It was James Taylor's wedding-day, a wintry morning long ago in the north country. The sun had not yet risen over Brierley Common, and in the snowy valley Royston still lay in shadow. But on Staincross Ridge the young stonemason was up betimes, making ready for his bride. Was there not water to carry from the well and wood to prepare for the fire, as well as wheat to thresh and take to the mill to provide for her first baking ?
Full of life and good spirits, " a noted singer and extremely fond of dancing," 1 [Quoted from an address by Mr. Edward Taylor of Barnsley, Yorkshire, reported in the Barnsley Chronicle,January 1880.] Taylor had hardly given a serious thought the step he was about to take. He had fallen in love with bright little Betty, one of the Johnsons of Royston, in the fine old church of which he was a bell-ringer and member of the choir. There he had heard the Banns of Marriage published, with much satisfaction, on three successive Sundays after the New Year. And now the auspicious day had come, Thursday the 1st of February,ill was ready for the festivities. There would be music dancing, feasting and merry-making, and he and Betty would be gayest of the gay. But beyond this they anticipated little save the cosy fireside in the home that was to be.
Now, however, as the young man went out into the frosty air to carry his sheaves to the barn,1 [1-It was the custom in that part of England to leave the sheaves in stacks instead of at once threshing out the wheat. As the flour was needed for use, two or three sheaves would be threshed at a time and the grain taken to the mill for grinding.] a new line of thought began to present itself. Was it the familiar cottage next door to his own that suggested it, the home of Joseph and Elizabeth Shaw, well known throughout the country-side Was it the music of some hymn Dame Betty was singing as she plied her morning tasks ?
Not long ago, as he could well remember, there had been more sighing than singing in this good woman's lot. Crippled by an acute attack of rheumatism, she had been confined to bed month after month in weariness and pain. But since that memorable day when all alone in the house she had " trusted the Lord," as they put it, for immediate healing, great indeed had been the change. How astonished her husband must have been when he came back a little later and found her not only up but sweeping the kitchen, as well and happy as could be.2 [2- See the Account of an Extraordinary Deliverance, by Rev. J. Pawson in the Arminian Magazine for 1796, pp. 409-411. This experience was related to him at Staincross by Dame Betty herself, in the year 1775, and confirmed by many witnesses.]It had made much stir in the neighbourhood, and Taylor, like every one else, was at a loss to account for what had happened-every one, that is, except the Methodists, who seemed to think it simple and natural enough. But what credulity could surprise one in people of such extreme religious notions ?
Those notions seemed to haunt him this morning, however, strange as it might seem. For what had he to do with religion! he, the leader rather in all that was opposed to the " revival " that had invaded the neighbourhood of late. Surely it was enough that Farmer Cooper and the Shaws had turned Methodist, bringing from Wakefield preachers of the new-fangled doctrines, who terrified people with their earnestness about " the wrath to come." Had not John Wesley himself appeared, one Mapplewell " Feast Monday," boldly addressing the crowds in the Market Place while the Midsummer Fair was going on ? 3[3 This, we learn from Wesley's journal, was on July 27, 1761. That it was Mapplewell " Feast Monday " is given on the authority of The Barnsley] It was a courageous thing to do in that Yorkshire town, where "bating the Methodists " had become a favourite pastime with those of the rougher sort. But the white-haired preacher had so discoursed, that day, that all else had been forgotten, and he was allowed to pass unmolested to the Shaw's cottage on the Ridge, there to rest till the cool of the day. 1-[1- Mapplewell, as it was called in those days, is now the busy mining town of Staincross, near Barnsley, and the Shaws' cottage still stands on the Ridge which divides it from the neighbouring parish of Royston. Substantially built of stone, it hardly shows the wear and tear of two centuries, and is the best preserved of the few remaining dwellings that is the oldest part of the town. How interesting it was to find oneself in the pleasant kitchen in which Wesley was once entertained, talking by the fireside with a member of the very family that had shown him hospitality. For the cottage still belongs to the Shaws, who have occupied it from the first; and their next-door neighbours have been Taylors for many generations.] Perhaps it was from his lips young Taylor had caught the words that returned to him now so persistently, as he worked away in the barn:
"As for me and my house . . . me and my house . . . we will serve the Lord."
