« PreviousContinue »
Pressland endeavoured to act as prudently as possible. He attended the services of the church as regularly as ever ; but they who thought that they were quite good enough if they observed the outward forms of religion, and connected with them a decent and respectable morality, could not bear these extra, and, as they thought, irregular, meetings for religious reading and conversation, and for prayer to God. Mr. Pressland frequently found himself placed in exceedingly unpleasant circumstances; but he saw the necessity of perseverance, and in the critical position in which he stood, he sought earnestly for increasing wisdom and strength. He not only prayed much, in reference to the particular objects which he had in view, but connected fasting with prayer, solemnly devoting himself to the service of God, in seeking the salvation of his neighbours and friends, so far as he might be permitted to engage in it. The anger of his aunt appeared to increase, and his patience was severely tried by the bitter sarcasms which she poured forth upon him ; but he received power both to endure patiently, and to labour perseveringly.
Hitherto he had laboured alone, prompted solely by his anxious desire to pluck brands from the burning. He had no sectarian views. He was not endeavouring to raise a party, holding some particular notions as to religious doctrine, or church discipline. He saw that he was surrounded by multitudes who had erred from the truth; and his sole wish and aim was to convert these sinners from the error of their ways, that he might save souls from death. He was not seeking to make those whom he visited either Dissenters or Churchmen. He thought nothing about such controversies as these. In the simplicity of his heart, and in the fervour of his zeal, he looked on his neighbours as sinners who needed salvation; and what he did was done with
the hope of exciting them to seek this salvation for themselves. · What he did, ought to have been done by others. But they who boasted of being exclusively the Ministers of Christ, and were angry that a youthful layman should in this manner, as they said, hold forth in conventicles, never thought of imitating the example of Him who “ came to seek and to save the lost," and who went about doing good.” Neglecting their own proper duty, they angrily opposed and persecuted him for endeavouring to supply their lack of service. But, in the order of Divine Providence, he was about to receive unlooked-for assistance. About the year 1787, the Methodists visited some places in the neighbourhood of Higham-Ferrers; and from the accounts which Mr. Pressland heard, he drew the conclusion that they were systematically engaged in the work which occupied his attention, and with the same objects in view which were pursued by himself. He became desirous, therefore, of knowing something more about them. And an opportunity was soon presented. He heard that the Rev. William Jenkins, then stationed at Bedford, was coming to preach at Irchester, a village not far from Higham. My father resolved to hear him; and, accompanied by one or two friends, went to Irchester to hear one of the Ministers of this sect, of which he knew little more than that it was everywhere spoken against. They who knew Mr. Jenkins will not require to be told that Mr. Pressland was greatly delighted with the whole service. It seemed to him that he had at length met with those who could sympathize with him in his desires and plans, and he sought other opportunities of attending their meet
ings; though he was often obliged to do this unknown to his aunt, the bitterness of whose opposition continued to be unmitigated. Before long, they who were said in so many places to have turned the world upside down, came to Higham also. On one occasion Mr. Jenkins was riding through the town to preach at Rounds, an adjacent village, when he was accidentally met by Mr. Pressland, who, having accosted him, said, “I wish you would come and preach to us. We have as much need of such preaching as any place you visit.” “I have no objection," was the reply. “But when ?” rejoined Mr. Pressland. “Now," said Mr. Jenkins, “ if you will get me a congregation.” “ But where will you preach ?” my father inquired. “There," was the reply; and Mr. Jenkins pointed to the Market-Cross as he spoke. The matter was settled at once. The Preacher went to put up his horse, and Mr. Pressland went about to gather a congregation. In half an hour a large number of persons had assembled, and Mr. Jenkins, taking his stand at the Cross, having Mr. Pressland at his side, went through the usual service. Great astonishment was excited. Many of Mr. Pressland's poorer friends were delighted. They were in some measure prepared to receive the evangelical message which was thus addressed to them. But his opponents, some of whom were led by their curiosity to stand listening at a distance, and others of whom opened their windows for the same purpose, were exasperated more than ever. It was bad enough for a young man to go about from house to house, spreading his fanatical notions ; but for a Methodist Preacher to come to the town and preach thus publicly, was not to be borne. Some of the leading men of the place met to consult what was to be done to prevent the spreading of what they considered as so great an evil; and it may serve to illustrate the condition of society at the time, if one of the threats uttered at the meeting be recorded : 66 As for that Daniel Pressland, I'll do for him, " The sentence was concluded with an oath, and the speaker was a Clergyman. The fact is mentioned with no feeling of exultation. But when such were they who professed to be, exclusively, the authorized teachers of the people, “the enemy had indeed come in like a flood," and it was time for “ the Spirit of the Lord to raise up a standard against him."
