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WITH EXTRACTS FROM HER CORRESPONDENCE.
BY THE REV. DR. HANNAH. As the venerable subject of this memoir did not keep a regular journal of her life and religious experience, the chief, and indeed almost the only, sources whence intelligence can be drawn of her exemplary Christian course, are personal recollections, information supplied by surviving friends, and letters, of which a considerable number has been kindly placed in the compiler's hands. These do not yield a series of extraordinary incidents ; but they disclose edifying views of a character formed by the grace of God; and they may assist in preserving and perpetuating the memory of one who was justly honoured as “a mother in Israel.”
Mrs. Sarah Hill, the third daughter of Thomas Loxdale, Esq., of Shrewsbury, was born at her father's residence on College-Hill, in that town, December 13th, 1760. When she had finished her education, she joined the fashionable circle in which her family moved ; and she seems for a season to have entered, with youthful avidity, into the gaieties of life. Her eldest sister was united in marriage to Mr. Eden, of Gloucestershire; and her second sister, Anne,-a pattern of the simple and affectionate piety of former days,—was the Miss Loxdale who had the privilege of enjoying the friendship and correspondence of the venerable John Wesley,—whose letters on Christian experience, in which she made early and happy proficiency, not unfrequently appear in the first volumes of the Methodist Magazine, -and who was also on terms of intimacy with the Rev. John Fletcher, of Madeley, and his excellent wife. Miss Anne Loxdale, in the progress of years, became the second wife of the Rev. Dr. Coke, and shortly afterwards exchanged mortality for life.
The attention of Miss Anne Loxdale was forcibly drawn to spiritual things by the blessing of God on the faithful ministrations of the Rev. Richard De Courcy, Vicar of St. Alkmond, Shrewsbury; one of the serious and earnest Clergymen of his day, who shone as a light amidst much surrounding darkness, and whose church was attended by large congregations. Miss Anne Loxdale was induced occasionally to hear him. Her mind was enlightened, and her heart affected ; VOL. VII.FOURTH SERIES.
nor was it long ere she became a partaker of the Christian salvation “by grace through faith.” This appears to have taken place in the former part of the year 1781, if not at a yet earlier period : for two letters addressed to her by the Rev. John Fletcher, and inserted in the Methodist Magazine for April, 1811, bear the dates of May 24th and June 22d, 1781; and these letters plainly indicate that, though a new friend at that time of Mr. Fletcher's, she had already made some good advances in the Christian life. The same may be inferred from Mr. Wesley's first letter to this lady, dated June 10th, 1781, and inserted in his Works, vol. xiii., pp. 101, 102. (Edit. 1829–1831.)
When Miss Anne Loxdale was thus brought to the knowledge of “the grace of God in truth,” it is not surprising that she felt a lively concern for the spiritual welfare of others, and particularly of the members of her father's family. At this time her sister Sarah appears to have been on a visit to Mrs. Eden. She addressed a letter to her, narrating the change which God had wrought in her. The contents of this letter were perused by the two sisters with surprise and grief. Sarah imagined that all happiness in her sister Anne's society was now precluded: she speedily closed her visit at Mrs. Eden's, and returned to Shrewsbury, that she might acquaint herself with the real facts of the case. The sisters met with their wonted affectionate tenderness. Sarah rejoiced to see that, at all events, Anne's new religion had not abated her sisterly love. Some difference she detected in her dress. It was less gay than before. But her looks, she thought, were more lovely. When they retired for the night, Sarah would not hear of sleep until the extraordinary secret of her sister's conversion had been more fully revealed, and its mystery in some measure explained. It pleased God to prosper the instructions and prayers of the one sister to the conversion of the other. Sarah gladly embraced the same faith, and could now unite with her sister in delightful Christian fellowship. To this Mr. Wesley most probably refers, in a letter to Miss Anne Loxdale, dated July 14th, 1781; in which he writes, “You have, indeed, reason to rejoice over your sister. Is she not given you in answer to prayer? And have you not encouragement, even from this very thing, to expect that more of your family will be given you? Those are true words, when in His own strength you wrestle with God,—
My powerful groans Thou canst not bear,
My prayer omnipotent !"" Nor was the elder and dearly-loved sister Mrs. Eden forgotten in the two other sisters' supplications and Christian endeavours. She also found the “ pearl of great price,” and, about four years afterwards, passed to an early rest, rejoicing in God her Saviour. She died November 26th, 1785, in the thirty-first year of her age, leaving an only child about two years old, whom she especially bequeathed to her sister Sarah's love and prayers. Prayer was heard in behalf of that child. After the lapse of many years, and at a time when such an occurrence seemed least probable, he was brought to the repentance and faith of the Gospel while on a visit to his adopted and most affectionate mother, and had also the prerogative of attending to her wants and wishes in the waste and decay of her declining years.
