Often do I remember our many times of prayer, when he seemed swallowed up in spiritual fervour and power.’ And they would ‘sit and talk sometimes far into the night,’ about the eternal side of things; and again and again would he say, “If our heavenly experience is as rich as this, I shall be satisfied.’ His was a joyful, bright-faced life, in the memory of which laughter lingers, because of his own realization of his heavenly Father’s goodness and mercy, and his confidence in the Gospel he preached as the world’s remedy for wrong. He was no gloomy pessimist; ever buoyant with hope his face was to the morning and he worked for the coming day.
He was also a lover of books, and had considerable acquaintance with literature. Amid the manifold duties of a large circuit life, he still kept up his reading, as every man must do if he means to keep up himself. The last article he wrote on ‘Clough,’ the poet, appeared in our ‘Review,’ two or three weeks after his death, and the ‘proofs’ of it were only finished during his few days’ illness with the assistance of his wife.
One dear enjoyment, found mostly on holiday occasions, was a day’s trout-fishing with his father or his friends in his beloved Lune, where he re-trod the ground of boyish days, or far up the rugged and sullen Tees. The freedom from care, the freshness of the scene, the wild, stern grandeur of his native Fells, the cheerful flowers, the soft, green moss upon the rock, the delicious air, the agreeable companionship, the gurgling river like a thread of life through it all, with its mystery and suggestiveness, ministered to him marvellously. Mr. Allison loved nature, and had insight of soul, by which he returned from her communion always, a fresher, purer, and stronger man.
He thoroughly believed in the mental discipline and helpful power to a minister of the Gospel, of Natural History. In the latter years of his life he gave considerable attention to the science of Botany, and acquired great proficiency in the flowering plants and the mosses. He was an enthusiastic member of the Wesley Scientific Society. And when the postman left the monthly parcels of specimens, he would call his wife, and with the exuberance of a delighted child sit down and carefully go over them. He dearly loved the flowers and those delicate mosses, the divine beauty of which his soul had learnt to look into through the microscope. Here is the source of much of the freshness of the minister and the man.
We have reason to be thankful to God for our brother’s life and influence and the positive help he rendered in the making of good in the world. Through him many have been converted from the error of their ways, young men have been restrained and given the right trend, the good in men has been strengthened, suffering has been solaced, and lives have been made brighter by his power. He not only preached to save souls but he lived to save them, and by the whole current of his life he was saving them every day. Our church is stronger to-day for his life and ministry, and if only such men continue to fill the ranks of her ministry, neither her mission nor her strength can fail.
Mr. Allison’s parents survive him, with other members of the family, also his widow. All are sadly stricken with grief because of his sudden and untimely loss. His father and mother are loyal and honoured Primitive Methodists of many years’ standing, and they rejoice to tell that they always found the deceased a dutiful and loving son. His father says, ‘I well remember when he asked me if he must go and be a preacher. I said, ‘‘To be sure, John, you may go, on promising me three things. First, that your going is to glorify God. Second, if you make a clever man, you have not to be enticed into any other denomination by money or anything else. Third, if anything happens me, you take care of your mother.”’ The noble father and son stood before the fire that night, with a great and solemn vow between them and tears in their eyes. The bargain was sealed in silence by a grip of the hand which is now still, and which the parent says, ‘I shall never forget.’
His widow, perhaps, more than any one else, feels how terrible is his loss. Life to her now is sadly vacant because he so filled it. And it will never be the same again, but by the grace of God, through the fires of pain, the tears, the chastening, it may be larger and deeper. May the Lord Jesus sustain her. To all who have felt the loss of our departed brother, may Jesus turn the experience to gain by teaching us how, through His grace, to find in ourselves all the goodness, power, and joy we have lost in the dead.
The mortal remains of Mr. Allison rest in Cowpen Cemetery, Blyth. The funeral was largely attended by the ministers and laymen of the district. The Blyth circuit authorities have generously taken steps to raise a suitable memorial over the grave of their respected minister at their own cost.
John was born on 23 November 1851 at Grassholme, Lunedale, Yorkshire, to parents Henry, a farm labourer, and Ann.
He married Mary Currah (b abt 1857) in early 1878 in the Guisborough Registration District, Yorkshire.
John died on 7 September 1891 at Blyth, Northumberland.
- 1873 Wigton
- 1877 Auckland
- 1880 Sunderland II
- 1885 Newcastle II
- 1888 Blyth
Primitive Methodist Magazine 1892/748
PM Minutes 1892/11
W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990
Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers