Baptist History Homepage

Memoir of Mr. Richard Pearse
Twenty Year Old Baptist
The Baptist Magazine, 1815

Extracted from a funeral Sermon, preached by William Staughton, D.D.
at the Baptist Meeting House in Sansom Street, Philadelphia, 1813.

      He was born January the seventeenth, 1793. His parents, who are both living, are godly persons. His father is an esteemed member of the first baptist church in Baltimore. I am in possession of no facts, materially important, relative to his life, until he was about the age of twelve. I will read you extracts from papers, written by the hand now cold in the grave. "A few days before I had turned of twelve years of age, the Lord, in his infinite goodness, and tender mercy, broke in upon me in the following manner. It was a custom with my father, every Sunday evening, to have all his family together, and all the children, of whom I am the eldest, and to read a chapter in the Bible; after this we sang a hymn. One Sunday evening as we were singing the lines,
O for a heart to praise my God,
A heart from sin set free, &c.

      I was endeavouring to catch the eye of one of my brothers, to make a diversion of the sipging, when I felt myself wrought upon inwardly. My father observed something unusual in my looks, and asked me what ailed me. I cannot find words to express the feelings of my mind at that moment. I involuntarily sprang from my chair, flew into his arms, and exclaimed, "O father! the devil has hold upon me: or, the love of God hath taken possession of my heart. He asked rne a few moments after, how 1 felt, 1 cried out, I feel as though my sins were collected in one large mass, and thrown upon me, and I feel too helpless to bear myself up. The next morning I found myself very happy in my mind, and began to search the scriptures."

      Our deceased brother obtained his education at the college in

Baltimore. On the termination of his studies, he received from that institution, a testimonial in Latin, of his improvements, highly honourable to his progress in the dead languages. To this he returned a grateful acknowledgement, written in the same language, whose classic propriety procured its insertion in the public prints in Baltimore. While engaged in the pursuit of his education, and for some time after, his impressions appeared to vanish. On the subject he thus expresses himself—

      "At college, the boys, who were 150 in number, becoming acquainted by some means with my exercises, I was the constant subject of ridicule. This made me determine I would not read the Bible any longer, as on the one hand I thought I was not called of God, and on the other was not able to live in peace. The impressions wore off, and I fell into greater depths of sin than ever. I was noted among the boys for an object whom they, blinded by sin, thought worthy of imitation, I could take the most blasphemous and horrid oaths. I had two companions nearly as wicked as myself. We used to meet every day to encourage each other iu sinning. But though I proceeded in a manner so horrid, often in an evening, I would have such pangs of conscience as I could hardly support, and as would make me exclaim, O, that I were such a man as my father! -- Thus we proceeded falling into greater depths of sin, until it pleased God to separate me from my wicked companions, by forming in me a desire to become a merchant, and removing me to this city. (Philadelphia.) Here, I continued, in the gall of bitterness, and the bonds of iniquity, until I at length imbibed the principles of Atheism: at the same time, I did not so much believe there was no God, as I wished there was none. Reading the definition of the word Deist in the Cyclopaedia I saw that there was one class ef deists, who believed there was a God, but that he was a being infinitely happy, and perfectly independent in himself; and that man was a creature too contemptible for his notice. I immediately joined in with this belief, and in my conduct declared the Bible to be a lie, and all that it contained mere fiction, invented and composed by some man, or some set of men, to deceive the world; for I reasoned thus, have we not as much evidence of the truth of the Koran as of the truth of the Bible, and that one is as likely to be true as the other? so that I will give them both up as falsehoods, and cunningly devised fables.* I formed such an aversion to the children of God, that I desired and requested my father that he would consent to my going to sea, for I thought that, at sea, I should not be troubled with preaching and
fn * Our deceased brother did not know that the Koran, instead of offering proofs of its own inspiration, is far below many other human compositions. It is an undigested Mass of ideas, for the most part low ones. What of excellence it contains is evidently borrowed from the Bible. It abounds with contradictions, palpable and glaring. It presents a paradise of sensuality in the future world, and cherishes revenge and murder in the present. The Holy Scriptures are in every respect the reverse.

praying, and such like lying vanity, as I used to call them. To these my wishes, my father refused consent. I continued in this state of infidelity, until in the summer succeeding, I went home to see my parents. I believe my mother suspected that I was incorrect in my principles, and the more so from an observation I made to one of the children, who was saying something about religion. I incidentally took a book, the title of which I did not take notice of. The first words which opened to my view, were the curses recorded, Deuteronomy xxvii. 15, 26. This, with some expostulations I received from my mother, struck deep, and stuck close."

