Thomas Raffles.

A burning and a shining light : being the memoir of the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Liverpool online

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who said— ^' morh whilst it is day^, for the night
cometh, when no man can work r Far be it from
the writer of this volume in any way to undervaluei
or decry that knowledge, which, in a minister of the
gospel, the circumstanoes of the present times ren-
der so essential. These remarks onfy apply to those
cases in which years are expended in adding to a
stock already more than sufScient for present pur-
poses, without beginning to apply to any practical
use that which iar so largely possessed ; and may



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REV. THOMAS SPENCBB. 93

aflfect Buch institutions as, having for their object
the preparation of young men for the work of the
ministry, suffer the zeal for God, and the love of
souls, which led them to its patronage, at least to
lose a little of its fire by years of dry scholastic dis-
quisition, ere they are suffered to go forth into the
world and expend them on their proper object — the
conversion of their dying fellow men.

With respect to Mr. Spencer, the world will judge
whether he began to preach too soon or not. I be-
lieve that Liverpool, by fer the most competent to
judge in this case, will, without hesitation, decide
in the negative. Perhaps there are, who may be
disposed to say, "this was an exception." Granted ;
but in such exceptions, let a similar liberty be allow-
ed. "Where extraordinary gifts, attended by extra-
ordinary grace, so early develop themselves, allow
them a proportionably early exercise, nor rob the
church of God of an useful minister, who, ere the
period a cautious policy has fixed for the commence-
ment of his labor is arrived — ^may be summoned to,
his rest.



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CHAPTER IV.

His return to Hoxton — Christmas Vacation — First Sermcm at
Hertford — Appointed to assist in the pulpit at Hoxton — At the
earnest entreaties of the people, allowed to preach — First Sermon
at Hoxton in his seventeenth year — His success and popularity
— ^Itineracy — Correspondence with Mr. John Haddon — ^Visits
Brighton — ^Preaches with great Acceptance and Effect — Again
at Hoxton— -Pr^ches a Sermon on Fast-day — ^Appointed to de-
liver an Oration at the Academy.

On his return to Hoxton we find Mr. Spencer
preaching occasionally in the work-houses, an admi-
rable school for young divines. Surely this is no
inconsiderable circumstance in which our dissenting
colleges are superior as schools of practical divinity,
to those of the establishment. There the student
emerges at once from the retirement of private life,
to all the publicity of the sacred office; which sud-
den transition, to a delicate mind, must often be at-
tended with considerable pain, and may lead, in the
first few instances, to a confusion and embarrass-
ment most distressing to himself, and most un-
friendly to his prospects of future respectability and



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BEV. THOMAS SPENCEB. 95

•asefulness. On the other hand, with ns, the stu-
dent gradually^ almost imperceptibly^ glides into
the ministry, and l>y continued, but slow enlarge-
ment, of the. sphere in which he is allowed to move,
he rises from a few poor people in a work-house, to
address the most rei^pectable auditories.

On his return to his father's house, for the Christ-
mas vacation, Mr. Spencer preached for the first
time at Hertford. It did not happen to him, as is
often the case, that he had no honor in his own
country. Numbers pressed, urged no doubt, in the
first instance, by curiosity to hear him ; and those
who are accustomed to mark the influence of simi-
lar circumstances upon a susceptible mind, will
enter a little into his emotions, when rising to ad-
dress, upon the most solemn of all subjects, a vast
multitude of his fellow-townsmen, amongst whom
he recognised many of his juvenile companions — the
several members of his own family — ^and, not the
least interesting object in the group, the venerable
malron who had early instructed him in the princi-
ples of his mother tongue, and whose lot it was to
observe the first faint dawnings of a talent, then
fast hastening to its fullest exercise and strength.
But long after the influence of novelty may be sup-
posed to have subsided, he continued to excite the
admiration of his native town. His ^rst sermon at
Hertford was preached on the evening of Sunday,
December 20th, at the Kev. Mr. Maslin's chapel.



