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MEMOIR OF MR. DANIEL PRESSLAND,
OF HIGHAM-FERRERS, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE. MR. PRESSLAND was born in 1755, at Swineshead, Huntingdonshire. From his earliest infancy his mind appears to have been directed to the contemplation of things invisible and eternal. The Lord called him while yet a child ; and he was often heard to say, that he could not recollect a period when he had not been influenced by the Holy Spirit. As he grew up, these impressions were strengthened by a dream, which, although made up, no doubt, of the thoughts which occupied him waking, may be regarded as providential, and connected with the means by which it pleased God to supply, in some measure, the external deficiencies under which he, with too many others, at that time, unhappily laboured. He thought he was walking in a field near the village in which he dwelt, and that an angel met him, holding a pair of scales, pointing to which, he said, “ Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting." He awoke; but the feeling which had been thus occasioned, passed not away with his dream. He pondered the words in his heart, and desired earnestly to have his need supplied, and to be led into the way of peace. But the usual means of instruction were not then so plentiful in the country as they have since become.
The language of sacred history may, in its principle at least, be applied to the period of Mr. Pressland's youth: “The word of the Lord was precious in those days : there was no open vision.” The very leaders of the people caused them to err. In too many instances they were “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;" and the racecourse, the ball-room, the theatre, afforded no preparation for the labours of the pulpit. Seldom was the truth fully preached ; and even that which was true was too often delivered as the mere discharge of professional duty, in which the heart had no concern.
My father was one of five children, brought up by a widowed mother, to whom they were all strongly attached, and with whom, and each other, they dwelt in much affection and peace. His first severe trial arose from a painful bereavement with which the domestic circle was visited. A cherished sister, whom I have often heard him describe as a child of great beauty and sweetness, passing by an open well without taking due care, fell in, and life was extinct before she could be brought out. The mournful event led him to still deeper thoughtfulness. In boyish sports he appeared to take no pleasure, and
VOL. I. - FOURTII SERIES.
his time was spent, when not at school, either with his books in retirement, or in the company of his mother, for whom his love seemed to be unbounded. At school he was distinguished, not only for his indefatigable perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge, but for the correctness of his moral deportment; and as he steadily devoted what might have been his leisure hours either to preparation for his school-lessons, or to a wider application of them, his improvement was both rapid and extensive. He became well-grounded in acquaintance with his own language, and, for the opportunities which had been afforded him, a very fair Latin scholar. From the first he always appeared to live under the impression that he had been sent into the world, not to trifle away his time, but to devote it to the serious business for which life itself had been given : even in youth, therefore, he looked forward to manhood, and, as far as the means were in his power, sought to learn all that might subsequently be useful to him.
His childhood having thus passed away, arrangements were made for him to go to Higham-Ferrers, to reside with his aunt, Mrs. Haigh, who had at that time a large linen-drapery establishment in the town. She appears to have been a person of great energy and commanding manners, but likewise of very strong prejudices. My father was to be (and indeed was) trained by her to the business of a linen-draper; and, from the very first, he was not only diligent, but conscientiously so. He did not lose, however, that desire after knowledge which he had cherished, and by which he had been so strongly influenced, up to the period of his departure from his maternal roof. In order to the regular prosecution of a course of study, he resolutely set himself to acquire the habit of early rising; and was so successful in this, that he was enabled to continue the practice till finally prevented, only a few years before his death, by the increasing infirmities of age. To early rising he added a systematic arrangement of the time which was at his own disposal ; and was thus enabled to study much, and to obtain valuable information from the perusals of the books which he was able to procure. Indeed, most of the works that he read at all, he usually read more than once. His reading was designed, not for amusement, but for instruction; and therefore it was confined to instructive works : and as extensive libraries were not then so easily accessible as they have since become, his opportunities of consulting a greater number and variety of books were comparatively limited.
But this was rather an advantage to him than otherwise. A continual supply of new books might have bewildered him, furnishing with much information, perhaps, but information neither deep nor well arranged. Obliged to return again-often more than once-to volumes through which he had already passed, he meditated the more earnestly on their statements. It was not enough for him to gratify himself by gathering the flowers, and plucking the fruit, which were apparent on the surface: he sought for the more valuable ores which were to be found beneath. According to the light which he possessed, he “inclined his ear unto wisdom, and his heart to understanding ;" so that “he sought for wisdom as silver, and as hidden treasures. He not only read, but thought ; and, persevering in labours which he loved so well, gradually obtained, by this employment of the leisure hours which are too often devoted to vanity, a large fund of solid information. He formed an acquaintance with the Curate of the parish ; and, under his guidance, applied himself to the advancement of the Latin studies which he had commenced at school, and of the benefit of which he wished not to be deprived by subsequent disuse. Occasionally, they sought for recreation in music, for which my father had a natural good taste, and in which he acquired considerable judgment. The practice, however, was subsequently laid aside.