Yes, he knew what it meant to serve the Lord. His neighbors lived that sort of life. But he was no narrowminded Methodist ! Besides, it was his wedding-day. He was threshing wheat for Betty's home-coming. It was no time to be thinking of religion.
" As for me and my house."
Yes, he was about to establish a new household that day. I t was a serious step, a great responsibility. How careless had been his attitude hitherto, how unthinking ! But now the words would not leave him
" We will serve the Lord."
Hour after hour went by. The sun rose high over the hills, lighting the white-roofed village where the bride was waiting. Taylor was due there long before noon, and had yet to don wedding apparel. But all, all was forgotten in this first, great realisation of eternal things. Alone upon hi knees among the straw the young stone-mason was face to face with God. " As for me " had taken on new meaning.The fact of personal responsibility to a living though unseen Being-Love infinite and eternal, or justice as a consuming fire-had become real and momentous as never before. It was the hour of the Spirit's striving with this soul, the solemn hour when to yield is salvation. And there alone with God James Taylor yielded. The love of Christ conquered and possessed him, and soon the new life from above found expression in the new determination: " Yes, we will serve the Lord." 1[1 The definiteness of the stone-mason's conversion on the morning of his wedding-day, and under the circumstances narrated, is ascertained from the careful researches of Mr. Edward Taylor, embodied in several Lectures.Mr. Edward Taylor's name is one of the most respected in Barnsley. He was for many years a Local Preacher and leader in the Methodist " Reform Movement." Omnivorous in his reading and of strongly antiquarian tastes, he made it his business to search out all available information regarding early Methodism and its supporters in the district, and left a considerable library now in the possession of his widow, his son Mr. William Taylor, and his son-in-law Mr. John Knee, to whom belong most of his Lectures and other MSS. To each of these members of Mr. Taylor's family we are indebted for valuable help. Though not related to James Taylor the stone-mason, Mr. Edward Taylor was specially interested in his history as the pioneer and practically the founder of the Methodist Movement in Barnsley, and to his records we owe many of the facts related in this chapter concerning the marriage and after experiences of the greatgrandparent of Mr. Hudson Taylor.]
Thus the critical moments of life come with little warning, silently as the sunrise often, shedding Divine illumination upon things unseen. All unexpectedly, one day, we see as we have never seen before. Duty becomes plain in the light of eternity. Then we have reached a turning-point indeed, and everything depends upon the response of the soul to the claims and promises of God. Had young Taylor decided otherwise that winter morning how different the sequel must have been ! It was the little beginning, the tiny spring from which was to flow blessing not for himself only and his house from generation to generation, but for an ever-widening circle in England, China, and throughout the Church of God. Such a moment may come for us to-day, fraught with far-reaching issues. What is our response to be?
" Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth."
Were the church bells ringing over the valley when James Taylor returned to consciousness of earthly things ? It was almost noon. The wedding-guests must be in consternation as to what had become of him. Never surely the two miles to Royston seemed so endless as when, fearing he could not be in time, he ran down the long hill from Staincross Ridge, a new man in a new world.
Where the cross-roads met in the heart of the village he came in sight of the church at length. Glancing apprehensively at the clock by the oriel window,1[1-This beautiful window high up beside the clock is one of the distinctive features of Royston Church. There is said to be only one other like it in England. Built by the monks of Bretton not far from their monastery, the church is provided with a chamber in the tower, designed apparently for meditation and prayer. Sunny and silent, lighted by the oriel window, it was probably a favourite resort of the monks through many generations.] what was his surprise to find that it had come to a standstill, as if in sympathy with his dilemma. Possibly it might not yet be too late!
Somewhere the bridal party was waiting. It was no moment for explanations. To church they went as speedily as possible. The Vicar asked no questions, unaware perhaps of the ruse whereby his bell-ringers had saved the day for their favourite. The service duly proceeded, the Register was signed in the vestry, and James Taylor and Betty Johnson were man and wife.
Very interesting it was more than a hundred years later to hunt up the old calf-bound volume and come upon the entry made that day-February 1, 1776. Much of the writing was faded on the discoloured page, but one signature stood out with startling clearness, vividly recalling the handwriting of another who long after was to bear the bridegroom's name. There was the same familiar shape of each if carefully formed letter, the same firm, characteristic style, as though the quill had been guided by the very hand that so often wrote in recent years:" Affectionately yours in Christ,JAMES HUDSON TAYLOR."
