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MEMOIR OF THE REV. THOMAS STEPHENSON :
BY HIS SON, THE REV. ROBERT STEPHENSON, B.A. The subject of this record was born at Darlington, in 1802. His father was for more than forty years a faithful Leader in the Methodist Society; and his mother was a remarkably strong-minded and pious woman. Both parents united in diligently training up their children for the Lord : not only did they take all on each Lord's day to the house of prayer, but at home they read and talked to them of holy things, and sang and prayed with them. They also sought to educate them in habits of active charity, as well as of devotion, by often employing them as their almoners among poor and afflicted neighbours.
But no merely human effort can change the heart of a child, or prevent the commission of actual sin. Too often did Thomas break through every restraint, and transgress the Divine law; but bitter were his sufferings after doing so. One instance of this, memorable in the experience of his boyhood, may be specified :—He was on a journey alone, when something occurred exceedingly to annoy him ; and, in his vexation, he uttered the only profane word that ever polluted his lips. No human ear heard it, but conscience immediately smote him, and he could never forget or forgive that hasty utterance. Many years after, he referred to this melancholy occasion with deep Borrow.
When but fourteen years of age, he left home; and this important change was made the occasion of much gracious influence on his mind. Penitently and earnestly he then devoted himself to God; he became a member of the church, and was soon able to write to his happy mother that he had found peace with God.
While an apprentice, he was anxious to acquire useful knowledge ; and, that he might secure time for study, he frequently rose at three or four in the morning. He laboured hard to gain such an acquaintance with Greek as would enable him to spell out the New Testament in the original. Meanwhile Satan did not suffer him to serve God undisturbed. He was often sorely tempted; and sometimes, during the fierce onsets of the subtle foe, he counted the hours as they passed heavily away, and, as the clock struck again and again, blessed God for grace to hold fast to the Cross another hour. By such discipline he was prepared for future usefulness. He was led to
VOL. III.-FIFTH SERIES.
seek higher spiritual attainments; and in March, 1822, his loved and honoured mother could write in her journal as follows :—“I have received a letter from my dear Thomas, wherein he informs me that he has been enabled to venture by faith on Jesus for full salvation, and has walked in the glorious liberty for above a month.”
After labouring some time as a Local Preacher, he was sent to supply the place of a sick Minister at Richmond, Yorkshire. Here God gave him tokens of His favour, and during the few months he remained sixty or seventy members were added to the church.
Among his earliest appointments were Greenock and Port-Glasgow, in 1824; Patrington, for two following years; and then, Melksham, and Melton-Mowbray. He entered upon his work with great zeal, and sought to qualify himself for it by diligent study and earnest prayer. Next to the Bible, (his constant companion, with which he became remarkably familiar,) the books from which he most delighted to draw intellectual and spiritual nourishment were the works of Wesley, Howe, Baxter, Bishop Pearson, Anthony Farindon, and John Goodwin. The rules he strove to observe in preparing for the pulpit may, perhaps, be gathered from those he afterwards laid down for his son :-“Endeavour as early in the week as possible to fix upon your subject; then master it completely, at any rate by Friday. Be careful to give nothing that is half-digested; pray the sermon over repeatedly; preach it again and again to your own soul. Strive to be a workman that needeth not be ashamed :' at the same time recollect that it is not by might, nor by power,' but by the Holy Spirit, that sinners are awakened, and souls saved.” One fault into which he fell at the commencement of his career, he had cause deeply to regret through life ; and he often alluded to it in the way of cautioning others. By the ardour of his natural disposition, coupled with anxiety for the conversion of those he addressed, he was led into a style of excessive physical exertion in the pulpit, and so contracted a weakness of the chest which caused him pain in all his after-years. He had to pray, “Lord, save me from self-murder."
During the year of his residence at Melton-Mowbray, Mr. Stephenson was bappily united in marriage to one who continued to the end of his life to share and increase all his joys, and to comfort him under every sorrow.
The Circuit in which he next laboured was Sunderland; and, as junior Minister, he resided at Houghton-leSpring. In that neighbourhood his memory is still cherished by some who were his children in the Lord. Thence he removed to Ramsay, Isle of Man. Here his cup was one of mingled grief aud joy. Many tears had flowed as he bade farewell to his now enfeebled mother; tears the more bitter, because he had a painful apprehension that he should see her face no more. When he reached his new Circuit, the image of that mother was almost constantly before him. “ About seven months from the date at which we parted,” he writes, “ I received by the same post one letter to inform me of her extreme illness, and another to communicate the mournful intelligence that she was no more.” As though to afford consolation under this grief,
a lovely babe was sent him; but that babe only smiled upon its parents for six short weeks, and was then caught away to heaven by Him who had given it. It was so with another; and then the stricken father wrote thus in his journal :-“June 25th, 1833. This morning, at eleven o'clock, the mortal remains of my fourth child, Richard Watson, were deposited in the same tomb with those of my third son, Thomas. Is it not for my iniquities that I am bereaved of my children? Does not God see that I am not to be trusted with them? that I am not so humble or grateful as I ought to be? I know it is in love to me that He deals thus ; and I trust that this painful visitation will humble me before Him, wean my heart from the creature, draw my thoughts, desires, and affections to heavenly things, and that from this day forward I shall live for God alone."