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96 MEHOnt OF

from Eph. V. 11, " And have nofeUowaMp with the
unfruitful works of darkness" He preached again
on the Wednesday evening following, and on the even-
ing of Christmas day, on whidi occasion his text wae,
Mich. V. 2, " But thou, Bethlehem Ephratahy though
thou he little among the thousands ofJudah, yet out
(fthee shaU he com>e forth unto me that is to bs
Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of
old, from everlasting"

The passages of Scripture selected by Mr. Spen-
cer, as the suljjects of his earliest discourses, aflPbrd
another demonstration, in addition to many others,
of the general bias of his mind. They are such as
one may well imagine a preacher pantmg for the
salvation of his fellow men, would select for the
commencement of his public labors. The topics
whiph they suggest are of all others, the most solemn/
as they are the most simple and the most important
in the whole range of inspired truth, and hence they
were best adapted to the preacher's age, and the
unlettered character of his auditors. It seems, that
in his earliest sermons there was nothing o( that
parade and glare — nothing of that excessive fond-
ness of figures and love of imagery, which too often
mark the first compositions of youthful preachers —
preachers who, in a more advanced stage of their
ministry, have not been less respectable or useful
than he.



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BEV. THOMAS SPBNOEK. 97

Whether this is to he considered as an excellence
x>T defect, it is probable, with some, may be a mat-
ter of debate. Dr. Blair, ^or rather Quintilian, from
whom he copies,) in his remarks (m, the early com-
positions of public speakers, urges in favor of that
exuberance of imagination and excess of ornament
— ^that time and experience will prune all this away,
and in proportion as the fire of youth declines, the
glare of the composition will sink into the settled
lustre of maturer age. And hence he argues, for
an excessive indulgence of the imagination at this
period ; since by the time tho powers are called into
full and steady exercise, they will have undergone a
certain train of discipline, and have found their pro-
per limits ; but if the composition has all the judi-
cious sobriety of that maturer age, amid the vigor
and vivacity of youth, what is it likely to be in the
amore advanced stages of its exercise, but cold, in-
«ipid, and dull J

But surely all depends upon the nature of tho
43ubject, and the source whence the public orator is
to draw the energy which must givo animation to
his discourses. The fire of genius, the glow of im-
agination, must be the -enkindling torches in the
senate — ^at the bar ; but though not altogether use-
less in the pulpit, yet they are not the lawful sources
of animation there. It is not the blaze of genius,
or the glow of imagination ; but the sacred flame of
fervent piety — the holy kindlings of a mind move^



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98 HEtfOIB OF

by principles derived from heaven, and the' getrCTOtrs^
efforts of a soul impelled by an intense desire for
the salvation of a dying world, that mnst impart life
and energy to the correct, but glowing statements^
the warm and impassioned appeals of the ambassa-
dor for Christ. Other sources of animation may be
exhausted by exercise, and dried up by time ; but
this can never fail. It will remain the same when
the head of the venerable prophet is covered with
hoary hairs, and the body is sunk in the decrepitude
of age. Nay,, as in the ease of the apostle Paul, it
will rise into brighter radiance as he advances ta
the termination of his course — a more ardent pant-
ing for the salvation of mankind will mark Ms dying
hours, than that which attended his entrance on
his labors ; and with David, the last prayer his
spirit breathes will be for the universal diffusion of
that gospel, which it has been the business and the
honor of his life to preach — " Blessed be the Lord
Ood, the God of Israely who only doth wondrcms
things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever;
and let the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen."

We now arrive at a period in Mr, Spencer's his-
tory, peculiarly critical and important. During the
vacation of Christmas, 1807, the Eev. Mr. Liefchild,
of Kensington, was supplying the pulpit at Hoxton
chapel. One Sabbath afternoon, in January, Mr.
Spencer being then returned to the academy from



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BEV. THOMAS SPBNCE^j 99

Hertford, Mr. L. expressed a wish that he should
assist him, in the public service, by reading the
Scriptures and engaging in prayer. The request
was granted, and an extract of a letter obligingly
addressed by that gentleman to me, will convey a
lively picturer of the deep impression which his ap-
pearance and manner produced upon the large con-
gregation before whom he stood.

" But when he appeared in the pulpit — after the first

emotions of surprise were over, and after the mistakes of somo,
who supposed that he was a little boy beloi^ing to the gal-
lery, who, from ignorance or thoughtlessness, had gone up the
pulpit stairs, instead of those leading to his seat, had been cor-
rected, so sweetly did he read the chapter,* so earnestly, so
scripturally, so experimentally, did he engage in prayer, that
for the whole six Sabbaths afterwards he became the chief
magnet of attraction to the place. The people now insisted
upon it he should preach. I need not name his subsequent
success."

