The New Jersey Association at its last session appointed two of their number to inform others who may come after us, through the Baptist Memorial, how a Smalley, - a Sheppard, and other ministering brethren lived, and labored, and sacrificed, and died, in the early establishment of many uf our most flourishing churches.
The Rev. Joseph Sheppard was born in Greenwich, Cumberland county, New Jersey, on the 9th day of January, 1786. He was the son of a respectable, independent farmer - accustomed in early life to labor in the field - to useful and rural pursuits in the open air; and hence, when grown to manhood, was not for ever complaining of exposure, fatigue, dyspepsia, inability to study, &c, &c, which is so often heard among many of the rising ministry of more modern times. He was a man who was both able and willing to work.
At the age of eighteen he was placed under the care of Dr. William Staughton, who was then principal of a flourishing academy, and pastor of the Baptist church at Burlington, N. Jersey, and boarded in the Doctor's family. This must be regarded as one of the most fortunate circumstances in his early life. - To have had one of the most eloquent and accomplished ministers of the gospel that ever occupied an American pulpit, for his daily companion, and solicitous preceptor. Nor need we be surprised that with the blessing of God upon the labors of such a tutor, the mind of young Sheppard soon became deeply interested in the subject of religion. On the first of May, 1804, he made a public profession of his hope in Christ, - was baptized, and united with the church in Burlington.
His mind was very soon directed by the Spirit of God to the self-denying and arduous duties of the gospel ministry; and hence, in his short diary, under date of January 9th, 1805, he says, - "spent my birth-day in Burlington" - "eve - spoke in public, at a society meeting" - and again, Feb. 15th, - "I was requested by the church committee to exercise the gift the Lord has given me, on next Tuesday." On the 4th of May, 1805, he was regularly licensed to preach the gospel. Soon after this he returned to his father's habitation, in Cumberland County, where he spent several weeks in his loved and active labor on the farm; and then returned to the family of Dr. Staughton, now a resident of Philadelphia, Where he resumed his studies under the Dr.'s directions.
Under date of June 10th, he says, - "Returned to Philadelphia, and found my friends blessed with health. I feel my mind solemnized! If thy presence go not with me, take me not up hence" - "The plan of study which the dear elder disciple of the Lord Jesus, whom I have the privilege of calling my beloved tutor, proposes, and with which I am resolved, by divine assistance, (for which I pray) unreservedly to comply, is" &c, &c.
Having become a member of one of the regular classes of the University of Pa., he applied himself closely to his studies until the vacation in August, during which, instead of spending his time in idle gossip and extravagance, he says, under date of the 18th, - "Spent the day at home, at work stacking hay." He suspended his studies in college on the 27th of Oct., 1805, and took charge of the Bustleton Academy for one quarter, at the close of which he received the "approbation and thanks of the trustees," and returned to Philadelphia, - became a boarder in the family of Mrs. Evans, and resumed his studies in college. On the 9th of January, 1806, he wrote - "This day I have been upon the stage of action twenty years! In the evening I reviewed my life. When I came to the death of my dear brother Charles, I could go on, but oh! a little farther, to the death of my dear mother! - I could proceed no further! - but it comforts me to think I shall go to them." "O Lord, lead and guide me to heaven."
Here we have strongly manifested the feelings of that boy, whom the Lord will ever delight to bless and make a blessing - a strong attachment and veneration for his mother: while that son or daughter who shall carelessly trample upon a mother's heartstrings, or coldly neglect her, may expect that a God of justice will assuredly punish him in this world, or in that which is to come. "Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee." Nothing further is known of his college life, save that he graduated with credit to himself in July, 1808. After itinerating and preaching almost constantly for about a year, he was ordained and settled as the pastor of the large and venerable church at Salem, N. J., on the 19th of April, 1809, by Rev. Messrs. William Staughton, William Rodgers, and Henry Smalley. Fortunately for him, and for the cause, the modern fashion of changing pastors almost every year had not as yet been practised by our churches, and hence, he continued to labor successfully among them for more than twenty years; during which time he baptized two hundred and thirty-six into the fellowship of the church; when he thought it his duty, in the providence of God, to resign his pastoral charge. Immediately, he entered upon the work of an evangelist, which was ever his delight from his earliest labors in the ministry. This service, however, he was not permitted long to enjoy, for in the autumn of 1829 he was called to the pastoral care of the church of Mount Holly, N. J. For six year be continued this relation, during the last five of which he preached every third Sabbath for the church in Evesham. To the former seventy-six were added, and to the latter thirty-one, by baptism. These two churches together, did not give him salary sufficient to meet the necessary expenses of his family. This deficiency, he supplied by opening a private school near his residence.
All these labors together were more than his constitution would bear, - his health declined, and he finally concluded to give up the pastoral relation altogether - retire to some quiet place, and devote himself to the work of an evangelist, as far as his health would permit. With these views and feelings he removed his family in 1836 to a pleasant and quiet residence he had but lately erected, in Camden, N. J. The church in Camden being then destitute of a pastor, very soon invited him to become their regular supply, and after continuing to preach for them several months, was invited to become their pastor, which he felt it his duty to decline.
He continued, however, to preach for the church at Pemberton, every alternate Sabbath. The last time he saw them was on Sabbath, Dec. 9, 1838, when he preached three times, and on Monday walked several miles in his visitations of the sick. He returned home on Tuesday, and during the day made his last entry in his diary, viz. - "Dec. 11th. Returned from visiting Pemberton church, which I supply once a fortnight - am sorry I cannot be more useful in the Lord's vineyard - O Lord, use me."
The, Lord seems to have answered his prayer, but not as he intehded it, for instead of employing him longer in his earthly vineyard, He gave commandment, "call ye that servant, and give him his hire." Thus he was suddenly and unexpectedly taken to praise God in his upper temple; for on that very evening he was attacked with a kmd of apoplexy - became insensible, but lingered, until Thursday night, when he sweetly fell asleep in Jesus, in the fifty-third year of his age and thirty-third of his ministry.
Thus died Joseph.Sheppard, the affectionate husband - indulgent father - kind neighbor, and. faithful friend, leaving a wife and four daughters, with a numerous circle of friends to mourn his unexpected death.
The writer of this hasty, sketch knew him intimately, and loved him sincerely as a ministering brother with whom he often labored, and delighted to hold sweet converse.
He lived the religion he professed, and thus exemplified that gospel he had for so many years preached to others. Naturally sedate, yet never subject to great elevation or depression of spirit. His ministerial faithfulness in presenting the truth, like that of his divine Master, may have, in individual cases, provoked the hostility of the unregenerated heart; yet perhaps few men had fewer enemies. He had resolved, "I will not make an enemy" - "I will not lose a friend." Preaching was his delight, - and yet he loved the work of instructing youth - and thus as far as possible, do good, and leave his impress upon his generation, and the churches with whom he lived and labored. I desire to say more, Mr. Editor, but I know the character of.your Memorial will not allow me. May the sudden death, of our dear brother Sheppard admonish those of us especially, who labored shoulder to shoulder with him twenty-five years ago, to trim our lamps - gird up our loins, and endeavor to be ready; for in such an hour as we think not, the "Son of Man" may call us, as he did him, without one hour's notice. May his death be sanctified to us - to his family, and to the churches of the New Jersey Association.
[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record (NY), September-October, 1845, pp. 257-259. Document from Google Books On-line. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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