Most of the following particulars of the life and death of the honoured and lamented subject of this memoir have been published, at the close of an excellent sermon preached by the Rev. T. A. Wheeler, on Lord's-day, March 10th.
The Rev. Evan Probert was born at Nantmel, Radnorshire, in 1804 and although blessed with a pious father, who sought to lead him in "the good and right way," up to the age of eighteen or nineteen years, he lived an irreligious life. Possessing naturally a lively disposition, his youthful companions looked to him as the ringleader in their village sports and games, mocking the people of God, throwing stones and annoying them on their way to and from the house of prayer. While quite young, a bachelor gentleman and his sister took him to live with them, adopting him as their own, intending to make him their heir. One night, during an awful thunderstorm, he became impressed with the thought of his guilt and danger as a sinner. He imagined that if he were living with a good man he might be saved for his sake; but that, living with a wicked man, he must be lost, and he expected the earth to open and swallow him up. Sometime after this, he went, with other young men, to a Dissenting place of worship, intending to make sport of the preacher; but God was pleased by His Holy Spirit to direct the word as an arrow to his heart. These impressions were often resisted, and he went on for some time "sinning and repenting," often resolving to become a Christian, but when ridiculed by his old companions for his seriousness, breaking his resolves again. But occasionally attending prayer-meetings and other religious services, his mind became more deeply impressed with the conviction of his sinfulness and his need of a Saviour: and while under these convictions of sin, he sometimes spent whole nights on the mountain-tops, that in their solitude and retirement he might pour out his heart before God. One night, after being thus exercised, as he descended the hill-side, these words were forcibly applied to his heart: "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee " (Isaiah liv. 7). He was enabled to lay hold on Christ by faith, and obtained "peace through believing." He used to tell his friends that at times after this he experienced "joy unspeakable and full of glory." The only event in his life of which any record has been discovered in his
papers was his baptism. He was baptized September 22nd, 1822, by the eminent and popular "Evans of Dolau," in a river near the meetinghouse. He now became regular in his attendance at the services of the sanotuary. The house of God was his delight, and occasionally, with much fear and trembling, he was induced to engage in public prayer.
Some of the people thought the youthful Christian possessed abilities for preaching; while others opposed his doing so. However, a little time after, when he was present at a service held in a cottage, the minister who was expected to preach, for some reason or other failed to come. Some one said to him, "Probert, you must preach." He consented somewhat reluctantly, and although when he concluded he felt ashamed of this his first attempt to preach, the sermon we believe was made the means of the conversion of a sinner. He now felt that he was called to devote himself to the ministry. He was encouraged in this by other Christians and ministers, among whom were the late Rev. T. Charles, of Bala, and the renowned Christmas Evans. To prepare himself for the work of the ministry, he for some time studied under the tutorship of a Mr. T. Jones, who kept an academy at The Hay, and to whom, he often said in afterlife, he was more indebted than to any other man. Subsequently, he went to Abergavenny College (since removed to Pontypool), where he remained for two years under the tutorship of the late Rev. Micah Thomas.
About this time,the Baptist Church at Eastcombe, Gloucestershire, being without a pastor, sent a request to the tutor of the college for "a supply" for their pulpit. Mr. Probert was requested to go and preach; he objected, since his acquaintance with the English language was at this time very limited, and he did not like to venture to preach to an English congregation; he was, however, prevailed on to go. This led to his receiving a call to become their pastor. He informed his tutor that he could not undertake the pastorate of an English church, having as yet prepared only seven English sermons. His objections were at length overruled by his tutor and a brother minister, who said to him, "Go, my brother; go and preach Christ." He laboured at Eastcombe with great acceptance and usefulness, for seven and a half years, among an ardently attached people. Many in that neighbourhood still hold him in affectionate remembrance, and were ever glad to welcome him in his occasional visits.
In 1834 he was invited to become the pastor of the Old Pithay Baptist Chapel, Bristol; his settlement took place in the last month of that year, and his first sermon was preached on Christmas-day. The church consisted of forty members, who had left the church in Counterslip, which had many years before gone out of the Old Pithay. The chapel was encumbered with a debt of L800, and, through sundry alterations that were effected, it was increased to L1,200. He laboured in the face of many difficulties in this uninviting locality; but his efforts met with the reward of devoted zeal and persevering energy; the debt was paid off in twelve years; a good church was formed, a large congregation was gathered, and God greatly blessed and prospered his work.
The movement for the erection of a new chapel originated in the following manner: - A young man in a humble sphere of life, who had derived much benefit from Mr. Probert's ministry, and who died of consumption, left five pounds towards getting a school-room in connection with the Pithay, as he felt it was much needed.
No suitable place could be obtained at the time in or near the neighbourhood for this purpose; and the five pounds were not used until the site of the new chapel in City Road was procured. The land and the building cost over L5,500 (not L3,500, as has been stated elsewhere). Towards this large sum, Mr. Probert, by his individual efforts, collected over L2,000; this onerous task interfering only very slightly with the discharge of his ministerial duties. The old chapel was purchased by the church, then under the care of the Rev. James Davis, for about L800. The commodious chapel in City Road was opened September 11th, 1861, and in it Mr. Probert laboured till his departure to his rest.
