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of the delinquent was noted. Such was the paternal influ-
ence that he exercised in that sweet, tranquil abode up to
the last hour of his stay in it.


On Friday, the 17th of August, 1827, he left home in
his usual health, expecting to spend the Sabbath in New-
York, and to return the following Monday or Tuesday.
On Sunday morning he preached his last sermon, in
Duane-street Church, and administered the sacrament ; on
Sunday evening he went to the same church, though he did
not preach. After a fatiguing day, on Monday he came
to the house of his friend, George Suckley, Esq. He ap-
peared to the family to be in unusual health and spirits, and
sat up beyond his usual hour, although he intended to take
the boat at six o'clock. That night, however, he was seized
with his last agonizing disorder, and, after passing several
days of intense pain and extreme danger, he abandoned
the thought of returning home, and sent for his wife and
daughter to come down to him. The following passages,
copied from letters written immediately after his death,
will best detail the closing scenes of his life :

" On our arrival we were told that the crisis of his dis-
ease had been favourably passed, and that, though linger-
ing, there was every prospect of his ultimate recovery.
But, though we suffered our judgment to be led captive by
our wishes even to the last, no hopes of that kind were
ever implanted in his mind. His sufferings were, at times,
unutterable ; but through them all were manifested a resig-
nation and fortitude no agony could destroy. ' I shall be
purified as by fire ;' 'I shall be made perfect through
suffering ;' ' It is all right, all right ; not a pain too much,'
he would often say. As he descended into the dark valley,
his views of the grandeur and efficacy of the atonement
became more and more enlarged. His disorder inclined
him latterly to slumber, and he was often delirious ; but
even then the same subject was the theme of his dis-


course. Toward the last, his strength was so much ex-
hausted that articulation became a painful effort; but
we would often hear him say, ' I want to go home ; I
want to be with Jesus, I want to be with Jesus.' To
a friend, who asked him how he was, he said, 'I feel
the perfect love of God in my soul.' A day or two
before his departure I heard him say, ' And I shall see Mr.
Wesley too.' It seemed as if he were contemplating the
enjoyment of that world upon the verge of which he then
was enjoyments which he said a Christian might well
understand, as they began in his heart even in this life.
His mind was employed with subjects for the sweetest
emotions of love and adoration. When asked how he did,
he would answer, 'I feel love and good- will to all man-
kind,' or, ' I see a beauty in all the works of God ;' forget-
ting that the infirmities of his body had been the subject
of inquiry. His last sentence was, ' Holy, holy, holy, Lord
God Almighty! Hallelujah! hallelujah!' After that,
though he lingered many hours, he could not speak articu-
lately. Once only, clasping his hands and raising his eyes
to heaven, he uttered, ' Glory ! glory !'

" When the hour arrived in which his spirit was to achieve
its last great victory, we all kneeled around the bed, and
Mr. Levings, in a manner and in language of which I can
never give you an idea, commended his spirit to its Father
and its God. You would have imagined that he really
saw the chariot and the horsemen which were sent to
convey the father and the patriarch to his reward ; and as
fervently did he implore that the mantle might fall as
triumphantly did he resign him. And as he prayed, my
dear mother, stretching forth her hands as if she felt the
immediate presence of God, exclaimed, ' Yes, Lord, we do


resign him ! freely resign him ! "We give him up to thee ! -
He is thine; receive his spirit!' Mr. Levings ceased
praying: there was a pause, and in that pause the spirit
departed. And, as if our united prayer was answered, and
the mantle did descend, such a divine influence pervaded
the apartment that two of the preachers almost sunk to
the floor, under a glorious sense of His presence who
filleth immensity. The spirit departed, leaving the body
impressed with the sweetest expression of peace and tran-
quillity an expression which it retained until the moment
when it was shrouded from human observation. "We could
stand beside those dear remains, and imagine that their
appearance of renewed youth and happiness was a pledge
of that glorious resurrection, when ' death shall be swal-
lowed up in victory,' and the 'mortal put on immor-

"Thus, as a ripe shock of corn, he was gathered into the
garner of his God, in the seventy-sixth year of his age and
the fifty-second of his itinerant ministry. He ended his
useful life at the house of his long-tried friend, George
Suckley, Esq., in the city of New- York, about two o'clock
in the morning of the 26th of September, 1827."*

His remains were conveyed to his own residence, accom-
panied by his family and many sympathizing friends; and
soon after, followed by a large concourse of people, they
were deposited in the rear of that church where he had so
often explained the word of life.

