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MEMOIR OF THE REV. WILLIAM SIMPSON:
WILLIAM SIMPSON was born at Longton, Staffordshire, March 25th, 1808; and, having served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep' in Guernsey, July 20th, 1878, in the seventy-first year of his age, and the forty-ninth of his ministry. He had the honour of belonging to a class of intelligent, hard-working and successful Preachers to whom Methodism will for ever be unspeakably indebted.
His father died just six weeks after William was born. His mother was a godly Methodist; and was united by a second marriage to a Methodist Class Leader and Local Preacher. But at the age of eleven, ungodly associations were formed, and his 'good manners' were gradually corrupted. Whenever he spoke of this period of his life he was wont very solemnly and earnestly to denounce certain polite and fashionable amusements in which young people are apt to take delight, especially card-playing: for, he used to say, he knew its bewitching influence and its antagonism to all spiritual feelings. But during this time the Holy Spirit was striving with the youth. It was not, however, until he reached his seventeenth year that he determined to live a godly, righteous and sober life.
Mr. Simpson says in his journal: I met in Class several times before I received much benefit, but my Leader endeavoured to impress upon my mind the plan of salvation, and the necessity of my obtaining a knowledge of my acceptance with God through the Atonement; and, after having sought the Lord sorrowing, for some time, it pleased Him to speak peace to my soul. For some time I was as happy as I could live.' His conversion was thorough. But he soon became acquainted with the common variations of Christian experience, now walking in shadows, and again in brightness.
He was not content to linger about the borders of the goodly land into which he had entered, but was persuaded that the interior would well repay exploration; and, indeed, he longed to compass its utmost bounds. In his journal he records his restless desire after holiness.
An honest heart thus earnestly seeking the richer manifestations of the saving grace of God was not likely to go unblest. About a year after he had found the 'pearl of great price,' he was called to make known to others the way of salvation. In conversation with the present writer, he occasionally referred to this period. At first he used to prepare for his pulpit-work with very great care. But an incident occurred which had an influence upon him for many years, and which, in the days of riper judgment, he greatly deplored.
A friend, who heard him preach, reported to his step-father that he had preached a fine sermon.' The phrase at once awakened his fears, and he administered a paternal reprimand for his attempt at fine preaching.' This was well meant, no doubt, but it had the effect of discouraging the youthful Preacher from bestowing such labour on the preparation of his sermons as would have been beneficial both to himself and his congregations, by unduly restraining the imagination and checking the desire for accurate composition.
When called to offer himself fully to the work of God 'there were great searchings of heart.' His anxiety at the time and his motives will best appear in his own words:
My call to the Ministry has engaged my thoughts more than any other subject, except my experience of the things of God....There are two motives which induce me to offer myself for this great and important work. The first is a desire to promote the spiritual interests of my fellow-creatures. Ever since I was brought to a knowledge of the truth myself, I have been led to view mankind as in a most deplorable situation, being under the domination of spiritual death. I know that means are provided for their restoration to spiritual life. But when I look around and behold the insensibility of the human race to these things, and see them pursuing death in the error of their ways, my heart bleeds within me, and I feel anxious to do all in my power to rescue them. Another motive which induces me to offer myself for this work is a conviction of duty. I always had an impression that at one time or other I should become a Preacher of the Gospel; and when I arrived at years of maturity, and took a view of the dealings of Providence with me, this impression was deepened yet more and more.'
