« PreviousContinue »
OP THE LATE REV. JOHN BUTTERWORTH, BAPTIST MINISTER UPWARDS OF FIFTY YEARS AT COVENTRY.
MR. BUTTERWORTH was born December 13, 1727, at Goodshaw Chapel, a village in Rossendale, Lancashire. His parents were deeply pious; and, on account of their friendly Catholic spirit, were greatly respected by serious people of all denominations. His father, through the goodness of God, had the happiness to see all his five sons become truly religious characters; four of whom were, in process of time, called into the ministry, and appointed to the pastoral office, by respec. tise Baptist churches.
The limits of this Magazine will not allow of a full detail of events relative to the subject of this Memoir: it is intended to publish a larger account of his life and religious experience ; but the following outline, taken chiefly from Mr. Butterworth's own manuscript, dated March 7, 1800, may not be uninteresting to our readers :
“ I have long had a desire to write an account of some passages of my life ; for though my name and character are unworthy of notice, yet the distinguishing goodness and grace of God to me, from my youth up to this day, are worthy to be recorded.
“ It was my great privilege to have religious parents : they were members of a Baptist church, under the pastoral care of Mr. Ashworth, the father of the late Rev. Dr. Ashworth, formerly tutor of the academy at Daventry. We lived in the neighbourhood of two eminent ministers, Mr. Crossley and Mr. Ashworth. Mr. Crossley frequently visited, and occasionally preached at my father's house ; which, indeed, was a receptacle for ministers in general of different denominations.
“ Mr. Crossley had been acquainted with John Bunyan : he was one of the most popular Calvinistic preachers in the country; and was instrumental in raising three or four churches in Lancashire and Yorkshire. He kept a school in his old age, when he taught ine to read ; and pot me into the Accidence at seven years of age. He lived to be very old, was the largest man in all our county, and died when I was about sixteen.
Mr. Ashworth was a Baxteriaa;, a very, zealous and pathetic preacher, and a man of considerable abilities and activity. My father's family were brought up under his ministry, and imbibed his religious sentinents.
“ I was f:(quently under convictions of sin ; and though moral ort wardly, yet kney that my nature was inclined to all iniquity. I dared tot indeed swear, nor indulge the practice of known vice; but was only restrained through education, frequent converse with professors, and fear of open shame ; not from any dislike I had to sin. Yet my conscience was frequently awakened, and many resolutions I formed of living a holy life ; but a few days, or a week, would wear off these impressions, and worldly things occupied my inind : so that the older I grew, the more wicked 1 hecane ; though I was not averse to hearing the word, and al. tending stated ministrations of it. We had, at least, two miles to go to worship, and occasionally four or five; and as that country is mountain ous, I was entertained with the different objects presented to my sight, and pleased with the walk, though frequently glad when the service was ended.
" One Lord's Day, indeed, I went to hear a Mr. Richard Smith (a män singularly called by grace from a state of notorious profanity); and my attention was captivated by the solemn and zealous mammer of his prayer and preaching. The whole service was affecting and powerful. I found the time short, and wished it had been inuch longer ; and I thought that the Spirit of God did surely fill that place. Yet the warnith, of my frame soon went off, and I became as worldly again as Lefore. As near as I can recollect, I was then about fifteen years of age.
“ We had frequently heard of the Methodists, and read of their preaching in the fields; and particularly that Mr. Whitfield often preached to 10,000 people, or inore, at Blackheath, and other places. He had indeed some correspondence, by letter, with Mr. Crossley. About this time (i. e. 1745) they came into our country: Mr. Westley was published to preach near New Church,' in Rossendale, at five o'clock one morning. I went to hear him: he had a numerous auditory, and preached from Rom. iii. 22, “ For there is no difference," &c, I was struck with his discourse, and becanie a constant hearer of the Methodists when they came their rounds; and also attended their private meetings; – yet I still attended Mr. Ashworth's ministry at other times. One day I thought of the holy conduct of a Thomas Foster, a member with Mr. Ashworth, who was neighbour to us, and frequently visited my father. He, my father, and several more persons, held a meeting of prayer and conterence weekly; and would, from some text of Scripture, speak their sentiments. T. Foster was very kind and liberāt to the poor, though his property, was very moderate : he was also Auent in prayer, and always appeared to be in a spiritual frame f. This excited me to beg of God to give me his Holy Spirit, in a manner I had never done before ; and froin that time I made conscience of daily prayer.
