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MEMOIR OF MR. JOHN SLATER,
OF SHOTTLE, IN THE BELPER CIRCUIT:
BY THE REV. JOHN SHIPMAN.
MR. SLATER was the son of parents whom God had greatly blessed, and who were held in high esteem by all who knew them, especially by the Wesleyan section of the Christian church, to which they were united. Towards his parents he always cherished the most affectionate and respectful feelings; and after the removal of his venerable father, he was wont to speak in very strong (though not too strong) terms of his character, and of his labours and sufferings, in the cause of early Methodism in the neighbourhood in which he dwelt. The late Rev. Joseph Taylor, sen., thus spoke of him : “Mr. Thomas Slater, of Shottle, was a Local Preacher upwards of fifty years. He preaehed the first Gospel sermon I ever heard. He visited Duffield, the place of my nativity, about the year 1770; and met with the treatment which was to be expected in those days from an ungodly multitude. But he bore it with patience and fortitude. He came frequently, and, whenever the weather would permit, preached in the open air. He then procured a small dwelling-house, in which he might preach during the winter season. He formed into a small society those of us on whose minds religious impressions had been made, becoming the Leader of it himself; and though he had to walk three miles for the purpose of conducting the weekly service, and then to return, I never knew him hindered by any kind of weather. But Duffield was not the only place in which he was enabled to introduce Methodism. His love for souls, and desire to be the instrument of saving them from perishing, stirred him up to visit all parts of the surrounding country to which he could obtain access. Ile was the means of beginning the good work of God in more places than any man I ever knew. His constitution was remarkably strong and good. Some years before I commenced my itinerant labours, I, and a few other young men, used to go with him from village to village, where he preached the Gospel of the kingdom, and we assisted in the singing. He preached some hundreds of sermons at my native place, and had
VOL. V.-FOURTH SERIES.
always something to say that was interesting to his hearers; and many persons, during those seasons, were awakened and converted.” Mr. Taylor was much attached to Mr. Slater, sen., and wrote an epitaph to be inscribed on his grave-stone, which, though not very remarkable for poetical talent, accurately delineated the character of a truly devoted and useful Christian.
Mr. Slater, jun., was also a man of great integrity, and of considerable intellectual power. His education had been limited; but he sought to supply this deficiency, as far as he was able, by diligent and persevering application. He was also a close student of nature, and, when drawn out in conversation, many have been astonished at the clearness and extent of his physiological knowledge. A stranger to Mr. Slater, observing him to be a plain farmer, attired in the usual habiliments of his vocation, and a man whose dwelling was one of the humbler class of thatched farm-houses, would scarcely expect to hear from him lengthened observations on comparative anatomy, nor to find him able to trace diseases to their causes, and to point out the method of cure, especially in relation to cattle. This, of course, was not his profession; but great respect was paid to his judgment even by professional men.
He would sometimes say that he almost regretted that his father had not placed him as an apprentice with some eminent surgeon. This feature in his character is mentioned chiefly for the sake of the lesson which it teaches. If, in the earlier days of Mr. Slater, industry and perseverance secured so much improvement, when the means of obtaining knowledge were comparatively not only few, but of such an inferior order, what may not be accomplished at the present day by similar attention and care ? Mr. Slater resolved to obtain as much knowledge as might be within his reach, and, with this object kept steadily before him, he wasted no time, lost no opportunity, and thus became successful to a higher degree than he had perhaps himself anticipated. To the young, his conduct in this respect presents an example worthy of imitation.
No particular branch of knowledge is designed to be indicated. Inclination and circumstances in such cases must generally decide this. But it would be well for both the church and the world, if persons in a situation in life like that in which Mr. Slater moved, would allow their minds to be impressed with the declaration of holy writ, that “for the soul to be without knowledge is not good,” and would resolutely engage in the task of acquiring it.
While young, he frequently accompanied his father on his Sabbath excursions, which sometimes extended even to the more remote villages in the Peak, (of Derbyshire,) and also to many places in the adjacent counties. These journeys were usually performed on foot; and, when it is observed that the distance they travelled was often not less than twenty miles, and that they returned home the same night, it will be readily allowed that they had to go to their rest fatigued in, though not tired of, the good work of the Lord. Mr. Slater has often said, that while standing by his father, when he was preaching in the open air, though they were occasionally pelted with stones, as well as with more offensive but less dangerous missiles, he never knew his father hit by one of the former. At one time, a bold ruffian threw a large stone at the Preacher's head : it missed him, however, and struck one of the man's companions, injuring him so far that he was obliged to leave the place; and being followed by his friends, the service went on quietly, and was concluded in peace.
