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He says (in his journal) that they seemed to labour less to
excite a momentary feeling, than to produce a solid and
permanent religious character; one that would be most
likely to withstand the shocks of temptation, and to


accumulate strength through every period of its future
experience. Nor did he cease to acknowledge his obliga-
tions to these men of God till his dying day. Well had it
been for thousands of sincere and susceptible young men,
could they have been favoured with equally competent and
judicious advisers. While the youthful character is in this
transition state, the influences brought to bear upon it
make a deep and generally ineffaceable impression; and,
for weal or woe, will they continue to bring forth life-long
results. The proper training of young converts, and espec-
ially of young men in the Christian Church, is a work of
as high moment in the magnitude of its results as that of
the mere instrumentality of their conversion. For the
want of sound Christian nurture, thousands cease to be of
any account in the Church, just at a point when their
usefulness should be taking direction and acquiring char-

During the pastoral labours of Mr. Spicer in Troy, there
was a very extensive work of God in the Church ; so ex-
tensive that the membership were increased from a hun-
dred and seven to two hundred and fifty during the two
years. The church edifice was small, plain, and unimpos-
ing ; the membership were few in number, and poor in
worldly means not many rich, not many great, not many
noble were found among them. But they were devoted to
God, and loved one another ; and God put honour upon
them, making them to abound in fruitfulness and joy.
This revival, in an especial manner, awakened the zeal
and called out the talents of young Levings. He had been
converted at a time when no special revival was in prog-
ress ; and the awakening and conversion of such multi-
tudes seemed to fill him with astonishment and wonder,


while at the same time it fired his own heart anew. He
had already become an efficient teacher in the first Sab-
bath school established in Troy, and then sustained by the
different denominations of evangelical Christians. While
yet in his minority he was appointed a class-leader ; and
when, at the Conference of 1817, the Rev. S. Luckey suc-
ceeded Mr. Spicer in charge of the station, he gave him
license to exhort. On the 20th day of December follow-
ing, being then a few months over twenty-one, he was duly
licensed as a local preacher by the quarterly conference of
the station.

Up to this time he appears to have had no distinct idea
of entering the ministry. He had, indeed, an ardent desire
to do all he could for the glory of God and for the salva-
tion of men ; but, so high appeared to him to be the quali-
fications necessary for a Christian minister, and so small
and insignificant did his own appear to himself, that enter-
ing the sacred office seemed entirely out of the question.
His mind had been at ease under this view of the subject ;
but now it came up before him in a new and stronger light.
He was out of his apprenticeship ; he was also of age ; the
responsibility of determining his future course now de-
volved upon himself. He wished to do right ; he had an
ardent desire to do good ; he was wedded in his affections
to the Church of God; he groaned in spirit for the salva-
tion of a dying world. And yet the magnitude of the
work, the fearful and far-reaching nature of its responsi-
bilities, appalled him. After many struggles of mind, he
was at length led to the determination to follow the con-
victions of duty and the openings of Providence. Accord-
ingly, on the 7th of March, 1818, his license to preach was
renewed, and he was recommended to the New- York


Annual Conference. The session of the Conference was
held in May following, in the city of New-York. He was
here received on trial and appointed to the Leyden Circuit,
having the Rev. Ibri Cannon for his senior preacher and
s uperintendent.

If it had cost him a struggle to decide upon entering the
ministry, he was now subject to a trial of a different char-
acter, but scarcely less painful to youthful sensibilities.
He had been appointed to a distant circuit* and must now
bid adieu to the home and the cherished friends of his
youth. And then the prospect before him was by no
means congenial to the feelings of a young man of a feeble
constitution and a timid nature. An extensive circuit,
embracing the roughest portions of Massachusetts, and
spreading out over the hills of Vermont giving promise
of long rides through cold and mountainous regions and
over bad roads, and also of much labour and but little
worldly reward was a prospect that might have dis-
heartened a mind of less nerve or a soul of weaker faith.
But he had put his hand to the gospel plough ; and he
could say, "None of these things move me." He left
home for his appointment the day after he received it.
After a ride of fifty miles on horseback, over roads ren-
dered difficult by the thawing and heaving of the frost,
having crossed the Green Mountains and descended into
the valley of the Deerfield River, in a spot encircled by
mountains covered with their ancient forests, he found
himself upon the borders of his circuit. Leyden Circuit,
in 1818, included all that tract of country from the Green
Mountains on the west to the Connecticut River on the
east, embracing portions of the counties of Bennington and
Windham, in Vermont, and of Franklin and Berkshire, in


