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Memoir And Diary Of John Yeardley Minister Of The Gospel by John Yeardley



During his stay in London, John Yeardley attended the Yearly Meeting, and the Annual Meetings of the School, Anti-slavery, and other Societies, with which he was much gratified. Soon after the termination of the Yearly Meeting, he went into Yorkshire to see his mother.

6 mo. 13. -- I left London in the mail for Sheffield, and on the 14th slept at my dear brother Thomas's at Ecclesfield, who took me on the 15th, to Barnsley. I was truly thankful to be favored to see my precious mother once more. On the 19th, I attended the Monthly Meeting at Highflatts. It is not easy to describe the various thoughts which rushed into my mind on seeing so many Friends whom I had known and loved in former days. The meeting was a much-favored time, although we felt the want of some of the fathers and mothers who are removed.

In the next entry there is an allusion to the disastrous commercial panic by which this year was distinguished.

7 mo. 24. -- Have been very low and deserted in mind for a long time past. It is a time for the trial of my patience, and yet I have many favors for which I ought to be truly thankful. It is a precious privilege to be relieved from the commercial difficulties which at present abound in the trading world. May it be my lot ever to keep so, if consistent with the divine will.

8 mo. 21. -- Monthly Meeting at Wooldale. The meeting was exceedingly crowded with strangers; there was not room in the house to hold all who came. I had been very low all the morning, and to see such a number of people at the meeting sunk me low indeed. I was enabled to turn inward to Him from whom help alone comes; and blessed be his holy Name, he did not forsake me in the needful time, but was pleased once more to give strength and utterance to communicate what came before me. My certificates from Germany and Congenies were read and accepted, and many Friends expressed much unity and sympathy with me on my return to them, which was a comfort and strength to me.

On the 1st of the Ninth Month, he again went to London. During his stay in the city, he took the opportunity of visiting the Industrial Schools at Lindfield, founded by William Allen; a kind of institution which always engaged his warmest sympathy and approbation.

With the new turn which was given to the course of his life by his betrothal to Martha Savory, it is not surprising that he should have considered his residence abroad to be brought, in the order of Divine Providence, to a natural termination, and that he now turned his attention to taking up his abode again in his native land. In selecting a place of residence, he seems to have had no hesitation in making choice of the neighborhood of Barnsley; the spot, as the reader may remember, which seemed to him, when he was obliged to remove to Bentham, as that which had the first claim upon his gospel services. The state of his mind, whilst preparing his intended residence at Burton, the same village where he used to attend meeting in his early days, may be seen by the following memorandum: --

9 mo.26. At York. -- It was a large Quarterly Meeting. Living ministry flowed freely, and I thought even poor me was a little refreshed: but I have been for a long time in a deplorable state, in a spiritual sense.

Since the Quarterly Meeting, my time and thoughts have been much occupied in fitting up our intended residence at the cottage at Burton; and I may truly say, I have been cumbered about |many things,| which, I think, has kept my mind in a poor, barren state. O the many weeks that I have had to sit with my mouth in the dust to bemoan my own inward misery! My conflict of mind has been increased by the trying state of my precious mother's health. My attendance on her in this poorly state, and at this season of the year, when I lost my poor dearest Bessie, reminded me strongly of my dear departed lamb.

Before his marriage with Martha Savory was accomplished, he was called upon to attend the deathbed of his mother, and to follow the remains of his father to the grave.

11 mo.16. -- On the 3rd I left the cottage, and took my luggage to go from Barnsley by the coach to London. Stepped down to take leave of my dear mother, but found her so weak that I could not at all think of leaving her; and was indeed glad that I did not go, for the dear creature continued to grow weaker and weaker till a quarter past three o'clock on Seventh-day morning, 4th of Eleventh Month, when she peacefully breathed her last. She was fully sensible to the close, and also fully sensible that her end was near.

