THE Rev. John Sutcliff was born near Halifax, in Yorkshire, on the 9th of August, 1752 0. S. His parents were both of them pious characters, and remarkable for their strict attention to the instruction and government of their children. Of course he would be taught the good and the right way from his childhood. It does not appear, however, that he was "made wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus," till about the 16th or 17th year of his age. This was under the ministry of his revered friend and father, Mr. John Fawcett, pastor of the church meeting at Hebden Bridge. Of this church he became a member, May 28th, 1769. Being of a serious and studious turn of mind, he appeared to his friends to possess gifts suited to the ministry; which was proposed to his consideration. The proposal met with his own wishes, and being desirous of obtaining all the instruction he could, he went in January, 1772, to the Bristol Academy, then under the care of Messrs. Hugh and Caleb Evans. Of his conduct in this situation, it is sufficient to say, that it procured him the esteem of his tutors, to the end of their lives.
In 1774, he left the Academy, and after stopping a short time at different places, in July 1775, he came to Olney. It was in the spring, of the following year, when the Association was held at Olney, that my acquaintance with him commenced; and from that day to this, all that I have known of him, has tended to endear him to me.
I cannot say when it was that he first became acquainted with the writings of President Edwards, and other New England Divines; but having read them, he drank deeply into them: particularly, into the harmony between the law and the gospel; between the obligations of men to love God with all their hearts, and their actual enmity against him; and between the duty of ministers to call on sinners to repent and believe in Christ for salvation, and the necessity of omnipotent grace to render the call effectual. The consequence was, that while he increased in his attachment to the Calvinistic doctrines, of human depravity, and of salvation by sovereign and efficacious grace, he rejected, as unscriptural, the high, or rather the hyper Calvinistic notions of the gospel; which went to set aside the obligations of sinners to every thing spiritually good, and the invitations of the Gospel, as being addressed to them.* Hence it was, that his preaching was disapproved by a part of his hearers, and that, in the early part of his ministry at Olney, he had to encounter a considerable portion of individual opposition. "By patience, calmness, and prudent perseverance, however, (says one of his friends,) he lived to subdue prejudice; and though his beginning was very unpropitious, from a small, and not united interest, he was the instrument of raising it to a large body of people, and a congregation most affectionately attached to him."
He had a largeness of heart, that led him to expect much from the promises of God to the church, in the latter days. It was on his motion, I believe, that the association at Nottingham, in the spring of 1784, agreed to set apart an hour on the evening of the first Monday, in every month, for social prayer, for the success of the Gospel; and to invite christians of other denominations to unite with them in it.
It must have been about this time, that he became acquainted with Mr. Carey who then resided at Hackleton. Mr. C. had been baptized by Mr. (now Dr.) Ryland, at Northampton, on the 5th of October, 1783, and after a while joined the church at Olney, by which he was sent into the ministry. Mr. C. without reading any thing material on christian doctrine, besides the scriptures, had formed his own system; and which, on comparison, he found to be so near to that of several of the ministers in his neighbourhood, as to lay the foundation of a close and lasting friendship between them. But to return to our deceased brother —
In all the conversations between the years 1787 and 1792, which led to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, and all the meetings for fasting and prayer, both before and after it was formed, he bore a part.
In 1789, he republished President Edwards's "Humble Attempt to promote explicit agreement, and visible union of God's people, in extraordinary prayer, for the revival of religion." How much this publication contributed to that tone of feeling, which in the end determined five or six individuals to venture, though with many fears and misgivings, on an undertaking of such magnitude, I cannot say; but it doubtless had a very considerable influence on it.
In April, 1791, there was a double lecture at Clipstone; and both the sermons, one of which was delivered by brother Sutcliff,
* His views of the Gospel may be seen in a small piece, published in 1783, entitled, The first principles of the Oracles of God, represented in a plain and familiar Catechism, for the use of Children.
bore upon the meditated Mission to the heathen. His subject was, Jealousy for God, from 1 Kings, xix. 10. After public worship, Mr. Carey, perceiving the impression that the sermons had made, intreated that something might be resolved on before we parted. Nothing, however, was done, but to require brother Carey, to revise and print his "Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to use means for the conversion of the Heathens." The Sermons also were printed at the request of those who heard them.*
From the formation of the Society, in the Autumn of 1792, to the day of his death, our brother's heart and hands have been in the work. On all occasions, and in every way, he was ready to assist to the utmost of his power.
In 1796, he married Miss Jane Johnson, who was previously a member of his church. This connexion appears to have added much to his comfort. For 18 years, they lived together, as fellow-helpers to each other, in the ways of God; and their separation has been but short. The tomb that received his remains has since been opened to receive hers. He died, 22d of June, and she, on the 3d of September following, possessing the same good hope, through grace, which supported him.