Although unwell for some months past, his friends did not apprehend that his end was so near. On Saturday, February 23rd, there were aggravated symptoms of the malady from which he suffered; but he felt better on Sunday, and went to chapel at night. On Monday he went to see Dr. Symonds.
Tuesday, February 26th, after an interview with two friends from the country, he was taken suddenly worse, and said to his friends, "I hope I am not going to have a stroke; my hand feels dead." Mrs. Probert rubbed it. He requested to be helped to the sofa; when laid on it, he said: -
Ah ! I shall soon be dying,
Time swiftly glides away:
But on my Lord relying,
I hail the happy day:
The day when I must enter
Upon a world unknown;
My helpless soul I venture On Jesus Christ alone.
To his nephew he said, "Ah, had I Christ to seek now, what would become of me! Precious Saviour; Precious Christ." When speech almost failed, he was asked if he was leaning on the Rock of Ages. He replied faintly, "Yes." After this, being asked if he was happy, he, with great effort, replied, "Yes." Soon after this, consciousness as well as speech failed, and on Friday, March 1st, he departed in peace, in the sixty-third year of his age, having been the pastor of the church now worshipping in City Road upwards of thirty-two years.
The Rev. T. A Wheeler adds: - "It is nearly twenty-one years since it was my pleasure first to make Mr. Probert's acquaintance; and during that time, at intervals less frequent, until lately, I have been privileged to have intercourse with him. He was a man of scrupulous uprightness and integrity; a man of quick temperament, warm in his regard for his people, and resolute in his dislike for what he conceived to be sinful in the sight of God, and hurtful to man. I have found him a kind, an affectionate, and a willing friend, ready at any time to serve others when it lay in his power so to do. His aim as a preacher was ever to do that which lately we heard him urge others to do - to preach Christ and Him crucified. Many a time has he said to me, 'Try to touch the hearts of the people. Hold up Christ and His Gospel, so as to touch men's hearts.' And how God in His mercy enabled him to do this with success many here are witnesses, and for this success will give God thanks at that day when he their pastor, and they his flock, shall stand together accepted in Christ Jesus. To this city his removal is a loss. A man who for a long time - thirty years or more - maintains an honourable and an unblemished character, is found ready to vindicate the cause of God and truth, has endeared himself by affability and kindness to the hearts of thousands, - is not a man
who can be taken away and not missed. Such men are amongst the great and good with whom God blesses the people that trust in Him. Now his work is over; his place will be filled by another. He is gone, gone to his rest; we have carried him to his grave. Write no fulsome epitaph on his monument; but cut deep in the veined marble these words, 'I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.'"
Several years have passed since I first met Mr. Probert. It was in a quiet village in Wales. The anniversary services of the little Baptist chapel were to be held, and he was one of the preachers. His earnestness in preaching, his fervour in prayer, his countenance, as it beamed with gladness when he was speaking of the love 'that passeth knowledge,' his pleading, winning tones when inviting the sinner to the Ark of refuge, - together with his kindly and affectionate disposition, impressed all who then made his acquaintance. After this, I was privileged to enjoy his confidence and friendship for many years. Some of my fellow-students who may read these lines will remember with pleasure many a happy half-hour spent at "Father Jenkins's" domicile, when Mr. Probert was one of the company, and gave us his reminiscences of Welsh preachers and of interesting incidents in his own life. But the great and chief theme of his conversation was - Preaching. His life was devoted, with an untiring energy and zeal that have seldom been surpassed, to the work of preaching Christ. Ready to honour all good men who excelled him in their abilities and attainments, and blessed with self-knowledge and humility which were always marked by his friends, he saw well the task that had been assigned to him; and with love to his Master, and love to the souls of men, he honestly and faithfully discharged it. Many a time have I accompanied him on his way from the old Pithay chapel on a Sunday evening, and as he slowly climbed up the hill towards his residence, and as, afterwards, he knelt at the family altar, his conversation and his prayer indicated that the one deep feeling of his heart was this - "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" Always affable and cheerful at home, among his people, and when visiting his numerous friends in England and Wales, it was manifest that his was the cheerfulness of a nature imbued with the loving spirit of Christ, and that his greatest happiness consisted in his work for Christ. He was "a workman that needed not to be ashamed."
Seven months ago, when I last met him, I little thought that I should "see his face no more." He was not well then; but, with rest and care, he expected to rally soon. He hoped "to see me in the spring" but he has been summoned away to the land where -
There's a perpetual spring, perpetual youth;
Where everlasting suns
Shed everlasting brightness; where the soul
Drinks from the living streams of love that roll
By God's high throne!
James Owens. Liverpool. ============
[From The Baptist Magazine, July, 1867, pp. 447-450. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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