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FOR APRIL, 1840.
MEMOIR OF MR. JAMES RODGERS,
Of Bath, Jamaica ::
WESLEYAN MISSIONARY, To the recitals of religious experience it has been frequently objected, that there is in them a uniformity which renders their perusal uninteresting ; but the truly enlightened mind traces, through various circumstances, an unbroken chain of providential interpositions, and perceives, with thankfulness and profit, a manifold exhibition of diving grace. For those persons who judge of the importance of events by the relation which they bear to eternity, the following memoir, not intended to panegyrize the dead, but to instruct and encourage the living, has been compiled.
Mr. James Rodgers was born at Nottingham, April 21st, 1796. His father dying while he was very young, and his mother having no saving acquaintance with religion, he was destitute of those spiritual advantages which many have enjoyed in their youth. Notwithstanding, he has often been heard to speak of the convictions which he felt when quite a child, that it was his duty to pray to God; and, under their influence, he would occasionally resort to some field or private place, and pour out his heart in prayer with childlike simplicity. Ifis filial affection, likewise, was very remarkable ; and for obedience to his mother, his whole conduct was exemplary.
As he advanced in years, he maintained a decidedly moral deportment: but, being brought up to the profession of music, he had to associate with the thoughtless and gay, and to frequent balls, theatres, and other places of aniusement; and thus, the serious impressions with which he had been blessed, passed away as a morning cloud, and as the early dew. Such companionship, so far from nurturing early piety, seldom fails to destroy it.
Having entered into the marriage-state, and settled in London, he commenced business as a leather-seller ; but still followed his musical profession. It was in the year 1816, that he began to think more seriously respecting the salvation of his soul, and resolved that he would carefully peruse the holy Scriptures. Feeling himself unhappy, and being very dissatisfied with his neglect of the public worship of God, he began to attend to it, at all events, occasionally.
Vol. XIX. Third Series. April, 1810.
A Dissenting chapel was in the immediate neighbourhood of his own house; and he went there several times, without inquiring to what denomination of Christians the chapel belonged. He was led to discontinue his attendance by a singular occurrence. The Minister, on one occasion, spoke against Wesleyan Methodists in no very measured terms; and Mr. Rodgers, on returning home, and reflecting on what he had heard, resolved to ascertain the truth for himself. On the following Sabbath, therefore, in accordance with this resolution, he went to the Romney-terrace chapel, Westminster; and, being satisfied with the discourse which he heard, he took sittings in the chapel for himself and family. Though he had not been immoral previously, yet now he became more circumspect than ever, and especially in regard to the observance of the holy Sabbath. Desiring to make himself useful in any way he could, at the request of some of the friends connected with the society, he assisted the congregation in their devotional exercise with his musical talents. The light of grace now shining more clearly into his mind, he began to question whether he was doing right in attending, professionally, as a musician, in the ball-room. In a state of great perplexity, he went to the Rev. George Morley, who was at that time stationed in the Circuit, and anxiously inquired of him whether it were right for him to follow his profession, which required his presence at what, be feared, were places of sinful amusement. Mr. Morley's opinion coincided with that which he had begun to entertain; and though his musical talents were a source of great pecuniary advantage to him, he at once renounced this particular exercise of them, and never after used his instruments of music, except for sacred purposes.
Mr. Rodgers, in this matter, acted upon principle. He did not inquire what was gainful, but what was right. He attended to his regular employment; but, by devoting some of his evening hours to music at the ball-room, much additional profit was secured. But his conscience was uneasy. He contrasted his employment on the Sabbath, when assisting the congregation in an important and delightful part of the worship of God, with his proceedings during the week, when he employed the same skill in the furtherance of a love of pleasure, which, to say the least, afforded no room for the love of God. In his perplexity, he sought for advice from his Christian Pastor; and, believing that which he received to direct to the proper line of conduct, he resolved to follow it, though, in so doing, the pecuniary sacrifice he was called to make was considerable. But he conferred not with flesh and blood. He knew that he must do right, if he wished to have peace at the last: and he resolved, by the help of God, that he would do it; and to the resolution thus formed, he was enabled to adhere.
Fellowship with his old acquaintances having been thus renounced, Mr. Rodgers became “ the companion of those who feared God and kept his statutes." Their example and persuasion induced him to engage as a Teacher in the Sunday-school, held in connexion with the chapel. Here it was that he commenced a course of labour and service for which he appears to have been peculiarly qualified, and in which he was rendered eminently successful.
But his closer connexion with religious society was productive of no ordinary measure of spiritual good to him. Enjoying, as he now did, the privilege of communion with persons who had made considerable advancement in scriptural experience, he soon saw, more clearly than he had done before, the necessity of a change of heart. He felt that he could not rest till he had obtained a consciousness of the divine favour. He was now diligent in all the means of grace, and sought the Lord with his whole heart. It was in the year 1818, while one of his own family was earnestly presenting petitions to the throne of grace in his behalf at a prayer-meeting, held in a private room, that he found redemption in the blood of Christ, even the forgiveness of sins; the Spirit itself bearing witness with his spirit that he was a child of God. At the same time, he had the pleasing satisfaction of seeing some of his nearest relations made partakers of the same heavenly blessing.