Her precious remains were interred at Burton on the 7th, after a meeting appointed for the occasion at Barnsley. In her room, before we left Redbrook [where she had resided], I was enabled to petition the throne of mercy for a little help and strength through the remainder of the solemn scene, which, I think, was in a remarkable manner granted. After having paid the last tribute of affection and duty to our endeared parent, fourteen of our dear friends and relations dined with me at the cottage. It is remarkable that the opening of our residence should be in this awful manner; but we were much comforted in feeling in the midst of all our sorrow, the greatest degree of peace and quietude on the solemn occasion.

On Fourth-day, being the day after we had taken leave of our precious mother's remains, I went with my brother and sister to see our poor dear father, who had been ill in bed about two weeks. We arrived about seven o'clock; but, to our great surprise, about an hour before we reached the place, our beloved father had fallen asleep, never to wake more in this world. This was indeed awful, but the Judge of the earth must do right. We attended the interment on First-day, the 12th. The meeting-house at Woodhouse was pretty full, and a good and tendering meeting it was. It felt hard work to labor among a number of worldly-minded people; but I have learned to consider it one of the greatest of privileges to be appointed to service, even though attended with suffering. Since this time my poor mind has felt more tender and more susceptible of good. O that it may continue, and that I may remain humble and watchful for the time to come, and live prepared for that awful change which I. know not how soon may be sent to my dwelling! -- (11 mo.16.)

On the 18th he pursued his journey to London, and on the 21st, at Gracechurch-street Monthly Meeting, he presented his intention of marriage with Martha Savory. |In a private interview at Elizabeth Dudley's,| he writes, |Richard Barrett and E. Dudley expressed their full unity with our intended union, in terms of much interest and encouragement.| On the 13th of the Twelfth Month the marriage took place at Gracechurch-street Meeting-house.

The time in silence, says the Diary, was very solemn, and acceptable testimonies were borne by William Allen and Elisabeth Dudley. After meeting we adjourned to the Library to take leave, where a stream of encouragement flowed to us from several of our dear friends, which felt truly strengthening. About twenty of our friends and relations dined at A.B. Savory's at Stoke Newington. The day was spent, I trust, profitably, and on parting, about seven o'clock, we had a comfortable time, and something was expressed by my M. and self, and dear W. Allen. After taking a very affectionate leave, we posted on to Barnet. My brother Thomas and J.A. Wilson took us up the next morning; and we four came down in the coach to Sheffield, and [the nest day] to Ecclesfield to dinner, and arrived at our humble cottage the 15th of the Twelfth Month, I trust with thankful hearts.

* * * * *

It is appropriate to give in this place some account of Martha Savory's character and Christian experience. That our notice is brief and incomplete, is owing to the loss of most of her own memoranda, and of the letters she addressed to those with whom she was on intimate terms. She possessed, it will be seen, an intellectual character and disposition, as well as an experience, very different from those of her husband. It does not follow, however, that this dissimilarity was a hindrance to their joint service in the gospel, any more than to their social harmony and love. It may be, on the contrary, that Martha Savory's quickness of understanding and of feeling, the readiness with which she apprehended the sentiments and condition of others, her conversancy with the allurements of city life, and the perils of unbelief from which she had been rescued, fitted her in a peculiar degree to be her husband's helper in the ministry, especially in their travels on the Continent.

She was born in London in 1781, and was the daughter of Joseph and Anna Savory. To an active and vigorous understanding she united a strength of will which would brook little control, together with much energy and fearlessness; and the propensity to follow the vain inclinations of the unregenerate heart displayed itself in an indulgence in much that was inimical to the restraints of Christian principle. Her disposition was generous; all her emotions were ardent, and were seldom subjected to the discipline of a corrected judgment. There were, however, various occasions, even in her very early years, when, through the visitations of heavenly love, her mind was forcibly aroused to a conviction of the need of redeeming grace. She was particularly impressed by the preaching and influence of William Savery, whose home in London was at her father's house. In some memoranda of this period, she remarks, |Frequently in the meetings appointed by him, I was greatly wrought upon by his living ministry;| and notwithstanding that she subsequently wandered far from the way of peace, there is good ground to believe that the remembrance of those truths which had penetrated her heart through the instrumentality of this gospel messenger, was never altogether effaced.

