ROTHERHAM'S REMINISCENCES - CHAPTER 3
CHAPTER 3. - THE WESLEYAN METHODIST ASSOCIATION.
Brief stay and examination in Manchester - The Woolwich and Stockton-on-Tees Circuits - Important change of mind on Baptism.
The year 1848 was made further memorable by the fact that it was in that year that I first met Miss Emma Moore, daughter of Mr. J. G. Moore, of the city of Norwich, who, in 1852, became my wife, and who continued for over thirty years to be to me a true helpmeet.
I left Ipswich for Kettering, and it was while there that I was induced to put myself into communication with the Rev. Robert Eckett, of London, a minister eminent in the Wesleyan Methodist Association.
The result of my visit to London, my stay with the Rev. Robert Eckett, and preaching before him, was that in about May, 1850, I proceeded to Manchester as an assistant to the Rev. Mr. Buckley. In this capacity I appeared in the Association's "Tabernacle" pulpit in Grosvenor Street of that city - a sufficiently trying ordeal for a young man from the country, aged only two-and-twenty.
The one incident connected with this short engagement which calls for record is one which took place in the vestry of Lever Street Chapel, where another young man and I were "examined" as to our fitness for the Connexional ministry. I believe we both acquitted ourselves creditably in our answers to the questions propounded to us, saving that, in one particular, I failed to satisfy the Rev. John Peters, a fine, eloquent, but rather warm-tempered Irish gentleman.
The ground over which the questions of our examiners conducted us was naturally extensive; and it is not to be supposed that we were equally well primed at all points of the theologico-ecclesiastical compass. However, I am not sure that the answer I gave to a question as to the proper "subjects" of Christian Baptism - namely, "Believers and their seed" - did me any discredit, when judged of from the paedobaptist point of view, with Dr. Ralph Wardlaw, of Glasgow, as I now know,
leading the way, at least among modern theologians. I surmise that my examiners foresaw a practical difficulty to which my answer was likely to conduct me, in the matter of ascertaining, before baptizing a babe, whether its parents really were "believers." Questions being put to me, as to how I would solve this difficulty, and my answers being given, the Rev. John Peters warmly observed: "I'm astonished at your ignorance!" This, of course, stung me to the quick, and made me resolve that, as soon as practicable, I would take good care not again to give occasion for such terms of reproach. In the course of two or three years from that time this resolution was acted upon, with what results the sequel will show.
My first Circuit appointment was to Woolwich and Charlton (1850-1851), where two small chapels were under my care. It was while here that I first read through Milton's "Paradise Lost." From here I once or twice visited the Great Exhibition of 1851; here that I used to have a few "Red Coats" to listen to my preaching; and here that one of our senior brethren seriously advised me not to trouble about the ordinance of Baptism, as it was "a watery subject." It was in the Charlton Chapel that I heard sung and played with a will a fine tune to that grand Wesleyan hymn beginning:-
"How weak the thoughts and vain,
Of self-deluding men!
Men who, fixed to earth alone,
Think their houses shall endure;
Fondly call their lands their own,
To their distant heirs secure."
(Cp. Psalm 49).
My appointment at Stockton-on-Tees (1852-1853) was destined to be eventful. In the first place, it was here I commenced in earnest to learn Greek. I had made futile attempts before, without tutorial assistance. But there came to Stockton from Edinburgh a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry, who had already passed through his classical curriculum, and was now sustaining himself in the capacity of schoolmaster before returning for his "Divinity" course. Besides ordinary school-keeping, he put out circulars offering his services as a private tutor of languages, including Greek. I saw my opportunity, embraced it, and applied myself at the very moderate pace of
one hour's instruction per week for the unbegrudged fee of ten shillings per quarter. This arrangement supplied just the needed help and impetus. The direct tutorial assistance was, of course, invaluable. But the impetus also served a most useful purpose. Engaged, as I was, in preaching and pastoral duties all the week long, I often found the precious hour with my teacher drawing near and I myself unprepared. There was nothing for it but to put other duties aside and get ready for my tutor. In this fashion I was permitted to hold on for five months, when circumstances brought the pleasant relation of teacher and taught to a close. In parting, my instructor was pleased to assure me that I had made as much progress in five months as many young men in the University did in two years. I cannot be sufficiently thankful for the encouragement thus given. It inspired me with confidence. Thenceforward I could continue to apply myself without misgiving: could return ever and anon from enforced neglect to my grammar, dictionary, and New Testament with renewed zeal and unabated assurance. The moral is: Young men! before giving up in despair, by all means procure tutorial assistance.
The next thing of importance which befel me at Stockton-on-Tees was to find time and books for the fulfilment of my purpose of reading up on the subject of Christian Baptism.
My dear wife, who was a practical and experimental philosopher, had an instinctive apprehension of what the result would be. She, though still a Wesleyan, was, like my mother, the daughter of a Baptist; and those Baptists have a way of counting with confidence on the consequences likely to follow on investigation. Her own mind had, by early training, become prepared ground for the seeds of truth; and as together we studied the Word with new light, her forecast came true - with important results.