Massachusetts. Among the towns and villages in which
he and his colleague preached, were Readsboro', Whitting-
ham, Wilmington, Halifax, Guilford, Yernon, Brattleboro',
Marlboro', and Dummerston, in Yermont; and Leyden,
Bernardston, Northfield, Gill, Shelburne, Colerain, Charlo-
mont, Rowe, Monroe, and Florida, in Massachusetts.
Dummerston on the northern, and Shelbume on the south-
ern extremity of the circuit were some fifty miles apart.
Northfield, the eastern appointment, was on the east side
of the Connecticut River ; and Florida, the western limit,
was hid among the Green Mountains, near the western
border of the State. One round of the circuit required a
ride of not far from two hundred and fifty miles. To
traverse this region at all seasons of the year, and in all
kinds of weather, was no light undertaking. But to preach
and lead class three times upon the Sabbath, frequently
riding from five to ten miles between the afternoon and
evening appointments, and then, after long rides during the
day, to preach several evenings in each week, was a labour
that required a robust constitution and a determined spirit.
What, but the love of souls, could have constrained these
men of God to such sacrifices and such labours ?

The modification of the circuit system has been a natural
and necessary result of the growth and increase of Method-
ism. By this modification, the labours of the preachers,
so far as it regards long rides and frequent exposures, have
been much abridged ; without, however, abridging in the
least their opportunities of labouring to build up the king-
dom of Christ. Restricted as may now seem many of our
little stations, or "patches," as they have been sometimes
called by way of derision, when compared with the old
circuits, we doubt not but that the most laborious servant


of God might find sufficient to do in them to employ his
whole time and consume his whole energy. The time
necessarily spent formerly in accomplishing the long rides
of the circuit, now rigidly devoted to earnest, faithful pas-
toral visitation, would not only furnish bodily exercise, but
also tell in its influence upon the spirituality and usefulness
of the minister. Nor should it be forgotten that the pres-
ent arrangement of our stations, as well as the increasing
intelligence of our people, requires an amount of exhaust-
ing intellectual labour utterly impracticable under a regime
like the old circuit system. Indeed, such a system ad-
mirably adapted as it is to a country sparsely settled, and
to the culture of weak societies widely scattered becomes
impracticable in a densely populated religious communion.
It is one of the glories of Methodism that in all its economy,
merely prudential, it possesses a flexibility that will ever
adapt it to its changing circumstances, and to the wants of
its growing communion. If, however, any one should be
unable to satisfy his longings for amplitude of space where-
in to exercise his powers, we advise him to emigrate to
some country where a sparser population is to be found ;
to decamp forthwith for the prairies of the "West, where
his powers may have full scope, while he skirts along the
vast range of the western borders of civilization. The
moon-struck wight, who now sighs for the good old days of
long-circuit riding, may be placed in the same category
with those censors, who, making war upon the fashions of
this degenerate age, would have us go back to the buck-
skin breeches and coon-skin caps worn by our ancestors,
when forests were to be levelled and fields cleared for the
habitations of men.