It was not long after the conversion of the two sisters, Anne and Sarah, and their determination to “seek those things which are above," that they had some experimental proof of the truth of St. Paul's declaration,-“ Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Their father, indeed, who was naturally of a very gentle and kindly disposition, did not seek to throw any serious impediments in their way. But their mother was of a different mind. Unacquainted herself with the nature and importance of spiritual religion, and disappointed at the course which her daughters were pursuing, she devised various plans to induce them to abandon their religious notions and proceedings, and return to the circles of gaiety and fashion. To recover them from what she deemed their enthusiasm, and to preserve them from what, in her estimation, was nearly related to mental disorder, she made their path as rough as she knew how to make it ; thinking, at the same time, that she was doing service to God and to them. In the midst of these trials and difficulties, they remained firm ; and their love to their mother, with the duty which they now more than ever felt that they owed to her, was unabated.
About this time, or in the earlier part of the sisters' Christian course, they were led, by the providence and grace of God, to form a close acquaintance with a very pious and circumspect member of the Methodist Society, who was also a Class-Leader; and they were signally profited by her conversation, counsels, and prayers. This was Mrs. Hill, of Shrewsbury, subsequently mother-in-law to the subject of this memoir. Cordially as they were attached to Mr. De Courcy, they could not entirely agree with him in his doctrinal sentiments; and, when they had the opportunity, they visited the Methodist preaching-house. It was at that time a very poor place, and situated in an obscure street and neighbourhood. The worshippers, too, were exposed to much persecution. But that humble place had charms for Anne and Sarah Loxdale; and its society and services afforded them a satisfaction and delight which they had never known in scenes of fashionable amusement. They appear also to have cultivated a closer intercourse with Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher, and to have paid them a visit from which they derived great spiritual advantage. The attachment between the two sisters and these truly devoted servants of Christ continued until they were successively removed to their heavenly rest.
A paper written by Miss Sarah Loxdale in her younger days, and afterwards given to her friend Miss Rothwell, of Sunning-Hill, near Bolton, conveys a pleasing view of the tone of her Christian feeling at that period of her life, and of the manner in which she employed her meditations on Divine subjects. An extract from it is, therefore, subjoined. “The love which glowed in the heart of the adorable Jesus towards the whole human race, was manifested through every scene of a life of poverty, shame, reproach, and aggravated distress. His immaculate holiness was affronted by the blasphemy and evilspeaking of abandoned sinners ; His love and mercy, by the hardheartedness and unbelief of His hearers ; His wisdom, by their blindness and perverseness. Every enotion to which humanity subjects us was felt by Him in the keenest manner. How deeply does He sympathise with the two sorrowing sisters on the death of their beloved brother! and what a severe stab must His sensibility have received at the time when all the disciples forsook Him, and fled !'' In fine, it seems as if, on these and various other occasions in the course of His suffering life, His heart in secret bled more than His mangled body on the fatal tree. The happy effects produced on the heart of the believer by a conviction of the love of Jesus, are, a sweet and constant peace, resignation, earnest desire to do His will, renouncing the vain and perishing delights of the world, giving up our little all to Him, our only fear lest it should be too little. On this thrice-happy soul sweet “heavenly hope' and humble joy'
divinely beam,' and 'crown it for the sky,' its native, loved abode. O state of bliss, mayest thou be mine!"
