« PreviousContinue »
ehind him, th They made one that the tween alone
In his long course of ministerial labour, he had many providential deliverances from difficulty and danger. When in the Birmingham Circuit, he was obliged to rest for a few days, in consequence of a scalded leg. It being his appointment to preach one evening, at a place only a mile and a half from his residence, he determined to go, though still very lame. As he was moving on with difficulty, he saw two men, of very suspicious appearance, standing near the road, who seemed to take particular notice of him. After the service, the night being very dark, one of the friends got a lantern, and accompanied him part of the way home. There was a short way across some fields; and Mr. Burgess, having got over a stile into the field, the same two men whom he had seen in going sprang out from under a hedge, where they had been concealed; but, his friend with the lantern coming close behind him, they shrunk back. Mr. Burgess asked, “What are you doing there?” They made no reply, and he proceeded on his journey ; but it was his firm conviction, that the two men had intended to assault him, and would have done so, had he been alone.
One night, he was riding home from Constantine to Helstone. The night was very dark and wet, and he had to cross a stream of water; but when he got near it, he could not see the fording-place. To attempt crossing anywhere else, he knew, would be dangerous, and would put him out of the right road. He paused a little while, and thought of returning to the house from which he had started; but, knowing that Mrs. Burgess was waiting up for him, and would be alarmed if he did not return, he determined to proceed ; lifting up his heart to God in prayer, that he might be assisted and directed. Immediately he saw a light at some distance: he thought it was from some person carrying a lantern, and called out, but received no answer. The light, however continued to approach, till it came and remained stationary on the other side of the stream, distinctly showing the proper place for crossing. He went forward, and got safely through into the high road: he called out again, but the light disappeared. What the light was, or whence it came, he never knew; but, coming at that precise time, and to that particular spot, he justly regarded it as illustrating the wise and gracious care of that divine Providence which orders the steps of a good man, and even numbers the hairs of his head.
During the last thirty-five years of his life, with the exception of three years spent at Gloucester, and two at Portsmouth, his labours were confined exclusively to the counties of Cornwall and Devon. Hence he was not so generally known in other parts of the kingdom as he might have been.
For many years, although his general health was good, and his habits were eminently active and diligent, he was subject to occasional attacks of epilepsy. Whatever tended to throw him out of his usual, regular course, by keeping him too long without food, or by depriving him of his accustomed rest, or by producing too great an excitement of the mental powers, was always likely to induce this disease. He had several seizures, while in attendance at District-Meetings; and though they generally passed off very favourably, and he recovered in two or three days, yet an impression was produced in the minds of his family, and ultimately in his own, that it was his duty to refrain from attending such Meetings. It was the same cause, principally, that occasioned his general absence from the annual Conferences. He attended the Sheffield Conference of 1811, as the Representative of the Cornwall District ; and was at no Conference afterwards, excepting that at Bristol in 1831. None would have been more gratified than he, in a little friendly intercourse with his brethren in the ministry; but the publicity and excitement of the Conference were more than he could bear; and hence he contented himself with discharging the more quiet and ordinary duties of his Circuit.
It should certainly be acknowledged, as one effect of the special, providential care extended towards him, that, though he had many epileptic seizures, no material or permanent injury resulted from them. They, indeed, tended gradually to weaken a constitution which was originally very sound and vigorous, and to bring him down, by almost imperceptible degrees, to the grave. Very few persons, however, who have passed the boundary of fourscore years, retain so much bodily or mental energy as Mr. Burgess ; very few have a smaller portion of the infirmities of age.
In the spring of 1832, when he had nearly completed his third year's labours in the Gloucester Circuit, he was returning one morning from a village, four or five miles distant, where he had preached and lodged the preceding night. An attack of epilepsy came on; he fell down, and lay some time unconscious on the road. At length, however, he came to himself, and was sufficiently recovered to walk home. This circumstance, together with the decided opinion of his own family, and of those among his friends and brethren who were acquainted with his case, convinced him that the time was now come when he ought to withdraw from the cares and toils of the Methodist itinerancy; and, accordingly, at the ensuing Conference, he was set down Supernumerary at Plymouth.
