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MEMOIR OF MR. ROBERT POULSOM,
Mr. Poulsom was a native of Winchester, and was born in the year 1762. His parents being respectable, he received a liberal education. When nine or ten years of age he lost his mother, who had fixed all her earthly hopes on him, having been deprived of her first-born son in infancy; and before he was fourteen, he was called from school to attend the death-bed of his only-surviving parent. Of this event he has been heard in after-life thus to speak : Whilst
father's friends were buoying him up with the hope of recovery, I retired to an adjoining room ; and if ever I prayed in my life, I prayed then.” The circumstance shows that even then his mind was influenced by religious feeling, and that he had a strong sense of the divine all-sufficiency, and the necessity of prayer. Mr. Poulsom, sen., anxious to secure to his son the protection which his situation required, left him in the care of two guardians and an executrix, that he might, at the proper time, realize the ample fortune (as it was considered in those days) which was bequeathed him. However, through circumstances, into which it is not necessary to enter here, when he became of age, he had to receive but little in comparison of what he should have inherited. Still, he moved in a respectable circle. He was considered as an amiable young man, and his conduct was free from immorality. But his usual companions were gay, and with them he mostly associated till spiritual convictions, which he could not shake off, and which told him that this was not the right path to pursue, even in the search of happiness, produced a salutary alteration before his habits became confirmed. He regularly attended public worship at the cathedral ; and it was there that he received his first decided impressions concerning religion. On one occasion he was so powerfully affected, that, at the conclusion of the service, he retired into the adjoining buryingground, and walked about in serious reflection. But he remembered the known inconsistencies of the Minister's life ;: and contrasting it with his own circumspection, he drew so favourable a conclusion respecting himself, that the feelings which, under better guidance, and with evangelical instruction, might have led him to his Saviour, and issued in his conversion, became, for the time, fruitless, and even in some respects injurious, by strengthening his self-confidence. At
VOL. III.FOURTH SERIES.
another period he had engaged to accompany one of his friends in a country walk one Sunday afternoon. He was ready before his friend called, and began to read a chapter in the Bible. While doing this his convictions returned with greater power than before ; so that he felt that he dared not occupy the hours of the Sabbath as he had
proposed, and no entreaty could persuade him to leave the house. He continued to mingle with his usual associates; but his conscience would not allow him to indulge in his besetting amusements. Card-playing was then customary in almost all companies; and once, after his resolution to discontinue the practice, he was induced to resume it. One of the party left the room, and requested him to take the seat thus left vacant, it was said, only for a short time. Not perceiving the snare, he fell into it. When he had taken up the cards, they seemed to have gained their wonted influence, and he continued eagerly playing till two or three hours after midnight. But he suffered so much afterwards, that he was never again entangled.
But though he experienced these inward struggles, they were comparatively ineffectual through the absence of that evangelical instruction whose place, humanly speaking, nothing can supply. He heard the Scriptures read at the cathedral, and the prayers which constituted the service. But he understood them not, and still remained unacquainted with the true method in which personal salvation was to be sought. The sermons which he heard were mostly brief dissertations on some topic connected with morality of conduct, or with religion in that vague and general sense in which it was then too commonly understood. They neither impressed his conscience, nor enlightened his mind, and afforded no correct answer to the question, “ What must I do to be saved ?” The fine gold bad become dim, and the wine was mixed with water. He wished to be right; but as the good and right way was not pointed out to him, his efforts, greatly to his own surprise and regret, appeared all to be ineffectual.
At this period, Mr. Poulsom had in his employ a young man of the name of Neale, who was a member of the Wesleyan society. devoted and zealous. All the time he could spare from his occupation during the week, as well as a portion of the Sabbath-day, he spent in visiting the sick and dying. In
instances his visits were very useful. Occasionally he was accompanied by Mr. Poulsom, whose state of mind he soon discovered ; and, after some conversation, induced him to hear the Methodist Preachers, as men who would afford him the instruction he sought, and which he so much needed. What he heard not only agreed with what he had long felt, but more fully explained it; so that he now began truly to know himself, and also to understand the
way in wbich were to be found the deliverance and peace which he so anxiously desired. This was in the summer of 1787. His attendance soon became regular and constant, and before long he became a member of the Wesleyan society; thus commencing a union which continued for more than fifty-five years, and was only terminated by his death. By taking this step he exposed himself to much reproach. The Methodists, a " sect everywhere spoken against," experienced, in a cathedral city like Winchester, no exemption from their ordinary lot; and, for a person moving in a respectable station to become connected with them, was considered by his friends as a degradation. But he had counted the cost. He had long felt that he wanted “rest to his
soul;” and for the attainment of this he was willing to make any sacrifice, submit to any obloquy. He saw that it was his duty to endure the cross and despise the shame; and he was willing to do so, if he might but be taught to run successfully and with patience the race that was set before him.