Upon the Leyden Circuit the preacher was well received :


his piety and sincerity were so strongly marked that they
won the entire confidence of the people. There was also
a timidity in his manner, and an exquisite sensibility in
his character, which took strong hold upon their sympa-
thies. When standing in the pulpit he was often unable
to look his congregation in the face, so great was his timid-
ity ; but the earnestness of his zeal and the deep emotions
of his soul, often expressed by the tears that flowed plenti-
fully down over his face, found a response in the hearts of
his congregation. The growth of his personal piety and
the cultivation of his mind were objects of deep interest to
him. To promote the former, he watched, prayed, fasted,
and meditated ; he studied with devout attention the Holy
Scriptures, and read with deep interest the lives of holy
and devoted servants of God, that he might understand
their character, imitate their example, and be imbued with
their spirit. Of his desire to improve his mind, he gave
evidence by his devotion to study whenever he arrived at
one of those delightful homes for the itinerant scattered
here and there over the circuit, and where he rested a day
or two to recruit his exhausted powers for new fatigues.
Solid attainments in both piety and learning, he felt were
indispensable to him as a Christian minister. No amount
of knowledge or sprightliness of talent would, he knew,
answer as a substitute for sound, genuine piety. Learning,
unsanctified by religion, unwarmed by love, would be, like
the mountain iceberg, splendid and imposing in appearance,
but chilling and freezing in influence. But, on the other
hand, zeal, and even a well-intentioned piety, would not an-
swer as a substitute for a sound knowledge of divine things.
It was under the influence of such convictions as these,
that he was led to apply himself diligently to the cultiva-


tion of both heart and intellect. And, no doubt, here
among the hills and mountains of Leyden, while preaching
to small and unlettered congregations, gathered for the
most part in private rooms and school-houses, it was that
he laid the foundation of that character which afterward
bore him up through a long and successful ministry in
many of the most responsible and important appointments
within the wide range of the New-York Conference.
Many young men have set out with as good promise and
as high hopes as the subject of our memoir; but, imagin-
ing themselves straitened and cramped in their genius by
small congregations and a rude field of labour, have flat-
tered themselves that they would put forth their energies
when assigned to more responsible and prominent posts.
Thus self-deceived, and lured into a species of mental dis-
sipation, before they were aware of it, their habits have
become formed and their mental character fixed; and
thenceforward, though the goal was often seen in the dis-
tance, and a spark of momentary ambition awakened, it
soon subsided, and their lives flowed on in one sluggish
and unvarying course. One of our most eminent divines
and eloquent preachers once said to me, that many of his
most finished and effective discourses were elaborated while
travelling among the hills of upper Pennsylvania, and were
first preached to congregations of ten or a dozen Germans
gathered into log school-houses. Those same discourses
have since been listened to with admiration by immense
audiences in several of our large cities.

The spring at length came, and the session of Conference
was drawing near. The young itinerant found it hard to
part with the people of his charge. They had greeted him
in their dwellings, and stayed up his hands in their congre-


gations. When dispirited and care-worn they had cheered
and comforted him ; in sickness they had watched over
him and hailed with joy his returning health ; and together
had they shared the common sympathies and joys of the
people of God. He had suffered in his long rides and
fatiguing labours ; he had been drenched by the falling
rain ; he had been chilled by the piercing cold as he trav-
ersed the bleak hills of his circuit ; by night as well as by
day had he been in peril, as he threaded his path through
miry and toilsome ways. But the very scenes of his toils
and his trials had become endeared to him by the honour
God had placed upon him, and the favour he had given
him in the eyes of the people. His last round upon his
circuit was, no less to the people than to himself, an affect-
ing, weeping time.

On the 29th of April he re-crossed the Green Mountains ;
and on the 1st of May reached the city of Troy, which was
to be the seat of the Conference that year. His welcome
by his brethren was such as to assure him that he had not
lost his place in their affections. The next day, being Sun-
day, he preached to a crowded house, in demonstration of
the Spirit and with power. The Conference adjourned
on the 14th, and he received his appointment as junior
preacher on Pownal Circuit. It was but sixteen miles dis-
tant ; and the evening of the same day of his appointment
found him within the bounds of his charge. This was to
him a delightful year, spent among a kind and loving peo-
ple. He was still ardent in the prosecution of his studies
and earnest in the cultivation of his piety. During this
year he had deep and powerful convictions upon the sub-
ject of entire sanctification ; and frequent and protracted
were his struggles for the attainment of this blessing. Nor



were those struggles in vain ; though he failed, " because
of unbelief," to enter into that glorious rest, his piety be-
came more deep, solid, and ardent.