And not the signature only is noteworthy in connection with this old-time story ; the later experiences of the stonemason and his wife reveal traits of character that also appear,by the blessing of God, in the great-grandson whose life we trace. There is the same singleness of purpose, strength of principle, love for the Lord Jesus Christ and faithfulness in His service : a rich inheritance, bringing with it the blessing promised " to the third and fourth generation."
To begin with, there was no compromise about the James Taylor of long ago. Up to the hour of his wedding he had been as far from religious impressions as the most thoughtless of his companions. Now as they left the church he did not hesitate to confess all that had taken place. Simply and earnestly with his young wife on his arm he explained that he had enlisted in the service of a new Master. This meant among other things no dancing at his wedding or unseemly jollification. Hearing which the bride exclaimed in dismay
" Surely I have not married one of those Methodists ! "But that was just what she had done, little as either of them expected it. For the warm love and living faith of the Staincross Society soon drew James Taylor into its membership. From the Shaws, Coopers, and others he learned more of what it really means to serve the Lord. His voice and fiddle, formerly much in request for revels throughout the country-side, were now used only for his Master, and before long he was gladly telling what great things had been done for his soul.
And meanwhile what about Betty ? Well, she was far from happy. Her heart told her James was right, but she was most unwilling to share with him the reproach of Christ. So she grumbled and scolded, and managed to make things generally uncomfortable. From the first day of their life together James had commenced " family prayers," but Betty refused to join him and busied herself ostentatiously about other things. At last one evening she was more trying than usual, and more unreasonable in her reproaches. James bore it as long as he could, and then before she knew what was happening Betty found herself lifted in his strong arms and carried to the room upstairs. There he knelt down and keeping her still beside him poured out all his sorrow and concern in prayer. She had not realised before how much he cared. His earnestness solemnised and impressed her, and though she would not show it she began to be troubled by a sense of sin. All next day her distress deepened. How willingly, then, would she have been as her husband was ! In the evening the Bible was brought out as usual and Betty was glad enough to listen. The prayer that followed seemed just what she was needing, and that night while James was still on his knees she entered into peace with God.1. (1. The details of Betty Taylor's conversion are gathered from an address by Mr. Edward Taylor, already quoted, and from the written Recollections of the Rev. Samuel Taylor, late of St. Leonards, the last surviving grandson of James and Betty Taylor, and uncle of the subject of this Memoir. With iris death in 1904 there passed away a man of God indeed, whose memory will long be fragrant.)
Thus at the outset of their married life these two were united in the best of ways, and as the years went on they became increasingly happy and helpers of one another's faith.
It was a wonderful movement of the Spirit of God into which James Taylor and his wife were thus introduced in a remote corner of Yorkshire. All over Great Britain and Ireland similar conversions were taking place. Breaking in upon the darkness of the eighteenth century, a glorious Revival swept the land, saving it from threatened destruction. In the Established Church, dead though it was for the most part, mighty men of God were raised up-Whitfield, the Wesleys, Grimshaw, Rowlands, Berridge, and many another, with whom wrought a multitude of unlettered evangelists, proclaiming in humble spheres the saving grace of God.
How terrible was the state of things before this work began it is hard for us now to realise. In town and country alike, people were abandoned to vice and irreligion well-nigh incredible in our day, " for the most part," as the Churchman Southey records, " in a state of heathen or worse than heathen ignorance." The immorality of the wealthy classes and the indifference of the clergy were no less menacing than " the rudeness of the peasantry, the brutality of the town populace, the prevalence of drunkenness, the growth of impiety, and the general deadness to religion." 1(1. " In this we cannot be mistaken," said an archbishop of the time, " that an open and professed disregard of religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distinguishing character of the age. Such are the dissoluteness and contempt of principle in the higher part of the world, and the profligacy, intemperance, and fearlessness of committing crimes in the lower part, as must, if the torrent of impiety stop not, become absolutely fatal." See Archbishop Secker's Eight Charges.Bishop Butler went further when he wrote in the preface to his Analogy. It has come to be taken for granted that Christianity is no longer a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly it is treated as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all persons of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject for mirth and ridicule.")
