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OUR EARLY MINISTRY.
REV. WM. BAGGALY.
No. VIII.-THE Rev. WILLIAM DRIVER.
" Part not with these old names : see how they shine
In these old heavens, like stars, whose rays no age
Not now less needful, nor less glad their beams.”—BONAR, WILLIAM DRIVER was exceedingly popular, and justly so too, in the early ministry of the Methodist New Connexion. His high reputation rested not on mere adventitious circumstances, but on real sterling worth. He was no classic scholar; neither
did high literary acquirements contribute to his fame ; but he was eminent for Christian virtues—earnest piety, industrious habits, burning eloquence, and great success in saving souls. “He was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith, and much people were added unto the Lord.”
This distinguished brother was a native of Craven, a rough and rugged part of Yorkshire, where he was born in June, 1763. Though favoured with pious parents and the advantages of a religious home, early youth passed away before he became a disciple of Christ. He had then left his father's house, and found employment in a distant colliery. While there an awful explosion took place, by which many lives were sacrificed. His mind was deeply affected by that occurrence. As the mangled bodies of the unfortunate victims were drawn
and laid lifeless on the ground, he was quite overwhelmed, and began to think seriously on the uncertainty of human life, and of a preparation for the judgment day. Such reflections led to his conversion. He then joined the Methodist Society, and became a zealous and useful local preacher.
About the time thus named Mr. Driver was employed at Adsley, in the service of the Rev. Mr. Wood, of Hinley Hall—an extensive colliery proprietor. Mr. Wood soon learned to appreciate the character and value of the services of his employé. He found him to be a man of great moral worth, and possessed of a mind far superior to his situation. Thus endowed, he rose rapidly and soon secured a higher and better situation. In a short time he gave evidence of considerable talent, and was found capable of making himself useful. The clerical squire of Hinley Hall thought him adapted to something better than a coal-field, and advised him to “enter the Church,” kindly offering to conduct him through the necessary preparations for “ Holy Orders." These generous offers were fully appreciated; but being a thorough Dissenter, and immovably attached to Methodism, whilst gratefully acknowledging his patron's kindness, he resolved to continue in the sphere in which he then moved, until
Providence pointed out another on which he could enter with an approving conscience and in the fear of God.
The division of 1797 found William Driver ranged on the side of the Methodist New Connexion, and in the followiug year he entered its ministry. In 1801 he was stationed at Nottingham, and remained three years, being the first triennial appointment given to any minister in our community. In that Circuit he made the acquaintance of the justly-celebrated Richard Watson, and is said to have been the honoured instrument in restoring him to the ministry. Mr. Watson who spent several years as a Circuit preacher amongst the Wesleyans, but had resigned, returned to business, settled at Castle Donington, and joined the Methodist New Connexion. More than forty years ago the writer often heard old John Simpkin and others speak of Richard Watson, and of his useful services at Hemington, of which Society he became a member. Mr. Driver, visiting that part of the Circuit, sought out Mr. Watson, and found him occupied in some branch of secular business. Believing him to be well adapted for much higher and nobler service, he expressed his convictions to that effect, and advised him to enter our ministry. This unexpected interview led the gifted Richard Watson to become a preacher in the New Connexion, and at the next Conference he was stationed at Stockport, then in Manchester Circuit.
Mr. Driver was eminently gifted, and possessed a remarkable aptitude for pulpit services. He was a ready sermoniser, and perhaps not less so as a public speaker. Some of his best and most useful discourses were composed in about two hours. We presume his sermon on "A Peculiar People was a fair specimen of many others. He did not write his sermons at length, neither did he confine himself in their delivery to what he had written, deeming it best to master the subject pretty well in thought, and then leave both mind and heart open to gracious inspirations when holding forth the word of life.
