The subject of the following Memoir, though long since deceased,* yet possessed so much excellence, and was so extensively known and respected, especially in our own denomination, that we doubt not but the following brief account of him will prove highly acceptable to all our readers. It is extracted from a narrative of his life and death, published with the sermon preached to his bereaved church and congregation on the occasion of his death, by Dr. Ryland.
THE late Rev. Benjamin Francis, M.A. was the youngest son of the Rev. Enoch Francis, a very eminent Baptist minister in South Wales. He was born in 1734, and his youthful mind began to be deeply impressed with a conviction of the great worth of the soul, and of the necessity of being truly religious. When only seven years of age, he felt an abiding reverence of the divine Majesty, a dread of associating with wicked companions, and such an abhorrence of all profane and impure conversation, that if he ever heard any thing of the kind, he could not forbear severely reproving it. He had, at this early period, such a flow of affection sometimes in prayer, which he then began to practise, that "his whole heart was overwhelmed with rapture." He was baptized at fifteen years of age, and began to preach at nineteen, as his father had done before him. He went to the academy at Bristol in 1753, where he continued three years. He preached for some time at Sodbury, but removed to Horsley, in Gloucestershire, in 1757, where he was ordained the year following. At his ordination in October, 1758, Mr. Thomas, of Bristol, gave the charge, from Colossians iv. 17; and Mr. Hugh Evans preached to the people, from 1 Thessalonians ii. 19. The church consisted then of only 66 members, and such was their poverty, that they could raise for their minister no more than 20L per annum. But however discouraging the prospect as to externals, our young evangelist girded up the loins of his mind, and put his trust in the Lord; he laboured indefatigably in his Master's work, and through the
* He died December 14, 1799.
Divine blessing on his ministry, he not only introduced thirteen persons to church connexions in the first year after his settlement, but the auditory was so much increased, as to require the enlargement of the place of worship in 1760. About this time, and in following periods, he had pressing invitations to settle in the metropolis, especially from the church in Carter-lane, Southwark, just before the death of Dr. Gill, when many very respectable ministers united in urging him to comply with the request of the doctor and his people;* but his attachment to his friends at Horsley was immoveable, and their affection in return was very strong and permanent.
His continued success, and the many open doors of usefulness which Providence pointed out in Gloucestershire, might well indeed strengthen his resolution to continue with his charge. Within two years after, he had a farther addition of 31 members, and 40 the next two years. In the mean while he made frequent excursions into the neighbouring towns and villages, to seek for lost souls. In 1765, he resolved on building a place of worship in the town of Minchin- Hampton, about three miles from Horsley, where some of his members lived, and whose inhabitants appeared greatly to need religious instruction. He kept up a lecture once a fortnight in this place for 35 years. He persisted in his unwearied efforts for the good of the inhabitants of this town, notwithstanding his want of success, of which he had more room to complain than in any other instance. For as it had long been noted for the peculiar wickedness of many of its inhabitants, and the violence of persecution in the early part of Mr. Whitfield's ministry 21 years before, when they riotously assaulted Mr. Adams, one of his preachers, dragged hint through the town, and threw him into the brook; so it seemed as though the people were given up to judicial hardness, even to the present day. God grant the set time to favour them may yet appear to be at hand, in which he shall pour out his Spirit upon them, in answer to the unnumbered
* A memorandum, written on this occasion, has been found among Mr. Francis's papers, in the following words: "In 1772, spent two sabbaths in London, and preached both days at Dr. Gill's ineeting-house, and had a call to succeed him, which greatly affected and perplexed me; but I determined to continue with my poor dear people at Horsley."
