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Rev. John Berridge.
of Mr. Hicks. Magistrates, country squires, and others, furiously opposed him. The old devil was the only name by which he was distinguished among them for above twenty years; but, in the midst of all, the brave hearted, eccentric vicar steadily pursued his work. Houses and barns were rented for preaching; lay preachers were employed and maintained; his church income and the fortune inherited from his father were appropriated to the support and extension of his work; and even his family plate was converted into clothing for his itinerant preachers. For nearly thirty years, he spent about three months annually in London, preaching in Whitefield's Tabernacle, in Tottenham Court chapel, and in other places. At his funeral, six neighbouring clergymen attended to bear his pall, while an immense concourse, from all parts of the country, by their undissembled grief and falling tears, paid a just eulogium to his character and worth. As he was never married, he left no widow to deplore his death, nor children to perpetuate his memory; but he long lived in the grateful remembrance of thousands, who had been benefited by his ministry; and, by his "Christian World Unmasked" and his "Sion's Songs" (the only books he ever published), he is known to myriads who never saw him.1 He was a high Calvinist, but a devoted Christian. Requiescat in pace! Hundreds of racy anecdotes might be told concerning him, and well-nigh thousands of his pungent and witty sayings might be quoted; but it is time to return to Wesley.
Berridge had told the mayor of Bedford, that he wished an interview with Wesley, as soon as possible; and accordingly, on November 9, Wesley went to Everton. The two clerical itinerants started off to Wrestlingworth, to visit Hicks, a third. The same night Wesley preached in Mr. Hicks's well filled church; lodged in the vicarage; and preached in the church again next morning, of course having both Hicks and Berridge as his hearers. In the midst of his sermon, a woman dropped down as dead, "deeply sensible of her want of Christ." The clerical trio then rode to Everton, where Wesley preached in Berridge's church at six in the evening, and at
1 Whittingham's Memoir of Berridge.
1758 five next morning; and where some were struck just as the woman at Wrestlingworth. One was brought into the vicarage, with whom the three clergymen spent a considerable time in prayer.
This was Wesley's first interview with Berridge. "For many years," he writes, "Mr. Berridge was seeking to be justified by his works; but, a few months ago, he was throughly convinced, that 'by grace' we' are saved through faith.' Immediately, he began to proclaim aloud the redemption that is in Jesus; and God confirmed His word exactly as He did at Bristol, at the beginning, by working repentance and faith in the hearers, and with the same violent outward symptoms."
This is a remarkable fact. At the commencement of Wesley's itinerant ministry, stricken cases were frequent and numerous; but, for the last fifteen years, they had been of rare occurrence. In Wesley's experience, they had principally happened, not in churches, but in barns, fields, and private meeting-rooms. Though the same puzzling phenomena had been witnessed in the great revivals in America and in Scotland, they had not been general in England, but had been chiefly confined to Kingswood, Bristol, and Newcastle upon Tyne. At the time, they created great commotion, but, for years, they had disappeared. Now, however, in 1758, under the ministry of Berridge and of Hicks, and even in parish churches, they again occurred. On one occasion, while Berridge was preaching, several persons fainted, and many in agony cried out. A little girl was thrown into violent contortions, and wept aloud incessantly. The church was crowded, the windows filled within and without, and also the pulpit steps up to the pulpit door. Three fourths of the congregation were men. Thirty of them had come thirteen miles, and, in order to be in time, had started at two o'clock in the morning. Some shrieked, others roared, but the most general sound was a loud breathing, like that of people half strangled. Numbers fell down as dead; some sinking in silence, and some in the utmost agitation.
On another occasion, when Mr. Hicks was preaching at Wrestlingworth, fifteen persons fell prostrate on the ground, a few, for hours, crying out with the greatest violence, and the rest more silently struggling, as in the pangs of death.
Remarkable Scenes at Everton.
These were novel scenes to be witnessed in a church; but 1758 besides these, occurring in sacred buildings, there were others Age 55 in public roads, in the vicar's garden, in fields, and in private houses, where men, women, and children were found prostrate on the ground; and great numbers were filled with peace and joy, by believing in Christ Jesus. Faces, which had been almost black with terror, now beamed with happiness. "Jesus," cried one," has forgiven all my sins! I am in heaven! I am in heaven! O how He loves me! And how I love Him!" Another, bathed in perspiration, and with every muscle quivering, clapped his hands, and with a smile exclaimed, "Jesus is mine! He is my Saviour!" Some burst into strange, involuntary laughter; others roared, as if possessed by demons; most were, at length, made happy. In one instance, two hundred persons, chiefly men, were, at the same time, in Everton church, crying aloud for mercy. The groans, lamentations, prayers, and roars, were indescribable; as, also, were the shouts and the songs of praise after the penitents found peace with God.