“ I now took a review of my past life: I reflected upon our careless mammer of singing Psalms and Anthems, making a solemn mockery of Gou therein. I never after joined with my old companions; but imnie. diately left all my worldly connections, and applied myself to the wor. ship of God. This was such :: change as I never Tiad experienced be. fore ; for though I had been restrained from multiplied evils, natural and moral (being often in danger of death, and of falling into gross sins; but found my way hedged up with thorns, that I could not commit the evil to which may sinful nature was inclined) yet I never had felt such an im. pression as at this time of the importance and excellency of godliness.
" I had been a constant reader of books, and had a taste for improve. ment in knowledge, and being in a Book Society, I had the advantage of reading a variety, both on Divinity and Science, I read several of Dr. Watts's Works. I learned short-hand, often copied some of Mr. Bur: kitt's Coinments, and was disposed to religion ; but-still it was only is
+ An apprentice of Mr. Foster's was convertedby means of the remembrance of his example, aiter Mr. Fpsiet's death,
speculation, without real heart-work. I believe, I was generally esteemed , a religious character; but it was far otherwise in fact.
• The same night, after these workings of mind respecting Mr. Foster, I went to hear one Joho Nelson, a Methodist-preacher: a man who had gone through much persecution, had been pressed for a soldier ; but, notwithstanding many threatenings, maintained his integrity, and often Té proved both men and officers for their profanity; and, in time, obtained his discharge. He preached from Mat. viii. 2,5 Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." He possessed much solidity and zeal; and many were affected under the discourse. I thought they all seemed more af. fected than myself : that the discourse seemed to have no good effect on me. The hardness of my heart had always been my trouble, and becau e of which, all the Sermons I had heard were ineffectual. I returned home with a heavy spirit, crying to God that he would take away my heart of stone, and give me a heart of Aesh.
" I then experienced a longing after holiness; - a desire to be holy as God is holy. I hoped to live without sin, which, I then thought, was attainable in this life. I used to govern my thoughts daily, as much as ja me lay; and those words impressed my mind, “ Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.'' I found great freedom in secret prayer; but had not as yet attempted to pray in publie. I was very much pressed to this, but was unwilling to engage. Through murch entreaty, I was at length prevailed upon; but was in great contusion, and concluded I would not attempt it again. After some time, I thought it was very desirable to enjoy a gift for public prayer. How else would prayer-meetings be maintained ? AGcordingly, I besought the Lord to bestow that talent upon me, for the glory of his name. Soon after this, I felt an inclination to be engaged when called upon. We had a prayer-ineeting before public worship, at the Baptist Chapel, which I attended; and being asked to pray, complied, and found equal freedom as in private ; and herein I found God to be a prayer-hearing God.
« The doctrine of assurance of faith, and of knowing our own sins par. doned, was much insisted upon by the Methodist preachers. This I wanted to know, for I was not certain that I was a subject of grace; but I determined to be in the way of earnest prayer, and attendance on all the Iheans in iny power. I sometimes thought I would not cease praying, nor hold my peace till the Lord should speak peace and pardon to my soul, and give me assurance of his favour, One night I resolved to continue all night till God appeared; but about two o'clock in the morning steep overtook ine, and my resolution was broken. I have often thought that there was too much self-labour in all this, if not presumption in dic. tating to God. I still found unbelief a great burden; laboured hard to believe, but could not ; for indeed I was ignorant of the nature of faith, not knowing that it is a lost sinner's casting the load of his sin upon Christ for pardon and acceptance with God. I wondered to see so niany young professors enjoy the faith ot assurance, wbilst I was full of dombts, who had been longer in the way than they. One morning I was in deep thought on this subject, reasoning with myself why I was still in unbe. lief, when these words dropped upon my mind, “ By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that 401 of yourselves : it is the gift of God.” This word gift revolved in my mind. A gift, thought I, is not merited ; if it were, it would be a deui, and not a gift. I had leaned all aloog towards the doctrine of merit, and of obtaining grace by good works; but now I saw faith to be an uudeserved ġift, and that God might bestow it on my vilest neighbours, and leave me in my moral duties without faith,.