A copy of a letter has also been found, written on this, or a similar occasion, (for neither date nor address has been preserved positively to ascertain it,) which breathes so amiable a spirit, that the reader will be gratified by the insertion of some extracts. "Surely, there never was," says he, "so unworthy a creature so honoured, so courted, so perplexed with engaging prospects before! Lord, what am I? I blush, I tremble, I wonder, I praise! Yes, indeed, the fibres of my heart are entangled among you, and I know not how to give you the parting look, and bid you a final adieu! My love is strong enough to carry me to-morrow to London, and yet such is the sense I have of my unfitness and inability to succeed your late eminent pastor; such is my relation to, and concern for, my poor affectionate people at Horsley; such is the success which seems to have attended my labours in these parts, and such the call there still is for my continuance here, that I am not satisfied it is my duty to remove, and change my present difficulties for future affluence and ease. The people here will advance my salary a few pounds if I stay; but I have discountenanced them from doing this hitherto, and they can make but a dull sound in harping upon this string (which, by the bye, may soon snap,) while their own circumstances are so extremely indigent."
prayers his servant offered up in their behalf! *
Though Mr. Francis met with so little success at Hampton, his labours at Horsley, and in the neighbourhood, were owned to the spiritual benefit of many. In 1771, 2, and 3, fifty-four members were added to the church. In 1774, his meeting-house at Horsley required another enlargement, which was accomplished at the expense of 500J. Thus, through the blessing of God on the labours of his dear servant, a very numerous congregation was collected in a situation which, at the first, appeared very unpromising. From more than fifteen parishes round, his members and hearers flocked to the house of the Lord ; and, surely, any friend of evangelical religion must have enjoyed the sight of the several companies descending the surrounding hills on the Lord's-day, to assemble for public worship ; where, on the rising ground above the meeting-house, one group after another would appear emerging from the woods; some of them having come from the distance of 10 miles, and upwards : nor was it uncommon for persons to unite in worship under that roof whose dwellings were 30 miles asunder. During the whole of his ministry, he baptized at Horsley nearly 450 persons.
At the time of his decease, the church consisted of 262 members: but his usefulness was by no means confined to his own congregation; his occasional labours for the good of souls were abundant. He was the first means of introducing evangelical religion into many dark towns and villages in all the neighbourhood around. For many years he made excursions monthly, into the most uninstructed parts of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Wiltshire; besides visiting his brethren, and strengthening their hands in God.
In the course of his journeys through Worcestershire, which he regularly made from about 1772 to 1784, it appears he had preached at Cheltenham, 130 sermons; at Tewkesbury, 136; at Pershore, 137; and at Upton-upon-Severn, 180. His manner was to set out from home on Monday morning, and return on Friday evening, after having taken a circuit of 90 miles, and preached every evening. At Malmsbury, in Wiltshire, also, he established a monthly lecture; where, from 1771 to 1799, he preached 282 sermons; and at Christian Malford, 84; at Devizes, 56 ; and at Melksham, Frome, Trowbridge, and Bradford, 90 in each. At Wotton-under-Edge, he kept up a monthly lecture for 30 years, and preached there 394 times. His sermons at his own place amounted to more than 4000; and at Hampton, 802. On his visits to Bristol, he had preached 101 times at Broadmead, and 28 at the Pithay. He had preached 22 sermons at Portsmouth, and an equal number at Plymouth and Dock; and 20 times he had preached in Cornwall. He frequently visited his native country, and was often at their annual associations, and preached in the principality, both in Welsh and English, about 150 sermons. In 1791, he visited Ireland, and preached, chiefly in Dublin, 30 times.
Whenever he visited London, he was abundantly employed in his
* This was written in 1799; we understand that since that period.considerable success has attended the labours of Mr. Winterbotham, at Minchin-Hampton.