While thus suffering, he laboured faithfully for the advancement of the work of God; and his labours, in connexion with those of his colleagues and other good men, were crowned with abundant success. The church was quickened, and many souls were converted and added to the communion of believers. “O, Sir,” said one good Methodist, “I have been praying for this revival for thirty years ; and it has come at last.”
Six following years were spent in the Coventry and Keighley Circuits. In each he devoted much time, toil, and anxiety to the erection of new and beautiful chapels; and in each he encouraged with success. In behalf of the Coventry chapel, it was his task, cheerfully undertaken, to travel over a great part of the country soliciting subscriptions. Meanwhile, pastoral and spiritual duties were not neglected; and much he felt comforted, when his health had failed, and he was retiring from the active ministry, on visiting Coventry to find many of his children in the faith. A solitary page of the journal he kept during these six years has been found : "Saturday night, April 12th, 1834.-While engaged in deep lamentation over my depravity, and in earnest prayer to God, I obtained a rich display of the infinite mercy of God to me a sinner, through the merits and mediation of my Lord Jesus. My soul was impressed with holy things most deeply; a sacred joy, a holy reverence, spread through my entire nature. I was able to call God Father, with humble, trembling confidence. My Lord Jesus was glorified in me. Sin was surely in that solemn hour wholly destroyed, and my poor, faithless heart sanctified throughout. O, the riches of mercy! My soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Mr. Stephenson afterwards removed, at intervals of three years, successively to Diss, Louth, Rochdale, and Luton. In each of these spheres his labours were faithful and earnest. He expended much thought, feeling, and prayer on his preparations for the pulpit : hence the matter of his discourses was not common-place or superficial, though the language he employed was always extempore. He preached as one who had a commission from heaven, and whose sole object was to save souls. Nor was he content to be only a Preacher : when in health, he entered, heart and soul, into the public prayer-meetings,
unwilling to leave till penitent sinners had found rest to their souls. He frequently instituted and conducted such meetings at an early hour of the week-day. As he had opportunity, be visited the members at their homes, and took especial delight in conversing with aged and afflicted Christians. He loved to gather round him on the Saturday afternoon the children of his flock, that he might instruct them and pray with them; and in several places he formed classes of young people for the study of the holy Scriptures. “As a Superintendent,” writes an old and faithful friend," he was most anxious to promote every department of the work under his care. His attachment to the discipline of Methodism was very strong; and he was exceedingly anxious that young men likely to be called to sustain office in the church should be well acquainted with that discipline. This induced him carefully to avoid a practice which has led, in some cases, to bad results ; namely, the too long continuance of the same persons in office, to the exclusion of others equally qualified. He would quote the apposite words, Where there is honour, let all share it ; where there is burden, let all bear it. In defence of what he believed to be right, he would not quail before any man, or any number of men ; but if he had been led by warmth of temper too far, he was ever ready to make acknowledgment.”
In the discharge of all family-duties he was most exemplary. He loved his children with a deep but not foolish tenderness, and exercised a kind yet firm discipline. Frequently did he pray for each by name at morning or evening worship; and anxiously did he seize opportunities of conversing with them, individually, on the highest of all subjects. At an early age he encouraged them to become members of the church, and to seek the Divine witness of forgiving love ; and greatly did he rejoice when he saw them striving to be useful. While they were very young, he made them his friends, talked with them freely, and sought to gain their confidence by favouring them with his own.
How carefully and jealously he cultivated personal religion, a few extracts from his journal and letters will best show :
“Louth, November 28th, 1842.-Yesterday I preached three times, and many seemed affected. I hear of one who felt very
much because I began with backsliders at the outset.' God is love: I feel He loves me, and I love Him. His love is sweet to my taste. May I spend and be spent in the work of my Lord !
January 1st, 1843.-It is my design to live this year as I never lived before. I would fain so deport myself as in no instance to displease God, but in all things to honour Him. This I purpose, by
Saturday, July 13th, 1844.—The week now closing has been an eventful week. I have had much labour, severe suffering in mind and body, but, amid all, many enjoyments. God has been revealed to me in love ; my ministry, I have reason to believe, has been useful ; and my beart, though much harassed, is yet encouraged. will hope in the Lord, who is my Helper and my Shield.