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




Of the numerous letters which John and Martha Yeardley received from England during this long journey, very few have been preserved. We shall extract short passages from two which came to their hands not long before they left the Islands. The first is from John Rowntree, and is dated the 13th of the First Month, 1834.

On my own account, and on behalf of the Friends of our Monthly Meeting, I feel grateful for the information respecting your proceedings. There is some difficulty in satisfying the eager anxiety of my friends to know all that is to be known about your engagements, and I may truly say that the kind interest which you feel about us is reciprocal. Often do I picture you to myself, laboring in your Master's cause, receiving as fellow-partakers of the same grace all whose hearts have been touched with a sense of his love, who are hoping to experience salvation through Him alone.

Our reading meetings are pretty well attended this winter. We have been reading James Backhouse's journal: he was still engaged, when he sent the last account of his proceedings, in Van Diemen's Land. Like you, he and his companion rejoice at meeting with those to whom, although not exactly agreeing with us in some respects, they can give the right hand of fellowship as laborers under the same Master. Like you, too, they devote considerable attention to the improvement of schools, and the improvement of the temporal condition of the poorer classes among whom they labor.

In a letter from William Allen, written the 31st of the Third Month, occur the following words of encouragement: --

I have heard, through letters to your relations and others, that you have been much discouraged at not finding a more ready entrance for your gospel message; but really, considering the darkness; the sensuality, and the superstition of the people in those parts, we must not calculate upon much in the beginning. If here and there one or two are awakened and enlightened, they may be like seed sown, and in the Divine Hand become instruments for the gathering of others. Should you be made the means of accomplishing this, in only a very few instances, it will be worth all your trials and sufferings. And again, you must consider that, in the performance of your duty, seed may be sown even unknown by you, which may take root, and grow, and bring forth fruit to the praise of the Great Husbandman, though you may never hear of it. Be encouraged therefore, dear friends, to go on from day to day in simple reliance on your Divine Master, without undue anxiety for consequences; for depend upon it, when he has no more work for you to do, he will make you sensible of a release.

The passage to Ancona was tedious.

We embarked at noon, and had a long passage to Ancona of twelve days. We landed on the 29th, and soon found ourselves occupying an empty room in the Lazaretto, without even the accommodation of a shelf or closet. The term of quarantine is fourteen days, but four days are remitted by the Pope. The heat is oppressive, and the mosquitoes annoy us much, but we are preserved in a tolerable degree of health; and in taking a review of our visit to Greece and the Ionian Islands, we are still sensible of a very peaceful feeling, under a belief that we have followed the pointings of the Great Master, and a hope that the day is not far distant when the way will be more fully opened in those countries to receive the gospel. The preaching of John in the wilderness has often appeared to us to be applicable to this people, -- Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

7 mo. 6. -- We left Ancona, and took the route through Foligno and Arezzo to Florence. That part of the Pope's dominions through which we have passed is highly picturesque; hill and dale continually, and the whole country cultivated absolutely like a garden. Most of the towns are on the hills, and nothing can exceed the beauty of their situation. But as to vital religion, the spirit of those who desire the promotion of the Redeemer's kingdom, on the broad and sound basis of common Christianity, must be clothed with mourning in passing through this superstitious and illiberal country. What we have seen of Tuscany is not so fine, but the appearance of the peasants is much superior. The inns are much more agreeable than we found them on the road from Geneva to Ancona.

We arrived at Florence on the 10th. The persons to whom we had recommendations were absent, on account of the heat of the season, except the Abbot Valiani, a spiritually-minded man, who showed us great kindness. He has refused many advantageous offers of promotion, choosing to be content with a little, rather than to be hampered with fetters which I believe he thinks unscriptural, and not for the good of the Church; he is of the opinion that it would be better for the common people to have the Bible, and to be more acquainted with its contents. He conducted us to see the School for Mutual Instruction, founded under the patronage of the Grand Duke, about twelve years ago. The school-room is very large, airy, and well lighted; it was formerly a convent. The system of education differs a little from that practiced in England; but the children, about 240 in number, are apparently under an efficient course of instruction and discipline. The younger boys have a string put round the neck, which confines them to the place during the lesson, but I observed it did not confine their attention. We were much pleased with the countenance and manners of the director, the Abbot Luigi Brocciolini; his heart appears to be in his work, which is by no means easy.

