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MEMOIR OF THE REV. GEORGE ROEBUCK :
BY THE REV. JOSEPH BINNS. The late Rev. George ROEBUCK was born at Holmfirth in the year 1804. His father, who was an efficient class-leader, and who continued his useful labours until increasing infirmities compelled him to resign his charge, survived his son thirteen months. He passed away to the skies October 5th, 1871, in the ninety-first year of his age, having been a member of the Wesleyan-Methodist Society nearly seventy years. His end was peace. Mr. Roebuck's mother, who is said to have been one of “the excellent” of the earth, was accustomed to take him to the class-meeting and other religious services, praying that “He who took the little children in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them,' would bless her boy.” She died in the Lord when the subject of this Memoir was only six years of age. An incident connected with her funeral may be mentioned here, as it was not without its influence for good on the mind of lier child. The Holmfirth Circuit had been newly formed, and the late Dr. Newton was appointed its first Superintendent. He was invited to inter Mrs. Roebuck, and to baptize, over the coffin of the mother, the infant in giving life to whom she had lost her own. The boy grew, and became a sweet singer, and was beloved by all; but he followed his mother to the tomb at an early age ; and George's first religious feelings were awakened by the death of his little brother David.
The loss of his pious mother was irreparable ; but was to some extent compensated to him by the affectionate care of a devoted grandmother, an aunt of the late Rev. Dr. Beaumont. This excellent lady cherished for him all the solicitude of a parent; and her godly example and advice were greatly blessed to him. The youth was much affected when, on one occasion, she laid her hand upon his head, fervently praying “ that God would convert his soul, and make him a minister of Jesus Christ.” Mr. Roebuck was wont to speak of her with great affection, and to say, “ If ever there was a person who carried out the Apostle's exhortation,
VOL. XIX.- FIFTH SERIES.
• Pray without ceasing,' it was my beloved grandmother.” Serious impressions were at this time made upon his mind. These, though never erased, were, however, greatly weakened under the pernicious influences of evil companions. Of a volatile disposition, and possessed of a fine, rich voice, the youth was fond of exercising his vocal powers. This proved a snare, and frequently led him into company and scenes which were adverse to religion. Thus for a time were scattered the hopes of his friends. To all the entreaties of pious relatives he turned a deaf ear, running further into a career of dissipation and sin.
Mr. Roebuck became the subject of a saving change of heart and life in his twentieth year. A succession of means were blessed of God to the accomplishment of this great work. His mind was much affected under a sermon preached by Mr. David Shaw, a local preacher from Huddersfield. What he now felt was strengthened by a discourse from the Rev. Jonathan Barrow. clough, then a local preacher in his native town. A revival of religion also took place at this time in Holmfirth and the sur. rounding villages. Not a few stout hearts were subdued, and, among others, that of Mr. Roebuck. He became greatly alarmed, and was thoroughly aroused from a state of indifference to one of earnest inquiry and intense concern respecting his soul. Deeply convinced of his lost condition he now sought, by true repentance and faith in the sacrifice of Christ, the forgiveness of his sins. Nor did he seek in vain; the darkness passed away, and the true light shined, revealing God reconciled through the death of His Son. The penitent experienced “ a new creation" in Christ Jesus ; for him “all things had become new." Former companions were forsaken, wayward courses were abandoned. Having "given himself first to the Lord, he gave himself to the Church by the will of God," and joined his father's class. This was seasonable and encouraging. The venerable sire had become dispirited, the class feeble and waning. The veteran leader had thoughts of giving up his office. But the conversion of his own son filled him with joy: the class rose in piety and increased in numbers ; new life and energy were brought into the Society
In the glow of his “ first love" this young convert entered into all those spheres of usefulness which Methodism opens to her people; and was soon invited by a local preacher to conduct Divine worship in a cottage. He was in some perplexity how to act; the duty was pressed upon him unsought, and he durst not disobey what appeared to him as possibly a Divine call. Having retired for a short time, he opened his Bible on the words, “ Pray without ceasing.” Lifting up his heart to God he sought his Master's help, and then delivered what, for a youth, was a very
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impressive address. The preaching of the young evangelist ere long proved attractive and useful. A neighbour about his own age was brought to God under one of his sermons, and remains to this day a devoted local preacher, having a son in our ministry. The seed thus early scattered has borne fruit which, being re-sown, will doubtless germinate yet again for future harvests.
It soon appeared evident that Mr. Roebuck was endowed with gifts and grace which marked him out for a higher sphere of activity. He was accordingly recommended, at the Quarterly. Meeting of his own Circuit, for the work of the ministry, and was accepted by the Conference. Whilst on the President's “ list of reserve" he was sent as "& supply" to the Skipton, Pateley Bridge, and Snaith Circuits. His labours in these localities were greatly blessed. At Skipton numbers were brought to God, among whom was a charwoman, who, to the end of life, cherished great affection for the youthful preacher. A young man was saved through his instrumentality, who served as butler in a gentleman's family, and, after some time, died in the Lord. Mr. Roebuck had no knowledge of this conversion till the gentleman himself informed him of the fact. On a subsequent occasion he wrote to his brother, informing him that there were “ eight penitents erying for mercy in the same meeting."
He received an appointment to the Tenterden Circuit in 1827, and for six years travelled with great acceptance and usefulness in the county of Kent. He was next sent to Bridlington, and subsequently was stationed in some of the most important Circuits of the Connexion, including Scarborough, Lincoln, York, Bristol, Liverpool, and Nottingham. The present writer was appointed his colleague, in the West Bromwich Circuit, in 1855, where three happy and prosperous years were spent, and where a friendship commenced which was only interrupted by his lamented death.