On the 3d of April, 1797, she was united in marriage to Thomas, the youngest son of Mrs. Hill, of Shrewsbury, already mentioned. Mr. Hill afterwards received orders as a Clergyman of the Church of England, and for many years held the living of Crosby, near Liverpool, appending to the duties of his parish such other services as time and opportunity allowed him to perform at Liverpool, where he resided. The marriage was a very happy one on both sides. Mrs. Hill sustained the conjugal relation with exemplary and unremitting affection, while she also received from Mr. Hill every proof of the most sincere regard. To his death he retained a warm attachment to the Ministers and members of the Wesleyan body, not a few of whom were frequent and most welcome visiters at his house in Clarence-street. It pleased God to continue these excellent persons to each other for the space of upwards of thirty-five years.
Sometime in the year 1804, at the request and by the recommendation of the Rev. Richard Reece, Mrs. Hill accepted an appointment to the important office of Class-Leader. For this office the Author of “every good gift and every perfect gift ” had furnished her with peculiar qualifications; and, in the discharge of its duties, He granted to her no small amount of success. She possessed a superior and cultivated mind,-a deep veneration for the word of God, and an extensive acquaintance with its sacred lessons, which she had herself proved to be lessons of truth and peace,-an ardent attachment to the doctrines and discipline of Wesleyan Methodism,-a more than usual intimacy with the writings of its revered Founder,—to which may be added a quiet gracefulness of manner, combined with a pleasing expression, which instantly won the regard of the younger, and confirmed the friendship and confidence of the more aged and
experienced. For a long series of years she was the Leader of two large classes, -maintaining her regular intercourse with them almost to the last, for she met them only nine days before her death. Besides these, she also formed a children's class, and watched over it with a solicitude truly maternal. Many of the young people, as they advanced to maturer age, she had the happiness of removing to the senior classes, where some of them continue to this day.
Pursuing every form of useful service which Divine Providence placed before her, she directed her Christian and zealous efforts, among other things, to the Liverpool Female Penitentiary. If she did not originate that valuable Institution, she took a very active part in its formation. From its first establishment in the year 1811, until the time when by age and infirmity she became unequal to the labour and fatigue, she was a member of the Ladies' Committee, and occupied the post of its Secretary. No small measure of the success long rouchsafed to that charity, may be attributed, under God, to her fervent prayers and almost daily superintendence. The Report of the institution which was issued the year after her death contains the following honourable mention of her :-“Your Committee have again to lament the loss, by death, of one of the warmest friends and most zealous supporters of the Penitentiary from its very commencement,—the late Mrs. Hill, of Clarence-street. For many years she filled the office of Secretary to the Ladies' Committee with the most untiring zeal and excellent judgment. She has left a name embalmed in the recollection of all who have been connected with this institution for upwards of thirty years past. "The memory of the just is blessed.""
With the Wesleyan schools, and the Clothing Society for the benefit of the poor and aged members of the Wesleyan body in Liverpool, she was closely connected. She found in Liverpool a field wide enough for the exercise of all her Christian sympathies. The patient and unweariable assiduities of her charity proved the Source whence it came. By day or by night, in sunshine or in rain, to the cellar or the garret, amidst diseases ordinary or epidemic, she was still prosecuting her beneficent objects at the call of duty. Time and talent, health and life, body and soul, she regarded as the property of Him who “bought" her “with a price."
Persons yet survive who can remember with what ready alacrity, through the dark and dirty streets of the Liverpool of more than five-and-forty years ago, she used to wend her way by the guidance of a small lantern, as a visiter of the Strangers' Friend Society, to the habitations of sickness, poverty, or death. Having entered upon a course of active Christian service, she “held on her way;" nor did she fail, in the several successive periods of her career on earth, to supply illustration of Solomon's inspired testimony: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
But, to afford facilities for the contemplation of the grace of God which was manifested in her Christian experience, life, and efforts for the benefit of others, a selection shall now be made from her