Nothing, however, could be more remote from his thoughts and wishes, than to sit down in idleness. During the days of his vigour, such was his desire to improve his mind, and to cultivate various kinds of useful knowledge, that, besides reading carefully many of the best works in theology and general literature, he had paid some attention to the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages; so that he could read the Greek Testament, and translate easy Latin works, with a tolerable degree of facility. In his declining years, he usually employed a part of each day in reading and private study, and a part in public and ministerial duties. During the first four years of his Supernumerary
world; he wave to be usefa little remaininad
character, his labours in preaching, meeting classes, visiting the sick, and the like, were not far below those of an effective man. While resident in the Portsmouth Circuit, though bordering on his eightieth year, he frequently preached twice, and occasionally thrice, on the Sabbath; and that with a degree of energy and fervour which often astonished, as well as delighted, the audience.
After his return to Plymouth, in August, 1836, he went on for a time much in his usual way ; but, in the spring of 1837, he had a severe attack of the influenza, which then prevailed extensively. This brought him very low; and, though he partially recovered, his lungs were much affected, and he frequently had a distressing cough ; yet he still continued to exert his little remaining strength, fearing nothing so much as to live to be useless. He was evidently ripening for a better world; he was full of love, and gratitude, and praise; he lived consciously on the verge of eternity, and stood like one winged for the flight, and ready to be gone.
He preached for the last time, and administered the Lord's supper, at Oreston, near Plymouth, on Sunday, March 10th, 1839. His subject was the institution of that ordinance, as stated by the Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. xi. 23, &c.; and he showed the duty and the benefit of attending thereto. Though his memory failed a little once or twice in repeating the Lord's prayer, and in giving out one of the hymns, he preached in a very recollected way, and with much of his usual animation, feeling, and solemnity.
Here terminated his pulpit labours. From his own private memoranda, it appears that, during the forty-two years of his itinerancy, he preached, on an average, three hundred and thirty sermons annually ; and that the total number of sermons preached by him, from the beginning to the close of his ministry, was fourteen thousand six hundred and seventy-five.
On Monday, March 18th, he met a class, and gave them their quarterly tickets, at Stonehouse. On Tuesday, 19th, in the afternoon, he met the class of his old and esteemed friend Mr. James Jope, who was then unwell, and survived Mr. Burgess only about three weeks. Having spoken to each individual, he added a few words relative to his own experience; declaring that he had an unshaken confidence in the mercy of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, for eternal salvation; and that this confidence yielded him heavenly consolation. In the evening of that day, he met, for the last time, a small class, which he had under his own care, and which usually assembled at his own residence.
On Wednesday, feeling his mind deeply concerned about a young gentleman, who had been dangerously ill, and whom he had visited, he wrote a letter to him; and, though the weather was rough and wet, he would take it himself to the house. Of this letter, the last he ever wrote, the following is an exact copy :
“ MY CHRISTIAN FRIEND,
March 20th, 1839. “ CONSCIENCE impels me to request your attention for a seasonable moment. Of you and myself I may say, that Providence hath placed us, and every human being under the sun, on the threshold of an eternal world. I would, therefore, entreat you to consider, that our present duty is, not the mere discussion of doctrines, or of the opposite, conflicting opinions of men, but a frequent and prayerful perusal of the holy Scripture, in obedience to Him who says, 'Search the Scriptures; for in them ye have eternal life ; and they are they which testify of me.'
“ By painful experience, I have learned that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked ; that I am absolutely unable to save myself from sin, or to attain to that holiness without which no man can see the Lord. I am persuaded, that 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' It is certain also, that if we had as perfect a knowledge of these truths as St. Paul had, and yet not accompanied with a sorrowful, debasing knowledge of ourselves, followed, likewise, by reformation of conduct, by earnest prayer to God, and faith in the Lord Jesus, our knowledge would be unavailable. Remember, then, my friend, that speculative repentance, reformation, and faith, are things only looked at, without producing any salutary effects. I pray earnestly and confidently, that you and I may so realize these eternal truths, that, when called hence, we may be found pardoned believers, without spot and blameless.