In so brief a memoir, it would have been impossible to

give more than an outline of the character and labours of

this useful and laborious servant of the Lord. In treating

of the former, I have endeavoured to place in bold relief

Dr. Bangs.


those features which have hitherto escaped notice. His
singleness of view, his brotherly kindness, his perfect guile-
lessness, his activity, his zeal, and his piety, have all been
dwelt upon by others. I wished to dilate upon his social
character to show him as a husband, a father, and a pa-
triot ; but the limits assigned me are passed.

His labours speak for themselves. He was one of the
most efficient agents in building up a Church to spread
Scriptural holiness throughout the land. When he joined
it, there were but nineteen travelling ministers, and three
thousand one hundred and twenty -eight members ; when
he died, the ministry numbered one thousand five hundred
and seventy-six, and the membership three hundred and
eighty-one thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven. He
rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.

_* * <* '

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(join i it ur list.*

FISK was born at Brattleboro', in the State of
Vermont, on the thirty-first day of August, 1792. His
ancestors were of the old Puritan stock, and maintained
the virtues and piety of that peculiar people. His father,
Isaiah Fisk, was stripped of his patrimony by unfortunate
business connexions, and compelled to seek a residence in
the wilder and less cultivated portions of the state. He
accordingly removed to Lyndon, within about forty miles
of the Canada line, where he resided respected and
beloved by all who knew him. He filled important legis-
lative and judicial offices, and discharged the duties they
imposed with severe virtue and untarnished honour. The
region of country in which he resided after the birth of
his son "Willbur, is described as being peculiarly adapted
to excite emotions of beauty and sublimity. " The house
is situated on a considerable eminence, overlooking a wide
extent of country. Around it the tops of the hills are
seen peering one above another, like the caps of the ocean
billows in a gale ; while, at the distance of forty miles, are
discerned the summits of the White Mountains of New-

This memoir has been chiefly compiled from Dr. Holdich's Life of
Willbur Fisk, and extracts not otherwise noted are to be accredited to
that work.



Hampshire, soaring majestically till their heads are lost in
the clouds."

Born of such ancestry, and reared amid scenes like
these, Willbur Fisk in early life was impressed with a
reverence for God, and an appreciation of the beauty and
sublimity of his works. " He would wander off by him-
self for hours, traversing the woods, climbing the hills, or
tracing the windings of the rivulet. There is one spot on
the farm which was a favourite resort. It is the summit
of a sloping hill, perhaps two hundred feet high, termi-
nating on one side precipitously, and crested with a lovely
grove." Here he often wandered with his book, deriving
instruction from its pages and inspiration from the sur-
rounding scene.

His mother, whose maiden name was Willbur, was dili-
gent in impressing the great principles of Christianity
upon the minds of her children. " She took them early
and constantly to church, made it a particular business to
read to them the word of God, required them to learn
their Catechism, and commit texts, hymns, and prayers to
memory. She had the happy art, too, of rendering these
things more a pleasure than a burden. According to
their capacity, she was almost constantly stimulating them
to thought and inquiry by her conversation with them.
Both parents were exemplary in the observance of the
Sabbath. They regarded it as a day strictly set apart for
religious uses, and hence the time not spent in public
worship was occupied in family instruction. Yet their
piety was so mild and cheerful, and their household
governed with such uniform consistency, that the Sabbath
was far from being a dull or gloomy day." Such training
necessarily produced a happy effect upon the family circle.