There was an evident shrinking from the responsibilities of the sacred office. But his call was a 'conviction' which he felt he could not disregard. Having expressed his willingness to be employed on the Missiorfield, he was summoned for examination before the Missionary Committee in November, 1829; and in December of that year he was directed by the Rev. George Morley, then one of the Missionary Secretaries, in the name of the President of the Conference, to proceed to the Brecon Circuit. The Rev. John Smith was the Superintendent, whose letters testify to the success of Mr. Simpson's earliest ministerial labours. The Conference of 1830 appointed him to the Pembroke Circuit, with Mr. Smith again as his Superintendent. But Mr. Simpson was called in October to make the needful preparations for an appointment to New South Wales. He had married a young lady in Staffordshire. In January, 1831, they sailed from Gravesend; and, after a tedious voyage, reached Hobart Town in July, where, on account of Mrs. Simpson's illness, they were obliged to land and remain for three weeks, after which they proceeded to Sydney. His appointment was first to the Windsor, and then to the Paramatta Circuit, where he laboured with energy and zeal for five years. He deeply deplored the spiritual deadness of the people, and the little taste they manifested for hearing the Word of God. Though his congregations were sometimes very small, and his rides and walks often long, and his mind occasionally depressed, yet he suffered no discouragement to interfere with his work. Indeed, throughout
life he evinced a manly determination in duty which often sustained him in scenes where men of less robust purpose and of feebler courage must certainly have failed. Occasionally he was cheered by the conversion of sinners. The closing of the year 1834 and the commencement of 1835 were seasons of great refreshing. The following is his description of the Watchnight Service: The feeling was intensely solemn, and when I desired the congregation to spend the few remaining moments in silent prayer, it seemed as though Jehovah Himself descended among us; nothing was heard throughout the chapel but a sort of convulsive sigh, which appeared involuntarily to proceed from almost every individual in the place. Several persons expressed themselves afterward as being apparently just on the borders of heaven, and as almost ready to pray that the Lord would stay His hand.' On the first Sunday in the New Year, Mr. Simpson preached in the evening at Paramatta, from: Who is on the Lord's side?' after which he conducted the Covenant Service. He says: The solemn form of words used on that occasion aided the gracious feeling which pervaded the minds of all present, and some could not master their emotions, but yielded to strong cries and tears. I think the presence of God was even more powerfully felt than on the Watchnight.'
The District Meeting was held at Sydney, in January. In a Love-feast the fire broke out in a remarkable manner :
'It seemed as though the Spirit of grace was fully poured out. Several were groaning for full redemption, and their desire was granted, so that they could attest the virtue of Jesu's blood to cleanse from all sin. I had been long looking for this great blessing, but this evening I felt such a sinking into God as I scarcely ever anticipated. Many were calling aloud for mercy, and it pleased the Lord to give to six persons a sense of the remission of sins. Though I had been exhorting and praying until nearly one o'clock in the morning, yet was I not exhausted, nor hoarse. The Lord strengthened me for the work.'
Thus the wilderness and the solitary place,' where he and others had for some years been sowing precious seed, began at last to rejoice, and blossom'; and by the labours of these earliest Missionaries in New South Wales the foundation was laid of what is now the flourishing and widespread Methodism of Australia.
In 1836, he was removed from Paramatta to Port Arthur, Tasmania. Here he found a sphere of more extensive usefulness. At this place was one of the principal convict stations established by the British Government. There was, therefore, in the colony an accumulation of the refuse of English society, which sorely needed a moral antiseptic in order to prevent a general pestilence. Mr. Simpson entered on the work with his wonted zeal and energy, and had the joy of knowing that it was not in vain. He was next sent to Launceston, and subsequently to Hobart Town. Here, in 1844, a sore affliction overshadowed his home and family. Mrs. Simpson, after a protracted and severe illness, was called to her rest, leaving five little children.
The peculiarity of his position led him to seek permission to return home, and in June he left Tasmania for England.
During the fourteen years of absence from this country, Mr. Simpson had some painful and Apostolical experiences, sufficient to prove the material of which the Missionary was made. Surely he was in the 'succession.' He was in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the sea, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst. Once his house was entered by burglars. Once, when riding through the bush, he suddenly found himself in the midst of a native tribe, who regarded the Englishman as their enemy. They gathered round him, and, laying hold of the reins, held a consultation among themselves. But in the company there happened to be one who knew him as a Missionary. To his influence he owed his safety. Occasionally, both he and his family suffered privation. But the Lord God of Elisha sustained and preserved His
Mr. Simpson was the only person, besides the members of the family, present at the death of the Rev. John Waterhouse, which occurred at Hobart Town, March 30th, 1842. The scene has served to give effect to many a speech from the Missionary platform, and it may not be out of place here to transcribe a part of Mr. Simpson's letter on the subject:
'When we arose from our knees, he cried out in broken accents: "He is precious! He is precious! He is precious! " Shortly after,......he exclaimed: "Wesley! Wesley! Wesley! Smith! Smith! Clarke!" just as though he were addressing the parties whose names he mentioned. I simply relate the fact as it occurred; but may we not suppose that, as he drew near to the invisible state and heaven opened upon his eyes, he might catch a view of those blessed spirits and accost them by name as his future associates? After being laid down again in bed, he seemed to muse for some time, and I suppose the Missions under his care had engaged his final thoughts, and that he felt the need of a greater number of labourers in the field; for he raised himself in bed without help, and cried out : "Missionaries! Missionaries! Missionaries!" and then sank back and never spoke afterwards.'
