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he says :

"For some weeks past I have felt more than ever the
importance of the work in which I am engaged. I trust
that I am enabled to love God more than ever before. O
that my heart may be filled with supreme love to Him who
is my life and my salvation ! Blessed be the Lord God,
my heart seems more and more taken up in his work ! I
am far from believing that raptures are a sure evidence of
deep piety. It is a good remark, that shallow water ripples,
while that which is deep generally rolls on in silence and
tranquillity. If I have my will subdued, my passions gov-
erned, and my affections sanctified and set on things above,
then have I evidence of a deep and genuine work of grace.
O Lord, search my heart and know me ; see if there be
any wicked way within me, and lead me in the way ever-

On another occasion, when he had completed his thirty-
first year, he enters into the following train of reflec-
tions :


" How swiftly do the years fly away ! How soon will
eternity be my everlasting home! How stands the ac-
count, let me inquire, between God and my soul ? Where-
in am I better than I was one year ago? Do I love God
more than I did then ? Have I a greater deadness to the
world, or a greater conformity to Christ ? Do I feel more
the importance of the work in which I am engaged ? I
have much reason for repentance upon all these points;
and yet in some respects I trust I am advancing in the
divine life. Some of these questions I believe I can an-
swer in the affirmative. But how slow my progress ! I
feel myself to be the weakest of the weak. O, for divine
grace to help me ! I have of late had some gracious inti-
mations of the divine willingness to make my heart His
constant home. O, when shall I experience all the fulness
of God?"

Thus do we find this servant of God, in the full tide of
his popularity, still yearning after holiness of heart ; still
panting for full redemption in the blood of Christ. Noth-
ing could seduce him from his allegiance to the Saviour ;
nothing could unsettle him in his determined reliance upon

He had a buoyancy and elasticity of spirit that some-
times seemed to border upon lightness. This he felt to be
a sore temptation. He says :

" The Lord knows, and, to some extent, I know, that I
have many imperfections, both as a Christian and a minis-
ter. I am naturally prone to be unguarded in speech;
especially when in the company of Christians and ministers.
By this I sometimes inadvertently offend against the gene-
ration of God's children. This often wounds my heart and
wrings it with sorrow. May God forgive and help me,


that I offend not in word ; for ' the same is a perfect man,
and able also to bridle the whole body.' "

We admire the watchfulness which thus led him to write
bitter things against himself. But we have never known
in him a breach of Christian courtesy to his brethren.
And though possessed of a lively imagination, fine collo-
quial powers, and an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, .mak-
ing him a most interesting social companion, yet we must
say, whatever may have been his faults in earlier life, that
we have always found this exuberance chastened by the
most sweet and lovely Christian spirit. The record of this
temptation in his journal shows, that while panting for
more holiness he did not cease to watch with a godly jeal-
ousy over himself.

During the fall of this year the Rev. Freeborn Garrett-
son sickened and died at the house of his friend, George
Suckley, in the city of New-York. During his sickness it
was the privilege of our brother to visit him, to be in-
structed by his counsel, and cheered by his resignation and
by the triumphs of his faith. Under date of September
17th he says :

" This morning I visited the venerable Freeborn Garrett-
son, who lies dangerously ill at the residence of George
Suckley, Esq. He is faint, yet pursuing ; and I trust will
make a good and glorious end, when called to lay down
his body and his charge. He said, ' I have given up my
wife and daughter ; my treasure is in heaven.' Then with
uplifted hands he exclaimed, ' I want to go home to Jesus.
There is nothing below worth looking upon.' And, ad-
dressing himself to me, he said, 'Keep straight forward.'
straight forward.' I then said, l Sir, you must feel at this
time something like Simeon of old, having lived to see the


salvation of God these thirty or forty years in the rise and
progress of Methodism in these United States.' But on my
expressing some fear lest we, who are sons in the gospel,
should suffer the work to decline from its original simplicity
and purity, he instantly replied, 'You will stand, and do
better than we have done.' "

Nine days later the good old patriarch departed to his
rest. The dying scene, as well as the character and history
of this old veteran of Methodism, seemed to make an in-
effaceable impression upon the mind of the young preacher;
and led him to long after the spirit of the old Methodist
preachers, and to desire to imitate them in the entireness
of their devotion and the abundance of their labours.
Like Elisha, he prayed that the mantle of the departing
man of God might fall upon him.

