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MEMOIR OF THE REV. JOSEPH MARSH:
BY THE REV. JAMES ALLEN, 1st. OBEDIENCE to the apostolic injunction, “Be followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” necessarily involves the consideration of the moral excellencies which their lives displayed, and the admiration of those powerful principles which animated and sustained them in doing and suffering the will of God. We cannot imitate a religious example of which we are ignorant, or which we do not approve. And there is no danger to be apprehended in the study of the characters of departed saints, provided we are careful to trace all their virtues to their source, and to glorify God in them. On the contrary, to overlook the grace which was displayed in them, would be to withhold from God a revenue of glory which we owe to him, and to deprive ourselves of a large amount of instruction and comfort. It is under the influence of these convictions that the following Memoir has been drawn up.
Mr. Marsh was born May 13th, 1787, at Cobridge, near Burslem, in the county of Stafford. His parents were in respectable circumstances, but his father died when Joseph was only three years old. In later life, he began to draw up an account of his religious history. Though incomplete, as far as it goes it deserves to be inserted.
“ The earliest period that I can recollect, is marked by the date of my father's death. I was taken to his bed-side to receive his dying counsel : and well do I remember, even now, his pale and emaciated countenance, while he exhorted me to be a good child, and especially to be obedient to my mother, who was about to be left with four children, of whom myself was the youngest. His parting address I never forgot. Indeed my mother, who had previously been brought to the experience of genuine religion, often reminded me of it, and sought to make the impression deep and practical. I had learned to believe in God, who loved, protected, and would reward, the good, and by whom the wicked would most certainly be punished. I often meditated on this, and always thought that I was safe when I was doing right, and acting consistently with those instructions which my mother never failed to give me. Good children, I was persuaded,
VOL. IV,-FOURTHI SERIES.
were the objects of the divine love and protection, and I was afraid of being a naughty boy. But this conscientiousness began to be weakened when I was about seven years old. I became associated with children somewhat older than myself, and not so well instructed as I had been. Through the influence of their company, I lost much of this tenderness of spirit; and my reverence for the Sabbath, and respect for the authority of my mother, were sensibly impaired. I soon lost the comfort of believing that I possessed the divine approbation.
But young as I was, and amused when along with my companions, the seeds that had been carefully sown in my mind prevented me from being happy. I well remember that, when alone, I was wretched. Without directly knowing the cause, yet as I knew that I was doing wrong, so I felt the torment inseparable from guilt. I frequently suffered from alarming dreams, in which I seemed to be placed on the verge of the bottomless pit; and these feelings were kept alive by the instructions which I received at the Sunday-school to which my good mother sent me, and, I may say, especially by the example of the Teachers, whose consistent lives strongly recommended religion to me, and enforced the advice which they gave. But I experienced the power of an evil nature, and, though I approved of what was said to me, I was still disobedient : my whole spirit and behaviour were trifling.”
When he was about ten years of age, he experienced the powerful strivings of the good Spirit ; but his thoughtlessness prevailed, and he went on as he had done previously, and continued to be as unhappy as ever. His own narrative, however, may be resumed :
“When about fourteen years of age, I went one Sabbath evening (it was on the 5th of February, 1801) to the Wesleyan chapel, which my mother was accustomed to attend. The whole service was deeply impressive. The word came to my heart with power. I saw the beauty of religion, and I felt its necessity; so that I resolved to trifle no longer, but to give my heart to God at once, and for ever. I saw that I must be decided, and that if I would seek the Lord while he was to be found with my whole heart, I must join his church, and observe his ordinances. On the 7th of February, therefore, I began to meet in class, and thus became a member of the Wesleyan society. In the following month, my distress of mind had so much increased, that my very life felt as if it were a burden to me, and I sought for relief where alone I knew it was to be obtained. My prayer was addressed to God for the pardon of my sins, and for that joy and peace in believing to which the Gospel called me. One evening, at the meeting of the class, I was indeed weary and heavy laden ; and as my distress continued after the meeting, I and James Allen found a solitary place in the fields, and there we earnestly prayed together ; I may say, we wrestled with God, till I was enabled to come to Christ, and so to find rest to my soul.”