Of the manner and spirit in which he exercised his ministry, a judicious brother who knew him well remarked :—“ In the pulpit he was plain and faithful, and much under the influence of the Spirit. That flippant speech, that desire to excel in flowery eloquence and metaphysical reasoning, which appear to be the end and aim of too many, were not the objects of our late brother. No; he had a higher object in view, and that was to bring souls to Christ. For this he laboured both in private and in public, and his whole soul appeared to be in the work. The choice of texts, and the suitable matter with which they were clothed, the powerful manner in which his sermons were delivered, the constant and forcible appeals to the consciences of the people, the wonderful way he had of arresting and keeping up attention, the solemn silence which pervaded the assembly, and the uncommon zeal of the preacher, proved that God was with him, and that his labours were not in vain in the Lord.”
Mr. Driver's success in bringing men to Christ and gathering them into the Church was really wonderful in many places, especially at Ashton, where about four hundred members were added during his three years' residence in that Circuit. In the exercise of discipline he was discreet and energetic, but firm and decisive. The
writer's personal recollections of him are not very distinct. If, however, they are at all correct, he was rather low in stature and somewhat portly, with a clear, keen eye, and an agreeable countenance. His face was the very model of human kindness; and yet he is said to have been brusque enough at times. “ Driver by name and a driver by nature," were expressions quite familiar to those who lived near his day. He appears to have been a resolute and determined spirit, but a very useful man; and a man of that class could not fail to prove a great blessing to the Connexion. His influence would tend to break up that effeminate and lukewarm spirit which too generally prevailed, even amongst those whose office demanded the zeal and energy of a seraph. He could not tolerate any halfheartedness or neglect, specially in a minister. Would that we had more like him nowadays ! On three occasions he occupied the President's chair, and was elected eleven times a member of the Stationing Committee-facts which prove the high estimation in which he was held by the Connexion.
Like many other good men, our valued friend found himself placed at times in rather awkward circumstances; but even then his tact and ready wit seldom failed in the time of need... Many years ago we found recorded in one of our old magazines that Mr. Driver, commencing a service at one place in the open air, was interrupted by “ certain lewd fellows of the baser sort.” They were rough and determined, and would not allow him to proceed unless he consented to preach from a text which they would select. Unable to get better terms, he consented, and went on with the service. When ready for the text, a slip of paper was put into his hand purporting to contain the text selected. On opening the paper he found no text; not a single line of any description. Not in the least disconcerted, he showed the paper to the congregation, and then said, “Nothingnothing! so 'Nothing !' is my text”; and then, with characteristic good humour, began by saying, “From ‘nothing' God made the world,” and went on to speak of the fall and depravity of man, and of his recovery and salvation by Jesus Christ, &c. The people were astonished at his ability. And who knows but what that sermon might prove effectual and be the word of life to many of his hearers !
Preaching at Bolton on one occasion, he is said to have been somewhat embarrassed-a very unusual thing with him; but so it was on that occasion, and being unwilling either to grope his way in the dark or go on at random, he had recourse to the following expedient :-Looking round, he said, "I see some of you go to sleep when I preach—we will see how you go on when I read a little." Producing a manuscript from his pocket he began to read. A few moments sufficed to refresh his memory and arouse the congregation, and both being accomplished, the brief notes, bastily glanced over, were immediately replaced, and the service proceeded as usual. But though always ready and full enough of what is commonly called “tact " for either counsel or reproof, he was not infallible, and occasionally he fell in with misadventures. “ Wake that man !” said he, pointing to some suspected somnolent at Leeds, who did not appear to profit much under the sermon. The man replied, “I am not asleep, sir.” “Your eyes are shut,” said the preacher; who was
immediately answered again with, “I don't hear with my eyes.” Such an encounter might excite a smile, perhaps, at the preacher's expense, but it showed the fidelity with which he watched over those to whom he ministered in holy things.