Mr. S. had been in a declining state of health, for several years past. On the 3d of March, being on a visit in London, he was seized, about the middle of the night, with a violent pain across his breast and arms, attended with great difficulty of breathing. This was succeeded by a dropsy, which, in about 3 months, issued in his death.
Two or three times, during his affliction, I rode over to see him. The first time, he had thoughts of recovering; but whatever were his thoughts as to this, it seemed to make no difference as to his peace of mind. The last time I visited him was in my way to the Annual Meeting in London, on the 19th of June.
Expecting to see his face no more, I said, on taking leave, "I wish you, my dear brother, an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ!" At this he hesitated; not as doubting his entrance into the kingdom, but as questioning whether the term abundant were applicable to him. "That," said he, "is more than I expect. I think, I understand the connexion and import of those words, — Add to your faith virtue — Give diligence to make your calling and election sure — for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you ABUNDANTLY. — I think the idea, is that of a ship coming into harbour, with a fair gale, and a full tide. — If I may
* If Mr. Sutcliff published any other Sermons, or any thing else, besides his Catechism and the Introductory Discourse at the ordination of Mr. Mason of Birmingham; it has escaped my recollection. He however wrote several of the circular letters of the Northamptonshire Association: namely, that of 1779, on Providence; of 1786, On the Authority and Sanctification of the Lord's day; of 1797, On the Divinity of the Christian Religion; of 1800, On the Qualifications for Church Fellowship; of 1803, On the Lord's Supper; of 1805, On the Manner of Attending to Divine Ordinances; of 1808, On Moral and Positive Obedience; and 1813, On Reading the word of God.
but reach the heavenly shore, though it be on a board or broken piece of a ship, I shall be satisfied."
The following letter received from his brother, Mr. Daniel Sutcliff, who was with him the last month, will furnish a more particular account of the state of his mind, than I am able to give from my own knowledge.
"From the commencement of his illness, I found, by his letters,* that his mind was in general calm and peaceful. All, (said he,) is in the hands of a wise and gracious God. We are the Lord's servants, and he has a right to dispose of us, as he pleases, and to lay us aside at any time. Nearly a month before his end, I went to see him — to see the chamber where the good man dies.
"His mind was generally calm and happy; though as to strong consolation, he said he had it not. When something was mentioned of what he had done in promoting the cause of Christ, he replied with emotion, 'I look upon it all as nothing: I must enter heaven, on the same footing as the converted thief, and shall be glad to take a seat by his side.'
"His evidences for heaven, he said, were a consciousness that he had come to Jesus; and that he felt an union of heart with him, his people, and his cause; and Jesus had said, Where I am there shall my friends be. The heaven that he hoped for, and which he had in no small degree anticipated, was, union and communion with Christ, and his people. He said, 'The idea of being for ever separated from him appears to me more dreadful than being plunged into non-existence, or than the greatest possible torture.'
"He often intimated, that his views of divine things were far more vivid and impressive than they had ever been before. He had a greater sense of the depravity of the human heart, and of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, as consisting in disaffection to the character and government of God, than at any former period of his life. He had, he said, an inexpressibly greater sense of the importance of ministers having correct views of the import of the gospel message, and of their stating and urging the same on their hearers, than he had ever had before. He was ready to think, if he could communicate his present views and feelings, they must produce a much greater effect, than his preaching had ordinarily done. 'If I were able to preach again, (said he,) I should say things which I never said before, but God has no need of me: be can raise up men, to say them better than I could say them.' He would sometimes say, 'Ministers will never do much good till they begin to pull sinners out of the fire.'
"To Mrs. S. he said, "My love, I commit you to Jesus. I can trust you with him. Our separation will not be long, and I think I shall often be with you. Read frequently the book of Psalms, and be much in prayer. I am sorry I have not spent more time in prayer.' At another time, he said, 'I wish' I had conversed more with the divine promises: I believe I should have found the advantage of it now: Others of his expressions were, 'Flesh and heart fail — all the powers of body and mind are going to pieces — shortly the prison of my clay, must be dissolved and fall. Why is his chariot so long a coming? I go to Jesus: let me go — depart in peace — I have seen thy salvation.'
* They had been used to correspond in short hand.
"A day or two before he died, he said, 'If any thing be said of me, let the last word be, As I have loved you, See that ye love one another."