Young Willbur was naturally of strong temper, passionate
and self-willed ; but the influence of his religious training
was felt at a very early age. He says of himself, referring
to a period when he was not more than five years of age,
" Often I have watered my pillow with my tears for the
sins I had committed, and frequently have I feared to
sleep lest I should awake in misery." It is not remark-
able, therefore, that when, in his eleventh year, the family
was bereaved by the loss of an infant, he should be deeply
impressed by the solemn event. " Standing by the side of
the corpse, he said to his sister Mary, ' How good God is
to us ! He has taken our little brother away who needed
no conversion ; but he has given us time to repent.' " We
are told that his convictions of sin now became deep, his
faith in Christ clear, and the change in his feelings deep
and obvious. He was soon after admitted on probation in
the Methodist Church, and gave indications of future use-
fulness. None of those who heard his first attempts at
public prayer, and in the relation of his experience in
class-meeting and love-feast, were unprepared for his
future eminence and success.

His mental discipline and culture were, however, at this
time, in not so favourable a condition. His mind had
been awakened to the importance of education, and he
manifested great eagerness in the acquisition of knowl-
edge, frequently rising at three or four o'clock in the
morning to pursue his studies before the family were up.
He carried a book in his pocket to beguile the leisure
moments, and the selections he made would seem to
have been judicious; for, when it was proposed to intro-
duce Smellie's Philosophy of Natural History into the
course of studies at Middletown, he remarked, "I first


read that book while attending a lime-kiln on my
father's farm."

But his advantages were limited to such books as were
within his reach ; for, from the time he was seven years of
a<re until he was sixteen, he attended school not more

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than two or three years. Speaking of this, he says of
himself, "Thus the best part of my time for literary
instruction was lost ; a loss I shall always regret, as it can
never be made up. I always consider three years of my
life as little better than thrown away. It is true, during
these years I read a great number of authors, which
served to enlarge my ideas of men and things ; but as I
had none to direct my studies, and as, from the scarcity of
good books, I had but little opportunity of exercising even
my own j udgment in a choice, my reading was very desul-
tory, and, in many instances, very unprofitable."

In 1809 he went to a grammar-school at Peacham,
about twenty miles from Lyndon. He seems to have
impressed his associates and friends by the dignity of his
demeanour and his zeal in study. But while here he
relaxed the strictness of his devotional exercises, lost the
fervour of his religious zeal, and became, we are told, as
worldly and ambitious as his associates.

In 1812 he entered the Sophomore class in the Uni-
versity of Vermont. Soon after, the war with England
occasioned an interruption in the duties of the insti-
tution, the college buildings were occupied by troops,
and we find Fisk in 1814 a student of Brown University,
at Providence, Rhode Island. His college companions
soon recognised his abilities as a student. The faculty
which he always displayed of thinking closely and express-
ing himself clearly in extemporaneous debate made him a


popular champion among them, and led even his instruc-
tors to anticipate the brilliant successes he afterward
so triumphantly achieved. He graduated with honour
in 1815.

"We now approach a period in his history that is full of
interest. His parents had always indulged the hope that
he would devote himself to the work of the ministry.
Their deep piety and lofty views of the dignity, import-
ance, and usefulness of the Christian ministry, naturally
led them to desire that a son of theirs should fill the
sacred desk, while the devotion and success of their
Willbur in early life gave them ground to hope that
God would call him to the sacred work. He himself
had indulged similar views; but now that the time of
action had arrived, he found himself without the deep-
toned piety he felt to be requisite. His studies while
in college, as well as his predilection, were turned toward
political life, a field in which one of his associates
at Peacham, the Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, has since
gained distinction. He had, however, much disquietude
of mind, and the thought of decision was painful. Receiv-
ing a favourable offer from the Hon. Isaac Fletcher, he
entered his office in Lyndon, and commenced the study of
law. This he pursued with the indefatigable perseverance
which always characterized him, but he had many mis-
givings as to his true destiny. His father still cherished
the hope that his religious emotions would be kindled
anew, and that he "would feel that woe that St. Paul
speaks of if he preached not the gospel." And his mother
said, that " while Willbur was aiming at becoming a distin-
guished statesman, I was all the time praying that he
might be made a minister."