Men who in the face of such conditions, with the pulpits of the land closed against them, fearlessly took their stand for God and righteousness, " stormed the strongholds of Satan, plucked thousands like brands from the burning, and altered the character of the age," needed an enduement of the Holy Spirit no less mighty than that of the first evangelists who " turned the world upside down." Like them too they had to be prepared to " die daily," that they might fill up that which was lacking of " the afflictions of Christ." For only through lives laid down could such regenerating work be done. And not the leaders only, men whose names are honoured now the wide world over:-the strength of the Revival lay in the great host of men and women, unknown to fame, who everywhere rejoiced to share their apostolic labours, sufferings, and success.
Amongst these came to be numbered James and Betty Taylor, in a peculiarly dark and needy corner of the dark and needy England of those days. And who shall say that the courage, steadfastness and dependence upon God developed by the conditions they had to face do not lie at the foundation of much that is recorded in this book ?
A serious accident some years after his marriage obliged James Taylor to face the fact that he must give up his work as a stone-mason and find other means of supporting his family. It was a gloomy outlook, for there were fewer ways of earning a livelihood in those days than at present, and country occupations to which he was accustomed were all beyond his strength. The only course open to him was to leave the little home on Staincross Ridge and seek in some manufacturing centre the lighter employment factory or workshop might afford.
Barnsley was the nearest place of the kind, a notoriously wicked, mining town, just across the valley of the Dearne. " Drunkenness, licentiousness, and gambling, the three great sins of the nation," were there especially rife, and " scarcely any people," William Bramwell tells us, " raged against the Methodists or persecuted them with such ferocity as the people of Barnsley." The churches were deserted and the ale-houses overflowing, with what results may be judged from notices such as the following which were only too common: "Drunk-a penny : dead-drunk-two-pence : clean straw for nothing."
It must have been hard for James and Betty Taylor to bring their children into the atmosphere of a place like this, but when employment was offered him in the linen-warehouse of Joseph Beckett, a local magistrate, at a wage of thirteen shillings and sixpence weekly they could no longer hesitate. At the top of Old Mill Lane on the outskirts of the town stood a four-roomed cottage from which might be seen the wooded hills of their childhood. It was a busy corner, for the cross-roads met at their door, and the London coach coming up from the Market Place paused there to adjust its brakes before turning down the steep lane on its way to Wakefield and Leeds. Travellers were constantly passing on the Sheffield highway, and so frequent were the inquiries as to various destinations that the occupant of the mansion opposite went to considerable expense to settle the questions once and for all. The obelisk he erected is useful still, with its modern lamps and full directions, and when the sun is setting its shadow falls upon the site once occupied by James Taylor's modest dwelling.1 (1. The Taylors' cottage has recently been demolished, with several others, to make room for a row of shops and houses at the top of Old Mill Lane.
Here then the new arrivals settled, finding it a great change from their old surroundings. Living was more expensive than in the country, and though the father was earning what was then good wages it was far from easy to make both ends meet. Besides rent and taxes, there were two sons and three little daughters to provide for, and all they had to live on was the small sum of twelve shillings a week. But what of the remainder of the father's earnings, the extra one and sixpence he received weekly ? Was it reserved for special comforts, tobacco, tea, or snuff ? Was it set aside for winter clothing, or against " a rainy day " ? No, it was given, sacrificed rather, for love of One dearer to them than their children, more considered than themselves. Poor as they were in this world's goods, they had learned the secret of being " rich toward God."
In Betty's kitchen stood a corner-cupboard containing a special cup into which, as James brought home his earnings, one shilling and sixpence always found their way. This was consecrated money, never to be touched save for " the support of God's cause and the relief of the poor." 1.(1. From Rev. Samuel Taylor's Recollections.)Thus they always had something ready for the Master's use ; and the remainder of their little income proved sufficient and unfailing, because the blessing of God rested on it. It was the old story of the widow's meal and oil, for the Lord will be no man's debtor. Oh, that cup in the corner-cupboard, that faithful giving of a ninth of everything (a tenth could not suffice them) to the Lord, how much it explains of blessing in the lives of their children's children !