, The entreaties of the people having prevailed,
Mr. Spencer, though contrary to the standing order
of the institution, was allowed to preach. It was a
delicate situation. Yet it was one to which he* had
long and anxiously aspired. Indeed, so strong was
his desire for the public engagements of the minis-
try, that the fear of being long denied the gratifica-

» Oa the evening of the following Sunday, Mr. L. addressed yoimg peo-
ple i when Mr Spencer again oondacted the devotional part of the service.
The chapter which he then read was Eoclesiastes xiL A person since re-
euved into the church at Hoxton, dated her first serious impressions from the
reading of that chapter, and the solemn prayer then offered up.



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100 MEMOIE OF

tion of his wishes, on account of his youth, actually
preyed upon his spirits so severely as even to aflfect
his health. But it was not from the love of fame
or popular applause that he cherished this desire,
but from the hope of being early and extensively
useful ; — ^as if urged by a presentiment of his im-
pending fate — immediately to commence those
honorable labors from which he was to be called so
soon. When he appeared in the pulpit at Hoxton,
a youth just seventeen years of age, he betrayed
none of that distressing anxiety which marks the
candidate for public approbation ; but stood with all
the dignified composure, and spoke with all the un-
embarrassed energy of an ambassador for Christ.
His text was. Psalm xxxii. 6, ^^ For this shall every
one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou
may est be found; surely in the floods of great waters
they shall not come nigh unto thee I'* At the close
of his discourse, the sentiments which dwelt upon the
lips and countenances of his auditors were those of
pleasure, admiration, and surprise. His excessive
youth — the simplicity of his appearance — the mo-
dest dignity of his manner — ^the sweetness of his
voice — the weight and importance of his doctrine —
and the force — the affection — and the fervor with
which he directed it, to the hearts and consciences
of those who heard him — charmed and delighted,
whilst they edified. And retiring from the sanctu-
ary to the social circle, they dwelt alternately on



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REV. THOMAS SPENCER. 101

the loveliness of the preacher, and the importance
o[ the truths which they had heard from his lips.

Upon this scene the Christian student may, with
advantage, pause and meditate. Looking forward,
perhaps with considerable apprehension, to the pe-
riod of his public entrance on the labors of the min-
istry, he may be anxious to ascertain what was the
secret spring — the hidden source, of that calm com-
posure and unfettered boldness, which characterised
the earliest addresses of this interesting youth. To
such then I can confidently say — ^it was not the
proud consciousness of superior powers — of erudi-
tion — of genius, or of eloquence ; but it was the
influence of a heart warmed with the love of Christ,
big with the vast moment of his solemn theme, and
panting with an ardor which no circumstances of
difficulty could suppress, for the salvation of sin-
ners. Such an influence as this will make ' the
coward bold, and convert the most timid and feeble
into valiant and successful champions of the cross.
Before an influence like this, the love of fame — the
glare of popularity, the opinions and the plaudits
of mankind retire. No Consideration remains but
that of the worth of immortal souls, and the im-
portance of their salvation. This, under the agency
of the eternal Spirit, whose assistance every faith-
ful minister may with confidence expect, will sup-
ply a closeness of appeal to arrest the attention —
furnish topics of discourse to inform the judgment,



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102 HiMom OF

and animated expostulations to warm the heart.
When the blaze of genius and of oratory is extin-
guished, this will continue with a steady flame.
And whilst many, his acknowledged superiors in
talent and in literature, are left behind, the preacher
in whose breast it glows will be conducted to scenes
of extensive usefulness, emd the enjoyment of an
honorable renown.