      In the evening of the day, here alluded to, a heavy storm occurred, attended with awful lightnings, and peals of alarming thunder, during which, his infidelity was shaken, particularly on observing the calmness of his parents in the midst of the shocks, a calmness which he perceived his own principles were incapable of producing. Ou his return to Philadelphia, he observes that the minister under whom he usually sat, "one evening, preaching, made this remark, that we are responsible for every sermon we hear." "Immediately," he says, "I thought if that be the case, I'11 not go to meeting. For three months 1 absented myself. But I soon grew tired of the world. I found after, and even while enjoying its pleasures, an empty void. I could exclaim,

The choicest blessings earth can give,
Will starve a hungry mind."

      It was the happiness of our departed young brother to have been placed in a godly family, the family of Mr. Joseph Keen; a much respected deacon of flit?, first baptist church in Philadelphia. His sentiments and conduct, the first part of the time of his residence there, gave them considerable pain, but that pain was succeeded with far more than proportionate pleasure. In the beginning of the year 1810, he heard a sermon from the words, "without hope and without God in the world." He now saw himself undone, and conceived his destruction inevitable. He prayed; and it was the only prayer he had dared to offer; (for of the possibility of his own salvation, he had no conception) that God would give, whatsoever «f health or talent he possessed, to the minister he had been hearing, that he might be strengthened the more, to lift up the voice of warning, lest others like himself should descend into the place of torment. It was probably in relation to this time of distress that he thus expresses himself, "I Mas fully persuaded my damnai tion was sealed, and the words I amdamned,I am damned, as surely as there is a God or a hell, were continually sounding in my ears. I would sometimes detect myself repeating them with peculiar earnestness. The following Sunday morning, the words came with energy to my mind, thi/place is where the worm dieth not, and where the jire is not quenched; where is blackness, and the smoke of torment ascends for ever and ever." For several weeks, his darkness and despair continued. His mind was first relieved by hearing a child of the family say, 'Jesus will cast out none who call upon his name".

     But by the application of two passages of scripture to his mind, he was enabled to rejoice in Christ Jesus, as his Lord and Saviour. These were Isaiah vi, 7. Lo this has touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin is purged, and Romans viii. 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. His mind was now delightfully enlarged. His conversation became spiritual and animated. He wished to consecrate all his powers to the honour of his Redeemer, and on a confession of his faith, was on the 28th of September of the same year, with six other persons, solemnly baptized. His mind was naturally strong, and his reasonings acute. Several months after his union with the church, he fell into some difficulties, relative to the doctrine of the divine decrees. As his temper was naturally open and candid, he stated them with a publicity, that a little more age and experience would have taught him was unnecessary. These perplexities continued, however, but for a few days, and were followed with deep humiliation of soul. He mourned that he should have been guilty of the folly of opposing his imperfect iutellect to the sublime truths his God had revealed, and saw the reasonableness and beauty of the obedience of faith.

      It is to be regretted, that almost all the papers of our deceased brother are without date. This circumstance prevents our presenting them in the order of time. The following extracts, however, serve to show the sincerity and intenseness of his devoteduess to God, for certainly nothing could have been more remote from our brother's anticipations, than that those private exercises of his heart, would ever have met the eye of the public. Attend, my young friends, and may your spiritual edification be promoted. "The love of God, possessed and enjoyed in the soul, surpassess description. It is preferable to every thing this world can conceive of, or enjoy. This soothes our sorrows, raises us up, when on account of manifold afflictions and temptations, we are cast down; turns our mourning into rejoicing; strips us of our garments of sackcloth, and girds us with gladness. But this love can only come through the channel of him who knew no sin, yet fur our sakes he was made sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Oh my soul, bless the Lord, and every power that is within me, unite in extolling his most glorious name, that, when thou in thy ancestor Adam, together with the rest of thy fallen fellow creatures, hadst sinned againt this God, and rendered thyself obnoxious to his severe but just displeasure, Jesus seeing thy fallen condition, thy awful and most miserable situation, took upon him thy nature to ransom thee! He who was rich, became poor, that thou through his poverty might be made rich. 1 charge thee, O my soul! ever adhere closely to the commands and instructions of this thy heavenly friend." Again, he says, "Lord what shall I render unto thee that thou hast given me parents., who have ever been assiduous in rendering

