« PreviousContinue »
NEW EVANGELICAL MAGAZINE,
MEMOIR OF THE LATE MR. ABRAHAM AUSTIN.
BIOGRAPHY, which is a species of writing that rarely fails to interest us, when it is properly executed; is perhaps never so use fully employed as when it has for its object to rescue modest merit from oblivion; to bring forwards to public view, those characters in retired life which have eminently exemplified the christian pattern; and to enrol in the page of history the names of men, whom the world overlooked, because their lives were devoted to promote the interest of the best of causes-the cause of truth and righteousness. Such a man was the late Mr. Austin, on the delineation of whose personal history, we are now about to enter. The qualities that marked his character, and by which it was distinguished from the multitude, whether in or out of the church, were not calculated to make him popular. He was not remarkable for profound learning, nor for splendid gifts; nor indeed for any of those attainments that excite the marvellous-the virtues that adorned him, and that conferred true nobility upon him, were of a very different description. They were meekness, gentleness, goodness, fidelity-a heart overflowing with universal benevolence to man, and fervent piety to God.
This excellent minister of Christ
was born at Sutton Coldfield, a small but pleasant town in Warwickshire, upon the road from Litchfield to Birmingham, at the distance of about ten miles from the latter place, on the 25th of December, 1749. His father and grand-father were timber chants and farmers, in respectable circumstances; and the town being chartered, they had both of them discharged the office of Magistrate in it. Abraham was the oldest of three brothers: at the age of six, it was his affecting lot to lose his father who died of a consumption, and about a year afterwards he lost his mother also! Reduced by these bereaving cir cumstances to the condition of orphans, the three brothers were left to the care of their grandfather, who with parental solicitude watched over them as long as he lived. The amiable disposition of the subject of this memoir so won upon the affections of his grandfather, that he conferred upon him all the advantages of education which were calculated to qualify him for the ministerial office in the national establishment, and for which he intended him. The Rev. John Ryland was at this time the curate of Sutton Coldfield-a person of Evangelical sentiments, who afterwards removed to Birmingham,
and became a very popular minis-and secluded situation kept him ter in that town. Mr. Austin's ignorant of it. Cudworth, who grandfather, consulted him upon was the pastor of an independent the subject of devoting young church, in Margaret street, CavenAbraham to the clerical profes-dish square, had greatly assisted sion: but finding him of an ex- Mr. Hervey in revising his "Thetremely delicate constitution and ron and Aspasio," and when Mr. nervous habits, he advised his Sandeman made his tremendous being rather brought up to some attack upon this latter work, and trade, in consequence of which he almost overwhelmed its amiable, was articled as apprentice to Mr. and gentle author with dismay at Lutwyche, a respectable grocer in the weight of his Scotch artillery, Birmingham. he found a most able advocate in Mr. Austin remembered to have Mr. Cudworth, who published "a been the subject of considerable defence of Theron and Aspasio," religious impressions when he was against the Northern heretic. It eight years old; though he con- is somewhat foreign to the subject tinued from that time to the age of this Memoir to go into a detail of twenty, without any just and of this controversy, but we shall scriptural views of the way of sal- trespass so far upon the reader's vation, harrassed by the accusa-indulgence as to remark, that Cudtions of a guilty conscience, but worth was a writer of no ordinary destitute of any saving knowledge talents, and had his life been proof the truth. His inflexible in-longed, he would have given the tegrity, and correct deportment, world ample proof of it. He approcured him the respect of his master and of the family in which his lot was then cast, but as they possessed no serious piety, they treated his religious scruples and attention to the concerns of his soul, as an enthusiastic frenzy, which rendered his situation at Birmingham far from enviable.