But if Mr. Driver excelled in one thing more than another, it was in intercessory prayer. He had great influence at a throne of grace. He was mighty in prayer. A young man, the son of a respectable family at Hanley, was dangerously ill. He was consumptive, and was thought to be at the point of death. One evening the anxious mother was watching at the bedside of her afilicted son, but scarcely expecting he would live the night over. All was silent : not a word was spoken, and they awaited, as with 'bated breath, the solemn crisis supposed to be just at hand ; when, to the mother's great surprise, the young man stretched out his emaciated arm and exclaimed," Mr. Driver's praying for me! Mr Driver's praying for me!!” The house was near the chapel, and a person was sent there immediately to ascertain how far the young man's impressions were correct. The messenger returned without delay, saying, “Yes, Mr. Driver is praying for him ; he is praying now, and the whole congregation is in tears.” It appeared that the young man's father, seeing Mr. Driver in the early part of the day, and knowing he was expected to preach at Bethesda in the evening, said to him, “Remember my son in your prayers to-night." That request was not forgotten. Mr. Driver took the case up, and laid it with becoming earnestness and in faith before the Lord. In opening the evening service that young man became the subject of special and united prayer. The whole congregation swelled the petition, and wafted heavenwards on the wings of prayer and faith it prevailed. God was propitious. Prayer was answered. From that very hour the young man began to amend, and in a short time he was fully restored. God hears prayer now as he did in prophetic times. William Driver's tears and strong cries at Bethesda for that young man entered as effectually into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, as did those of Elisha when the little Shunammite was brought back to life and restored to his mother. “ The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." Brethren! “ Covet earnestly the best gift, and yet show I unto you a more excellent
In 1825 Mr. Driver became a Supernumerary, and in 1828 a paralytic stroke brought his public services to a close. That painful dispensation found him in a happy frame of mind, and ready to suffer, as he had long endeavoured to do, the will of God. Patience had its perfect work, and when lying in a state of utter helplessness, and often distracted by excruciating pain, he realised such views of the Divine presence and favour that he could rejoice with joy unspeakable. Death had no terrors to him. All his desires centred in heaven, and he longed to be there, that he might see God and enjoy his abiding presence. One grand element of future bliss which frequently occupied his mind whilst waiting at the threshold of the celestial city was anticipated fellowship with departed saints, many of whom he had known and loved whilst here on earth. To converse with St. Paul was the special cbject of his desire. He had often read and studied
" And to
the hallowed and inspired epistles of the great Apostle, and he longed to meet and be associated with him above. When such thoughts and desires occupy the mind and literally absorb the highest aspirations of the heart,“the bitterness of death is passed.”
In 1830 Mr. Driver's emaciated frame suffered another shock, and paralysis having seized the opposite side, reduced him to a state of utter helplessness. But in the most trying moments he was wonderfully sustained and comforted. “I have now,” said he, blessed visits of heavenly joy beaming upon my soul, which I hope will continue until I arrive at the vision of God.” To a friend, who asked about his spiritual state, he replied, very emphatically, “I am going right on towards heaven.”
In that sweet and delightful frame of mind the venerable William Driver continued until June 16, 1831, when he found his longsought rest with God and glorified saints in heaven : die is gain.”
“ Captain and Saviour of the host
Of Christian chivalry,
Now summoned up to Thee.
In faithful following Thee;
And crowned with victory.
The sleep in Jesus blest:
Hath entered into rest.
Hath met with such regard :
And for his rich reward.”
THERE is a spot which rises to the eye of the social being covered with a holy charm. The heart gives it ner remembrances, and affections, and hopes. Childhood " goes in and out” with its simple confidence, and age clings to it with the last fibre it yet preserves unbroken. He who has none for whom he cares, unloving and unloved, may have a roof; but it is only the lurking place of repulsive selfishness. No voice blesses him while he lives, no tear falls for him when he dies. His abode is, but the den where he eats, and the lair on which he sleeps. It awakens no tenderness in his bosom, it echoes with no joy, it warms with no love, it opens with no welcome. We turn from it away: it strikes a chill and terror into us, to mark where the monster dwells who belies under the form of our nature all its sweetest charities and all its purest virtues.
We speak of home, beneath whose influence all the soul expands—home, the seat of earth's strongest attachments, the hold of man's tenderest ties ! It is the centre of the mind, the nest of the heart. It is the scene of the truest present bliss. Within that enclosure some flowers of Eden yet blow.
There still gather around us some primeval associations of innocence and joy. Who is indifferent and irresponsive to this chord ? Who can forget his home?