We left Florence early on the 13th, and had four days' hard travelling to Genoa. From Sestri to Genoa, a day's journey, is by the sea, and under the mountains, some of them of a tremendous height, and beautifully covered with olives, vines, and figs: the houses hang quite on the sides of the mountains amidst the olives; I do not remember to have passed through any country equally picturesque.

We had packed as many books and tracts as we well could in our wardrobe trunks, which were not once opened at the different custom-houses, but the surplus tracts, &c., we were obliged to put into a spare box by themselves, and this box was not suffered to pass the frontier of Sardinia. The first officer was embarrassed, not knowing how to act, and sent a gendarme with us to the bureau of Sarzana, the next town. The officer there was remarkably civil, but told us the law is such that books cannot enter except on conditions to which we could not in our conscience submit. We therefore left them in the bureau, desiring that they might be made useful: a person in the office said, in a half-whisper, These are the books to turn the people's heads. We were glad this loss did not prevent us from distributing others out of our remaining store, at the inns, and pretty freely on the road.

Their object in returning by Genoa was to visit the valleys of Piedmont. They reached Turin on the 19th, and proceeded on the 22nd to Pignerol. From this place they visited most of the valleys, went into all the families where Stephen Grellet had been, and had frequent religious conversation with the pastors and some of the people.

We spent, says J.Y., five days amongst them. The old pastor Best died soon after the time that Stephen Grellet was there. We met his son, lately appointed chaplain to the Protestant congregation at Turin. He is a young man of talent, lively and intelligent, and desirous of being useful in his new sphere of action. He came to us often at our little inn, and made many inquiries as to the nature of our religious principles; our conversation mostly turned on the necessity of the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the exercise of Christian ministry. This he fully admitted, but was not prepared to dispense with the necessity of an academical preparation. I fear that sending the young men to Geneva for this purpose has not always had a salutary effect.

We thought it right to attend their worship on First-day morning at La Tour. The congregation consisted of about 900 clean and well-dressed peasants, many of whose countenances looked serious. The short discourse of Pastor Peyron was orthodox, and the application impressive and edifying. He afterwards dined and spent the afternoon with us at the widow Best's, with several branches of her interesting and pious family. I humbly trust this day was spent to mutual comfort.

They were disappointed to find that strangers were forbidden by law to hold public meetings, or preach in the assemblies of the Protestants; and although they met with many pious individuals, they thought the life of religion on the whole at a low ebb, and deplored the prevalence of the forms and ceremonies used by the Church, of England. The schools, too, they found to be in a very poor state; the masters deficient in education and badly paid, and the schools conducted without system. The ministers showed them great kindness, and on their quitting La Tour, Pastor Best encouraged them by the expression of satisfaction with their visit. They returned to Turin on the 28th.

Passing over Mont Cenis, they directed their course to Geneva, where they arrived on the 3rd of the Eighth Month, rejoiced to be once more on the English side of the Alps. On their outward journey their sojourn in this city had been short, but now they found it needful to make a longer visit, and were thankful in being permitted to mingle again in intimate communion with those who understood the language of the Spirit. They paid and received many visits, and held two religious meetings at their hotel, at the latter of which about fifty persons were present.

One of the most interesting occasions of which they speak was a Missionary Meeting, in which the minister Olivier unfolded his experience of a divine call to leave his country, and go abroad on the service of the gospel. The voice which he described as having been sounded in his spiritual ear, and the manner in which he received it, must have struck John Yeardley as singularly in accordance with the call to a similar service which he himself had heard so distinctly in his younger days, and which, like Olivier, he had for a long time hidden in his heart.

8 mo.4. -- In the evening I attended the Missionary Meeting in the Chapel de l'Oratoire. Pastor Merle [d'Aubigne] opened the meeting by a short prayer, and singing, and then gave a narrative of the liberation of the slaves in the English colonies, according to the account received from England. Pastor Olivier, from Lausanne, was present. He is about to depart for Lower Canada, and he spoke in a very touching manner of the way in which the mission had first opened on his own mind. When the concern was made known in his heart, he kept it there in secret prayer to the Lord for direction, and whenever he heard what he believed to be the same voice, it was always -- Go, and the Lord will go with thee. A real unction attended while he gave us this account; the way in which he spoke of it resembled the manner of one of our Friends laying a concern before a meeting: many hearts present felt the force of his words. His exhortation to the young persons was excellent. Pastor Gaussen concluded the meeting with an address and lively prayer.