Mr. Spencer now became the topic of general
discourse — ^the subject of universal inquiry. His
name spread far and wide. His danger became
daily more and more inuninent. Letters pressed
uJ)on him, filled with flattery — ^invitations arrived
at the academy from all parts, for his services ; and
he appeared, as a friend, who witnessed his sud-
den and extraordinary elevation, observed, like
one standing on the brow of a precipice, amid the
most violent gusts of wind. Disapprobation cannot
be expressed in terms too strong of the conduct
which is usually adopted by the religious public
towards their favorite, and especially their youthful
preachers. And the censure which may, in a la-
mentable degree, admit of universal application,
falls with preeminent propriety on the professors
of religion in the metropolis and its neighborhood.
There, indeed, by the constant accession of fresh
objects, to the sphere in which they move, such a
love of novelty — such a fondness of variety'-HSUch a
taste for something perpetually original — ^is excited



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BEV. THOMAS SPENOEB. 103

nnd. constantly fed — that whatever is uniform and
t3olid. in the ministry of their established and expe-
rienced pastors, while it secures the attention and
j^gard of the judicious and discerning, is too often
neglected as stale and insipid by the more li/vely
And enlightened class of hearers. A new name is
announced on the cover of a magazine, or from the
pulpit of some celebrated chapel, and thither the
unstable multitude direct their steps. They sit in
solemn judgment on the preacher's manner — his
appearance — ^his action, and his^voice; for amongst
too many, alas 1 it is to be lamented, that the
43olemn truths which he delivers are but secondary
objects of regard. If there should be nothing
-striking in his manner — ^nothing melodious in his
voice — nothing singular in his appearance — ^nothing
peculiar in his system — and nothing particularly
favorable in the circumstances of his introduction
to the pulpits of the metropolis, there he may con-
tinue his appointed period, and when it has expired,
return to the peaceful village or the quiet town,
where it is his lot to labor —

" The world forgetting — ^by the world forgot."

On the other hand, with this class of hearers the
preacher who secures their admiration instantly be-
comes their idol. As if irresistibly impelled to ex-
tremes, they lavish on him the warmest eulogies and
adulation, often too jalpable to be endured. For-



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104 HEMOIB OF

getting that he is a man of like passions with them-
selves, they heap their honors on his head as thongb
he could remain insensible to the plaudits they be-
stow, and perfectly superior to the influence of every
principle of pride. The following lines of the in-
imitable Oowper too well express the sentiments
which in these remarks must suggest themselves ta
every thinking mind, not to obtain insertion here :

" Popular Applause I what heart of man
Is proof against thy sweet seducing charms t , '

The wisest and the best feel urgent need
Of all their caution in thy gentlest gales y
But swell'd into a gust — who then, alas !
With all his canvass spread and inexpert,
And therefore heedless, can withstand thy power?
Praise from the rivell'd lips of worthless bald
Decrepitude, and in the looks of lean
And craving Poverty, and in the bow
Bespectful of the smutched artificer,
Is oft too welcome, and may much disturb
The bias of the purpose. How much more-
Pour'd forth by beauty splendid and polite,.
In language soft as Adoration breathes 1
Ah, spare your idol I think him human still.
Charms he may have, but he has frailties toov
Dote not too much, nor spoil what ye admire.**"

But the preaching of Mr. Spencer,, even in his
earliest discourses, was not of that light and mere-
tricious kind which may secure the temporary* ad-

* I believe that general experience will justify the observation^
that however attendant circumstances may contribute, in the first
instance^ to render an individual popular^ nothing but sterling



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BEY. THOMAS SPSNOEB. 105

miration of the wandering and unsettled. It pos-
sessed much of the solid — the experimental, and ju-
dicious ; and this secured him the attention and
esteem of those, whose approbation any man would
esteem it an honor to possess. But this only tended
to heighten his danger. God, however, gave him
grace equal to his day. His letters during his pop-
ularity in London breathe the same spirit of humi-
lity as that which marked his earlier correspondence ;
and & piety seldom surpassed in fervor and sincerity
tended to preserve him steady in the midst of that
tempestuous sea, upon whose billows, though young
and inexperienced, it was his lot to ride.

Numerous and pressing however as were the in-
vitations from different parts of the metropolis and
its neighborhood, yet Mr. Spencer did not preach
again in London (except in the work-houses, which
the students regularly supplied, and also once in a
small chapel in Hackney Boad) until September.

worth can secure its perpetuity ; and whenever the preaching of a
popular minister has endured, without injury to his reputation,
the ordeal of a ten or twenty years trial, he may safely be regard-
ed as possessing an excellence superior to any thing his manner
could exhibit. But I feel the delicacy of the topic I have thus
ventured to introduce, and gladly refer to illustrations of the same
subject by more experienced and far abler hands. — See Fuller's
Life of Pea/rce; amd Jay's Life of Cornelius WbUer. Books in
which examples, the one of more public, the other of more retired,
but not less transcendant excellence, seem to live before us for our
faistruction. To every student for the Christian ministry they
must prove an invaluable treasure.