How long he sought for deliverance and peace has not been ascertained ; neither are the precise circumstances known under which he obtained what was so long his consolation in life, and his support in the prospect, and at the hour, of death. At first, his mental distress was rather aggravated than relieved. He heard the law faithfully preached, and thus was his state as a guilty sinner before God fully disclosed to his view. His self-righteous confidence utterly failed him, grounded as it had been upon 6 the form without the power.” He saw that “the commandment was exceeding broad," and that sin existed where he had not before even suspected it. So great was the alteration in his views respecting himself, that he began almost to despair of salvation ; and on more than one occasion, the enemy of his soul, from whose chains he was struggling to get free, suggested selfdestruction to him. But he had been taught the value of fervent prayer, and he cried mightily to God for strength to resist the devil. Though the Lord did not immediately speak peace to his soul, yet “ the bruised reed was not broken, nor the smoking flax quenched.” In after-life he often spoke of the foretastes of the divine love which he experienced while earnestly seeking a sense of pardon, and would point out the danger of resting in them, as they are only given to encourage the penitent to “follow on to know the Lord,” and not to produce satisfaction. He sometimes feared to fall asleep, lest he should die unforgiven. One morning he awoke suddenly, fancying that some one had called him by his name. Rising quickly from his bed, he found, upon reflection, that he could rejoice in God his Saviour; and, dressing himself, he walked out, blessing God for the possession of the peace which passeth all understanding. Referring to this period, he once said, “ All nature appeared to rejoice with me. I cannot describe the delightful feelings which I had whilst walking in the fields, or shady avenues, and meditating on the goodness of God. The rustling of the leaves, and the singing of the birds, seemed to assist me in praising my great Redeemer. Indeed, for many days I could think of nothing
This excess of joy, of course, did not long continue, but the
* The God “that pardoneth iniquity, because he delighteth in mercy,” has, according to "the good pleasure of his goodness,” various ways of manifesting to the sincere penitent “his sweet forgiving love ; ” nor is it for us to ask him, Wherefore doest thou this ? even if the manner shonld appear somewhat strange to us. Prayer, and “ looking unto Jesus," must always be exercised ; but he does not confine himself to any particular method of answering prayer, and of “inspiring the living faith,” that we may trust in none, but acknowledge that it is He himself that doeth it. Many years ago we were much impressed by hearing a plain rustic, altogether uneducated, and who lived in a village far distant from the residence of Mr. Poulsom, relate the manner in which he first found peace with God. He, too, had fallen asleep full of fear, and he awoke early, full of joy. “I got up,” he said, “and walked out. I thought the sun never shone so bright before. As I went through the yard, the ducks began to cackle, and I thought they were praising God, and I praised him too. The simplicity of the reference may at first excite a smile; but it was natural, and even poetic, and evinced the truthfulness of the speaker. The cir. cumstance directly arose in our recollection, when we read in manuscript the similar statement respecting the educated citizen given above. EDIT.
joy itself did not pass away; and it became evident, by a holy and consistent life, that he had experienced a true change of heart. The painful sense of condemnation was removed, and he was creature in Christ Jesus.
At this period, though his constitution was not strong, yet, as his general health was tolerably good, he always rose at four in the morning in summer, and at five in the winter, and never allowed the state of the weather to prevent his attendance at the early morning services. These to himself were such refreshing seasons, that he sought to induce all whom he could influence to be present at them; and in the depth of winter, and when the snow lay deep on the ground, he would set out some time before the appointed hour, and go from street to street to call those who were willing on that condition to attend. He always, likewise, so arranged his business as to secure opportunities for being present at the evening services.
Wishing to be thoroughly satisfied in his judgment of the correctness of the religious system to which he had become attached, he read, and carefully examined, the writings of Mr. Wesley and Mr. Fletcher; and finding them to be, as he believed, in strict accordance with the holy Scriptures, he used them as helps to strengthen his faith, and direct him in the attainment of spiritual profit.
He was not only careful in relation to his outward conduct, but also in cherishing a right temper and disposition. He once observed, “ I am aware that I was considered as naturally amiable; but I was less so than many supposed. I was proud and unforgiving." But the grace of God taught and enabled him to deny himself, and to subdue the wrong principles that might have led to wrong actions. His character was remarkable for humility, kindness, and forbearance. So far from being unforgiving, he would seek out those by whom the offence had been given, and take the first steps toward reconciliation. In his own behaviour he was extremely careful, and never willingly gave offence to any one.
In contributing to the support of the cause of religion, and to the relief of the poor, he was conscientiously liberal, to the full extent of his ability, but not at all ostentatious. Except where example required that it should be otherwise, his rule was, “ Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.” He acted as in the sight of God, and from a sense of duty. Amidst the various changes of commercial life, and the occasional occurrence of serious losses, he maintained, as far as possible, the same liberality, often at the expense of much personal sacrifice. He never allowed himself to sit in judgment on others; but whenever he had reason to apprehend that a different disposition was indulged, he was deeply grieved. When at any time there appeared to be more difficulty than usual in meeting the various expenses of the Circuit, he would earnestly pray that all might be convinced of the importance of assisting to support what he believed to be the work of the Lord, and feel it to be their privilege and pleasure to do so. For more than forty years he sustained office in that portion of Christ's church with which he was more immediately connected, as Class-Leader, Circuit and Society Steward, &c. He was the active as well as the humble Christian ; and when, through increasing infirmities, he was obliged to desist from these more public duties, he would still refer with great pleasure to such by-gone days.