Among the friends with whom they had religious intercourse were Pastors L'Huillier, Gallon, and Molinier. The last was a |father in the church| to them. After some conversation on the state of religion in Geneva, he proposed their sitting awhile in silence, well knowing the practice of the Society of Friends in this respect. John and Martha Yeardley had each a gospel message to deliver to him, after which he took them both by the hand, and offered up prayer for their preservation and the prosperity of the Society to which they belonged. |It was,| says J.Y., |the effusion of the Holy Spirit, accompanied with power, and refreshed our spirits.|

With Pastor Gallon John Yeardley had a long conversation on the principles and operations of the Societe Evangelique.

I find them, he says, more liberal in their views than had been represented, and their extent of usefulness is already considerable. In their Academy they instruct young men with a view to their becoming ministers, missionaries, school-masters, &c., as the prospect for their future usefulness may open under the direction of Divine Providence. In a place like Geneva, such an institution may be well: while we regard it with some caution lest it should run too high on points of doctrine, we cannot but hail with peculiar satisfaction such a favorable opportunity of educating young men in the sound principles of Christianity, that they may happily prove instruments in the Divine Hand to check the spread of infidelity.

From Geneva they went to Lausanne. Their old friend, Professor Gaudin, took them to see several pastors, and other pious persons, and on First-day, the 17th, he and his family, with some other serious-minded individuals, joined them in their hour of worship at the inn.

It was, says J.Y., a time of a little encouragement to our tried minds, for we had been brought into doubt as to the utility of resting here, although we had seen, as we believed, in the true light, that we ought to seek out a few who could unite with us in our simple way.

On the 18th they went on to Neufchatel, where they were received as before with much affection, and where they proposed to settle down for the winter, after making a tour in some neighboring parts of Switzerland.

On the 20th they went to Berne, and hired a lodging, for the purpose of devoting themselves to religious intercourse with persons of the interior class. As soon as it was known they had arrived, their acquaintance rapidly increased, and they found it difficult to receive all who came. One of their first acts was to renew their intercourse with the Combe family at Wabern, where their visit in 1828 had left a sweet remembrance.

They spent a fortnight in Berne and the neighborhood, and some passages from John Yeardley's account of this interesting visit may properly find a place here. The continual flow of Christian sympathy which it was now their happiness to experience, formed a strong contrast to the dreary spiritual wastes they had traversed in Italy and Greece. It was at this time that they contracted or renewed a friendship with Sophie Wuerstemberger, since well known to many other English Friends.

8 mo.24. -- How greatly I feel humbled under the prospect before us in this place; many thirsting souls are looking to us for help, and we feel poor and weak; we can only direct them to Him from whom all strength comes. O my Saviour, forsake us not in this trying hour; give us the consolation of thy Holy Spirit, and a portion of strength to do thy will! Our meeting is appointed for this evening; enlighten our understanding, O Lord, that we may be enabled to instruct the people in the right way.

25th. -- More came to the meeting last evening than we expected. They were still, and a good feeling prevailed; there were those present who knew something of inward retirement with their Saviour.

Madame Combe called yesterday to ask some questions on the Supper and Baptism. I believe it would be an advantage to these pious people, if they were to read and compare one part of the Scripture with another more diligently. She left us well satisfied with the explanation given to her questions. We never touch on these points, unless we are asked questions upon them.

The various visits received this day have closed with one of no common interest from Dr. Karl Bouterwek, a young man from Prussia. He told as he had received much benefit in the church of the Dissidents, but was on the point of separating from them, because he could not agree in acknowledging they were the only true visible church. After some observations on the Supper, &c., we observed that there were individuals in this place whom the Most High was calling into more spirituality and purity of worship. He asked why we thought so. Our reasons were given, and he made no reply; but a most solemn and precious silence came over us, which it was beyond our power to break by uttering words. Our hearts were filled with love, and the dear young man went away to avoid showing the feelings of his heart by the shedding of tears.