After a brief period of rest among his friends, Mr. Simpson, in January, 1845, was directed by Dr. Bunting, then President of the Conference, to supply a vacancy in the Sunderland Circuit. There he was united in marriage to the lady who shared the joys and trials of the remainder of his life. The Circuits in which he subsequently laboured were Ramsay, Penrith, Haslingden, Mildenhall, Ipswich, Colchester and Yarmouth. In most of these he spent the full term of three years, and in all he held the position of Superintendent, for which in many respects he was peculiarly fitted. The Rev. F. Kellett, who was associated with him in Circuitwork, says: As a Superintendent, he was prudent and cautious in his movements, and slow to commit himself to any enterprise without a careful forecast of all the issues likely to arise. He was a good man, truly conscientious in the discharge of his own duties, and much esteemed by his colleagues and the people of his charge.' His mental constitution and habits of thought forbade that he should leap to a decision at once upon any grave or important subject. If his policy was not always so aggressive as some might desire, it was at all times safe. His preaching abounded with
clear and distinct exposition of Christian doctrine, and was eminently spiritual and practical. He endeavoured to discover the meaning of his text, and to apply it. The allegorical method of interpreting Scripture in the pulpit he strongly condemned. In his journal he records his view, and censures himself. The extract belongs to the early period of his ministry. The text was the second verse of the first chapter in Genesis, and in the sermon he spoke of the chaotic state of the human heart and the work of the Spirit on it. He says: But of this sort of allegorizing or spiritualizing, I entirely disapprove, though this morning I had considerable enlargement.' Both in the pulpit and on the platform he was above the average of men. His mind was vigorous, well-informed and discriminating; and he had acquired great skill in the selection of words for the clear and accurate expression of his thoughts. His prayers were very remarkable, both in the congregation and in the social circle. In the matter and phraseology there was freshness; and in a quiet, earnest manner he never failed to lead all who joined him close to the mercy-seat. Once when praying by the bedside of a man who had suffered severely from a fall, and was in danger of death, an immediate answer was obtained. The individual groaned as he rolled from side to side in agony; and while Mr. Simpson pleaded with God, his groans ceased, he quietly fell asleep, and from that moment gradually recovered.
He was an ardent lover of Methodist theology, and was firmly attached to Methodist discipline. He was a trusty friend, a wise counsellor and a ready helper. He detested everything which savoured of the mean or the sinful. His outer life bore constant evidence that he walked with God.' At the Conference of 1865, Mr. Simpson requested permission to retire from the more active duties of the Ministry. An official letter was sent to him in which his brethren recognized his long and faithful services for a period extending to thirty-six years,' and assured him of their 'continued love and confidence.' It was while engaged in the duties of a pastoral charge at Harrow, in the Ealing and Acton Circuit, that the affliction overtook him which ended in total blindness. But in this painful visitation he exhibited, on the whole, a cheerful Christianity and a meek submission to the will of God. After this he was still accustomed to render such help in the pulpit as his health would permit, and always to the spiritual advantage of his hearers. The last public service in which he took part was the administration of the Lord's Supper in Ebenezer Chapel, Guernsey, on Easter Sunday evening, 1878. From that time his health gradually failed. During his last illness, which continued several weeks, and was often very painful, he frequently entered into conversation of a very spiritual and heavenly character. He felt himself approaching the spirit-world, and he loved to speak of it. He meditated with holy joy upon some of our hymns which set forth the Atonement as the only but all-sufficient ground of human hope, especially that commencing: Wherewith, O God, shall I draw near?' and that beginning: Rock of Ages, cleft for me.' He spoke of Christ and His Gospel as the Old Rock,' and said: 'If I had not that now, I do