At the Conference of 1829, Mr. Levings was stationed in
the city of Brooklyn. During this year his family was
much afflicted with sickness; and one of his children,
" little Charles Wesley," was taken from him. His feel-
ings on the occasion are thus expressed :

" Shall we receive good and not also evil at the hand of
the Lord?

' Thankful I take the cup from thee,

Prepared and mingled by thy skill;
Though bitter to the taste it be,

Powerful the wounded soul to heal !' "

He was returned a second year to Brooklyn, and through-
out the period of his stay laboured with efficiency and
success. During this second year he accompanied John
Garrison, Esq., on a pilgrimage to Salem, New- Jersey, to
erect a monument over the grave of that distinguished and
holy man of God, Benjamin Abbott. At the Conference
of 1831 he was elected a delegate to the General Confer-


ence, and appointed to New-Haven. During his second
year in New-Haven, the church in Fair Haven was erected
through his agency. Finding an opening there to do good,
he undertook to erect a small building for a prayer and
lecture room ; but the subscription soon became so large
that he felt warranted in the erection of a church. In this
enterprise, however, he was greatly afflicted by the opposi-
tion of some from whom he had looked for assistance and
encouragement. This not only wounded his feelings, but
in a measure crippled his energies. However, he went
forward in the name of the Lord; and, being nobly sus-
tained by one or two brethren, he carried the enterprise to
so favourable an issue, that when the church had been
completed, and was committed to a board of trustees, the
debt upon it amounted to but one hundred and ninety dol-
lars. Soon after, the society in that place was organized
into an independent station, and have continued to main-
tain themselves as such until the present day.

His success in New-Haven was not such as to afford him
much satisfaction ; and he regarded his labours there with
almost as much pain as pleasure. At their close, he was
led to review the cause of this want of success. This he
did with deep feeling and with much prayer. As his re-
flections may be applicable to other societies, and withal
are suggestive of important considerations, we insert them
in brief, premising that we have no reason to believe them
to be more applicable to that particular society at the pres-
ent day than to any other. The following he regarded as
the prominent causes of the want of success and of pros-
perity in the society :

"1. Want of greater zeal, piety, and faithfulness on the
part of the preacher.


"2. Divisions and party-spirit among the members of
the Church.

" 3. "Want of union, brotherly love, and Christian for-
bearance among the official members.

" 4. Neglect of the leaders in visiting the members of
their respective classes.

" 5. Neglect of, or an irregular attention to, the prayer-
meetings by the official members.

" 6. Disaffection among some (very few, I trust) to the
institutions of the Church."

One of the evidences of this disaffection on the part of
certain persons, was the fact, that whatever was written
and published by disaffected persons abroad, would soon
find its way into their hands, and seem to find a ready
response from their hearts ; and by them be circulated
among other members of the Church with great industry.
Whatever assailed the Church seemed to be regarded by
them with more interest than that which was written for
its vindication.

These are great evils in a Church ; and, wherever they
exist to any extent, they furnish a powerful obstacle to its
religious prosperity. They will neutralize the most devoted
and self-sacrificing efforts of the Christian minister. He
may preach with " the tongues of men and of angels ;" but
the word, to a great extent, must remain fruitless. The
last cause mentioned might seem to indicate an undue and
selfish jealousy on the part of the preacher. But we are
bold to say, that whenever a restless dissatisfaction has
crept into a society or Church, its members themselves are
the main sufferers by it. Persons affected by this spirit,
well-intentioned and pious as they may be, see everything
in a wrong light. They may continue to adhere to the


Church ; but their feelings are not cordial ; their labours
are not hearty, nor yet in faith. The hands of the minister
and of the other members are weakened by them. Through
them the Church has no unity, no strength, and no success.
And then the very want of success becomes an occasion of
more bitter complaint ; and too often is regarded as con-
firmation strong of the justice of their prejudice and dis-
affection. Thus, as it is said of jealousy, the spirit they
possess creates the food upon which it feeds and by which
it is nourished. This is the natural result of disaffection in
a Church ; and sometimes it requires years of toil to repair
the damage wrought in a few months. Nor are those
societies few in number which have received shocks from
which they never recovered.