While thus attending with diligence both to study and business, his religious feelings, in some measure, continued; but the state of his mind was very obscure and defective. The expressive phrase of the poet, “ A half-awaken'd child of man,” aptly describes it. He wanted something to make him happy, and he had the general notion that that something was to be found in religion; but what it was, as yet he saw not; nor had he the opportunity of learning from any outward ministry. There were no Methodists for many miles around; and those persons
with whom he was connected, were far enough from any resemblance to what was called Methodism even in those who were not themselves Methodists. A veil of thick darkness seemed to spread over the minds of the people. But he could not be satisfied, and was therefore careful that the perusal of other books should not hinder that of the Bible. He read it seriously, and with increasing feeling, till at length he came to study it for the express purpose of learning from it the way of salvation for sinful man.
He was scrupulously careful in avoiding what he believed to be sinful, and he as carefully observed the various duties of religion; but he still felt that he wanted a something which he did not possess. His heart was not at rest. He had neither the peace nor the power that he desired; and the recollection of his youthful dream, and the solemn sentence which had so impressed his mind, still followed him,-“Thou art weighed in the balance, and art found wanting.” More earnestly and frequently than ever, had he now recourse to the Bible, reading it often on his knees, praying for heavenly light and guidance, that he might know more clearly the mind of God. And he did not thus pray and read in vain. The light that he sought was given to him. He saw that it was not by works of righteousness that salvation comes to the soul, but by the faith of Christ. He learned the great truth, that all had “ sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” and that as all were guilty before him, every mouth must be stopped in his presence. He felt the application of this to his own conscience. He had been preserved from much evil; but this was the work of God, and no occasion of merit for himself. He saw that his own righteousnesses were but as filthy rags, and that he must come with a penitent and contrite heart to the Justifier of the ungodly, seeking to be saved by grace through faith. And this was not mere theory with him. He was awakened, as well as enlightened. He had at length learned the nature of the feelings which had so long held him in bondage ; and he not only felt, as before, that something was wanting, but he knew what that something was. In earnest prayer he sought for peace, through the forgiveness of sin ; and he found what he sought. Times of refreshing came from the presence of the Lord, his sins were blotted out, and he was filled with all joy and peace in believing. The love of God was shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which was given unto him; and he loved God because he thus felt and knew that God had first loved him.
Among Mr. Pressland's earliest feelings, after thus experiencing the mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, were strong desires to be useful. He longed to communicate to others the knowledge he had himself received, and to invite them to partake of the blessings which himself enjoyed. At first he thought of entering into holy orders in the Church; but this was not the path which was marked out for him. His mind was too active for quietness, in the circumstances in which he found himself placed. His glowing love to God created a thirst for the welfare of his fellow-creatures, and he could not rest till he found opportunities for seeking to impress the careless sinners that surrounded him with a sense of their misery and danger. I have often heard him refer to the state of things in the town at this time, and describe it as being most painfully dark. No regard was paid to the Sabbath ; a warning voice against sin was scarcely to be
and of the doctrines of salvation, as taught in the Homilies of the Church of which so many boasted, as though name and reality were to be regarded as identical, no one seemed to have any notion. He could not see all this, and be at rest. His spirit was stirred within him ; and he resolved to attempt, at least, without delay, to warn them of their danger, and to direct them to the only means of escape. He procured the Sermons of Bishop Beveridge, believing them to be best suited for the purpose which he entertained ; and with one of the volumes under his arm, he used to go, on the Sabbath evenings, from cottage to cottage, reading a sermon, sometimes a chapter of the Bible, which he endeavoured to explain, and then praying with the people. These visits were, generally, very acceptable, and made a deep impression. The visiter himself, though zealous, and truly in earnest, was kind in spirit, and courteous in his manners; and God graciously opened his way before him. Among the audiences that he thus collected, the spirit of hearing evidently increased. The neighbours began to assemble at each other's houses, that they might sometimes hear the sermons read twice ; and many began to inquire “the way to the kingdom."
But these proceedings were not long without opposition. He was always careful to serve his aunt faithfully, and, by diligent application to business, to render his services increasingly valuable. His manners, too, were always courteous and obliging, and contributed to increase very considerably the number of customers. But all this could not prevent his religion from becoming offensive; and he found that, in his case, his foes were of his own household.
His aunt severely taunted him, and took every opportunity of ridiculing his methods of seeking to do good. Many who called themselves friends of the Church, professed to be alarmed at the prospect of innovation; and such threats were employed against what were termed unlawful meetings, that Mr. Pressland was obliged to protect himself and friends by procuring regular licences for several houses, and taking other precautions rendered necessary by the increasing anger of his opponents. But the spirit of persecution was awakened, and its origin was plainly visible. While the darkness of sin continued unbroken, the strong man, though armed, kept his goods in peace; but when light began to spring up in the darkness, they who loved darkness rather than light” regarded the whole work with dislike, and persecuted, so far as they were able, all who were engaged in it. Mr.