It was thus that Wesleyan Methodism was introduced to HighamFerrers. The visits of the Ministers were repeated ; and while out-ofdoor preaching was continued, a regular congregation was collected, a society was soon formed, and a convenient place of meeting procured, It is not intended to enter into those particulars which would be required for a history of Methodism in Higham-Ferrers. It will be sufficient to say, that from these small beginnings, the good work of the Lord, in what may be termed this sectional department of it, went on and prospered ; and long before Mr. Pressland died, Higham-Ferrers became the head of a Wesleyan Circuit, with societies and congregations in most of the surrounding villages.
But while my father rejoiced in the progress of religion, his own circumstances became for a time extremely painful, and, on some parts of his providential way, a mysterious darkness was permitted to rest. Several of his opponents waited upon Mrs. Haigh, and urged her to interfere before what they termed « more mischief” was done. Her feelings, already only too strongly excited, were, by this interposition, rendered increasingly impetuous. Hitherto he had been enabled to endure all her reproaches in the spirit of meekness. He treated her with increasing respect, both as the mistress of the family, and his own elder relation ; and to personal attention, he added an unswerving fidelity in business. He so ordered his time, so arranged his plans, that his religious labours never interfered with his secular duties. Whatever else she said, he took care that she should not be able to say that his Methodism made him either inattentive to business, or neglectful of the work which he had to do. For a number of years he had served her faithfully, receiving no fixed salary, though, through his active superintendence, the business had become greatly extended, and, to her, much more profitable than when his residence with her commenced. He was not only her servant, but her relation and friend ; and, as her legal heir, looked for the reward of his labours in succeeding to her, whenever she should choose to retire from active life. But as he never neglected temporal duty on religious pretences, --in this respect his aunt could find “no error nor fault in him,"—SO neither would he allow the prospect of any temporal advantage to interfere with the discharge of his religious obligations. He saw that his position was critical; but this only made him more diligent and more prayerful. He pondered well the path of his feet, and carefully adjusted his plans of living and acting to the duties which he had to fulfil, both towards God and man; and, having done this, he left the issue with God, “ waiting upon the Lord, and keeping his way.”
The trial at length came. One Saturday evening, something had occurred which excited the anger of Mrs. Haigh to such a degree, that she ordered him directly to leave the house. It was already so late that there was no time to look after a regular lodging, or to make any provision for spending the coming Sabbath ; and, in addition to this discomfort, he saw plainly that the prospects towards which he had naturally looked, and which, in his circumstances, he had some right to anticipate, were at once not only darkened, but cut off. For the moment, it was more than discomfort ; it was misery: and he said to her, “Surely you will let me stay here till Monday morning.” But her anger had burst through all limits; and she replied, in a tone which proved to him that all discussion would be unavailing, “ You shall not sleep in the house another night.” In this painful situation, suddenly and entirely cut off from all the help which he had expected from those who should naturally have been his most efficient friends, he knew not which way to bend his steps; but his never-failing resource was still open to him, and he cried to God for aid and direction, and his prayers were heard and answered. He had forsaken all, rather than cease to be, according to his deliberate judgment, a disciple of Christ; thus proving by his conduct that his rule was, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and to leave the whole question of temporal supply to the care of his heavenly Father, who knew what were the things which he needed.