Mr. Levings took but little part in the deliberations of
the General Conference in 1832, being summoned home,
on account of the sickness of his wife, soon after its com-
mencement. The Troy Conference was this year organ-
ized, comprising the northern portion of the former New-
York Conference. To accommodate the work, it became
necessary to transfer him to this Conference the next year,
and he was appointed to Garrettson Station, Albany. At
first he yielded a reluctant assent to the transfer heeding
the saying, A prophet is not without honour, sa/oe in his
own country, and among his own Tcin ; but his reception
was so cordial among the people, and God opened his way
so graciously, that he soon felt the change to be in the order
of Divine Providence.

He had been absent from this region six years, during
which time he had filled three heavy and responsible ap-
pointments. His desire for mental improvement, and espe-
cially to enlarge the sphere of his theological knowledge,


continued unabated. Besides extended studies in the Evi-
dences of Kevealed Eeligion, and in Systematic Divinity,
he had given considerable attention to Greek and Hebrew.
But his progress in these latter studies was retarded by his
necessary attention to pastoral and ministerial duties. He
seemed to act upon the principle of Wesley : " Getting
knowledge is a good thing, but saving souls is a better."
Not that he would pervert the maxim into an apology for
the neglect of study ; but in all his studies he would not
forget that the grand object of them should be to make
him more skilful and more successful in winning souls to
Christ. And while he husbanded the fragments of his
time for the acquisition of knowledge, he did not forget
that the duties of the pastoral office had a paramount claim.
During this period also he had repeated calls to dedicate
churches, and to deliver missionary and Bible addresses.
In these efforts he uniformly acquitted himself as a work-
man that needed not to be ashamed. Two of his dedica-
tion sermons were published, and are very creditable speci-
mens of pulpit eloquence.

His labours in Albany were greatly blessed, and he re-
turned a net increase of one hundred and six members to
the next Conference. During the year he had also visited
various places without the bounds of his charge, preaching
the word of life with power and success. In 1834 he was
stationed in Troy : thus, after sixteen years' absence from
the society which raised him up, and from which he went
forth to preach the word of life, he was returned to them as
their pastor. In his weakness they had watched over him ;
they had counselled, encouraged, and prayed for him.
While yet a stripling they had sent him forth into the
vineyard of the Lord with their benedictions upon his head ;


and now, in the maturity of his strength, he came back to
repay their kindness, and to devote his energies to the
building of them up in the Lord. To the people, though
he had been absent so long, he seemed as one of them-
selves. They received him with joy, laboured with him
in harmony, and, at the end of his two years, were parted
from him with deep sorrow. He was a delegate to the
General Conference of 1836, held in Cincinnati, and was
distinguished no less by the amenity of his deportment,
than by his judicious and conservative course in regard to
the profoundly important and exciting subjects that came
before that body.

At the ensuing Annual Conference he was stationed in
Schenectady. The society here had just erected a new
and beautiful church, and Methodism was assuming a
position and an importance in the place that it had not
previously had. Accordingly, in entering upon his charge,
he felt that a great responsibility rested upon him. The
character of Methodism in the place was to receive a new
stamp, and the work of God a new impulse ; its altered
and improving circumstances required the development
and right direction of new elements of moral power.
Entering upon his work with these views and feelings, he
prosecuted it with unwearied diligence and with great suc-
cess. The congregation was greatly increased in numbers,
and also improved in character. The membership of the
Church rose from one hundred and ninety-one to three
hundred and fifteen ; and to his services Methodism is not
a little indebted for its character and standing even at the
present day.