Being naturally endowed with a lively imagination and a taste for literature, she sought to suppress the upbraidings of conscience in intellectual pursuits, and employed much time in the composition of verses that were merely a transcript of visionary and romantic ideas, afterwards published under the title of |Poetical Tales.| This volume obtained but a limited circulation; for, soon after it had issued from the press, the conviction that it had been an unhallowed and unprofitable exercise of her understanding was so impressed upon her spirit, that, although the sacrifice was considerable, she caused all the unsold copies to be destroyed. It is interesting to observe how, in later years, this talent for metrical rhythm, which had been so misapplied, became consecrated, as were all her faculties, to the promotion of piety and virtue.

During the long period in which her mental energies were thus misdirected, a cloud of darkness enveloped her spirit. She had, when about nineteen years of age, imbibed sceptical views in reference to the truths of revealed religion; and as she seldom read the Holy Scriptures, and was almost a stranger to their sacred contents, her imagination pictured an easier way to escape from the power and the consequences of sin than in that self-renunciation which the Gospel enjoins. In some memoranda of her experience, she says, in reference to the snares by which her mind was entangled: -- |I was led to a love of metaphysical studies, and fancied I discovered, with clearness, that human vice, and consequently human misery, sprang from ignorance of the nature of virtue, and that if mankind would become instructed they would become good; and that it was only necessary to behold virtue in its native beauty, to love it and to practise it. O how fallacious was this reasoning! 'The world by wisdom knows not God; the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.'|

At length, however, when, in 1811, Martha Savory had completed the thirtieth year of her life, she became deeply impressed by the conviction that she was wandering on the barren mountains of doubt and error; and through the renewed visitation of divine love, the light of the Sun of righteousness again shined into her heart, and its humbling influence brake the rock in pieces. Some circumstances occurred that were instrumental in promoting this great change. She was introduced into frequent communication with some honored servants of the Lord, particularly with the late Mary Dudley, and her daughter Elizabeth. An attack of indisposition prostrated her bodily strength, and afforded opportunity for serious reflection. Whilst from this cause confined to her chamber, a young person (Susanna Corder), with whom she was only very slightly acquainted, but to whom she was ever afterwards united in an intimate and confidential friendship, was attracted to visit her. The interview was a memorable one; the overshadowing wing of goodness and mercy being permitted to gather their spirits under its blessed influence. On her recovery from this illness, Martha Savory paid a short visit to her new friend, which afforded an opportunity for the manifestation of continued deep Christian interest; and, on her quitting the house, Susanna Corder put into her hand a copy of the |Olney Hymns.| When she had proceeded a few steps towards home, she opened the book, and without noticing even the title, instantly cast her eyes on the lines, |The rebel's surrender to grace,| commencing --

|Lord, Thou hast won; at length I yield;
My heart, by mighty grace compelled,
Surrenders all to Thee;
Against thy terrors long I strove,
But who can stand against thy love?
Love conquers even me.|

She was deeply affected by the remarkable application of the whole of the hymn to the experience which she was then passing through; she could not refrain from weeping, and to avoid the observation of passersby, she walked through secluded streets, giving vent to her emotion; and she afterwards repeatedly expressed her belief that there was, in this apparently casual incident, a divine interposition and guidance; |for,| said she, |every word of that hymn appeared as if purposely written to describe my case, so that I could scarcely read it from the many tears I shed over it. It is no exaggerated picture.|