6*



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106 MBMOIB OF

In tlie meanwhile his talent for preaching had am-
ple exercise in various parts of the country, which
during this period he was allowed to visit. So that,
from January 7th to September 8th he preached no
less than sixty times. The following are the prin-
cipal places which were then favored with his labors :
— Hoyden, GodmancJiester, JSipton, Buntingford,
Hertfordy Dorking^ Bumford^ Harlow, Boystoriy
Hadharriy Hays, Chigtoell, and MiU-HiU, At aU
these places the attention he excited was consider-
able, and the impression he left remains with the
people to this day.

Mr. Spencer's second sermon at Hoxton chapel
was delivered on the evening of Thursday, Septem-
ber 8th. It confirmed the opinion of his excellence
produced by the first. His text was, Acts x. 6,
'' He 18 Lord of all"

The general sentiment of approbation and delight
at first excited by his youthful appearance, and his
extraordinary pulpit talents, was now deepened and
established, and he began to preach pretty exten-
sively in the pulpits of the metropolis and its neigh-
borhood. On Sunday, September 18th, we find
him in the pulpit in Holywell Mount chapel, and on
the Sunday following, in that of Kennington chapel ;
and on the afternoon of Sunday, December 13, he
supplied the chapel in Old Gravel Lane, Wapping.
During the autumn of this year he also visited seve-
ral parts of the country immediately surrounding



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BBV. THOMAS SPBNCEB. 107

LondoB ; and he preached, among other places, at
Upminater^ Upsomj Ouilfordy Boydom, and High
Wycombe,

With respect to the wisdom and propriety of per-
mitting such extensive public labors, in one so
young, and at so early a stage of his academical
course, there will be perhaps a diversity of. opinion.
On the general question, in which this is but an in-
dividual case, there can be but one sentiment. No-
thing tends more to dissipate the mind, than much
traveling and much society ; and particularly inju-
rious to the fixed and laborious habits of a student's
life is that kind of intercourse with society, which
the young minister, in his occasional visits, usually
obtains. The esteem in which, for the most part,
the name of a minister is held, in the circles which
he enters, secures him an attention and an ease by
far too flattering not to be injurious ; whilst the de-
fined and fascinating manners of some societies but
illy prepare the mind for the imperatively severe
characters of academic life. But perhaps a far more
serious object of regard is the time which is thus
necessarily and irretrievably lost to the great and
avowed object of his pursuit. It is impossible to
take a review of the past year of Mr. Spencer's life,
and number up the several places at which he has
preached — at some of them two or three times,
whilst others he visited more than once, calculating
their respective distances from Hoxton, and the



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108 MEMOIR or

time necessarily occupied in traveling, together witb
the many hours, perhaps days, which must have
been consumed in preparing the discourses there
delivered — ^without being struck with a conviction,
of the immense loss which in a literary point of
view he must have sustained ; and the pursuit of
literature is, after all, the professed object of our
dissenting colleges. Considering too, that this waa
but Mr. Spencer's second year of study, and con-
necting this with the shortness of the term he had
to stay, and his exceeding youth, the impression is
yet deepened. But Mr. Spencer's was an extraor-
dinary case. His fortt was the composition and de-
livery of sermons. He was at home and happy only
in this sacred work. He seemed but to live for this
object. Other objects he might contemplate, with
respect and even esteem, excited by an impression
of .their utility and excellence — on this his heart
perpetually dwelt with a fervent and impassioned
love. It was evidently for this God had especially
designed him; and for the work he had to accomplish,
and the early account he had to render — all perhaps
are now convinced that he was not suffered to begin
too soon. For one whose day of usefulness has
proved so short, and over whom the night of death
so early and so suddenly has shed its gloom, we can
not but rejoice that the first d^wn was devoted to
his honorable labor, and not even a solitary, hour
neglected, from the commencement to the termina-
tion of his career.



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Online LibraryThomas RafflesA burning and a shining light : being the memoir of the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Liverpool → online text (page 7 of 17)