The loss of Christian fellowship was the change they felt most keenly during those early days in Barnsley. The beautiful church of St. Mary's a few steps from their door offered no substitute for the meetings in Betty Shaw's cottage, and of helpful, spiritual ministry there seems to have been none. True, the Friends had a Meeting House a mile or two from the town, and the Independents were building on Crow-well Hill the first Nonconformist place of worship. But there was little to choose between church and chapel in those days. Deadness and indifference paralysed both alike, so that as Bishop Ryle puts it they: " seemed at last agreed on one point, . . . to let the devil alone and do nothing for hearts or souls." 11.See The Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century, by Bishop Ryle.)
This state of things became a heavy burden on the new arrivals, and they longed unspeakably for some voice to tell the glad tidings that had set them free. But preachers rarely came from more favoured localities, and when they did it was a sorry welcome they found in Barnsley. Year in and year out James Taylor and his family were distressed to see " the Sabbath profaned and all kinds of brutal, ferocious, and licentious games practised." 2(2.See Life of Henry Longden, by the Rev. William Bramwell.)It was little they could do to stem the torrent of iniquity, but it was better than nothing, and they could not hold their peace.
And so it came to pass that Betty's kitchen was swept and garnished, and a few neighbours gathered in for informal meetings. The singing no doubt was an attraction, and both James and his wife were among " the people that do know their God " and so can be a help to others. Some evidently received blessing, for in time a Class was formed which met regularly in the little cottage.3.[3.The first Methodist Class Meeting in Barnsley was composed of seven members, i.e. James and Betty Taylor, Jonathan Pashley, John Denton, weaver, Timothy Peckett, mason, Thomas Blackburn, farmer,and his wife" (Early Methodism in .Barnsley and District, by Mr. John knee).] Eventually a Methodist Society was fully organised, and James Taylor appointed as the first Class Leader and Local Preacher in Barnsley.
Long before this, however, he had been privileged to " make full proof " of his ministry in truly apostolic ways. Down on the Old Bridge and in the Market Place he had been in danger of his life once and again while preaching in the open air. Pelted with stones and refuse, struck down and dragged through the mire, he had been rescued at the last moment-only to preach again.
Returning from a meeting on one occasion he was accosted by a couple of men who appeared to be friendly. Engaged in conversation with one of them he did not notice the movements of the other, who suddenly rubbed into his eyes a mixture of pounded glass and mud calculated to blind him for life. Sightless and in desperate pain Taylor was wholly at their mercy, and there is no knowing what might have happened had not Joseph Beckett coming down Church Street at the time hastened to his assistance. Seeing the magistrate the ruffians made off, but not before Mr. Beckett had recognised one of them, a professed infidel and no friend to the Methodists in Barnsley. Poor Taylor was taken home in great suffering, and it was fully three months before he could return to work again. His employer urged him to take out a summons, having himself witnessed the occurrence. But James would not hear of it.
" No," he said, " the Lord is well able to deal with them. I would rather leave it in His hands."
This did not satisfy the magistrate, however, who decided to carry the Prosecution through on his own account. In the witness-box the culprit denied the charge, calling upon God to strike him blind if he had had anything to do with the outrage. Shortly after, all Barnsley knew that he had lost his sight. For the rest of his life he had to be led by a dog through the familiar streets, and ultimately sunk into extreme poverty. His accomplice also was obliged to confess that nothing ever prospered with him from the time of their cruel attack upon James Taylor.
Such experiences in common with others of a less serious character afforded abundant opportunity for putting into practice the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, opportunities not lost upon James Taylor and his fellow-Methodists.
It was an eloquent sermon he preached in Eastgate, for example, when an angry woman ran after him, frying-pan in hand. She had seen the good man go by wearing a light-coloured overcoat, and thought it an excellent opportunity of provoking him into a quarrel. Coming up behind, she vigorously rubbed the greasy, sooty utensil all over the back of his tidy garment, using her tongue meanwhile to the amusement of onlookers. But it was her turn to be discomfited when Taylor turned round with a smile, suggesting that if it afforded her satisfaction she might grease the front as well. Covered with confusion the woman retired, but the incident was not easily forgotten.