She now spent much time alone, almost constantly reading the Bible; and so precious was the influence that operated on her spirit, whilst thus employed, and so wonderfully were the blessed truths of the gospel unfolded to her understanding, that, as she expressed it, |every page of it seemed, as it were, illuminated.| Sustained by the joy and peace of believing, she was enabled to follow in faith the leadings of the Holy Spirit, and, through divine strength, to become as a whole burnt sacrifice on the altar of that gracious Redeemer, who had, in his rich mercy, plucked her from the pit of destruction. Having had much forgiven, she loved much, and shrunk not from the many and deep humiliations which were involved in such a course of dedication to her Lord. Even her external appearance strikingly bespoke her altered character. There had always been in her countenance an expression of benevolence, but it had not indicated a gentle or diffident mind. In her demeanor and personal attire, she had conspicuously followed the vain fashions of the times; but now, humility, with a modest and retiring manner, marked her conduct; everything merely ornamental was discarded, and the softening, effect of a sanctifying principle imparted to the features of her face a sweetness which, impressing the beholder with a consciousness of the regenerating power that wrought within, was, to more than a few of her acquaintance, both arousing and instructive. She changed her residence from Finsbury to the borough of Southwark, and settled near her friend Susanna Corder, with whom she united in the formation of a philanthropic association, |The Southwark Female Society for the relief of sickness and extreme want.| The late Mary Sterry, and several other estimable members of Southwark meeting, together with benevolent individuals among the different religious denominations of the district, soon joined them, and the society became a highly influential channel through which assistance has been variously rendered to many thousands of the indigent poor; and it still continues, though with a reduced scale of operations, to be an important source of help to the sick and destitute.

Martha Savory devoted to this work of mercy much time and personal exertion; but a more important service was also designed for her. She felt constrained to give evidence of her love to Christ by a public testimony to the grace which had been vouchsafed to her through Him who is |the way, the truth, and the life.| Deep were the conflicts of spirit which she endured ere she could yield to this solemn requirement, but |sweet peace| was, she says, as she records the sacrifice, the result of thus acknowledging her gracious Lord. |This step,| she continues, |appears to me to involve the greatest of all possible mental reduction, but I reverently believe it was necessary for me, and mote, perhaps on my own account than on account of others; for, without this bond, and the necessary baptisms attending this vocation, I should have been in danger of turning back, and perhaps altogether losing the little spiritual life which has been mercifully raised.| She adds a fervent petition for preservation and guidance, and that, by whatever means, however suffering to nature, the vessel might be purified, and fitted for the Master's use. She first spoke as a minister in the year 1814. The humiliation and brokenness of spirit which marked these weighty engagements, were felt by many, especially among her youthful friends, to be peculiarly impressive, as tokens of the soul-cleansing operations of omnipotent love, and as an awakening call to yield to the same regenerating influence.

She was acknowledged as a minister by Southwark Monthly Meeting, in the year 1818, when she had reached the age of 36; and in 1821, with the cordial approval of the meetings of which she was a member, she commenced that course of missionary labor in the gospel, to which she was subsequently so much devoted. Her mission, on this occasion, was to Congenics, where, and in the surrounding villages, she remained twelve months.

A letter to one of her sisters, written a few years after her marriage, so fully represents her religious sentiments, and the doctrine she was concerned to preach and maintain, that it may not improperly conclude this outline of her mental and religious character.

Burton, 13th of Twelfth Month, 1830.

I read thy remarks, my endeared sister, on the present state of things amongst us, with much interest, from having had corresponding feelings frequently raised in my own mind in this day of general excitement on religious subjects.