Wesley's first visit to Mr. Berridge was on November 9. Within six weeks, on December 18, he went again; and, while preaching in the church at Everton, witnessed another scene like those that have been described; for "many," says he, "not able to contain themselves, cried aloud for mercy."
Wesley was now on his way to Norwich, where he spent the next six days, and where, besides preaching, he completed the purchase of the chapel, which had been built by the notorious James Wheatley.
On his return to London, he called at Colchester, and makes the following important entry in his Journal: "1758, December 29-I found the society had decreased since Laurence Coughlan went away; and, yet, they had had full as good preachers. But that is not sufficient; by repeated experiments, we learn that, though a man preach like an angel, he will neither collect, nor preserve a society which is collected, without visiting them from house to house."
We have reached the end of the year 1758; but some other matters, belonging to this period, must have attention.
It was in 1758, that Wesley formed an acquaintance, not
1758 only with Berridge, but with another distinguished man. Age 55 John Newton was the son of a shipmaster, and was born in 1725. The chief part of his boyhood and youth was spent at sea. His life, up to the age of five and twenty, was a painfully chequered scene. Soon after the year 1750, he obtained the post of tidewaiter at Liverpool; where, by dint of severe application, he rapidly acquired a considerable knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. He now made some unsuccessful attempts to become the pastor of a Dissenting congregation. He then applied to the Archbishop of York for episcopal ordination; but was refused, on the ground that he had been preaching, without authority, among Dissenters. On his way to Ireland, in the spring of the present year, Wesley paid him a visit, during his ten days' stay in Liverpool. Mr. Newton was now thirty-eight years old; and, a few months later, wrote to Wesley as follows.
"LIVERPOOL, August 29, 1758.
"DEAR AND REVEREND SIR,-I am informed of your arrival at Bristol, which I much rejoice in, and desire to praise the Lord for. I hope He has yet much service for you to do; and, till your work is done, I know your life is secured. When it is fully accomplished, I think, I can give my consent, that you should be released from hence, and removed to that kingdom of love, and joy, and peace, where none of the evils of mortality can find admittance.
"I wait your directions where to send you the paper you left with me, and hope it will not be long, for it will give me double satisfaction to hear of your welfare, propria manu. Mrs. Newton concurs with me in tendering our sincerest respects, and requesting a remembrance in your prayers, and a share in your correspondence. I am, with respect and affection, reverend sir, your obliged friend and servant,
Six years after this, Mr. Newton, through the interest of Lord Dartmouth, obtained ordination, and the curacy of Olney, where, from 1764 to 1779, he lived in the closest friendship with the poet Cowper and the Olney circle. He then removed to the rectory of St. Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street, London, where he continued until his death in 1807. Like Berridge, he wrote his own epitaph, which was as follows:
1 Methodist Magazine, 1797, p. 457.
Newton and Toplady.
"John Newton, clerk: once an infidel and a libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy, near sixteen years at Olney, in Bucks, and twenty-eight years in this church."1
In the same year, 1758, Wesley entered into correspondence with another man of distinguished talent, who afterwards became the bitterest opponent he ever had.
Augustus Montague Toplady was the son of a major in the army, and was born at Farnham, in Surrey, in the year 1740. He received the rudiments of his education at Westminster school; and thence went, with his widowed mother, to Ireland, to pursue claims to an estate which belonged to her in that island. Here, a little before he was sixteen years of age, he heard James Morris, one of Wesley's itinerants, preach in a barn at Codymain, and was converted. Soon after, he entered Trinity college, Dublin; and wrote to Wesley as follows.
"DUBLIN, September 13, 1758. "REVEREND SIR,-I thank you for your satisfactory letter; particularly for your kind caution against trifling company. I do not visit three persons in the college, except one or two of the fellows. It is indeed Sodom epitomized; for I do not believe there is one that fears God in it.
"Your remarks on Mr. Hervey's style are too just; and I think a writer would be much to blame for imitating it; or indeed the style of any other; for if he has abilities of his own, he ought to use them; if he has not, he would be inexcusable for writing at all. I believe Mr. Hervey's mentioning the active, exclusive from the passive, obedience of Christ, is rather a casual than intentional omission; but an author cannot be too careful how he expresses himself on a point of so much importance. I have long been convinced, that self righteousness and antinomianism are equally pernicious; and that to insist on the imputation of Christ's righteousness, as alone requisite to salvation, is only strewing the way to hell with flowers. I have myself known some make shipwreck of faith, and love, and a good conscience, on this specious quicksand.
"My heart's desire, and prayer is, that Christ would grant to keep me close to Him, with meek, simple, steady love. I think, of late, the studies I am unavoidably engaged in have done me some harm; I mean have abated that fervency with which I used to approach the throne of grace; and this, by insensible degrees. My chariot wheels have drove heavily for a month past; but I have reason to hope I am recovering my usual joy. I can attribute its declension to nothing else but assiduous application to
1 Memoirs of Newton.