It is said that on his deathbed the infidel above-mentioned sent for the man he had injured, hoping to find comfort in his prayers. But eager as he was to help his former enemy, James Taylor could not pray. He tried and tried again, but his cry seemed to return from an unanswering heaven. The solemn words then came to mind : " He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy." To see an unrepentant soul pass into eternity was far more terrible to him than all the persecutions he had endured.
For none of these things moved him. He found that it was a safe thing and a blessed to trust in the living God. The little home at the top of Old Mill Lane was increasingly happy and a centre of blessing to others. Dame Betty in spite of her household cares found time to be useful as a Class Leader among the women. Their children grew up a joy and comfort to them, and in all that makes for true prosperity they were enriched of God. Attempts to do them harm were so manifestly overruled that they helped rather than hindered their influence. And one is not surprised to learn that as time went on they with others of these early Methodists, by their meekness, uprightness, and consistent conduct, lived down opposition and took their place among the most respected inhabitants of the town." 1.(1. Recollections of the Rev. Samuel Taylor.)
A like change was becoming apparent all over England. The close of the century that overwhelmed the land of Voltaire with the unspeakable horrors of the French Revolution witnessed, in the home of Whitfield and the Great Revival, a peaceful transformation of national life and character.2 (2.Whitfield and Wesley transformed England by giving to conversion once more its proper value."-Rev. R. F. Horton, D.D.) Long surviving his own generation, Wesley eighty years of age could look out upon a revived and :rifled Church leading a people's progress toward righteous liberty liberty and enlightenment, and welcome the dawning the day of Modern Missions that was to extend these sings to a waiting world. His evangelistic journeys were now " religious ovations," and he himself, " the best known man in England," was honoured and beloved for his work's sake where so long he had been hated and despised.1.(1. Well might John Wesley be called " the best-known man in England." His labours had been prodigious for well-nigh fifty years. Travelling on horseback or by chaise from four to five thousand miles annually, he had established in Great Britain alone more than a hundred circuits, in which three hundred ministers and over a thousand local preachers were making known the truth as it is in Jesus. Acting on his own memorable words, " simplify religion and every part of learning," he had enlisted the press in the work of popular reformation. " Cheaper, shorter, plainer books " was his motto. Amid all other labours he found time to keep up a constant supply of pamphlets, tracts and sermons, carried by his preachers to the remotest parts of the country, besides providing them with a library of over two hundred volumes on a great variety of subjects, written or edited by himself, five works on music and forty-nine collections of hymns.He preached in all 42,400 sermons after his return from Georgia, in 1738, an average up to the time of his death in 1791 of more than fifteen every week for fifty-three consecutive years. His last words were, " The best of all is God is with us." See History of Methodism, by Abel Stevens, LL.D.,vol. ii. PP. 320, 494, 508, etc.)
This was the period of his long-expected visit to Barnsley, the first and only recorded occasion of his preaching there. Great must have been the joy of James Taylor and his friends as they prepared to welcome this father in the faith. In numbers the little Society had not made much progress, for those had been difficult years, but in knowledge of God and influence with those around them great headway had been won. They were able to look forward to the coming of the great evangelist without anxiety as to the reception that awaited him, and could even arrange with the landlord of the Old White Bear to make use of his spacious yard near the Market Place for an open-air meeting.
Wesley came to them from Epworth, the home of his childhood, having recently celebrated his eighty-third birthday. How unusual was the vigour he enjoyed both of mind and body may be judged from the following entry in his Journal, penned two days before he reached Barnsley
Wednesday, June 28, 1786: I am a wonder to myself. It is now twelve years since I have felt any such sensation as weariness. I am never tired, such is the goodness of God, either with writing, preaching, or travelling.
Thursday night was spent at Doncaster, and from thence he drove over the Hickleton Hills and through the lovely valley of the Dearne. Somewhere on the road no doubt the Barnsley friends would meet him, but it is hardly likely that James and Betty Taylor were among their number.For them the morning hours would be busy, as theirs was to be the honour of entertaining the distinguished guest.
Picture then the preparations in the little cottage that was to shelter John Wesley that night beneath its roof. Thousands of homes he had visited, in which his chamber may have been finer and the table spread before him more ample in its provision, but it is doubtful whether he ever met with warmer welcome or more genuine love for himself and for his Master.