Master's work, and in various other parts of the kingdom, his mere occasional labours were highly acceptable. Whenever be engaged, it was his evident concern to declare the whole counsel of God, and to be pure from the blood of all men. At home, or abroad, he was careful not to handle the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth, to commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. When invited to preach occasionally in different connexions, he never was known to preach another gospel, to disguise his sentiments, or to palliate the more fashionable vices, that may be patronized by laxer and more opulent professors. Among the people of his charge, especially, he ever discovered the most impartial fidelity, in reproving sin, and in the exercise of church discipline; united with the tenderest sympathy and gentleness toward the afflicted and necessitous. While his compassion for perishing sinners would often vent itself in floods of tears, so as sometimes to interrupt his utterance in his public, discourses; he showed the sincerity of his benevolence, by a continual readiness to communicate to the supply of their temporal wants according to his ability, yea, and often beyond it. At the same time, he gladly improved his interest with several wealthy friends at a distance in favour of his poor neighbours, especially those of the household of faith. To disperse their bounty seemed as high a gratification to him as to the recipients. Such was his interest with some of them that delighted to devise liberal things, that more than 300L were, by this means, distributed through his hands, to the poor of his church and congregation, and other distressed objects in the neighbourhood; while many additions were made to the beneficence of his friends from his own private property.
His numerous and heavy trials appeared to have been greatly sanctified to himself; and, perhaps, it was in the school of affliction that he acquired the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to burdened and disconsolate mourners. He was first married the same year that he was settled at Horsley. His wife's maiden name was Harris, a native of Wales. By her he had several children, but all were soon taken from him by death, except the second, which was a daughter, named Mary, who lived to be thirty-one, and then was removed, nearly ten years before her father, leaving a motherless family of five children behind her. His first-born, named Enoch, died when eighteen months old; this was a painful stroke: but in the year 1765, he met with such a succession of bereaving providences as are not often allotted to mankind, and under which he must have sunk, had not He, whose strength is made perfect in weakness, put underneath him his everlasting arms. The wife of his youth was removed first, on the 26th of April; on the 18th of June, his son Benjamin, aged four years; his youngest daughter, Sarah, died July 4th; and his daughter Elizabeth, three years old, July the 10th. He was constrained by these distressing events to leave his former dwelling for a season. The plaintive elegy he printed on this occasion, describing the anguish of his wounded spirit, and the relief he found in the compassion of his God, and in the prospect of future bliss, is truly affecting.
On July 27, 1766, he was married again, to Miss Wallis, his present sorrowful widow. By her he had ten children, but three only survive their honoured and beloved father. The first child, by this second marriage, received the name of Enoch; but the hope of his resembling his excellent grandfather was soon precluded, by finding he was deprived of the sense of hearing, and, consequently, of the faculty of speech. This affliction, however, seemed only to draw the affection of the parents more strongly towards a child, who stood in such peculiar need of their attention. This child discovered not only a singular sagacity in imbibing knowledge by unusual methods, but, for a considerable time before his death, gave surprising evidence of a deep sense of religion. He always shunned the company of wicked boys with the strongest tokens of abhorrence, and took a wonderful delight in attending divine worship, both in public, and in the family. But he was removed at fifteen years of age, after a short illness, in which he strangely signified his expectation of his approaching death. One daughter, Esther, and two sons, died young: of a second Esther, some account was inserted in the Baptist Register, Volume I. p. 159. She died August 25, 1790, in the eleventh year of her age, and gave the most satisfactory and delightful evidence of her true piety. The like mitigation attended the loss of her elder sister, who was also taken from her affectionate parents that same year, at the age of sixteen, after a lingering illness, wherein she enjoyed very extraordinary consolations. A son, named Benjamin, by the present Mrs. Francis, was spared for twenty seven years, who went to America, where he had a pleasing prospect as to temporal circumstances, and was on the point of being married to a very amiable young lady, when he was cut off by the yellow fever, in 1795, at Petersburgh, in Norfolk, South Carolina. This was a stroke peculiarly severe: but it may give the reader some idea of the supports his father derived from evangelical religion in the midst of this, heavy trial, if we insert an extract from the letter he sent to the lady, with whom his son was about to have formed the closest connection on earth:"Though overwhelmed with grief at the loss of a dear and affectionate son, whom 1 tenderly loved, yet I dare not repine at the disposal of unerring Providence, but am enabled to say, The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Christ is altogether worthy of your entire confidence, chief esteem, and everlasting adoration. May this bitter cup be abundantly mixed with divine consolations; and while you lament the loss of the uncertain stream of temporal felicity, may you drink eternal happiness at the fountain head."