"On the 22d of June, about 5 in the afternoon, an alteration took place: he began to throw up blood. On perceiving this, he said, ' It is all over: this cannot be borne long.' Mr. Welsh of Newbury, being present, said, 'you are prepared for the issue.' He replied, 'I think I am: go and pray for me.' About half an hour before his departure, he said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit — It is come — perhaps a few minutes more — heart and flesh fail — but God — That God is the strength of his people, is a truth that I now see, as I never saw it in my life.' These were the last words he could be heard to speak."
"Life, take thy chance; but O for such a death!"
Mr. Daniel Sutcliff adds the following lines, as having been frequently repeated in his illness:We walk a narrow path, and rough,In saying a few things, relative to his character, talents, temper, &c. I would not knowingly deviate, in the smallest degree, from truth. He possessed the three cardinal virtues, integrity, benevolence, and prudence, in no ordinary degree. To state this is proof sufficient to every one who knew him. He was economical, for the sake of enabling himself to give to them that needed. The cause of God lay near his heart. He denied himself of many things, that he might contribute toward promoting it. It was from a willingness to instruct his younger brethren, whose minds were towards the Mission, that at the request of the Society, he took several of them under his care: and in all that he has done for them, and others, I am persuaded he saved nothing; but gave his his time and talents for the public good.
And we are tired and weak;
But soon we shall have rest enough,
In those bright courts we seek.
Soon in the chariot of a cloud,
By flaming angels borne,
I shall mount up the milky way,
And back to God return.
My soul has tasted Canaan's grapes,
And now I long to go,
Where my dear Lord his vineyard keeps,
And where the clusters grow!"
I have heard him sigh under troubles; but never remember to have seen him weep, but for joy, or for sympathy. On his reading or hearing die communications from the East, containing accounts of the success of the Gospel, the tears would flow freely from his eyes.
His talents were less splendid than useful. He had not much brilliancy of imagination, but considerable strength of mind, with a judgment greatly improved by application. It was once remarked of him in my hearing, by a person who had known him from his youth, to this effect. — 'That man is an example of what may be accomplished by diligence and perseverance. When young, be was no more than the rest of us; but by reading and thinking, he
has accumulated a stock of mental riches, which few of us possess. He would not very frequently surprise us with new or original thoughts; but neither would he shock us with any thing devious from truth or good sense. Good Mr. Hall, of Arnsby, having heard him soon after his coming to Olney, said familiarly to me, 'Brother S. is a safe man: you never need fear that he will say or do an improper thing.'
He particularly excelled in practical judgment. When a question of this nature came before him, he would take a comprehensive view of its bearings, and form his opinion with so much precision as seldom to have occasion to change it. His thoughts on these occasions were prompt, but he was slow in uttering them. He generally took time to turn the subject over, and to digest his answer. If he saw others too hasty for coming to a decision, he would pleasantly say, 'Let us consult the town-clerk of Ephesus, and do nothing rashly.' I have thought many years, that amongst our ministers, Abraham Booth was the first Counsellor, and John Sutcliff the second. His advice in conducting the Mission was of great importance, and the loss of it must be seriously felt.
It has been said that his temper was naturally irritable, and that he with difficulty bore opposition: yet that such was the over-bearing influence of religion in his heart, that few were aware of it. If it were so, he must have furnished a rare example of the truth of the wise man's remark, "Better is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city," Whatever might have been his natural temper, it is certain that mildness, and patience and gentleness were prominent features in his character. One of the Students who was with him, said, he never saw him lose his temper but once, and then he immediately retired into his study. It was observed by one of his brethren in the ministry, at an association, that the promise of Christ, that they who learned of him who was meek and lowly in heart, should find rest in their souls, was made extensively fulfilled in Mr. S. than in most Christians. He was "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." Thus it was that he exemplified the exhortation of the apostle, giving no offence that the ministry be not blamed.
There was a gentleness in his reproofs, that distinguished them. He would rather put the question for consideration, than make a direct attack upon a principle or practice. I have heard him repeat Mr. Henry's note on Prov. xxv. 15. with approbation — "We say, Hard words, break no bones, but it seems that soft ones do." A flint may be broken on a cushion, when no impression could be made on it upon an unyielding substance. A young man, who came to be under his care, discovering a considerable portion of self-sufficiency, he gave him a book to read on self-knowledge.
He is said never to have hastily formed his friendships and acquaintances, and therefore rarely had reason to repent of his connexions; while every year's continued intimacy drew them nearer to him; so that he seldom lost his friends — but his friends have lost him!'
He had a great thirst for reading, which not only led him to accumulate one of the best libraries in this part of the country, * but to endeavour to draw his people into a habit of reading.
Allowing for a partiality common to men, his judgment of characters was generally correct. Nor was it less candid than correct: he appreciated the good, and if required to speak of the evil, it was with reluctance. His eye was a faithful index to his mind; penetrating, but benignant. His character had much of the decisive, without any thing conceited or over-bearing.