And the effects of that care soon became apparent. Shelter was soon found him among his Christian friends. Mr. Allen, afterwards Steward to Earl Fitzwilliam, secured part of a house for him in a good situation in the town, and he was urged to begin business at once for himself. Money was offered to him on loan to any extent he might require; and by one generous friend a considerable sum of money was put into his hands. All circumstances seemed to indicate the openings of Providence; and, putting his trust in God, he followed where he believed he was led. It will not be necessary to detail particular occurrences. God was with him, and he prospered in all that he undertook; so that he was soon enabled to repay the loans with which he had been so kindly assisted, and to enlarge his own business by his increasing capital. A number of persons from the adjacent villages, knowing the reasons which had caused him to open his shop, flocked to it as purchasers; and some of them, many years after, exhibited the articles which they had first purchased, having kept them as relics of the occasion. Confiding in the divine promise, that, if he “trusted in the Lord, and did good, he should dwell in the land and be fed," my father obeyed the command,“ Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.” No wish is entertained by the writer to call every remarkable coincidence a judgment,—to say that “they on whom the tower at Siloam fell, and slew them, were sinners above all them that dwelt in Jerusalem :" nevertheless, remarkable coincidences ought not to be overlooked; and it is certain that six persons who were especially my father's enemies, and who had not the slightest reason for their enmity, beyond his steady adhesion to what he believed to be the cause of truth, were all cut off within the year. His aunt's business, likewise, began to decline. For a long period, much of its prosperity had depended on himself; and the result proved, that if she had done wrong in relation to him, she had acted unwisely in regard to her own interests. Her own health, likewise, became much impaired. Up to this time, the charge of the business had rested on her nephew; and while the anxiety and labour were his, the profit was all her own. But now, through her opposition to that with which, at all events, she needed not to concern herself, in her declining years cares devolved on her to which she had long been a stranger; and her strength was found inadequate to the exigency. My father was very anxious on her account. He longed to be at peace with her, and to be permitted to point her to “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” as his redeeming work is plainly described in the established formularies of the Church of England. He respectfully requested that she would allow him to call on her; but such were her feelings in reference to his “ Methodism," as she termed it, that his letter received no reply. He persevered, however: he could not cease to love his own relation, and the friend of his youth; and such was his confidence in the truth, that he believed he could show her, if once admitted to an interview, that he spoke only such things as she had long read, and professed to acknowledge. He knew that he had embraced no recently discovered or devised system; but that his * Methodism" was only the “ Church-of-Englandism of the primitive Reformers” reduced to practice, as well as made the object of earnest belief. He heard that she was evidently sinking, and he sent to her again and again ; but she refused to receive him, and all that he could do was to pray for her; and this he did with great fervency of spirit. The approach of death produced no alteration in her feelings. His last application was made to her on her dying bed ; but it was unavailing; and she died without having been reconciled to him. It was found, after her death, that she had altered the will she had formerly made, and that all her property was left to a distant relation. It is a singular circumstance, and deserves to be mentioned in passing, that, not long after her death, it was judged necessary to take down the house in which she had so long resided, and to build another on nearly the same site. To this last, Mr. Pressland had the opportunity of removing his recently-formed business, and in it he dwelt for the remainder of his life,-more than fifty years.
It was not long before my father suggested that he believed the time was come for the erection of a chapel in which the increasing Methodist society and congregation might worship God. Fears were entertained by many, that they were not strong enough for the undertaking; but the hopes of the more active prevailed. Mr. Adcock, a respectable inhabitant of the town, united his efforts with my father's; a subscription was commenced, and proved to be so successful, that, in a short time, a neat chapel was erected. It was opened for divine service by Mr. Jenkins, the esteemed Minister who had first preached at the Market-Cross; and the second time that the congregation assembled for worship, a funeral sermon was preached, for improving the occurrence which had recently taken place, and which was felt throughout Methodism ; namely, the death of its venerable Founder.
It was always with my father a pleasing recollection, that he had once, at Bedford, in St. Paul's church there, heard Mr. Wesley preach. He well remembered the text, (1 Cor. i. 30,) and the subject, “Christ Jesus, of God made unto the believer wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” After the service, he was introduced to Mr. Wesley, and spent some little time in his company. To him this interview was as profitable as it was agreeable ; nor was it ever forgotten by him.
The society at Higham was not large, but it enjoyed much peace and prosperity. Mr. Pressland was appointed the first Leader of the first class. In discharging the duties of the office which he was thus called to sustain, he was very successful. He felt an almost fatherly affection for those over whose spiritual interests he was required to watch ; but this rather prompted, than hindered, great plainness and fidelity. For a long time he was accustomed to go through the town on the Sunday morning at five o'clock, to knock at the doors of the members of his class, that they might all assemble at the usual place of meeting at six. His youthful habit of early rising became now more valuable to him than ever, from the religious services which it enabled him to perform. Though the class met at six, I have heard him say, that he could not recollect that he had ever been five minutes behind
There were still many persons who looked on all these proceedings with angry contempt, and by them the speedy downfal of Methodism was predicted. “In seven years' time,” it was said, “ the chapel will have to be turned into a butcher's shop.” But at Higham, as elsewhere, God was pleased to bless this particular department of his own cause. The society so increased in numbers, that it became necessary to divide the class, and to appoint other Leaders; and the congregation so continued to increase, that galleries had to be erected for the accommodation of those who attended ; and, finally, the chapel itself had to be enlarged.
During the comparatively uncertain circumstances of his earlier years, Mr. Pressland believed that, in Christian prudence, it was his duty not to undertake the responsible charge of a family. But when