Meanwhile his collegiate course had involved both his
father and himself in expense, which made it necessary
for him to seek profitable employment, and, on the recom-
mendation of the President of Brown University, he
became a private tutor in the family of Col. Ridgely, at
Oaklands, near Baltimore, Md. Here most of his time was
spent in solitude, and in the colonel's well-stored library,
the anxiety of his mind increasing rather than diminish-
ing, and his health gradually, but perceptibly failing.
From his youth he had been subject to a dry cough, and
now violent symptoms of pulmonary disease manifested
themselves, resulting in copious hemorrhage from the
lungs. By the advice of his physician he returned home,
having to delay on the way thither to gather strength for
the different portions of the journey. On reaching home,
he found the Church enjoying a remarkable outpouring
of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this work his early
enjoyments and blessings were fearfully contrasted with
his present condition, and the associations of former years
returned with renewed force. He was deeply affected,
and his distress so impressed one of the ministers in attend-
ance that years afterward he said: "I shall never forget
it, for the impression is as vivid in my mind as it was
when I saw the tears flowing down his emaciated cheeks."
In this state of mind he continued several days, until he
laid hold by faith upon One " mighty to save and strong
to deliver."

And now the idea of the ministry returned with renewed
force upon his mind, and "the love of Christ constrained
him." He was opposed by his old friends, who had looked
forward to his eminence at the bar or in political life as
certain; but, though taunted and ridiculed, he found the


call of God stronger than the appeals of men, and fully
committed himself to the work. He did not enter upon
it rashly, or without consideration ; before his reclamation
it had been the subject of thought and prayer; and when
he found himself renewed in the strength of God, he had
no difficulty in settling the question. In 1838 he addressed
the Preachers' Aid Society of the city of Baltimore, and
though the writer of this brief sketch was but thirteen
years of age, he well remembers the deep interest that the
rehearsal of his experience awakened. It was given as a
dialogue between a young man and his Divine Master, in
which his objections are stated and answered:

Christ. Go, preach my gospel.

Answer. But, Lord, I have other engagements.

Christ You are not your own ; you are bought with a

Ans. But, Lord, I have been preparing myself for
another profession ; I have been struggling for an educa-
tion ; I have high prospects before me, &c.

Christ. What have you that you have not received ?

Ans. Lord, I have strong domestic feelings, and I hope
one day to have a family of my own.

Christ. He that loveth houses or lands, wife or children,
more than me, is not worthy of me.

Ans. Lord, I have aged parents, and I am an only
son: filial love and duty require that I should look after

Christ. He that loveth father or mother more than me
is not worthy of me.

Ans. Lord, is there no excuse? May not another answer?

Christ. The gifts and callings of God are without


Ans. At least, let me first stop and bury my father and

Christ. Let the dead bury their dead.

Ans. At any rate, I must wait awhile and acquire some

Christ. He that putteth his hand to the plough and
looketh back, is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.

Ans. Lord, I cannot go.

Christ. Woe unto you if you preach not the gospel.

Ans. Lord, wilt thou not pity a poor helpless wretch
who begs for an excuse as one would plead for life ?

Christ. Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor,
that ye through his poverty might be made rich.

"Here," said Dr. Fisk, "the dialogue ended; the young
man covered his face with his hands, and bursting into
tears, cried, ' Nay, but I yield ! I yield !' The bond was
signed and sealed, and the youth was consigned over, body
and soul, to the Church. The next thing I saw of him he
was threading a pathless forest among the Green Moun-
tains bordering upon the Canada line, driving his horse
before him because of the roughness of the wilderness,
cheerful as an angel on an errand of mercy. And I heard
his song, with which he made the ragged mountain-tops
that hung over his path reverberate; and what, sir, do
you think it was?

