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MEMOIR OF TIIE REV. JAMES SMETIAM :
WITH NOTICES OF HIS ELDEST SON. MR. SMETHAM was born at Leigh, in the county of Lancaster, in the year 1791. He was the youngest son of James and Mary Smetham, by whom he was early instructed in the ways of godliness. They themselves, indeed, had not come to a knowledge of the truth until comparatively late in life. This was effected by the instrumentality of their eldest son, Richard, who was by twenty years the senior of his brother James, and who died in 1846. The circumstances immediately leading to the happy change were these : The parents had been, during the greater part of their lives, "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God,” though in the habit of strict attendance on the ordinances of the Established Church.
The family had been mutually affectionate and harmonious, until what seemed to the old gentleman the catastrophe of Richard's conversion took place. Then he was grieved to the heart that the peace of his household, so long united, should be broken by the over-righteousness of a son who had been led to the fanatical supposition that his sins were forgiven, and that cards, dances, ballads, and races were no longer to constitute his amusements. And, as Mr. Smetham, sen., was not unacquainted with scriptural verbiage, he quoted the sacred book to show how literally the intimation, that “a man's foes” should be "they of his own household,” had been fulfilled in his family by the entrance of this presumptuous convert, who, instead of pursuing the vain and frivolous engagements which had made him beforetime a charming companion, of whom they could be proud, now spent much of his time in secret meditation and prayer, in singing and making sacred melody in his heart. Both parents on one occasion were preparing to go to the races at Newton, then famous.
No entreaty, on the part of their son, could prevail on them to relinquish a pleasure to which they had been long accustomed. The mother especially, a woman of great spirit and determination, broke away from all his remonstrances; but, as she was going, he said to her, “Mother, if my prayers can have any power, you will not be happy." When these lovers of pleasure had taken their departure, he retired to his room, and spent the time of their absence in supplication. In the meanwhile, a great crowd assembled round the grand stand.
VOL. VI.-FOURTH SERIES.
Mr. and Mrs. Smetham secured an advantageous position: all seemed gay and hopeful; but they were strangely troubled in spirit. To add to their disquietude, the day grew dark with clouds, and volleys of thunder pealed over the heads of the restless multitude. Suddenly the Spirit of the Lord poured light into Mrs. Smetham's mind. The scene before her became a type of the judgment-day. She saw the lightning of God's wrath flaming against those who stood at His tribunal as the children of wrath. Some of the forcible threatenings of the word of God filled her with terror ; and, without waiting to see more of the sport, she walked away home alone. Her son received her at the door, and saw her alarm. She threw herself, with tears, into his arms, asked his forgiveness, and inquired of him the way of salvation, which she soon after found.
After some further murmuring, and quotation of such passages as, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,”—when this new conspiracy threatened his peace,—the father also yielded to the softening power of truth ; and soon the whole family felt its influence, became actively engaged in the service of God, and shared the blessings of those who, under the teaching of the Comforter, dwell together in unity. James, the subject of this memoir, was then very young. In his childhood he had been mercifully preserved from various perils that threatened his life. As the years of boyhood passed on, many prayers were offered up for him, and many gracious influences prevented him. Some things, deemed innocent in themselves, were made to appear sin to him, and he could not indulge in them without compunction. What may be called the turning-point of his life came in singular association with one of these. He had gone to pray in his room, from the window of which he saw his young friends eagerly engaged in a favourite game. His ambition was fired; and, resisting his convictions, he rushed to join the playful group, successfully competed with them all, and then found that, instead of being so much the happier, he was just so much the more grievously wretched. He felt the anguish of repentance. Returning to his place of prayer, he endeavoured to give his heart to God, who heard him in that accepted time, and gave him His unspeakable peace. The strength of the ties which had to be severed in the mind of the boy, may be judged from emotions indicated in after-years. Mr. Smetham's sympathy with the enjoyments and thoughts of youth was always strong; and his reminiscences of his own early days vivid and beautiful.
But he had begun to be happy. He was, indeed, "a new creature.” He could bear an injury, hear a calumny directed against himself, or terminate a dispute, without any disposition to resentment. Prayer, which only made him unhappy before, was now a delight. He could join in the family devotions, morning, noon, and evening, without weariness or feeling of restraint. The odorous sacrifice now ascended from every heart in the dwelling. His mother was a woman of true devotion, as also of a highly cheerful spirit; and in prayers and praises the days glided away with a sweetness, the very remembrance of which often filled his heart with joy as he told the pleasing story to his children. The blessing of God was on that household. Of his mother Mr. Smetham always spoke with great veneration ; especially of the simplicity and vigour of her faith, which, after her conversion, seemed to know no wavering, and which gave a stability and calmness to her character. In her last hours her self-possession and confidence were remarkable. “I am as nearly, gone as possible,” she said, a few minutes before her death : “
“ let my heart-strings break only, and I shall be with my Lord in glory!” — The memory of those times, and of that happy family, has not yet quite departed from the place where they dwelt. There are people who yet call them blessed.