At West Bromwich Mr. Roebuck's superior abilities as a preacher and a pastor were soon perceived and appreciated. He had just suffered a painful bereavement in the death of his beloved wife, and came amongst us a man of a sorrowful spirit; to use his own words at the time, “ His harp was on the willows." This circumstance appeared to give a subdued tone to his ministry. He was listened to with delight wherever he preached, and was specially prized by those who loved to hear the " deep things" of God set forth in beautiful thought and choice language, accompanied by the "unction of the Holy One.” He had a correct taste for poetry, as well as a good voice for sacred song, and would sometimes discourse on the Psalms, or other poetical parts of Scripture, with a pathos and power which enchained his congregation, and led them to exclaim, " It is good for us to be here !" By a course of extensive reading of the best authors, and a careful digest of their works, he had acquired large stores of knowledge, all of which were made subservient to his holy calling as a Christian minister. His sermons, which evidenced much thought and wide research in their preparation, great logical acumen and perspicuity in their arrangement and delivery, were thoroughly pervaded by evangelical truth. Christ, in His Divine character and mission; Christ, in His atoning sacrifice; Christ, as a mighty and present Saviour, were his constant themes. His preaching was not demonstrative or sensational, reminding one of the mountaintorrent, but like a river, deep and broad, fertilizing all within its reach ; not the stormy shower, but was the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion."
He was moreover effective on the platform as well as in the pulpit, and his services were sought in every direction. One instance of his effectiveness as a speaker may not inappropriately be introduced. The West Bromwich Branch of the “ British and Foreign Bible Society” having fallen into decay, the noble President of the Society, Lord Shaftesbury, was invited to the annual meeting. His lordship kindly complied with the invitation, and Wesley chapel was the only place sufficiently large to accommodate the vast assembly, of all denominations, which was collected. Mr. Roebuck, who spoke first after the address by the noble Chairman, caught the spirit of his theme: urging the meeting to its duty, he said, “ The pestilence is abroad: send the remedy. There is darkness resting on the nations : hold up the torch, flash the living light around. Men are in bondage and slavery: blow your trumpet, and announce the jubilee of a ransomed world. There is a famine of the Bread of Life: we have enough and to spare ; ' let us . deal out our bread to the hungry, and give the Water of Life to a thirsty world!” The late Rev. John Angell James and others also spoke on the occasion with an eloquence and power never to be forgotten. The Circuit was visited with a gracious revival of religion during this period, which greatly cheered the heart of our departed brother; many were brought to a saving knowledge of Divine truth, some of whom are now found in the ranks of our ministry, others are members and office-bearers in the Church, whilst several are safely garnered in the House above.
Mr. Roebuck next laboured in Leeds, (St. Peter's,) and afterwards in the Carlisle Circuit, and for three years he had charge of the Carlisle District as its Chairman. In 1864 he was appointed to Burslem, where his ministry, however, was of short duration. In the following May, while attending the annual District-Meeting, he was visited with a paralytic seizure. The friends were kind, and the best medical attendance available was secured. He was taken to Llandudno, in the hope that its bracing air might restore him. But his public life was closed. To a friend he expressed a strong desire to engage in the blessed work of preaching the Gospel again, but with Christian resignation he bowed to the Divine decree, saying, “ The will of the Lord be done." The Rev. Dr. Osborn has favoured the writer with the following testimony to his character and worth : “I had not at any time an intimate personal acquaintance with Mr. Roebuck.......I heard him preach, in all three times, with much pleasure. The style was compact, his language appropriate, his delivery energetic, and his voice most sweet. Add to this that his spirit was devout and earnest, and you may wonder (as I sometimes did) that he was not more popular. He was much at our house, for he found in my father and other members of the family lovers of sacred song as ardent as himself: and I heard much from them at different times both of his good singing, good preaching, and good temper. This may explain to you how, without much personal intercourse, I bnew much of him, and how we always met on intimate terms. He, and almost all my friends, with whom he was during these two years in daily intercourse, have passed away. But the memory of the dead becomes increasingly precious as time advances, and among them few memories are pleasanter than that of the genial temper and lovely song of Mr. Roebuck."
At the Conference of 1865 he became a Supernumerary, residing first at Burslem and then in Leeds, where, as his failing health allowed, he still led a class. By medical advice he removed to Otley; where he lingered for upwards of two years in great feebleness, patiently suffering his Heavenly Father's will, but cheered with the hope of a better inheritance. At length, under the pressure of affliction, partial paralysis of the brain supervened, and he sometimes experienced great depression of spirits. But he had lucid seasons. On January 18th, 1870, Miss Roebuck writes, "Last Friday morning he awoke mamma about three o'clock, told her he was happy,—that he felt he was saved, and that Christ was precious.' He begged her to tell us (his children) to get into the good way, to keep in it, and to meet him in heaven.' He seemed to think this might be his last opportunity of speaking sensibly and calmly; for he impressed it upon her solemnly, saying, · Remember, remember what I have told you.'” On another occasion, apparently overwhelmed with a sense of the Saviour's condescension and love, he exclaimed to his sorrowing wife: “O the preciousness of Jesus! The water and the blood,—the water and the blood !” The visits of his brethren he greatly prized ;