(Continued from page 125.)[p. 161]
Mr. Francis composed and printed several elegies for his earlier correspondents and intimate acquaintance, for Mr. Whitfield, Mr. Day, Dr. Caleb Evans, Mr. Williams, of Cardigan, &c. Some of his elegies were in Welsh, with various other poems. On his death-bed he composed an elegy for Mr. Pearce, of Birmingham, who was just deceased. He would weep at the remembrance of his dear acquaintance, such as the Rev. Joshua Thomas, of Leominster, with whom he kept up a constant correspondence for many years; the Rev. D. Turner, of Abingdon, &c. and looking up toward heavefh, he would call it "the residence of his most numerous friends, containing far more of them than death had left him to enjoy on earth."
God rendered the latter years of his life honourable and useful in a very high degree. Large additions were made to the church; and among the rest he was gratified with being called to baptize both his own daughters. The congregation was multiplied to that degree, as to require a third enlargement of the place of worship: the day was appointed for the opening, but was unfixed, Dr. Ryland being called that day to attend the funeral of Mr. Pearce, at Birmingham; and Mr. Francis's own illness rapidly increasing, the same friend, who had been solicited to preach at the opening of the meeting-house, was called upon to improve the mournful event of committing the remains of this excellent servant of God to the tomb.
It appears that Mr. Francis adopted a method, of which he probably took the hint from Dr. Cotton Mather, of proposing questions to himself every morning of the week, to assist him in the best method of doing good in all his connections.
Lord's Day morning. — What can I do more for God, in the promotion of religion, in the church over which I am pastor? Monday. — What can I do for my family, as a husband, a father, or a master? Tuesday. — What good can I do for my relations abroad? Wednesday. — What good can
I do in the societies of which I am a member?
Thursday. — What good shall I do for the churches of Christ at large? Friday. — What special subjects of affliction, and objects of pity, may I take under my particular care? and what shall I do for them? Saturday. — What more have I to do for the interest of God in my own heart and life?
From the preceding sketch, some idea may be formed of the nature of true religion, as exemplified in this faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
As to the frame of his mind during his last illness, it did not seem to be raised to that height of rapture with which some have been indulged, but habitually placid, and supported by strong consolation. One morning, having his Welsh Bible put into his hand, he directly referred to his favourite Psalm (the 23d), and when he came to the last verse — "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever," he discovered the strongest emotions of gratitude; saying, that he had ever been a living evidence of the truth of such divine beneficence. Then fondly embracing his Bible, he laid it by his side, as if only satisfied when that blessed word, all whose promises and consolations he called his own, was near at hand, to brighten his passage through the valley of the shadow of death, and encourage his faith in his conflict with the last enemy.
On Lord's-day evening, Dec. 1, finding his illness increase, and being very apprehensive that this would be his last sabbath on earth, he expressed a wish t» enjoy a final interview with the officers of the church; and no sooner had they entered his chamber, than he felt such violent emotions as forbade his utterance for a time; but when he had a little recovered himself, he counselled them to watch over the welfare of the church with the tenderest sympathy, and to promote its welfare with the utmost assiduity. He cautioned them against the love of the world, and exhorted them to beware lest a carnal spirit should abate their zeal, and cramp their exertions. He earnestly besought them to lay themselves out for the benefit of the whole community, and to prefer the interest of Zion to their chief joy. With the utmost fervour he recommended to them to cultivate the Christian temper; and as all his views of practical religion were connected with the doctrine of the cross, he burst forth in a strain of evangelical exhortation — "O! cling to the cross, to the cross, to the cross! Here learn all you want to know; hence derive all you wish to possess; and by this, accomplish all you can desire to perform." He took them, at parting, each by the hand, and comprised his whole prayer for their welfare in the final address of Paul to the elders of Ephesus, Acts, xx. 32, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
Thursday, Dec. 12, he appeared to be struck for death, and was from this time rapidly declining. Stretching forth his hand to each of his family he said, "Come, as we must part,
we had better now take our mutual farewell, and then you shall withdraw, that I may languish softly into life." About this time he would frequently repeat, in the most pleasing accents, these lines,
"Sweet truth to me, I shall arise,
And with these ejes ray Saviour see."