In 1820 he was ordained deacon by Bishop George, and
appointed to Montgomery Circuit. This year exceeded in
toils and hardships either of the former years of his itine-
rancy. His health became so enfeebled by labour and ex-
posure, that on his return to Troy in the spring his friends
were greatly alarmed, and all regarded him as already
marked for an early grave. Yet he received his appoint-
ment, determined, if he fell, to fall at his post. The ap-
pointment, Saratoga Circuit, proved highly favourable.
He recovered his health, and his labours on the circuit
were very acceptable and -useful. "While on Montgomery
Circuit he had been united in marriage to Miss Sarah
Clark, who, after sharing with him the varied experience
of an itinerant's life for nearly thirty years, is left in lonely
widowhood by his demise.

Near the close of his year on Saratoga Circuit, the pre-
siding elder of that district, the Rev. D. Ostrander, com-
municated to him that the bishop, at the ensuing Confer-
ence, purposed sending him to the northern part of
Vermont. This information he had left with the presid-
ing elder, directing him to communicate it just before the
Conference, so that he might have an opportunity to visit
his friends and make preparations for removing ; and prob-
ably, also, that his mind might be in some measure pre-
pared for a post involving much labour and privation.
The reflections of the young minister on the reception of
this by no means welcome intelligence, are worthy of being
preserved as illustrative of his character, and of the princi-
ples that actuated him in his work :


" It is understood that preachers in that part of the work
fare rather poorly with regard to temporal things. This,
with some other considerations, has rendered it rather an
unwelcome lot to many. But I shall interpose no objec-
tion to going. For, 1. It is purely an episcopal appoint-
ment. 2. I am willing to take my share of the hard as
well as the pleasant appointments. 3. I am now young,
and have no family except a wife ; and we, being both
young and in good health, can go as well as not, at any
rate, better now than at any future period. 4. Having
thrown myself upon the providence of God, as a Methodist
travelling preacher, it would illy become me to forestall
that providence and choose for myself. 5. I wish at all
times to have the satisfaction of knowing that I am in the
order of God, and then I can go to him at all times with
confidence, for relief in trouble and for help in labour."

Accordingly, at the ensuing Conference having been
ordained elder he was sent to Middlebury, Vermont.
He commenced his ministry by discoursing from the text,
" We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and
ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." And this text he
placed before himself as the rule or formula after which
his ministrations were to be modelled. The people re-
ceived him with joy, sustained his hands in the work, and
his labours were crowned with good results. The next
year he was stationed in Burlington. We find him, while
in these two appointments, still intent upon improving his
mind and heart. " I feel," he would exclaim, " the want
of more retirement for prayer and meditation, and for a
closer application to study. Nothing but a closer applica-
tion to study, accompanied with much prayer, will ever
burst the bands of ignorance and darkness from my mind.


Nothing but this will enable me to fathom and unfold the
depths and the fulness of the divine word. Nothing but
this will make me 'a workman that needeth not to be
ashamed,' skilfully and successfully preaching the ' gospel
of the kingdom.' How much have I yet to learn of God,
of myself, of my duty, of my privileges, and of the best
manner of doing good ! O Lord, teach me by thy Holy
Spirit ; and help me to be diligent in all things." Such
were the aspirations of the youthful minister ! Such his
longings after God! Such his zeal to qualify himself to
sustain the high responsibilities of his ministry !

Among the many books he read about this time, was the
Life of Napoleon. The history and character of the em-
peror started in his mind a problem which has no doubt
often troubled many a devout and sincere inquirer ; and
which can be solved only by a sense of the dimness of on*
spiritual vision and the gross sordidness of our nature, even
under the most favourable circumstances. When men are
ready to make such sacrifices, brave such dangers, endure
such labours, and ever manifest such sleepless, untiring zeal
for earthly good, the possession of which is so transitory,
and its enjoyment so imperfect, why is it that Christians,
professing to believe in all the solemn realities of eternity
the enduring bliss of heaven are so feeble and languid
in their efforts to secure an immortal crown? "Did we
but labour with as much diligence and zeal for the incor-
ruptible, as Napoleon did for the corruptible crown, what
victories over the world, the flesh, and the devil should
we achieve! How much good we should do, and how
much happiness we should enjoy!"