me comfortable and happy; and this too, notwithstanding I have offended against thy holy law, neglected the admonitions of thy Spirit, resisted the warnings of conscience, despised the expostulations of thy ministers, and grieved those parents to whom I am so much indebted. I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast not sent thine eagles to pluck out mine eyes, so as to darken my understanding, and render me callous, eternally so, to every thing of a serious and holy nature, Lord! I had long abused thy love. My sin has been too long indulged; but my heart aches, and my spirit groans within me, when I consider what a rebel against thee I have been, O blot out as a cloud my transgressions, and as a thick cloud my sins. Pardon my iniquity, for it is great. Work in me godly sorrow for sin, and repentance that need not be repented of; but --
Drops of grief can ne'er repay
The debt of love I owe!

I now, Lord, in the presence of angels, and devils, make an unreserved surrender of myself to thee, whose rightful subject I am; take me and keep me, in the hollow of thy hand."

      The two subsequent extracts serve to show how much feared deception in eternal things, and how much he lamented his want of more perfect conformity to his God. "I am afraid my feelings are only the effects of a heated imagination, not the calling of the Holy Spirit; or that I am called, but not chosen. If Christ had shed abroad his love in my heart, would I be thus languid, and live so far from him? My mind is at times as lifeless and as unconcerned as though I had never loved. It is true I feel at certain seasons a great desire after Jesus, and know that a change has taken place in my mind, for the world and its pursuits, its vain delights and gaudy toys, that I was once running after with eagerness, have lost their influence; and the people of God, whom I once hated, are become now the object of love and esteem: -- them above all things on earth I value, yet such are my frequent wanderings, so little love have I towards my dear Saviour, so seldom do I approach the throne of grace by prayer, and such coolness do I feel when approaching, that I fear my hope is all a delusion." To this extract are added the words, "mournful believer." He affectingly enumerates the following sources of his distress; and where is the good man who has not found occasion for similar complainings? "My ingratitude for mercies received: my ideas and thoughts so seldom fixed on God and Jesus Christ;and when for a few moments my mind does begin to meditate, the facility with which it is drawn off and set upon improper objects: the coldness of my love towards the Lord Jesus; the extreme barrenness of mv mind, with respect to spiritual ideas, when hearing the word of God preached, the small degree of interest I feel in it; the trivialness of an object which will draw off my attention; the wandering and unsettled state of my mind; the the incapacity of recollecting; and much less of practising, what, from the sacred desk I hear, through inattentivciiess; my extreme neglect in not properly

bridling my tongue; my want of humility, of which, in reality, I do not possess the smallest share; my darkness and ignorance in attempting to pray, and even when I do find words, the cold and indifferent manner in which they are uttered; blasphemous lusts and sceptic thoughts; when reading the word of God to which I am often backward; the inattention with which I peruse it, and which I pay to its truths; the stupor of mind which reigns, while contemplating the character of the blessed Jesus, his infinite and adorable condescension; not feeling willing to be any thing, and every thing, to serve God's dear people and promote their happiness; the resentment I feel inwardly, when ridiculed for righteousness' sake; the desire to revile again, when reviled, oftentimes, the fear of the creature overcoming the fear of the Creator; the indolent sensations I often find, while engaged in the pursuits of this world, often acting more as an eye servant, than as with an eye single to the glory of God; my want of gravity and sedateness, often laughing, when improper and sinful ideas are brought to view by those not professing to be any thing but servants of the devil; naturally of a warm temper and in every thing, except the service of God, active and laborious."

