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FOR JULY, 1840.
MEMOIR OF THE REV. JOSEPH BURGESS,
Late of Plymouth: BY HIS SON, THE REV. WILLIAM P. BURGESS. In undertaking to prepare a memoir of my honoured father, it is my object to perpetuate the memory of departed excellence, to exhibit the efficacy of divine grace, and to add one more to the number of those bright examples, which it is equally our duty and our privilege to imitate. For the greater part of the materials I am indebted to my surviving parent; whose favoured lot it was to assist and comfort her venerated husband during more than fifty-four years of the term of his earthly pilgrimage: 1977
Joseph Burgess was born at Thurles, in the county of Tipperary, Ireland, August 4th, 1757. His father belonged to the first regiment of horse, in which he served forty years; and for a considerable time was riding-master to half the regiment. He was a man, whose mental abilities were beyond those of most persons in similar circumstances; and by his great integrity and general propriety of conduct, he secured the approbation and respect of his superior officers. Though he was tenderly attached to Joseph, who was his only son, he watched over him with great strictness, and was anxious to keep him from associating with rude boys. He took pleasure in instructing him; and, as soon as he was of sufficient age, sent him to the best schools he could procure in the towns in which he was quartered. The lad made considerable improvement; he soon learned to write an excellent hand, and made a rapid proficiency in arithmetic and book-keeping. He also began to learn Latin; but, being removed to a town in which he had no opportunity of getting further instructions, he soon forgot it.
His father's health now began to decline ; and, being unable to fulfil his military duties, he was discharged at Kilkenny with a pension, and a promise that his son should be provided for as a musician on the first vacancy. This occurred soon after. The regiment had left Kilkenny, and he received orders to join it immediately. To the parting scene on that occasion he often referred, and even at a late period of his life, with great emotion. His father declared it was the greatest trial he had ever experienced: the son, however, was Vol. XIX. Third Series. July, 1840.
obliged to bid him a final farewell, and to set off by himself on a journey of several miles to join the regiment. The father did not long survive the separation. The son, though so young, remarked his deep, penitential sorrow, and his earnest prayers for pardon ; and always indulged a hope, that he obtained mercy at the hands of God, and that he should meet him in a better world.
On leaving Kilkenny, he was furnished by his mother with some boiled eggs and a few pence; and thus equipped, he entered on the duties of a soldier's life, when between twelve and thirteen years of age. This his first setting out in the world, he used frequently to mention with unfeigned gratitude to that overruling Providence, which, from his early days, had so mercifully supported and guided him.
When he reached the regiment, he was at once enlisted ; and his pay as a trumpeter in the cavalry being good, he wanted for nothing. He was in a room with seven or eight men; and, being of a very friendly and obliging disposition, he became a general favourite. He soon learned to play the fife, to sound the trumpet, and to dress, manage, and ride a fine strong horse ; in all which he succeeded remarkably well. After some time, by the wish of the Commanding Officer, he and another lad, about his own age, were sent to Dublin, to learn to play the French-horn. His companion's name was Robert Brown; and a friendship was then formed between them, which continued through life. As they both had a good natural taste for music, and applied themselves diligently, they soon became expert performers on various instruments.
Not long after this, the Adjutant, who was also Paymaster to the regiment, took young Burgess into his office. Here his abilities as a clerk and accountant were brought into full action; so that, in a few years, nearly the whole of the business in that department was transacted by him; and he obtained the character of one of the most clever and correct regimental-clerks in the kingdom.
Being, however, deprived of the parental restraints and warnings, with which his early youth had been favoured, and being surrounded with the worst examples, and with almost every incentive to folly and vice, it is no wonder that he was carried away as with a flood, and that his ardent mind was engaged in the pursuit of sensual gratifications and sinful amusements. So far was his judgment depraved, and his conscience stupified, that he thought it was a manly thing to be intoxicated; and even felt a degree of pride in hearing it reported, that, on one occasion, he was very drunk.
About the sixteenth or seventeenth year of his age he had a very narrow escape from death. At a review in the Phenix-park, Dublin, a powerful and spirited horse that he rode, taking fright, rushed out of the ranks to the brow of a steep hill; and, rearing up, fell back on him, and both rolled over and over to the bottom of the hill. There was an immediate cry from several of the men, “ Burgess is killed."
as transacted, nearly the whole brought into for
He was taken up quite insensible; the trumpet which had been slung at his back, was broken into seven pieces ; yet, not one of his bones was broken, nor did he sustain any material or permanent injury. When he came to his senses, he found himself in a carriage, with the lady of one of the officers, who kindly undertook to convey him home.
Some time after this he had a severe fever, so that there was very little hope of his recovery. He was sensible that he was in great danger; and yet, at the time, he had no more thought or concern about his soul or his eternal state, than a beast. His mind was quite taken up with the disposal of his little property ; and he was pleased with the idea of leaving his watch to one friend, his flute to another, his violin to a third, and so on. But the divine mercy again interposed in his favour, and he was restored to health.
In June, 1778, being quartered at Belfast, he was engaged with a trooper in playing cards at a public-house, and saw crowds of people pass by the window to hear the Rev. John Wesley preach ; but would not leave his game. He stayed till he had lost all his money; then, hoping to get back some of it, he staked a new pair of shoes ; and, having lost these also, he went home vexed and mortified.
His musical abilities frequently led him into dissipated and ungodly company; although music was, perhaps, in some degree, serviceable, in keeping him from more gross pursuits, and worse employments.