"While at Burlington he made frequent excursions into
the neighbouring towns and villages, preaching the gospel


with varied success. He would often leave home with a
range of appointments for each evening running through
two weeks. In some of these appointments he would meet
with opposition, in others a hearty welcome. Sometimes
his preaching was in demonstration of the Spirit and with
great power, so that the breath of the Lord came down,
and, in a mighty gale, swept over the valley of dry bones.
These evangelical labours he prosecuted with even more
success during the second year of his labours in Burling-
ton ; and they resulted in the permanent establishment of
Methodism in several places. So fully had he imbibed the
itinerant spirit, that on his way to the Conference at Malta,
in the spring of 1825, he took a circuit through Middle-
bury, Sandy Hill, Glenn's Falls, Amsterdam, Funda's Bush,
and several other places, proclaiming a free, full, and pres-
ent salvation in every place.

His next two years were spent upon the Charlotte Circuit,
in Yermont. From this place he was removed, at the Con-
ference of 1827, to the city of New-York. This appoint-
ment was unsought by him. So far from it, when he
learned that such was the probable result, he ventured a
request to the bishop to appoint him to some other portion
of the work. And when the appointment had been made,
he came to the city with many misgivings and with much
fear. But he solaced himself with the reflection that the
appointment was not of his own seeking ; and, therefore,
should he fail, on that ground he would be free from cen-
sure. The city of New-York then comprised one circuit
with seven churches, and a membership of three thousand
two hundred and eighty-nine persons. The churches were
those now known as the John, Forsyth, Duane, Allen,
Bedford, (then Greenwich Village,) Seventh, (then Bowery


Village,) and Willet-street Churches. Six preachers were
stationed in the city. They circulated through the appoint-
ments in regular order, each preaching in the morning in
one church, in another in the afternoon, and in a third in
the evening ; thus completing the circuit in a little over
two weeks.

In this new field of labour the popular talent of Mr.
Levings found ample room for exercise, and abundant
stimulus to call it forth. His discourses were characterized
rather by brilliancy than depth of thought, by apt and
striking illustration rather than by strength of reasoning.
The tenacity of his memory and the fluency of his speech
were alike remarkable. He never wanted for words, and
his superintendent on the circuit, " representing his case "
before Conference, said, " Brother Levings was born with
words on his tongue." The tones of his voice were well
managed and pleasing; his gesture was appropriate and
exceedingly graceful ; his delivery was ardent, while at the
same time his whole manner was self-possessed. These
were precisely the qualities to render a man popular in
New- York. Accordingly his congregations were crowded
to excess. Numbers followed him from church to church,
unwittingly, perhaps, violating the proprieties of the Chris-
tian Sabbath and of the worship of God in order to enjoy
the eloquence of their favourite preacher. More than
twenty years have passed away since that period, and yet
I find many who still retain a vivid recollection of portions
of his discourses, and of the effects produced upon the con-
gregations by them. He has, during this period, been ac-
cused of catering to the religious enthusiasm of that class
of excitable persons, whose manifestations of piety are apt
to be more vociferous than practical. What foundation


for this charge his preaching at that day, when youthful
enthusiasm was at its height, may have afforded, we will
not undertake to say ; or, indeed, how far his ardent zeal
and his own high state of religious enjoyment may have
superinduced these results, is a question we may not now
profitably discuss. The purity of his Christian and minis-
terial character none have ever doubted; nor have any
questioned but that the great ends of the gospel ministry
were accomplished through his labours.

The manner in which he felt the responsibilities of his
work, and the spirit that actuated him in its performance,
may be best seen in the private journal of his labours and
experience. In his record of September 7th, for this year,

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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 20 of 26)