His heart being bent on doing good, and possessing talents for active usefulness, he had no difficulty in finding full employment in the society of which he had become a member. During the four years he remained in the Circuit, he continued to spend his Sabbaths in teaching in the Sunday-school. In the discharge of the duties of a Teacher, diligence, patience, and perseverance, aro indispensable: these he possessed in no ordinary degree. He likewise had the happiness of witnessing the successful results of his labours. The following incident shows that extraordinary exertions are not always in vain. A boy had been brought to the school, who was so obstinately wicked, and apparently so completely hardened, that he was rejected by all the Teachers. They were discouraged, and could bear no longer with his provocations. Mr. Rodgers yearned over the wretched boy, and said to the other Teachers, “Let him stay with me.” Frequently he took the boy aside, and prayed with hine in secret.' Day after day he watched over him, and admonished him with the affection of a parent, till he became a reformod cha racter. His kindness was not in vain. Considerable improvement was soon visible in the boy; but, having left the neighbourhood, and settled in another place, Mr. Rodgers did not see him for several years. One day, when on a visit to his old friends, he made some inquiry concerning his former pupil, and learned, to his great pleasure,' that he was now truly devoted to God, and actually engaged in preaching the Gospel. The first time after this that he saw him, he was in the pulpit conducting public worship. When the service was ended, he came down, and, pressing his old Tutor's hand, said, “Sir,
I have to bless God that ever you were my Teacher. What you said to me on my leaving the school, I have never forgotten." This circumstance must have been highly gratifying ; and should encourage all who are engaged in instructing children to persevere in their labour of love, leaving the result with God, and never despairing of success.
The labours of Mr. Rodgers on the Sabbath were not confined to teaching in the school. He spent part of the day in visiting the sick, as one of the Visiters of the Strangers' Friend Society. In this delightful work he was particularly happy. He was ever ready to help the needy. To several persons he made a weekly allowance, even to the day of his death. Some poor widows every Sabbath dined at his table. The tenth part of his income was invariably given, either to the cause of God, or the relief of the poor. From a sense of duty he did this. He never gave less than his rule ; he often exceeded it. His liberality was only partially known, as he was fearful of doing his alms before men, to be seen of them. He acted as in the sight of God, and did what he could. His kindness was only limited by his means. In the Westminster society he was likewise employed as Poor-Steward and Prayer-Leader; and, acting in all things under the influence of Christian principle, whatever he was appointed to do, he was faithful to the trust reposed in him.
For some time, while residing in Westminster, he had carried on a profitable business at Chelsea. In 1821 he removed his family thither, and joined the Wesleyan society connected with the Sloaneterrace chapel. At this place he was Secretary of the Sunday-school, and devoted much of his time to the instruction of children. His endeavours in this department were attended with abundant success. Many children were converted from sin, joined in church-fellowship with the people of God, and became Teachers in the school in which they had found so much spiritual good. During the period he dwelt in Chelsea, he was very active in seeking to promote the eternal interests of his neighbours. With the aid of other like-minded friends, he succeeded in establishing a Tract Society. He took an active part in its operations, and had the pleasure of seeing it instrumental in bringing many souls to Christ.
Providence had so smiled upon his temporal affairs, that he was comfortably situated in regard to this world ; but wishing to be more fully employed in works which would benefit man, and believing that he should be more useful, if all his time were spent in instructing the rising generation, he, at a considerable sacrifice, disposed of his business, and made an engagement, by which he became Master of the Cheltenham Infant-school. He and his family removed to this place in 1828, and took charge of the school.
Mr. Rodgers's talents, as an Infant-school Master, were of the first order. The manner in which he conducted the school at Cheltenham, together with some interesting occurrences that lie witnessed, may be seen in the “ Practical Treatise on Infant Education" which he published while this institution was under his superintendence. A thousand copies of this little work were soon sold, and in 1836 a second edition appeared.
This situation he retained five years; and his conduct, as Master, gave general satisfaction. The school, however, was connected with the Church of England ; and though Mr. Rodgers was of a truly catholic spirit, and both could and did worship God with great sineerity and profit, according to the services of the Church, he yet retained his attachment to his Wesleyan friends, and considered himself at liberty to attend their place of worship. Occasionally, likewise, not forgetting his old employment, he conducted the singing in the chapel. Careful to fulfil the duties of his situation, he thought he was at liberty to follow his own inclinations in this particular respect. His conduct, however, gave offence: Attendance at the Methodist chapel was deemed incompatible with his duty as Master of the Infantschool, and he was dismissed from his office.
He himself having acted conscientiously, put his trust in the providence of God; and he was not forsaken. His reputation as an Infant-school Master was not confined to Cheltenham; and no sooner was it known that he was free from his engagements there, than applications from different quarters were made to him, requesting that he would undertake the superintendence of similar institutions. Very kind proposals were made to him by the late Rey. H. Vaughan, Vicar of Crickhowel, in Wales; in consequence of which he agreed to take charge of the Infant and Juvenile School under the care of that gentleman.
In December, 1833, he and his family removed to that place. Here his labours were abundant, and neither unhappy nor unsuccessful. The late Mr. Vaughan was a truly devoted Christian and Clergyman, earnestly and evidently seeking the present and eternal salvation of his flock. For this he laboured and prayed; and for this, it might be said, he lived. An acquaintance with him was a privilege, the value of which was duly estimated by Mr. Rodgers. Ilis own earnest desires regarded the prosperity of religion, and this the esteemed Clergyman was anxious to promote. Mr. Rodgers, during the two years that he remained at Crickhowel, had reason to rejoice that his lot was not cast as in “ a barren land, where no water is.” He saw not only that the children placed under his care improved in those branches of knowledge to which it was his duty to introduce them, but that their infant minds were graciously impressed from above. With the approbation of the Vicar, he was the means of establishing a Tract, a Temperance, and a Juvenile Missionary Society; and his own consistent conduct obtained for bim the affectionate respect of all who had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with him.