The books which fell in my way to begin my schooling on this subject were first "Carson on Believers' Immersion," after reading which I said, "If the other book cannot effectually answer this, then I must become a Baptist." The other principal book on the opposite side was by Dr. Halley, of Manchester. I soon found that Halley was no match for Carson. If I am asked whether there were not other influences
conducing to a change of mind, I reply that the only thing I can recall is a conversation with a seaman's wife at Hartlepool, out of which, as it appears to me on reflection, I had not come so triumphantly as I expected, if again the question is put to me whether I am not familiar with Mr. C. H. Spurgeon's practice of handing a New Testament to an enquirer as the best book on Baptism, my answer is, "Perfectly ; but I do not think it suits all cases, and am satisfied that it would not have met mine."
The natural force of many New Testament texts and incidents is so blunted by the reiteration of teaching of an opposite kind that in many cases the truth has little chance to gain access to the inquirer's candid judgment. Of this examples could easily be given, if this were the fitting place for the attempt. But my object is to tell my story, and let it speak for itself.
Suffice it to say that I shortly after made up my mind in favour of Believer's Immersion, and was, in 1853, publicly immersed in Stockton by the Baptist minister of that town, being shortly after followed by my wife in rendering that act of obedience to Christ.
But before this event took place an incident occurred in Hartlepool, to which I used to make fortnightly visits. My stay there was nearly ended without a hitch in the smooth flow of public events. There remained the Monday evening service only before my return to Stockton; and I was beginning to felicitate myself that so far no untoward incident had occurred, as I keenly felt that my mind was as yet too doubtful of the issue of the inquiry to render any testing occurrence in public other than most undesirable. However, the unexpected does sometimes happen, and so does the unwelcome.
Until the service that evening had begun there were no signs of the apprehended ordeal which would be precipitated if a babe were brought in to be sprinkled. But just as I was closing my eyes in prayer at the beginning of the meeting there entered the chapel, and came into the pulpit-pew in which I was standing, a mother, daughter, and daughter's child-in-arms. I instinctively guessed the purpose of their advent. Those about me, apprehending no trouble, permitted me to block up
all avenues of information by rapid transitions from one part to another of the introductory service, and so forward into the delivery of my sermon. If, before I began my discourse, the baptismal intent of the visitors was made known to me, I can only infer that I instantly plunged my head into the sands of oblivion by proceeding with my sermon without delay.
My impression is that it was during the singing of the closing hymn, after sermon, that I was privately informed of the presence of a "little babby" to be sprinkled. I tried to make my dilemma understood; but the hymn was ended, and there was no alternative but publicly confront the situation at once. So I told my audience that I had long promised myself a thorough investigation of the subject of Christian Baptism - that, in fact, I was now prosecuting it; that I had come into a state of uncertainty, which forbade my further committing myself until my doubts were settled one way or the other; that they were not to run away and report that I had become a Baptist; but that, though sorry to disoblige, at all events I could not baptize the infant before me.
The scene that followed was indescribable. A deacon remonstrated with me, protesting that, if it did no good, it certainly could do no harm; to which I replied that, if the rite had been to be performed in the name of Brown, Jones, and Robinson (actually using their own names), I could have administered it; but as it must be done in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I could not. I can still see the tall form of a pilot's wife across the chapel, extending her long arms and evidently holding forth to a group around her on the strange sight they had been witnessing. There was a talk of writing to the "President" of the "Annual Assembly," informing him of the facts, and requesting him to send a substitute to take over the charge of the disturbed congregations (for, of course, that in Stockton also was involved by the conduct of the young minister). However, I took time by the forelock, having no by-ends to serve, and myself communicated the facts to our Connexional President.
Another incident occurred at Hartlepool, just about the same time, which, although apparently of a private character, was fraught with public consequences destined to influence the
remainder of my life. On my arrival at Hartlepool one Saturday evening, I entered a bookseller' shop, and while waiting to speak to the principal took up a bound magazine called "The Millennial Harbinger," edited by a Mr. James Wallis, of Nottingham. The book so interested me that I borrowed it, sat up that night as long as a halfpenny candle would enlighten me, and was thereby introduced into a new theological world, chiefly through articles found in that magazine from the pen of a Mr. Alexander Campbell, of Bethany, Virginia, U.S.A., which I found wonderfully fresh and interesting. The volume was duly returned, after many of its contents had been devoured, and their influence unconsciously stored for a future day. Meantime my change of mind on Baptism, mediated mainly by "Carson," passed into action, quite as though I had not seen and read that volume of "The Millennial Harbinger."
My return to Stockton was rapidly followed by the decision on Baptism above chronicled, by my immersion, and by the inevitable dislocation of my domestic arrangements - in fact, by the break-up of my little home. And so was brought on another of the trials of my life.
It was probably at this time that I received from my father a caution not to become one of those who are "given to change." A very natural caution, surely, for a Wesleyan father, under the circumstances, to tender to his son. At the same time it is obvious that those who can renounce the Baptism of their infancy may, not unnaturally, do some other things besides. Virtuous age must ever be honoured; but age cannot hope to continue to the end leading the young. "One generation passeth away, and another cometh," and in the transition there must of necessity be a changing of places. My father's caution was respectfully received, but it could not stay the natural progress of events.
JOSEPH BRYANT ROTHERHAM INDEX