" This led me to think that there was some truth in the doctrine of election; and that it was not upon foresight of faith and obedience, but of pure sovereignty; and that faith and obedience were the fruits and effects of election, and not causes thereof. My sentiments began to
change from Arminianism io Calvinism. Before this, I had conversed with a young Calvinist; and had foiled him, being conversant with the texts of Scripture that seemed to look towards Arminianism : but now 1 saw the Scripture in a different light. Now the scene was changed. I searched the Bible all that day; and the evidence in favour of election shone like the sun, and came forcibly upon me. As I saw it in the Bible, so I saw the doctrine exemplified in the world. Here and there a cluster of praying persons, like the grapes of Eshicol; all the rest swearers, drunkards, Sabbath-breakers, whóiemongers, &c. Well, I concluded, however, that I would be found wanting ehrough life ; and that if ever God would shew me favour, and give me faith, it would be of mere mercy. Sometimes I had hope, and felt some comfort ; again it was gone, and I was left in darkness and bondage ; till my fervency in prayer seemed to abate, which I thought was a sign of reprobation, and that I should be left as a withered branch, and as a tree“ twice dead, plucked up by the roots :” yet I was not left to neglect the worship of God, though I sought him soriowing. “It was a time of weeping, but joy canie in the morning.”
"One evening I was reading in the Bible, and cast my eye upon these words of our Lord, in John vi. 47, “ Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth in ine hath everlasting life." I was struck with the passage, - it was as if spoken within me. I did immediately believe that Jesus Christ was a suitable, precious, and almighty Saviour: -I trusted in him alone for salvation; and, therefore, in him I had everlasting life. I never was so elevated and comforted in all my life : I could not but believe and rejoice. I said, 'Who can help believing?' for I thought it as easy then as I had found it hard before. 'I went to bed that night with a joyful heart. I was transported with the love of Christ; and thought how wonderful and astonishing it was that Christ should be my Saviour ; and not only mine now, but mine for ever! that in him I had everlasting life! This filled my heart, and occupied my thoughts the last at night, and the first in the morning. Ere ever I was aware, iny soul was like the chariots of Aminadab. The Bible was my delight and my meditation all the day: its language appeared to me the most grand and sublime; and the divine excellencies and glories of God were displayed in inimitable language, especially in the Prophecies of Isaiah. I attained more knowledge of Scripture in a month after this, than I have done in years since. I was not satisfied unless I knew every text that related to doctrine or practice; and where it was: thus I soon attained a general knowledge of the whole Bible. My mind was much employed; and I rather chose to be engaged in thonglit than in conversation. This was about my nineteenth year, in the bloom of youth and health.
“But some time after this, I fell into a sore temptation, with which I was exercised for three months together, and which greatly affected my health. It came upon me in the following manner : One day going to meeting, these words dropped upon my mind, “ If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” These words I thought were spoken to me, for I had no chastisement, ner affiiction, either in body or mind: then surely, thought I, the “root of the matter" is not in me. I fear I have not had true repentance:- I have not had those terrors which others have felt; - I fear, my repentance is superficial. O that I may be shvok over Hell rather than be deceived ! and as I esteemed an interest in Christ the greatest of all blessings, so to be destitute of this, I saw would be eternal misery. Thoughts, such as these worked upon my mind daily, and prevented my sleep in the night; and as I knew that to change the heart was God's work, I had no hope of making myself right. My health and spirits declined; I had not saf. ficient understanding to repel the enemy; things, which might have en couraged me to pray and hope, were hidden from me ; and I feared that God would never shew me mercy: - that my case would be like Spira's,