But while Mr. Slater thus respected religion, it was for some time more for his father's sake, than from any higher principle. His inquiring and active mind suggested doubts on the subject; and for a few years he was much bewildered by them. He wanted to bring the Bible to the bar of human reason, and did not understand the right way of doing this. Instead of rationally investigating the evidences of revelation, and, when convinced of its truth, submitting to its authority, he passed over this essential preliminary, and began at once with some of the more mysterious doctrines of Scripture. He did not go so far as to deny the blessed book of God ; but he was much harassed by sceptical doubts in relation to it. During the affliction of which his first wife died, however, when he was about thirty years of age, these doubts began to be shaken ; and at length they were entirely removed. He saw what religion could do for persons in the near prospect of death, and was convinced that it could not be, that it was not, a cunningly-devised fable. His heart was also softened by sorrow; and when he admitted the truth into his mind, the good Spirit of God applied it to his conscience, and brought him to think seriously and feel deeply concerning his soul's salvation. But another subjeet now perplexed him, and for some months stood as a barrier in his way. He had imbibed some views concerning necessity, not uncommon among sceptical reasoners ; and they now became connected with what he had heard some Christians term “the divine decrees.” He reasoned on
He reasoned on “election" and " reprobation," instead of looking directly to Christ, till he found that this would not do. He earnestly prayed that his mind might be brought into a better state; and sitting down to read the word of God, where he was persuaded the truth was to be found, the first passage on which he opened was John iii. 16, where God's gift of his Son for the salvation of all that believe in him, is declared to flow from his love to the world, his benevolence and pity for mankind. He always believed that this was a providential occurrence. He felt that he lacked wisdom, and he asked it of God; and that he might find it, he was about to search the holy Scriptures, which are able to make men wise unto salvation. The place which thus presented itself to him, apparently only casually, seemed exactly suited to his condition. It enlightened him on the very points where he had only met with darkness and difficulty. He felt that he might indeed come to “the living God,” because “He is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” The boundless mercy of God in Christ encouraged him. He saw and felt himself to be a sinner,-a sinner guilty and helpless; but in Christ he saw a Saviour, who, by the grace of God, had tasted death for every man. He prayed, looking to Christ: he prayed expectingly. And who ever thus prayed without being heard and answered ? To some of his select friends he has often pointed to the spot where God first spoke peace to his troubled soul. It was in a wood, close to the farm which he occupied. One day, feeling more painfully than ever that he was “ fast tied and bound with the chain of his sins,” he retired to this secluded spot, and poured out his heart before God. He declared that the burden of his sins had become quite intolerable, and that in earnest prayer he wrestled for relief. With the patriarch, he said, in effect, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me ;” and there was given unto him, while “he wept, and made supplication,” the "strength" by which "he had power with God." The Spirit of faith was vouchsafed to him, the atoning blood was sprinkled on his conscience ; and then and there he was enabled to say,
“ Who did for every sinner die
Hath surely died for me." Union with those who had obtained like precious faith, he now felt to be both his duty and his privilege. On various accounts he thought it would be better for him to join a class not under the care of his father. He therefore went to Belper, as the only class at Shottle was that of which his father was the Leader. From this time he went on labouring to fulfil his Christian course. Visibly, there did not appear to be
any remarkable change in his conduct; for he had not previously been addicted to any vicious pursuits ; but all who were spiritually-minded saw plainly that he had become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Not only did he attend diligently to the performance of such duties as may be strictly termed religious, but the whole frame of his mind was religious, whatever might be the particular nature of the engagement. He had entered in by the strait gate, and from that hour he walked in the narrow way.
When he had been a member of the Methodist society about five years, he believed that it was his duty to become a Local Preacher ; and after the usual probation, he was accepted, and his name entered on the Circuit-Plan. In this capacity he laboured about thirty-five years, with zeal and considerable success. His talents as a Preacher were plain, his addresses were earnest and forcible, and he was always acceptable to the congregations in the numerous places which he was appointed to visit. Nor should the fact be omitted, that nowhere was he more so than among his own friends and neighbours worshipping in the chapel at Shottle, near his own residence. It may be added, also, that the Methodist Preachers visiting Shottle have been entertained, virtually, by the same family, first by Mr. Slater's father, then by himself, for the greater part of a century. Mr. Slater, sen., began to receive them in 1767; and when he died, his son took his place as the kind host of the servants of Christ, and continued to do 80 as long as he lived. It is not often, even in Methodism, that the Ministers are received by the same family, first the father, and after him the son, for the long period of very nearly eighty years. The late Mr. Slater had so often heard his father refer to some of the