It remains to be a solemn truth that nothing can draw to God but what proceeds from him; and whatever may be the eloquence or oratory of man, if it be not the gift of God, and under his holy anointing, which always has a tendency to humble the creature and exalt the Creator, it will in the end only scatter and deceive. It has long appeared to me that true vital religion is a very simple thing, although from our fallen state, requiring continual warfare with evil to keep it alive. It surely consists in communion, and at times a degree of union, with our Omnipotent Creator, through the mediation of our Holy Redeemer. And seeing these feelings cannot be produced by eloquent discourses or beautiful illustrations of Scripture, but by deep humiliation and frequent baptisms of spirit, whereby the heart is purified and fitted to receive a greater degree of divine influence; seeing it is produced by daily prayer, by giving up our own will, and seeking above all things to do the will of our Heavenly Father, surely there is cause to hope that those who are convinced of this, and who have tasted of spiritual communion through this appointed means, will never be satisfied with anything however enticing which, if not under the influence of the Holy Spirit, may well be compared to |sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.|

I am far from confining this influence to the ministers of our little Society, but assuredly believe that those who are brought under the immediate teachings of the Spirit, under every profession, will be more and more convinced that they cannot preach to profit the people, in their own will and at their own command; and that as true and spiritual religion prevails they must in this respect come to us, and not we go to them. Yet still it is certainly a day of much excitement, and of danger especially to the young and unawakened, and there never was a time when the members of our Society were more loudly called upon to watch unto prayer both on their own account and on account of others, humbly to implore, not only that the Holy Spirit may not be taken from us, but that a greater effusion of it may be poured upon us as a body, that so we may all be made and kept alive in Him in whom is life, and the life is the light of men. I believe this would be much more our experience, if the things of this world were kept in subjection by fervent daily prayer and the obedience of faith, which remain to be the means pointed out by our gracious Redeemer, of communion with the Father through Him. What can be more pure than the profession we make to be guided by the Holy Spirit? and if we really are so, we shall be concerned to maintain this daily exercise of heart before the Lord, and yet become what I reverently believe is his gracious will respecting us, and all under every name who are thus guided and have become living members of the Church of Christ, even that we should be as lights in the world, or a city set upon a hill which cannot be hid.

* * * * *

The dwelling which John and Martha Yeardley occupied was on the highest ground in the village, commanding a wide and cheerful prospect, and overlooking, on the western side, the valley of the Dearn and the conspicuous town of Barnsley, which, notwithstanding the smoke that envelopes it, stands out in fine relief on the opposite hill. Their cottage adjoined the Friends' burial-ground; and just on the other side of the wall reposed the remains of Frances Yeardley, on the site formerly occupied by the meeting-house.

The house, says Martha Yeardley in a letter to her sister R. S., is warm and comfortable, though at best what Londoners would esteem a poor place. We feel quite satisfied with it; and when we get our garden in order, and a cow and a few chickens, it will be equal to anything that I desire in this world. To-day the snow has disappeared, and John is very busy with his garden. -- (1 mo. I, 1827.)

John and Martha Yeardley did not remain long idle in their new position. In the First Month, 1827, they received a |minute| for visiting the meetings in their Monthly Meeting; and in the Second Month they commenced a tour amongst the meetings in some other parts of Yorkshire. These duties occupied them until the 19th of the Fourth Month. We may extract from the Diary recording the former of these engagements, a brief note of their visit to Ackworth School.

1 mo.20. -- Lodged at J. Harrison's. On First and Second-day evenings had some time of religious service with the young people at the school, and felt much united in spirit to this interesting family. On Fourth-day, Robert Whitaker accompanied us to Pontefract, and we were comforted in his company, for we felt poor and weak -- much like children needing fatherly care.

Among John Yeardley's notes made during the more general visit, we meet with a memorandum which may be taken to mark a stage or era in his Christian experience. The daily record of religious exercise and feeling which is so useful to many in the hidden season of tender growth and preparation for future service, is less likely to be maintained -- and, it may be, less necessary -- in the meridian of life, when the time and strength are taken up with active labor.

3 mo. -- I could write much as to the state of my mind, but have of late thought it safer not to record all the inward dispensations which I have to pass through. I feel strong desires to be wholly given up to serve my great Lord and Master, and that I may above all things become qualified for his service; but the baptisms through which I have to pass are many, and exceedingly trying to the natural part. Nothing will do but to rely wholly on the Divine Arm of Power for support in pure naked faith.

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