pears to have been the only writer of his day, who was capable of wielding the pen with Sandeman. The great point in dispute between them was, whether appropriation be essential to the nature of justi. fying faith-the affirmative of which Mr. Hervey had strenuously contended for, in his sixteenthDialogue-but which his opponent had bent all his efforts to refute. Here Cudworth came in opportunely to his aid; and though we are not disposed to award him the palm of victory, it is but justice to his memory to say, that Sandeman never had an opponent who gravelled him so sensiblyPike was a dwarf to him. What we now affirm is not founded so much on his published pieces, He which nevertheless discover uncommon shrewdness and dexterity in the management of an argu. ment, as upon a manuscript correspondence which is still in existence, and in the possession of Mr. Cudworth's son, who obligingly favoured the writer of this with a sight of it some years ago. It
Quitting Birmingham in the twentieth year of his age, he returned to Sutton-Coldfield, where the death of an Uncle, who had occupied his father's farm from the period of his decease, rendered his presence necessary to settle his affairs. He was at this time the subject of considerable mental distress, but without any religious associates to whom he could unbosom his difficulties, or from whom he could ask advice. however recollected a pious woman whom he had formerly known in the town, aud to her he now bad recourse. The controversy between Mr. Sandeman and Mr. Hervey was at this instant the popular topic with the religious public, but Mr. Austin's youth
has risen upon their benighted souls with healing in his wings-a ray of celestial light has darted into their minds, to the obtaining of which all their laborious exercises contributed nothing; but it has led them to behold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," and communicated peace and sal
consists of about a dozen Letters gloomy shades retire on all in all, some of them of consider- hands. And so indeed many able length; and drawn up with others have found it by happy exextraordinary care and circum perience, that while sitting in darkspection. We cannot go into par- ness and under the shadow of ticulars in this place, further than death, perhaps labouring and to add, that in some things Cud- heavy laden, anxiously enquiring worth had a manifest advantage," what shall I do to be saved;" and has successfully shewn that or how shall I make my peace Mr. Sandeman, to avoid one ex-with God, the Sun of righteousness treme, had ran into its opposite. The good woman, to whom Mr. Austin had recourse for religious instruction, lent him Cudworth's defence of Theron and Aspasio: but as his mind was not at that time prepared to enter into the controversy, he wisely had recourse to Mr. Hervey's Volumes them. selves, where he found food much better suited to his hungry appe-vation to their souls-thus verifytite than what was to be met with in the thorny road of controversy. He learnt from them, in some happy measure, the way of a sinner's acceptance with God, through faith in the blood of Christ; and, having tasted that the Lord is gracious, his appetite was whetted for the sincere milk of the word. He now read and studied the scriptures for himself, receiving with meekness the engrafted word which he found to be to the salvation of his soul; and though his views were at this time neither so distinct and clear, nor his doctrinal sentiments so accurately digested as at a future period of his life, he nevertheless had the answer of a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.
ing the ancient saying, "I am found of them that sought me not: I am made manifest unto those that asked not after me."
Mr. Austin, soon after this, be. gan to exercise his talent in preaching; but the account given in the Baptist Magazine of his being intended by an aunt (and he had but one) to become a minister in the church of England, and of means being taken by her to send him to Cambridge, must be wholly unfounded, for she had been dead some years before Mr. Austin returned from Birmingham. It follows therefore that other particulars mentioned in that account relative to his decided adoption of the principles of dissent are at least very questionable. He attended the ministry of Mr. Ryland; there do not appear to have been any dissenters at Sutton Coldfield at this Adverting to the painful exer- time. Mr. R. was in the habit of cises of his mind at this period, preaching at stated times in a priand to the relief which he ob- vate house at Mare Pool, a village tained by a discovery of God as in the vicinity of Sutton, and Mr. reconciled unto sinners through the Austin commonly made one of his atonement, we have heard him hearers. Upon one of these occacompare his state to the rays of sions, the preacher being preventlight breaking through a darked from meeting them, Mr. Austin cloud, and diffusing serenity and was requested to supply his lack chearfulness around while the of service by engaging in prayer
him rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. These seals to his ministry must have been highly encouraging to him, and he often
of view among his friends, but never without evincing his profound gratitude to God who had thus made him the honoured instrument of communicating to them the knowledge of salvation.
and reading a Sermon which was put into his hands. He complied; but not finding the doctrinal strain of the Sermon consonant to his own views, he ventured to sub-mentioned the subject in this point stitute his own remarks in place of the former which he continued to hold in his hand; nor were his hearers apprised of the cheat he had dexterously put upon them, till he himself some time afterwards explained it. Such the state of things about the year 1770, when, at the urgent solicitation of a few individuals who *had been benefited by his conver-sulated state, as it regards all relisation, he consented to give them a discourse, and a house was accordingly taken, in which he commenced and statedly conducted public worship.