“ I am deeply conscious, that the present dispensation is designed, by your heavenly Father, to promote your holiness and happiness through the ages of eternity. May God Almighty grant that his merciful design may have its divinest completion ! “ With sincere regards, I am,
“ Affectionately yours,
“ JOSEPH BURGESS."
On Thursday afternoon, he attended the Local Preachers' Meeting; but, his cough being troublesome, he did not stay to the close.
On Friday, he called to see his old and much-respected friend Mr. Thomas Tanner, who was then in a state of extreme debility, and who, about a month afterwards, joined Mr. Burgess in a better world.
During Saturday, he walked out two or three times, and engaged Mr. George Pope, now Missionary at Madras, to preach for him the following day in the Ebenezer chapel, intending to officiate himself at a funeral, previous to the morning service. He had been in the habit of attending the Saturday-evening prayer-meetings, in the school-room adjoining the chapel; but latterly, finding the night air too cold, he had usually remained at home with Mrs. Burgess, devoting that hour to the reading of the Scriptures and prayer; and these seasons he greatly enjoyed. That evening, while he and Mrs. Burgess were sitting alone, he said, “I have been thinking what a poor, feeble creature I am ; yet, when I consider my age, within about four months of eighty-two, I need not wonder at feeling weakness. I know I should be willing to suffer, as well as to do, the divine will. And then, when I think of my mercies! Poor Mr. T. cannot sit upright, nor speak; Mr. S. has no use of his limbs; but I can walk about and speak; I have a good appetite, and nourishing food; I have everything I can wish for. I see that it is my privilege to look at the bright side, and to be contented and thankful.” Soon after, he remarked, “ It is seven o'clock: now we shall enjoy this hour; we are shut in here with God." They then read together the fifty-third and fifty-fourth chapters of Isaiah ; and, at the close, he exclaimed, “O what blessed reading that is !" He then engaged in prayer, with uncommon enlargement, especially on behalf of his own family ; mentioning each of the adult members particularly, and then his grandchildren ; praying that every one of the latter might, in early life, be converted to God, and that they might be his faithful servants to death. Towards the conclusion, he added : “And now, Lord, I ask, in perfect submission to thy holy will, that, if thou wilt spare me a little longer, thou wouldest strengthen me to do a little good.” Then, committing his all into the hands of his heavenly Father, he concluded his last audible prayer on earth.
He afterwards read a page or two in Moore's Life of Mr. Wesley, and made some remarks on it; and then went down stairs. After some time, a noise being heard, some of the family ran down, and found Mr. Burgess lying insensible, at the bottom of the stairs. He soon came to himself sufficiently to get up, and was led into the sitting-room ; but, after a few minutes, he said he must go to bed immediately. With a little assistance, he walked up stairs, undressed himself, and lay down; saying, he wanted sleep. When he was asked, some time afterwards, whether he was in pain, he said, “ Yes; my left shoulder pains me, but not much ; and my head is very sore.” After this, he sat up to take some coffee, but soon lay down again: he seemed quite sensible, and asked what could be done about the funeral the next morning. He spoke two or three times afterwards; but about twelve o'clock he appeared to go to sleep. Early in the morning, a medical gentleman came; who said at once, that it was a case of decided apoplexy, and that he was not likely to survive the attack many hours. The usual modes of treatment were, however, employed. His breathing then became easier; and he lay, seemingly quite composed, till about half-past twelve, Sabbath noon, March 24th, 1839, when, in the most quiet and peaceful way, without a struggle or a groan, his spirit escaped to paradise.
There is reason to believe, that he had a presentiment that he should be called hence suddenly. He had repeatedly told Mrs. Burgess, that be possessed that unshaken confidence in the mercy of God, through