During the two years spent in this place he dedicated
seven churches, one of which was the Seventh-street Church


in New-York city. He also delivered a great number of
special sermons, as well as missionary, Bible, and temper-
ance addresses. The performance of so much labour
abroad, while at the same time his flock were not neg-
lected at home, shows that he was a man of untiring in-
dustry as well as of great activity. In the spring of 1837
he was called to dedicate a church in Hinesburgh, Ver-
mont, under very interesting circumstances. Eleven years
before, while on the Charlotte Circuit, he had formed a
small society in that place ; a weak and sickly plant, he
hedged it around, and fostered it by his labours and his
prayers, yet doubtful of its existence and growth. But,
watered from on high, it had taken root, grown up, and
become a vigorous tree. The little society had now
erected a house in which to worship God; and he, who
had been the apostle of God's grace to their souls, was
called to perform the solemn service of consecration. The
recollections of former seasons and of former toils were
vividly awakened in his mind by this visit. Greatly did
he rejoice to find that the bread cast abroad upon the
waters had been gathered after many days, and that his
work had not been in vain in the Lord.

While in Schenectady, Mr. Levings had the good fortune
to become personally acquainted with Dr. Nbtt, President
of Union College. In him he found a kind friend, and a
judicious, able counsellor ; and not unfrequently did the
doctor assist him in his work. At the invitation of the
president, Mr. Levings preached to the students in the col-
lege chapel, and his discourse was well received and highly
spoken of. Indeed, so favourable was the impression made,
that, subsequently, while stationed in Albany, he was in-
vited to perform a similar service. The estimate of his


talents and acquirements formed by Dr. Nott, was after-
ward expressed in a very significant manner ; as, on his
recommendation, the college over which he presided con-
ferred on Mr. Levings the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

For some cause or other, some of the society in Schenec-
tady were very much opposed to the preacher appointed
by the Conference to succeed him. Seeing only evil to the
society, as well as to the preacher, in this opposition, his
generous heart impelled him to throw himself between the
people and preacher, and his fertile mind readily found a
way to do it effectually. He reached home on Saturday,
and, while the tones of discontent and dissatisfaction were
heard all around him, he entered the pulpit the next day,
(the preacher not having arrived,) and preached in the
morning from: "But his citizens hated him, and sent a
message after him, saying, We will not have this man to
reign over us." Luke xix, 14. In the afternoon he took for
his text : " Who hath believed our report ? and to whom
is the arm of the Lord revealed ?" Isa. liii, 1. Those who
have marked the fertility of his mind, the facility with
which he adapted himself to circumstances, can well con-
ceive how these two subjects were employed on this occa-
sion. Suffice it to say, no murmur of discontent was after-
ward heard. The preacher was well received, laboured in
harmony with the people, and the result of his first year's
labour was a net increase of seventy-five members ; and a
year later the same society reported to the Conference a
membership of four hundred and fifty, showing a net in-
crease of one hundred and thirty-five in two years. How
much better for the society than to run upon the rock on
which so many societies have literally " split !" In the re-
jection of a minister, it is rarely the case that he is the



only sufferer ; often divisions and heart-burnings grow out
of it, distrust is engendered, and years elapse before the
Church recovers from the self-inflicted evil. "We say " self-
inflicted," because we have found that these objections
often, if not generally, arise from unfounded prejudices or
false views ; and, at best, a violent remedy will almost in-
variably prove to be a worse evil than that which it seeks
to cure.