Young as he was, his conversion was clear and sound, and in its evidences as satisfactory to others as, through the peace with which it was connected, it was to himself. He found that the ways of that heavenly wisdom of which he had been made a partaker were indeed pleasantness, and that its paths were peace. His inclinations were completely changed. The society of those who neglected religion no longer afforded him any pleasure. Even those who had not made up their minds to be devoted to the service of God, were no longer, he felt, safe companions for him. Practically, his language was, “ I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.” He, therefore, thus wrote:
“ At this time, there were not many about my own age who saw the necessity of a decided profession of religion: there were, however, a few, and before long our number greatly increased. This was not so productive of benefit to me as it might have been, had I been more on my guard ; but with me, at that period, the sin that doth easily beset' was a light and trifling spirit; and, through unwatchfulness, this occasioned the loss of that sense of pardon in which I had rejoiced. Shortly afterwards, while engaged in my ordinary occupation, I was led to meditate very seriously on those important words : “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. I felt that I was guilty of many defects ; but I felt at the same time that I might look to Christ for mercy, and claim an interest in his blood. I was led to see that I was accepted of God entirely for his sake ; and that therefore, even if my spirit was darkened through inward unwatchfulness, it was my duty and my privilege not to rest in such a state, but to come in humble penitence to the blood of sprinkling, and claim my interest in my Saviour's merits. I did so, resolving to walk henceforth more warily ; yet, not seeking peace from my own resolutions, but only in his blood and righteousness. I found that I had taken the right way. The Lord restored unto me the joy of his salvation. And I thus became wiser by experience, and better able to guard against the wiles of the devil. At this period it was usual for my friend, James Allen, and myself, with a few others, (among whom was the late lamented Theophilus Lessey,) to go into the fields, in quest of retired places, where we might pour out our hearts before God; and often his blessing was graciously afforded us. Indeed, it was principally by the praying spirit in which we lived, that we were able to withstand temptation, and so to prosecute our Christian course, as to go on our way rejoicing.”
Mr. Marsh proceeded no farther with the account which he had commenced ; but sufficient is known of his history by his friends to enable them to continue it, at least in its outward events, and in such a manifestation of his inward disposition as is afforded by them. From the beginning, happily for himself, he was decided. He felt that he “had chosen the good part ;” and knowing that what he had chosen was the “one thing needful,” by the choice that he had made was he ever afterwards governed. He was diligent in attending the means of grace. He regularly met in band with some other of his young friends, at five in the morning, winter as well as summer. He was industrious in seeking to acquire useful knowledge,
reading and writing much, and for this purpose always rising early. So anxious was he to secure this as a regular habit, that be resorted to a variety of useful contrivances for the purpose ; and throughout his life he experienced the advantages of the practice which he had commenced with so much resolution while young.
When seventeen years of age, he began to “call sinners to repentance” as a Local Preacher ; and continued to do so with zeal and success for the three following years. The talent which he discovered, and the fruit with which his labours were blessed, led those who were “over him in the Lord” to believe that he ought to be employed in a wider field; and as this was in accordance with the convictions of his own mind, in the year 1807 he was proposed to the Conference, and accepted, as a candidate for the full work of the ministry. In this he was engaged for thirty-eight years ; thirty-one in the regular itinerancy of Methodism; and seven, including three different periods in which the state of his health rendered a partial withdrawment necessary, as a Supernumerary. Through all these years, his ministerial services were acceptable, and crowned with the divine blessing. Sinners were awakened from their slumbering carelessness, wanderers were reclaimed to the fold, and the “churches " over which he was called to watch “were edified.”
His first appointment was to Ulverstone, then a Home Missionary station. He experienced here many difficulties and privations. By exposure to inclement weather, sometimes without the opportunity of changing his clothes when wet, and occasionally by having to sleep in damp beds, he contracted a painful disorder, from which, more or less, he suffered through life. But he steadily persevered, in every Circuit taking heed to the ministry which he believed he had received of the Lord, that he might fulfil it, and at length, when it should please God to call him hence, finish his course with joy. His last appointment was to Perth. This was connected with a decisive mark of the esteem and confidence of his brethren, among whom he had for so many years laboured, as he was chosen to be the Chairman of the District. But while here, his health so completely failed, that he was never afterwards able to undertake the full discharge of the public duties of the Wesleyan ministry. This was to him a mysterious dispensation of Providence. With matured wisdom, and established piety, he appeared to be better prepared for useful labour than ever ; and just then was he laid aside, and called to desist. But he had not chosen his own path, and of that submission to the divine will which he had so often preached to others, he now furnished an example. It was the settled language of his heart, “ It is the Lord ; let him do what seemeth him good!” And in thus "submitting himself unto God,” he was strengthened and encouraged by the abundant consolation that was imparted to him. He said that it seemed as if he had never enjoyed such rich communications of heavenly light and comfort, as were vouchsafed to him in this affliction. He could testify, “Thou anointest my head with oil, and my cup runneth over.” He was thus brought to make a renewed and unreserved surrender of himself to