Here, then, we behold a gay, thoughtless young man, a member of a military band, in one of the most unfavourable situations that can be conceived for the conquest of any evil, or the acquisition of any good,-in ardent pursuit of earthly enjoyments, and carried away by his passions, and by every gust of temptation, into the vortex of sin and folly. Where could we find a more unlikely subject, out of which to form an humble, holy, laborious, and self-denying Minister of the Gospel of Christ? Yet, to the honour of divine grace, and of redeeming love, be it recorded, this amazing transformation actually did take place; this wonderful change really was accomplished. The way in which it was brought about shall now be briefly detailed.
Mr. Burgess, when about twenty-one years of age, had a comrade in the regiment, whose name was George Forster, an amiable young man, to whom he was much attached. This person had been favoured with a pious mother, who carefully instructed him, took him to the means of grace, and rejoiced to see in him the seeds of early piety. But as he grew up, he formed an acquaintance with some ungodly young men, lost his serious impressions; and, growing weary of parental restraints and expostulations, enlisted, and went off with a recruiting party, to the inexpressible grief of his mother. Her health rapidly declined; but she continued earnestly supplicating the throne of grace for her lost son; and her last faltering accents were breathed out in a prayer for the salvation of her dear George. On that very night Forster had
a remarkable dream. He thought that the day of judgment was come, and that he stood, trembling with guilt and fear, before the dread tribunal. The Judge seemed to look upon him with much displeasure ; and he awoke, thankful it was but a dream; yet, conscious that, sooner or later, it would prove an awful reality, unless prevented by a timely repentance. These impressions were powerfully renewed, when he received a letter, informing him of his mother's death, and of the affecting circumstances connected therewith. He then determined to forsake his sins, and to turn to God with all his heart. Having no place of retirement in the barracks, he used to walk into the fields, and, under a hedge, in some secluded spot, he would read his Bible, and pour out, in earnest prayer, the sorrows of a broken and contrite heart. Feeling the need of all the help he could get, he began to attend the meetings of the Methodists, who had a small society in the town. His affectionate comrade, Burgess, sympathized with him in his trouble ; but, after some time, he thought that Forster was carrying it too far, and expostulated with him for refusing to go with him to walk, or to seek some amusement, and for preferring to go about the fields alone. Forster then candidly told him the state of his mind, and how he spent his time in the fields. At this, the other was greatly affected ; he felt that it was time for him also to take some thought about the salvation of his soul, and he earnestly asked Forster, “ Will you let me go with you?” To this Forster gladly consented ; and, from that time, they took all convenient opportunities of retiring to read, converse, and pray together. Thus, Mr. Burgess's mind became much enlightened, to see the great evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, and the mercy and wisdom of God in the plan of human redemption. In the autumn of 1779, Mr. William Boothby, one of the Itinerant Preachers, coming to Lisburn, where the regiment was then quartered, Mr. Burgess went to hear him. The text was 1 Tim. i. 15. He received the word with joy; and, on his return home, wrote down nearly the whole of the sermon, and exclaimed, “I would rather be a Methodist Preacher than Colonel of the regiment.” He now resolutely renounced his former companions, and all his sinful practices, and joined the Methodist society, to which, at that time, much of contempt and opprobrium was attached. This, however, he disregarded ; esteeming it ever afterwards one of his greatest privileges to be a member of that community.
Mr. Forster, though he greatly rejoiced over his companion, was desirous of seeing a deeper work of conviction on his mind; and, having obtained leave to pay a visit to his friends, he was fearful that, during his absence, Mr. Burgess might be moved from his steadfastness; and accordingly warned him of his danger. But the warm-hearted and inexperienced convert was grieved that he should be thought capable of such instability, and assured his friend that his fears were groundless; for he was fully determined to hold on his way. For some time he did so; but, one evening, returning from his usual retirement in the fields, he was accosted in a very friendly way by some of his former companions. They hoped, as he was now alone, he would oblige them with his company to a public-house, where they were going to take only one pint of liquor, and they greatly desired to have a little conversation with him. It occurred to him that it would be very ill-natured to refuse their kind request; that he would be careful not to exceed the pint; and that he might, perhaps, say something to do them good. He, therefore, went in with them; but he soon found that he had got on the devil's ground, and was entangled in his net. One pint followed another, till partial intoxication ensued; and, like Samson, he was shorn of his strength, and became like those around him.
But, although he was thus overtaken in a fault, the gracious Spirit of God did not forsake him; and this very circumstance was the means of convincing him more deeply of his natural depravity and helplessness. He now avoided every snare more carefully than ever; and, in a diligent use of the means of grace, sought redemption in the blood of Christ. At length he was enabled to behold by faith the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world ; and, casting his soul on the atonement and merits of Christ, he obtained peace with God, and went on his way rejoicing. From this period, he walked in the fear of the Lord, and grew continually in grace, and in the knowledge of God.
About a year after this, one of the Quarter-masters in the regiment wished to retire. Mr. Burgess had been a faithful and very efficient assistant to the Paymaster; who, wishing in return to promote his interest, told him, that if he could get any person to advance a certain sum, he would procure the place for him. There was at Dublin a relative in genteel circumstances, who, when he was in that city learning the French-horn, called upon him, took him to breakfast with him at a coffee-house; and, having no child of his own, generously offered to procure his discharge, to put him to any business he might choose, and to provide for him. This was a kind and tempting offer; but the lad resolutely declined it, saying, he could not think of leaving the regiment. To this gentleman, however, Mr. Burgess now applied; and he was promptly answered by an order for the money. Thus, with scarcely any effort on his part, he was promoted to be Quarter-master in December, 1780.
His religious friends were fearful that the change in his rank and circumstances might, in some degree, estrange him from them. Their apprehensions, however, were groundless. It was remarked, that he was more humble after his promotion than before ; and the God whom he loved and served with all his heart, opened before him an extensive door of usefulness, both in the regiment, and in the towns in which they were quartered. He was instrumental in bringing his
to retire the Paymaster; we could get any me. There