Saturday, December 14, was the day appointed to terminate all his sufferings. About two o'clock in the afternoon, his faculties appeared nearly lost; yet. he would faintly lisp out hints of his inward peace. Standing by his side, a relative whispered in his ear — "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;" he replied, "No, no," adding, "for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
Though his dissolution was unusually lingering and painful, yet not a sigh heaved his bosom, nor a trace of melancholy appeared on his face, nor did one convulsion agitate his body: he still, when sinking into the arms of death, retained that affectionate, endearing smile, which through his life was the beauty of his countenance; and thus, a quarter past eight in the evening, he sweetly fell asleep in Jesus. His remains were interred in the meeting burying ground (where he had chosen a spot before hand) on Friday, Dec. 20, 1799, aged 66. Dr. Ryland delivered an address at the grave, and on the following Lord's-day preached a funeral discourse, from 1 Thessalonians iv. 17, 18, "So shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." The sermon was printed, from which we make this short extract."The church of Christ, which worships statedly in this place, has been blessed, for above forty years, with one of the best pastors that could preside over a Christian society. Alas! that very day two months, that I, and many now present, attended your venerable pastor to his grave, I was preaching the funeral sermon for brother Pearce, of Birmingham, cut off in the midst of his years at 33. Now they are both gone! We have lost the most active, diligent, humble, spiritual, zealous, successful ministers, within about eight weeks of each other. You cannot but mourn, and all our churches mourn with you. This neighbourhood, especially, for a wide extent, has suffered a great loss. No more shall that man of God, whose soul glowed with such tender concern for the salvation of souls, take his circuit round the country, to publish the glad tidings to perishing sinners. I hope God has not said of all who stopped their ears to his charming voice, 'They are joined to idols, let them alone — He that continued impenitent under the awakening ministry of my servant FRANCIS, let him be given up to hardness of heart for ever!'"We shall close the account of Mr. Francis, by giving an extract from a letter to a friend, under some of his severe trials, which were the means of forming him for extensive usefulness in the church of God."In my afflictions and confinements, I have felt inexpressibly for perishing sinners; especially for those under my own ministry; and I would, in every sermon I preach, enjoy much of that compassion which dwells in the heart of the dear Redeemer. I want to preach as
if standing at the bar of God. I now see so many sad defects in every grace, and imperfections in every duty I perform, with so many errors and sins in professors, that by these things my heart is heavily pressed, and I could dwell long on these painful subjects. But as to myself, I am more or less daily a burden to myself. I find my heart to be my chief, if not my only enemy. If the devil accuse me, I seldom accuse him; and it often disgusts me to hear professors charge their sins on that evil spirit. When I was young in religion, I wanted joy and assurance; but what I now mostly desire is, the mortification of all corruption, the spirit of Christ in my heart, and a universal conformity to the will and image of God. My consciousness of great deficiency in these things fills me with shame and sorrow; nor shall I be perfectly easy and happy till I am perfectly holy. O! how sweet, how beautiful, is true holiness! This is no part of our justifying righteousness, but it is a great part of our salvation. I desire to love the truths, and to embrace the promises of the gospel, not only as calculated to enlighten .my understanding, and to rejoice my heart, but also to transform me into the divine image, and to fill my soul with a holy admiration of the infinite Jehovah. I want to lose sight of self in the refulgence of his glory, and to shrink into nothing, that God may be all in all. I long, I long, at least in some of my happier moments, to serve, to praise, to glorify my dear Redeemer, as my chief business, my chief delight, and as the chief part of my heaven. O when shall I praise him as angels do!"
[From The Baptist Magazine, Volume 10, April, 1818, pp. 121-125; May, 1818, pp. 161-164. Document from Google Books. — Jim Duvall]
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