In his person, he was above the ordinary stature, being nearly six feet high. In the earlier stages of life he was thin; but during the last 20 years he gathered flesh, though never so much as to feel it any inconvenience to him. His countenance was grave, but cheerful; and his company always interesting.
But I shall conclude with a few extracts of letters concerning him, which I have received since his decease, from those who knew him intimately.
"His zeal for the cause of Christ, (says one of his congregation,) was uniform, and increasingly ardent, to the end of his life. One of the last conversations that he had with me, he concluded in these words — 'Farewell! Do your utmost for the cause of Christ. I have done a little, and I am ashamed that I have done no more. I have such views of its importance, that had I ability I would spread the gospel through the world.' His knowledge of books was very extensive: he appeared to have a facility in extracting the substance of them in a short time, as a bee extracts the honey from the expanded flower. He possessed an equal facility in knowing men, more especially ministers, and that not confined to his own denomination. So that in a few minutes he could give you an account who they were, what places they had occupied, and what was their general reputation. From this he was many times able to give seasonable advice.
"I believe (says a minister, who had been one of his pupils) I was the first young man placed under the care of our dear deceased father S. From my first acquaintance with divine things, on seeing aud hearing him occasionally in my native village, I formed a very high opinion of the general excellence of his character; and the intimate knowledge I had of him, from residing in his family, so far from diminishing my esteem and veneration for him, greatly increased them. His piety was not merely official and public, but personal and habitual. The spirit of devotion rested on him. He was the man of God in all his intercourse. He conducted the worship of his family with singular seriousness, ardour, and constancy; never allowing liny thing to interfere with it, except great indisposition. He manifested a parental tenderness
* This library is left by his Will to the Bradford Baptist Academy, only on condition of the trustees paying 100L. to his relations; a sum far short of its value.
and solicitude for the welfare of his pupils, and took a lively interest in their joys or sorrows. I have seen him shed the sympathizing tear over them, in the hour of affliction. Such was the kindness and gentleness of his deportment, that they could freely impart their minds to him; but while his affectionate spirit invited their confidence, the gravity of his manner, and the commanding influence of his general character, effectually prevented any improper freedom being taken with him. Such too were the sentiments with which he was regarded among his people: they loved and venerated him. He heard the sermons of his younger brethren with great candour, and if he saw them timid and embarrassed, on public occasions, he would take an opportunity of speaking a kind and encouraging word to them, and aim to inspire them with a proper degree of confidence. He was singularly regular and punctual in fulfilling his engagements, whether in preaching or visiting, not only in attending, but in being there at the time; and earnestly inculcated it on his pupils, if they wished to command respect. He endeavoured to preserve and promote the order and regularity of christian families where he visited. I never saw him out of temper but once, and that was produced by want of punctuality in another person. I often regret that I did not profit more by his instructions and example. He has many times, by his judicious counsel, been the 'guide of my youth.' His name and his memory will ever be dear to me. 'My father, my father!'
"I have just heard (says another, who had, some years since, been his pupil) of the death of Mr. S. It has returned upon me whether alone or in company. Such an event may well do so. In him I saw bright lines of resemblance to our Lord and Master, such as are seldom to be met with in poor mortals. Such amiableness of manners, so much of the meekness and gentleness of Christ, of sound judgment, and warm affection, we rarely see united. While memory holds her place, his name and manner will be cherished by me with pleasing melancholy, not without anticipations of meeting him in another and better world."
"The memory of Mr. S. (says another, who had been his pupil, and who was present at his death) will live in my warmest affections, while I possess the powers of recollection. It seems impossible that I should ever forget such a friend, or speak of him without blessing God that I ever knew him. I am grieved that he is gone, yet grateful that he was continued with us long enough for me to receive his instructions, and to witness his example. You have heard some of his dying sentiments. As his address to me may be considered as his dying advice to the young men, who were under his tuition, I communicate it, leaving it to your discretion what use to make of it. About 3 in the morning of the day on which he died, like Israel, he strengthened himself, and sat up on his bed. Calling me to him, he, in the most affectionate manner, took hold of my hand, and expressed himself as follows — "Preach as you will wish
you had when you come to die. It is one thing to preach, and another to do it as a dying man. I am glad you are settled where you are. I think you may say, dwell among my own people. I am glad we ever knew one another. Spiritual unions are sweet. I have fled to Jesus: to his cross I am united. The Lord bless you, and make you a blessing."
A Review of the Funeral Sermon.
[From The Baptist Magazine, February, 1815, pp. 45-53. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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