At the Conference of 1838 Mr. Levings was- appointed
presiding elder of Troy District. At the ensuing Confer-
ence, however, he was removed from the district, being
succeeded by the Rev. T. Spicer, and appointed to the
North Second-street charge in the city of Troy. On an-
nouncing the change to the Conference, the bishop paused
in reading the appointments, and stated that he had not
made this change, 1st. Because brother Levings had re-
quested it ; for he had not. 2d. Nor because he con-
sidered him incompetent to the charge of the district.
3d. Nor because he had been unfaithful in discharging the
duties of the district ; for in both these respects he had the
fullest satisfaction from both preachers and people on the
district. 4th. But the change was made because brother
Levings was wanted for another field of labour. This
change brought him again into the midst of a people to
whom he was strongly attached, and by whom he was
greatly beloved. Not only were they strongly devoted to
him, but they fulfilled the divine injunction: "Love one
another." They were united and faithful ; and the year
was one of signal blessings the return made to Confer-
ence showing a net increase of one hundred and twenty

From this station he was transferred, at the Conference


of 1840, to Division-street, Albany, where he spent the two
succeeding years. During the summer of this first year he
was greatly afflicted with the loss of a much-loved daugh-
ter. She died after an illness of only a few days, aged a
little over five years. He had lost other children, but this
was emphatically the child of his heart ; and to part witli
her, he says, " was one of the severest trials of his life."
For some months previous to her death, she had frequently
spoken of dying and going to be with her Saviour, and with
her little twin sister who had died when but a little more
than a year old. She often sang, with apparently deep
feeling, the verse commencing,

"What is this that steals upon my frame ?
Is it death, is it death ?"

Thus exhibiting a maturity of intellect and of faith, uncom-
mon at so early an age, the little sufferer passed sweetly
away to her rest. From very childhood she had been the
companion and friend of her father, an angel of love hover-
ing around him, a sunbeam from heaven shining upon his
path. Painful was the visitation, deeply was he chastened ;
but salutary did he feel the discipline to be.

From Albany he was removed to Troy, and again sta-
tioned in the State-street Church. At the close of this
year, it was generally desired by the preachers, and also
by many of the people, that Mr. Levings should again be
returned to the district. To this, however, he had insuper-
able objections, founded not upon considerations of personal
expediency, but upon principle. This, combined with other
circumstances, induced him to ask a transfer to the New-
York Conference, which request was granted, and he was
again appointed to New- York city, to labour in the Yestry-


street charge. The cordial welcome he received on his first
arrival, and the tokens of continued affection from his peo-
ple, were the source of peculiar satisfaction to him, and
greatly encouraged him in his work.

At the General Conference of 1844, the Rev. E. S. Janes,
who for several years had filled, with distinguished ability,
the office of Financial Secretary of the American Bible
Society, was elected a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal
Church. In the June following, Dr. Levings was elected
to the office made vacant by Mr. Janes's resignation. The
Church with whom he had been labouring but one year
being strongly attached to him, and quite unwilling to give
him up, he was continued in the charge another year. He
had, therefore, during the year to perform, as best he could,
the duties both of his pastoral work and his secretaryship.
It was a year of great labour. A man of less activity and
endurance, or of less flexible mind, would have found
himself inadequate to the task. In addition to his home
labours, he visited, during the year, four or five Annual
Conferences, presenting before them the claims of the Bible
cause; and delivered over thirty Bible addresses before
various societies in different parts of the country. Not-
withstanding these extra efforts, he continued to labour
with great acceptability and success in his pastoral charge ;
and when the term of his service closed in Yestry-street,
he made a grateful record of God's mercy in sustaining
him, and in giving him favour among the people, and suc-
cess in his ministry.

Being now released from his charge, he devoted himself
entirely to the duties of his office, and to the interests of the
American Bible Society. Of his travels and labours for
three succeeding years we have no authentic and definite


account, aside from the minute of the places, times, and sub-
jects of his discourses. No entry was made in his diary
subsequently to the closing of his pastoral relation with the
Yestry-street people. It is, however, generally known that
he devoted himself with unceasing assiduity to promote the
interests of the Bible cause. He performed long and toil-
some journeys, visiting almost every section of the country,
and presenting the claims of the society before ecclesiastical
bodies, and addressing numerous local auxiliaries. At the
same time also a burden of correspondence, relating to local
agencies and the financial operations of the society, rested
upon him.

During the fall of 1847, while on an extensive tour

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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 21 of 26)