" 'Nothing on earth I call my own
A stranger to the world unknown,

I all their goods despise ;
I trample on their whole delight,
And seek a city out of sight,

A city in the skies.' "


From this time we find him entirely djevoted to the work
of the ministry. His first appointment was Craftsbury
Circuit. He laboured here two years with zeal and suc-
cess, and an incident occurred during his residence here
that displays the self-possession and coolness for which he
was so distinguished. "A lady at whose house he often
stayed, was unfortunately subject to temporary fits of
insanity. During one of these attacks, she one day rushed
to him with a large sharp-pointed butcher's or carving-
knife in her hand. Persons who were present saw it and
trembled. Stepping hastily up to Mr. Fisk, she tore open
his vest and shirt-bosom ere he was aware, and placing
the sharp point to his skin, said, "You must die. You
talk so much of heaven, I am going to send you there.
You are too good to live." Without quailing in the least,
he looked her calmly and steadily in the face. She paused
for some time, when, removing the instrument, she said,
" You are fit to live or die. We want such men on earth,
so I will let you live a little longer," and immediately left
the apartment.

At the Lynn Conference of 1819, he was appointed to
Charlestown, Mass. He went there under much depres-
sion; but the blessing of God attended him, and not only
made him the instrument of much good to others, but his
own personal experience was deepened and enlarged.
His religious emotions acquired a degree of intensity and
elevation never before enjoyed by him. His whole con-
versation, correspondence, and pulpit efforts glowed with
the rich fulness of the blessing of the gospel of peace.

The following "resolutions, entered into for the better
improvement of time," are given here not only to show
the secret of his success and strength, but also in the hope


that they may excite others to do likewise. They bear
date June 30th, 1819.

"1. I am resolved, so far as I can effect it, to retire at
nine, and rise at five.

"2. I will appropriate one hour to my morning devo-

" 3. I will allow one hour for breakfast, family devotion,
and such incidental circumstances as may demand my

" -i. I will write each day two hours.

" 5. I will spend two hours each day in some regular
scientific or literary study, which I shall adopt from time
to time.

" 6. I will spend one hour in miscellaneous reading.

"7. One hour for my devotions at noon, and one for

" 8. One hour each day in preparing my discourses for
the Sabbath.

" 9. The remainder of the day to visiting.

"10. Whenever I am constrained from any cause to
break in upon my regular course, I will endeavour, as
much as possible, to prevent any loss of time by returning
to it as soon as may be, and will then attend to such
branches that my judgment dictates will be the most
improper to neglect ; at all times remembering not to cur-
tail my devotions and my preparations for the Sabbath."

These rules regulated his life while he continued in
active ministerial service.

During the second year of his ministry at Charlestown,
he sank under the multiplicity and fervour of his labours,
and was compelled to desist from active exertion. He
generally, if not always, preached without notes, and


warmly recommended this practice. But his sermons were
always studied with great care, and many of them give
evidence of elaborate preparation. His aim in preaching
was evidently to " commend himself to every man's con-
science in the sight of God." His style was polished, and
his delivery earnest, chaste, and impressive in an unusual
degree. He was an original thinker, deep and accurate.
We have heard some of his discourses described as too
abstruse for the multitude; but these must have been
exceptional occasions, his general style being perspicuous,
and his subjects adapted to the wants of the people. He
addressed himself to the audience. "On one occasion,
while preaching with great enlargement on the final judg-
ment, a man rose as in a frenzy, stamped upon the floor,
and, with a horrible oath, rushed out of the house." A
remark he made to a friend with reference to a discourse
in which he had felt particular interest, seems to be char-
acteristic of his general manner. He said, " It seemed as if
my mouth was filled with arguments suited to the tone of
feeling then excited in the people. There was weeping
throughout the house, and a solemn awe seemed to rest
upon the people."

The letters written during this period of affliction show,
that though disabled for the pulpit, he still had the interest
of his flock deeply at heart. It was a period of great
religious prosperity in the neighbourhood, and he felt the
restraint of his physical weakness deeply ; yet his soul was
comforted by the reflection, that if he could not move for-
ward with successful warriors, he could pray for their success.

At the New-England Conference of 1822, he was
ordained elder and returned superannuated, which rela-
tion he held but one year, and the next year he was made

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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 17 of 26)