" Methodism had no truer friends than this worthy couple," writes a well-known citizen of Barnsley.1. (1. The late William Woodcock, Esq., one of the chief authorities upon the history of Methodism in the Barnsley district. This gentleman left a valuable library and collection of manuscripts, now in the care of his daughter Miss L. Woodcock, who generously spared no pains in making them available for the purposes of this book.)" Their devotion increased with their difficulties. Persecution did but sharpen the edge of their attachment to Wesley and his cause. Their home seems to have been the chief resort of preachers who came from Wakefield and other places. What more fitting than that they should entertain the great evangelist himself, and so receive a distinction not soon to be forgotten."
That June day of a hundred and twenty years ago has left its mark on Barnsley. The arrival and progress of Mr. Wesley through the crowded streets, the scene in the yard of the Old White Bear with its stone stairway from which his discourse was delivered, the excitement and eager attention of the multitude, the appearance of the venerable speaker, his earnestness and power in setting forth eternal thingsthese and many other recollections are treasured on the library shelves of that Yorkshire town and in the warm hearts of its people.
But our present concern is chiefly with the close of the day when, the great meeting over, the preacher was escorted to the home of his humble friends. It had been a notable address, lengthened and increasingly earnest as the response of the audience was evident ; and now the simple meal was welcome and fellowship with the inner circle around Dame Betty's hearth. Interested in all that concerned them Wesley would soon make his sympathy felt, winning the hearts of the children and the confidence of the older people. He may even have heard the story of James Taylor's conversion on his wedding-day, and the consternation of the bride on learning that she had actually " married one of those Methodists ! "
And then as twilight deepened one can well imagine the earnestness with which he would seek to strengthen and encourage those he might never meet on life's pilgrimage again.
" Remember," we can almost hear him say, " remember, you have nothing to do to compare in importance with saving souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. Observe, it is not your business to preach so many times a week, or to take care of this or that Society, but simply to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and with all your power to build them up in that holiness without which no man can see the Lord.
" Only through unwearied labour and perseverance can we really be ` free from the blood of all men.' Go into every house and teach every one therein, young and old, if they belong to us, to be Christians inwardly and outwardly. Make every particular plain to their understanding, fix it in their memory, write it on their hearts. In order to do this there must be line upon line, precept upon precept. I remember to have heard my father say to my mother,' How could you have the patience to tell that child the same thing twenty times over ?' ` Why,' she answered, 'if I had told him but nineteen times, I should have lost all my labour.' What patience indeed, what love, what knowledge, is requisite for this !
" Oh, why are we not more holy ! " he would exclaim with loving insistence. " Why do we not live in eternity, walk with God all the day long ? Why are we not all-devoted to God, breathing the whole spirit of missionaries ?
" Alas, we are too much enthusiasts, looking for the end without faithfully using the means. Do we rise at four or even five in the morning to be alone with God ? Do we fast once a week, once a month ? Do we even know the obligation or benefit of it ? Do we recommend the five o'clock hour for private prayer, at the close of the day? Do we observe it ? Do we not find that ` any time ' is no time?
" Oh let us stir up the gift of God that is in us. Let us no more sleep as do others. Let us take heed to the ministry that we have received in the Lord, that we fulfil it. ` Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.' " 1(1.Quoted from the excellent Rules drawn up by John Wesley for the guidance of his young preachers; and from the bright, practical Conversations with his fellow-workers that have come down to us. The full title of this interesting work is : Minutes of several Conversations between the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., and the Preachers in connection with him, from !he year 1744; published in Leeds in 1803.)
In some such helpful intercourse the hours would fly, until candles had to be lighted and the guest who was to depart on the morrow escorted to his chamber under the cottage eaves. Was it that night, beneath James Taylor's roof, he penned the entry in his journal that seems so pertinent to the story of this book ?
Friday, June 30, 1786: I turned aside to Barnsley, formerly famous for all manner of wickedness. They were then ready to tear any Methodist preacher in pieces. Now not a dog wagged its tongue. I preached near the Market Place to a very large congregation, and I believe the truth sank into many hearts. They seemed to drink in every word. Surely God will have a people in this place.