28th. -- Took tea at the Pavilion, a pleasant country walk of twenty minutes from town, with Mad'e de Watteville and her daughter. She had invited a number of friends to meet us. We passed a couple of hours, pleasantly conversing, mostly on religious subjects. It is a little extraordinary, with what openness some of these dear people speak to us of the state of their minds. When the circle was seated, we formed a pretty large company. The daughter of Mad'e de W. whispered to my M.Y., Are we too dissipated to have something good? We told her it was always good to endeavor to retire before the Lord in humility of soul. I trust a parting blessing was felt amongst us.

30th. -- From 9 o'clock till half-past 12, we received visits in succession, I think not fewer than fifteen. At half-past 2, Mad'e de Tavel accompanied us to the Penitentiary prison. For cleanliness and order, I think, it exceeds all I ever saw of the kind. I fear the religious instruction is very superficial; none but formal prayers and written sermons are used.

31st. -- Attended Mad'lle Berthom's Scripture class, at the Institution for the Destitute. There are eighteen girls in the house to bed and hoard; it has been established about six years. M.B.'s method of examining the children is the most simple and spiritual of any that I have seen; she has an extraordinary gift for the purpose.

9 mo.2. -- Attended the Monthly Meeting in the missionary room. Many of the company were peasants from some distance. The singing excepted, it resembled a Monthly Meeting for worship in our Society; for all had liberty to speak one after the other, five or six speaking by way of testimony: the doctrine was sound, and the way in which they coupled this with their Christian experience was really excellent. I had much unity with the concluding prayer by Pastor Merley.

2nd. -- The evening was spent at Mad'e W.'s, with a pretty large company. -- -- proposed for a few verses to be sung; afterwards he read a chapter, and gave a long exposition, somewhat dry. When this and a prayer were gone through, it was late; neither my M.Y., nor myself, were able to express what was on our minds. Some uneasiness and disappointment were expressed by several; and two of these dear friends came to our lodgings the next day, with whom we had a precious time. My M.Y. had to speak a few words to the particular state of M.B., and at the close she acknowledged, in brokenness of spirit, that it was the truth.

There is a remarkable awakening in the town and canton of Berne, both among those of the higher walks of life and the peasants; but there is not strength enough to come out of the forms. There are thirty females to one man among those who are lately become serious.

From Berne, J. and M.Y. proceeded to Zurich, arriving there on the 5th of the Ninth Month. They spent three days in the city, chiefly in the company of the Gessner-Lavater family, and renewed with the various members of it the intimate friendship of former years. A short passage descriptive of this sojourn is hero appended.

9 mo.7. -- We attended the worship of the National Church, and heard the pious Gessner. What he said was excellent, but I never enter these places without feeling regret that good Christians can be so bound by book-worship; it certainly damps the life of religion in the assemblies. How much we ought to rejoice in being delivered from the forms.

I was instructed yesterday evening by hearing a reply of one of the first missionaries of the Moravians [?]. He had labored diligently for twenty-five years, and when asked how many souls had been turned to the Lord by his means, he modestly answered, Seven. The person expressing surprise at the smallness of the number in so many years, he replied, How happy shall I be to stand in the Lord's presence at the last day, and to say, Lord, here am I and the seven children whom thou hast given me. We ought to labor in faith, and not expect to see fruit.

The next town where they halted was Schaffhausen, like Zurich, dear to them in the recollections of past visits. Here they examined the school for poor children in the town, and that of Buch in the neighborhood. They were delighted with both these institutions. The mistress of the former possessed an extraordinary natural talent for her office; she was originally a servant, when, instead of seeking her own pleasure on the First-days of the week, as other servants did, she would take a few children to teach them to read and instruct them in the Bible. Their visit to the school at Buch is described by John Yeardley in No.10 of his Series of Tracts, The Six Secrets.

On the 13th they went to Basle, where they conversed with most of the pastors, and several other individuals of religious character.