      The talents of Mr. Pearse soon made him conspicuous in the church. He possessed an excellent gift in prayer. Variety, fervour, humility, distinguished his addresses at the throne of grace. He delighted in prayer meetings, was a constant attendant, and endeavoured to increase their number. "One Lord's day morning," he says, "I was much struck with an idea of my extreme neglect in duty, languor of affection towards Christ as my Redeemer, and the few considerations I have of him as my Guide, Protector, or bounteous Benefactor. Had not time for dinner, but went to society meeting, where I was filled with spiritual food, and where I think I partook of the bread of life. O to be made a daily partaker of that bread of the which if a man eat, he shall never hunger! In the evening, went to hear, and heard my spiritual father. The discourse was from Isaiah lxi. 2. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. An anecdote descriptive of the infatuation «f sinners, in pursuing the course of iniquity, impressed my mind with considerable force."

      In a letter to his parents, dated January 18th, 1813, he says, "I will just mention as I pass along, whilst I have the recollection of it, that yesterday was my birthday, as also the birthday of our infant society;" alluding to a praying society he had been instrumental in originating. "I feel ashamed and confounded under a consideration of the Lord's goodness, long-suffering, and tender mercy towards me, who have been so sinful, ungrateful and perverse." He observes at the close of the letter, "It pleased that God, whom by my conduct, as well as expressions, I was continually declaring I would not have to reign over me, in the exercise of free, rich, sovereign, and distinguishing grace and mercy, to make me, from an alien of the commonwealth of Israel, a fellow citizen with the saints, and I hope, yes, I believe, of the household

of God. View in me an exemplification and fulfilment of that promise of God to Messiah, "thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." And the words of Isaiah, "I am found of them, that sought me not."

      His heart was set on the work of the ministry. He longed to renew and augment bis literary information, that his usefulness in the churches of God might be the more distinguished. Several beautiful specimens of attempts at sermonizing, are among his papers. He had often expressed to me his wish to be a missionary, and to join the dear brethren in India, It was the prayer of his heart,

"Let Hindoos speak thy praise aloud,
While millions join the adoring crowd."

      Among his private writings, I find the following effusion of his strong desires, "Hasten, O Lord! the diffusion of gospel truth through every land. Command thy heralds to sound deliverance to souls by Satan enslaved. May the world, from the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, know thee, and Jesus whom thou hast sent. May kingdoms widely extended over the face of this our globe, new sitting in heathenish darkness, behold the glorious luster of the gospel; so that from the eastern coast to the western, the meridian splendours of salvation may chase away the night of sin and ignorance. Let the redemption, freely purchased by Jesus Christ, supplant all other hopes of salvation."

      The ways of God are often involved in mystery. This opening flower has fallen to the ground, never to bear fruit in perfection on earth. In the course of September last, he began to droop. His disease was found to be a nervous fever. His mind through the whole Of its progress was sustained by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. He mentioned to a friend, that his views of spiritual and eternal objects were clearer than any he had ever experienced before. He was not merely resigned to his affliction, but thankful for it; declaring that his only remaining desire for life was, that he might preach a precious gospel to perishing sinners. He often repeated the lines --

When through the deep waters I nail thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow.
For I will be with thee thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, thy deepest distress.

      His father was sent for, and witnessed the close of his spiritual journey. In the intervals of that delirium which his disease towards its issue occasioned, he was much in prayer. The last words he was heard distinctly to utter, and which were used a few seconds before his dismission from earth to heaven, were, "into thine arms Lord God Almighty." Thus happy in the Lord our young brother has bidden us farewell. May the providence be greatly sanctified to you, my much loved brethren, the members of this christian church. Let us be thankful when we see our brethren and sisters end well; and while by death our number is diminished let us offer our prayers that others may rise, and be baptized for the dead, and so fill up the vacancies which removals to heaven may create. Abound

in watchfulness and prayer, and and wait until the glorified Son of man shall collect us in the triumphant congregation of heaven, where we shall meet, to part no more. Be not afraid of dying. What though we fade as the leaf; like the leaves in nature, the saint looks more beautiful for his decay. The germ of grace is immortal; "As the ilex and the oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves, so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof." See my dear young friends, you who love the Saviour, see the advantages of early piety. It prepares for an early dissolution; who of you next shall be called away, is known only by God. Imitate your departed brother, in the observance of the operations of his own heart, and find leisure to record them. Let prayer meetings be your delight, and be earnest for the enlargement of the kingdom ef Christ. May you like the young Hebrews in the wilderness be "holiness to the Lord, and the first fruits increase."

[From The Baptist Magazine, January 1815, pp. 1-8. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist Bios
Baptist History Homepage