Devenport, Nathaniel John (1835-1892)

Transcription of obituary published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by Walter Pedley

The late Rev. N. J. Devenport was born at Birmingham on October 25th, 1835. He was blessed with godly parents, his father and mother being intelligent, earnest and consistent members of our Lord Street Society. His father was no ordinary Christian, as is evident from his published memoir written by the late Rev. J. Pritchard, and bearing the title, “The Good Man as exemplified in the life and character of Mr. William Devenport.” The subject of this memoir received a fair education, yet being naturally of a studious disposition he would rise early in the morning, to secure a few hours for study before entering upon his usual occupation. We can glean no details respecting his conversion, but it must have occurred at a very early age, doubtless when he accompanied his father to the various means of grace. 

When about sixteen or seventeen years of age he became a teacher in our Lord Street Sunday School, and when he left the school to enter upon the work of the ministry he was the teacher of the Senior Bible Class, assistant Superintendent, and had charge of the Mutual Improvement Society. He was then regarded as an exemplary young man, and was very useful in carrying on Sunday School and Church work. In 1859 he became a local preacher, and the year following received a call to our ministry, commencing his ministerial career at Bilston. With the exception of a term of service at Norwich, the whole of his ministerial life was spent in the Tunstall and West Midland Districts. 

His health, which was never very robust, began to fail at Crewe and Norwich, and at the Conference of 1891 he was compelled to seek superannuation. He came to reside at Handsworth, in the Birmingham Second circuit, where he gained the affection and esteem of all who knew him. But his earthly life was drawing to a close. On Sunday evening, October 16th, 1892, he attended the service at Handsworth Chapel, and at the close engaged in prayer. Immediately he was taken ill, and had to be conveyed to his residence. After reaching home he rallied, but on the following evening passed suddenly away to the higher service and ministry of heaven. So swift was the Master’s summons he scarcely saw death, but only the Lord who is its Conqueror. His journey through the dark valley was brief, and the Master of Life was with him in the gloom. As the pangs of dissolution touched him he whispered, “Thy loving kindness is better than life.” Then through the gentleness of God an interval of blessed peace fell on him until he woke up in the glory of his Master’s smile.

“No earthly clinging, no lingering gaze,
No strife at parting, no sore amaze;
But sweetly, gently, he passed away
From earth’s dim twilight to endless day.”

He was interred in the Old Cemetery, Icknield Street, on Saturday, October 22nd. The Revs. C. Temperton and G. Cook offered prayer. The Rev. J. S. White read a portion of the funeral service, and the Rev. J. Odell gave an impressive address. The remaining portion of the funeral service was read at the grave by the Rev. W. Pedley. A memorial service was held in our chapel at Handsworth on Sunday evening, November 13th, conducted by the Rev. W. Pedley, who preached an appropriate sermon from Rev. xiv. 13. Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Crossing the Bar,” arranged as an anthem, was sung by the choir.

Our beloved brother was gentle, unassuming and sympathetic. The sweetness of his character and disposition was often tested in circuit life, but during a ministry of thirty years, it is said that he never made an enemy. He is remembered as a perfect Christian gentleman, and his memory is cherished with great affection in all the circuits in which he travelled. His piety was of a high order, though it did not manifest itself in the forms which affect the popular mind. His love of retirement became a life-habit, which may have lessened the social strength of his ministry, but this may perhaps have been the result of his physical weakness and unobtrusive nature. Connexional business he largely left to others, and even the business of his own circuit had no special attraction for him. He yielded to the charm of higher things. 

To young people his ministry was specially helpful and inspiring. As evidence of this a paragraph may be quoted from an address presented to him in 1870 by the Heath Street Mutual Improvement Society, Crewe: “Some of us owe to you our positions as teachers in the Sunday School, others as preachers of the Gospel, and all have benefited by your ministrations and instructions.” 

But it was as a preacher that he excelled. Preaching was his forte. His marvellous conception, beautiful imagery, and choice diction made his preaching a special feature of his ministry, and thousands in the Tunstall and West Midland Districts remember the exquisite pleasure and delight with which they listened well nigh spell-bound to his polished discourses. His ministry tended more to feed the saint than to arouse the sinner, nevertheless his ministry was not lacking in success in this respect. It afforded no little pleasure and profit to his hearers to sit under his ministry. By thousands in the Tunstall and West Midland Districts, his splendid qualities as a Christian gentleman and minister of the Gospel will long be remembered.

And now “he rests from his labours.” For him the hard struggle of living, the stern discipline of trial and suffering, the fierce conflict with earth and hell and sin, the arduous labour with its consequent wear and tear of heart and brain, and the solemn task of dying, are all over. “But his works do follow him.” He set forces in operation during his active life which still vibrate. A fragrance clings to his memory which will not soon depart. Many a home in our communion is sweeter and happier, and many a church is stronger, because he has lived and toiled.

“Can that man be dead
Whose spiritual influence is upon his kind?
He lives in glory: and such speaking dust
Has more of life than half its breathing moulds.”

Family

Nathaniel was born on 25 October 1835 at Birmingham, Warwickshire, to parents William, a gilt toy maker (1851), and Ann. He was baptised on 22 February 1836 at St Philip, Birmingham.

Nathaniel died on 20 October 1892 at Handsworth, Staffordshire.

Circuits

  • 1861 Bilston
  • 1863 Tunstall
  • 1865 Congleton
  • 1866 Knighton
  • 1868 Nantwich & Crewe
  • 1870 Lichfield
  • 1873 Dudley
  • 1876 Birmingham I
  • 1879 Brierley Hill
  • 1882 Bloxwich
  • 1886 Crewe
  • 1889 Norwich
  • 1891 Birmingham I
  • 1892 Birmingham (S)

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1894/386

PM Minutes 1893/10

W Leary, Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990

Census Returns and Births, Marriages & Deaths Registers

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