Serious, retired persons, says John Yeardley (9 mo.21), frequently come to us and open the state of their minds with great freedom and confidence. If we are of any use to their thirsty souls, it is the Saviour's love that draws us into sympathy with them, and his good Spirit that enables us to speak a word in season to their condition.

As usual, they visited the Mission House. Inspector Blumhardt informed them that the translation which had been made of J.J. Gurney's |Essays on Christianity,| and of which 2000 copies were printed, had been productive of great good; they had been distributed chiefly among those who were connected with the German universities.

They remained at Basle until the 1st of the Tenth Month, and then returned by way of Berne to Neufchatel. At Berne a sudden diversion was given to the current of their thoughts by the intelligence of the death of Thomas Yeardley. J.Y. has left a memorandum of the occurrence, and of the singular foreshadowing of it upon his own mind which took place at Zurich.

10 mo.2. Berne. -- We found many letters from England waiting for us here, one of which, from my nephew John Yeardley, brought the sorrowful intelligence of the sudden and unexpected removal of my dearly-beloved brother Thomas, of Ecclesfield Mill. This took place on the 6th of the Ninth Month, about 20 minutes past 2, without sigh or groan, even as a lamb. These are the expressions of J.Y.; he adds several sweet expressions of my precious brother's, which show that the solemn change to him was a joyful one: and I do believe his tribulated spirit is now at rest. On recurring to the 6th ultimo to see where we were, and what were the contemplations of my mind, I find we were at Zurich. That morning the following lines which I heard when a child, and had not repeated for the last twenty years, came forcibly into my mind: --

It's almost done, it's almost o'er,
We're joining them that are gone before;
We soon shall meet upon that shore
Where we shall meet to part no more.

I not only repeated them to myself the whole of the day, but even sung them aloud so often that my dear M.Y. said to me, |Whatever can be the meaning that thou so often repeats these lines?| I replied, |I do not know that I have repeated them for the last twenty years, but to-day they are continually with me.| This can have been nothing but the spirit of sympathy with the soul of my dear departing brother, for the awful impression of sorrow and solemnity in my mind on that day will never be forgotten; I mourned with the bereaved family without knowing it. My M.Y. had opened her portfolio to begin a letter to our sister Rachel, and I wrote the verse on a piece of loose paper, and she slipped it into her papers, and said to herself, Surely these lines are not prophetic of something that is going to happen? Last evening she banded me out of her portfolio the piece of paper containing the lines.

At Berne they received also the tidings that |the excellent| M.A. Calame was no more; the Christian mother of 250 orphan children was taken from the scene of her labors and the conflicts of time to the heavenly rest in her Saviour. The following appear to be among the last words which she wrote; they were no doubt addressed to her faithful companion Zimmerlin: --

In my numerous shortcomings I have enough constantly to humble me, and without being surprised at it, since evil is my heritage; but my help is in the Lord, who delights in mercy. I have hope also for all my brethren whom I love, whatever name they hear. There are twelve gates by which to enter into the Holy City, and if they have passed through the great gate, which is Christ, I am sure that those who enter from the east, as well as those who have been brought in by the west, will be there; but those who enter with me are better known to me than the rest whom I shall meet in that celestial Jerusalem, whither my sighs daily carry me, yet in submission to the heavenly decrees, desiring only that the will of God our Saviour be done.

You think my task is light? Ah, no! the love which the Lord has given me spends itself on so many hearts closed to their true interests; I see the hand of the enemy in their souls; I am so often deceived in my hopes, that my work is watered by my tears. From time to time, however, the Lord gives me hope; a soul awakes from sleep, and is kindled into light by the torch of the gospel.

And now, dear sister, have no longer any esteem or consideration for me; only let the love of Christ live in thy heart for me: the desires of my heart carry you with it to the feet of Him who is Love.

When they returned home, John and Martha Yeardley printed a short memoir of this extraordinary woman, whose name, though comparatively little known upon earth, is doubtless enshrined in the hearts of many who still survive, and shall one day shine with a lustre which the most brilliant of her sex, whose ambition it is to adorn the court, the concert or the drawing-room, will desire in vain to wear.

At Berne J. and M.Y. commenced a Bible class, similar in kind to the Scarborough reunion, which was continued until their departure, and was the source of much pleasure and profit to those who attended. Before quitting Berne, thinking it might perhaps be the last opportunity they should have of meeting with their numerous and beloved friends in that city, they invited them to join them in worship in their apartment.