As soon as Mr. Smetham received the blessings of the Gospel for himself, he became anxious that others should enjoy them too; and, at an unusually early age, he was appointed, by those who had become acquainted with his desire to benefit others, a Prayer-Leader, and then an Exhorter. His first exhortation was delivered in a kitchen, to an audience rather numerous. The subject was, “ How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” The tears that were shed, and the simple encomiums that were bestowed upon his first attempt, were no doubt in a great measure the expression of sympathy with his youth. They were sufficient, however, to encourage him to proceed; and he was advanced from one good entployment to another, until it was proposed that he should enter upon the work of the itinerant ministry.
Of the internal workings of his mind on this important subject, nothing is known; but the sound judgment and conscientiousness which distinguished him in after-life leave no room to doubt the validity of his reasons for considering himself called of God to preach His word. It was not because he had any presumptuous opinion of his fitness to instruct others, or any inherent courage for acting in a public capacity. The sense of his ignorance, and his timidity, in the early years of his ministry, were even painfully oppressive. Yet the thought of his limited knowledge did not discourage him from attempting to remedy the defect by application to study; and his natural timidity threw him more frequently and implicitly, for needful support, upon the God who had summoned him into His work. With a change of heart, and the illuminations of the Holy Spirit, he had received the conviction that the noblest and enduring part of man is spiritual ; and this gave him a loftiness and sacredness of aim, to which they are strangers who begin to educate the mind for the sake of display, or for the gratification of personal ambition. He had the most impressive view of man, as endowed with reason, and made “capable of God ;” and this, while it humbled his heart, inflamed his thirst for knowledge, which never abated while he lived, but ipspired some of his most worthy longings, often expressed in the closing years of his earthly sojourn, for a state in which the “finer sense may proceed, without interruption or infirmity, to a higher apprehension of God and His works. He never made any pretension to scholarly
attainments ; nor did he attempt to parade the reading and information which he really possessed: but any review of his character, which overlooked the true nobility of his mental purposes, would appear to his intimate friends unjust and imperfect. He rather desired simple and unassuming wisdom,—“the wisdom which is from above,” which is “pure and "peaceable,"—than any fame of miscellaneous knowledge.
Mr. Smetham entered on the duties of the Methodist ministry in 1812 ; his first Circuit being Boston, Lincolnshire. In 1813 he went to Spilsby. He has been heard to say, that, at this time, his sense of insufficiency was such, that,-finding himself a stranger in a strange land, beginning the awfully responsible career of a Minister of Jesus Christ, -as he walked out in the lonely lanes to his countryappointments, he not unfrequently sat down on the banks by the roadside, and wept. In 1814 and 1815 he laboured in Greenock, whither his brother Richard had gone in 1813. “I came to Greenock,” he writes, “on the 4th of September, after a passage of four days by water. When I landed, I felt my mind much distressed by a consciousness of insufficiency for my important work, and a fear lest I should not be acceptable to the people: but the Lord has been better to me than all my fears. The people are affectionate ; and I hope the Lord is about to revive His work. I thank Him for my appointment."
In November he says, -“ On the 10th of this month the Lord saw fit severely to afflict me; no doubt for wise ends. My brother thought the sickness was unto death. I was myself much alarmed ; but I found confidence in the Lord. This short though severe affliction was attended with good. O God, take Thou possession of my unworthy soul: make me Thine, living, dying, and for ever!”
At the commencement of the new year he writes,—“I again dedicate myself to Thee :
Here's my heart; O take, O seal it !
Seal it for Thy courts above.'” These brief extracts serve to illustrate his experience, and the spirit in which he set out in his sacred work. They offer, no doubt, a true transcript of a mind which seldom dilated on its own operations and emotions; which, while it was not morose, was disposed to selfreproach. Yet there are in his journal passages of a joyous character. Blessing God for many temporal mercies, he adds, in March, 1815,-“And many a time I have been on the mountain-top, and could say, • Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name !!"
The sunshine lies for a while upon the meadows of the valley ; but descending shadows quickly obscure the scene. Clouds and darkness rest upon it. Early in life Mr. Smetham learned that to look for an abiding state on earth is hopeless. In April his father died. But though, as he testifies, his heart was overwhelmed within him, and his grief increased by the distance which denied him the melancholy