The propriety of baptizing infants had probably never been a question with him during this period. He had lived in an in
gious parties, mingling with none of them; but an aged minister who resided at Melbourne, in Derbyshire, of the denomination of General Baptists, having occasion about this time, to pass through Sutton Coldfield in his way to Birmingham, and stopping a night there, enquired at a Hair-dresser's shop, if there were any dissenters in the place. The answer was "Yes, there is a Society of this kind, who meet in such a place, and the preacher's name is Austin." "Well," said the minister, "but what sort of a man is he, and what
Mr. Austin now succeeded to the management of the farm which from the period of his father's death, had been occupied by his uncle, but which now became vacant by the decease of the latter. He had to settle his affairs, and to provide for himself and his two brothers, with a view to which he determined to prosecute the malting business. His ministerial labours proved very acceptable-character does he bear?" "Oh!" the congregation encreased-the house in which they assembled was insufficient to contain them-but his love to the souls of men prevailed over all personal considerations, and that they might enjoy the advantages of hearing the word of God, he fitted up a place of worship at his own individual expence, where he continued to labour for five years amidst storms of opposition, and frequently at the risk of his life, without fee or reward, except the testimony of his own conscience, and the smiles of approving heaven.
Among the fruits of his ministry at this time, Mr. Austin had the in-expressible satisfaction of numbering his two brothers, who, like himself, lived ornaments of the glorious gospel, and died before
returned the barber, "he is as good a man as ever lived, but he is a kind of methodist." The result was an interview between Mr. Austin and the Baptist minister, who put the former upon looking into the scriptures respecting this branch of duty, and it ended in his being baptized soon afterwards at Longford, in Warwickshire, by Mr. Hickling, a minister of the denomination of General Baptists, on a profession of his repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In a little time, many of the congregation among whom he laboured, adopted similar views of the ordinance of baptism, and Mr. Austin had the pleasure of seeing fifteen of them baptized at one time by Mr. Francis Smith, pastor of the General Baptist
church in Melbourne, who was | prudence, fidelity and perseverance ordained to that office by the late in the discharge of their pastoral "venerable Abraham Booth." See duties; but we desist. the Memoir of Mr. Booth, prefixed to his Works, p. 21.
When Mr. Austin was about twenty-six years of age, he, in October 1775, married Miss Jane Spencer, daughter of Mr. Francis Spencer, a farmer at Measham in Derbyshire; and it is worthy of remark that she had been one of
Mr. Austin and his friends now became associated with the General Baptists of the new connexion, in distinction from a class of them which had verged into Socinianism. And here we cannot help remark-the pupils of the late Mr. Abraham ing a singular coincidence, namely, Booth, while he kept a school at that both Abraham Austin and Sutton Ashfield, previous to his Abraham Booth should have com- removal to the metropolis. His menced their career among the connexion with this amiable female General Baptists, almost in the was a circumstance which Mr. same neighbourhood; should have Austin never could speak of withquitted that connection; settled out indicating that he numbered it in London; and ultimately adopt- among the greatest privileges of ed views of divine truth more con- his life, and those who know her sonant to each other than can be and who knew him also, will affirmed of almost any other two readily account for this. Had he deceased ministers that we can re- searched the creation round, he collect. As writers, indeed, the would have found it no easy matparallel will not hold; Mr. Austin's ter to select a second person, in nervous system utterly precluded every respect so adapted to be him from the frequent use of the "an help-meet" for him. Often pen, and the world has much to has he said among his friendsregret on that account; there was "What a poor creature I should nevertheless a similarity of cir- have been without her!" But the cumstances between them in other time is not come to speak of this particulars, which must be mani- amiable woman as she deserves to fest to all who will take the trouble be spoken of, and therefore we of examining the subject. Each content ourselves with merely reof them was brought up in the cording the remark which we reprinciples of Pædobaptism-unit- member to have once heard made ed themselves with the General by one whose age and long acBaptists afterwards removed to quaintance with the family and the London and joined the particular church well qualified him for making Baptist denomination-and adopt- with propriety. "Mrs. Austin is ed, with very few exceptions, every thing that a minister's wife similar views of divine truth. On ought to be." Of her domestic virall the leading doctrines of the tues we say nothing, but we will say gospel, their sentiments were the that her deportment in the church same; on the subject of faith, and has often struck us with admirathe immediate duty of all who tion. Unlike the forward and hear the gospel to believe it, there ostentatious conduct of the genewas a shade of difference, in our rality of ministers' wives, if you opinion, greatly in favour of Mr. would see Mrs. A. at public worAustin. It were easy to pursue ship, 'twere needless to look for the parallel to a much greater ex- her except in the most retired tent-in their personal and domes- corner of the chapel and though tic habits, the sanctity of their it were not impossible to find her lives, their humble and unassuming at the private meetings of the deportment, and the exemplary church, it would be utterly in vain