Many, says John Yeardley, gave us their company; much tenderness of spirit was felt, and through the mercy of Divine Love many present were, I trust, comforted and refreshed.

We quitted Berne on the 30th. We had become so affectionately attached to many Christian friends, that parting from them was severely felt. But what happiness Christians enjoy even in this world I those who love the Saviour remain united in Him when outwardly separated.

Neufchatel, for the sake of those who resided there, was equally attractive to them as Berne.

We arrived at Neufchfatel, writes John Yeardley, on Fifth-day, and on Seventh-day (11 mo.1) settled into a comfortable lodging on the border of the lake. It feels to us the most like home of any residence we have had during our pilgrimage in foreign lands. Our suite of cottage-rooms runs alongside the water, with a gallery in front, and the little boats on the lake, and the mountains in the distance, covered with snow, are objects pleasing to the eye. What gives us the most satisfaction is the feeling of being in our right place, and to meet with such a warm reception from our dear friends.

This feeling was succeeded by some religious service of an interesting character, in reviewing which John Yeardley says: --

23rd. -- Among those who meet with us, a little few know how to appreciate true silence, others are not come to this. But for what purpose are we here? If it may please our Heavenly Father to make use of us as feeble instruments of drawing a single individual into nearer communion with the Beloved of souls, we ought to be content; and, blessed be his Holy Name, his presence is often felt in our hearts.

As has been already said, they looked forward to spending the winter at Neufchatel. This intention, and their ulterior project of visiting Germany in the spring, were frustrated by the alarming illness of Adey Bellamy Savory, Martha Yeardley's only brother, the news of which reached them on the 29th of the Eleventh Month.

This day's post, writes John Yeardley, brought us the sorrowful news of the severe illness of our dear brother A.B. Savory. The family at Stamford-hill have expressed a strong desire for us to return, if we could feel easy so to do, and seeing that we have pretty much got through what we had in prospect in Switzerland, we are, on the whole, most comfortable to go direct for London, and leave Germany for the present. Our great Master is very gracious to us, giving us to feel sweet peace in the termination of our labors, and to look forward with hope to seeing our native land once more.

The next day was First-day; the parting with their Neufchatel friends was very affecting.

11 mo.30. -- A precious meeting this morning. The presence of Him who died for us was near, to help and comfort us; our hearts were much tendered by his divine love. The taking leave of our dear friends here was almost heartrending. There is a precious seed in this place, which I trust, is a little deeper rooted since our last visit, and it is the prayer of my heart, that the Saviour may water and watch over it, and that it may produce abundance of fruit to his praise.

They took their departure on the 2nd of the Twelfth Month, and arrived in London on the 13th, travelling through the north of France twelve days and six nights.

Through divine mercy we arrived safe in London, on Seventh-day evening, and lodged with our beloved relations at Highbury, who received us with all possible affection. Our spirits on meeting, mingled in silent sorrow, while we were enabled to rejoice in God our Saviour. On First-day morning we went over to Stamford-hill, and soon were introduced to our beloved brother, who was perfectly sensible, but extremely weak. The peace and serenity which we were favored to feel by him was an inexpressible comfort to our sorrowful hearts.

A.B. Savory died the next Third-day evening, and his remains were interred on the First-day following.

21st. -- This was the day fixed for the solemn occasion of accompanying the remains to the tomb. The body was taken into the meeting-house at Newington, and the company of mourners and all present were, I believe, comforted and edified through the tender mercies of our Heavenly Father. J.J. Gurney's communication was particularly precious; he also paid a consoling visit to the family after dinner.

We shall conclude this chapter with some reflections made by John Yeardley, on reviewing the changes which death had produced in the circle of his relations: --

1835.1 mo.31. -- Waking this morning, I took a view of the great ravages death had made in our families; when this exhortation pressed suddenly and with peculiar force on my heart, -- Be thou also ready. My soul responded, Thou Lord, alone, canst make me ready. O gracious Saviour, who died for me, be pleased to redeem me from the bond of corruption, and purify my heart from earthly things.

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