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MEMOIR OF MR. THOMAS WALKER,
OF NANTWICH :
BY THE REV. ADAM FLETCHER. Mr. Thomas WALKER was born at Swanlow-Lane, Staffordshire, in 1777. His father was a conscientious and upright man, and attended the services of the Established Church ; but in the latter part of his life, he occasionally heard the Gospel among the Wesleyan Methodists. He lived to be eighty-five years of age ; and, as the infirmities of advanced life increased, he was observed to be more thoughtful and serious, and to spend much time in the perusal of the Scriptures. There was good hope in his death. His mother was for many years a consistent and decided member of the Wesleyan society, and departed this life in the faith and joy of a Christian believer, in the eighty-eighth year of her age. She used her influence to induce her son to accompany her to those religious services on which she herself felt that it was her privilege to attend; but though, from a regard to maternal tenderness, he would sometimes comply with her request, he long remained a stranger to the true power of godliness, and not unfrequently he would even oppose his mother in her Christian career. The family left Swanlow-Lane in 1781, and went to reside at Broxton Lower Hall, on a large farm, which Mr. Walker, sen., had taken on lease from Sir John Egerton.
Mr. Thomas Walker, for thirty-eight years, “ walked according to the course of this world.” His general character may easily be inferred from what was said of him after he joined the Wesleyans, by one whose office and station in society were such that he ought to have expressed himself very differently: “Until the Methodists spoiled him, Thomas Walker could sing as good a song, tell as merry a tale, and trip it as well in the dance,-indeed, he was as pleasant a fellow as any of his neighbours.” It was by a very dangerous accident, (as such occurrences are termed, that he was led to think seriously on the manner in which he was spending his life, and to “turn his feet unto the testimonies” of his God. Standing in his own house, he was unloading a gun, (into which one of the servants, in mere sport, had put a double charge,) that so no use might be made of it on the vol. IV.-FOURTII SERIES.
Sabbath-day. Striking the muzzle, the gun went off, and the contents passed through the ball of the hand, inflicting so serious a wound, that amputation at the wrist became necessary in the course of the day. His widow well remembers that, when his parents came and expressed their sorrow at what had taken place, thankfulness to God that the rest of the family had escaped, and that even in his own case the consequences had not been more serious, seemed to be his prevailing feeling: in fact, from that time he became a greatly altered man. He withdrew from the company, and abstained from the diversions, which he had previously regarded as harmless, but which he now saw to be sinful. He began also to attend the services of religion held among the people of his pious mother's choice; and also sought for intercourse with the Wesleyan Ministers and Local Preachers, being earnestly desirous of receiving spiritual counsel. With the late Mr. Alderman Bowers, of Chester, Mr. William Williams, and Mr. Peter Woolley of Duckington, (the latter of whom had not long before resolved to set out on the way to heaven,) he frequently had very profitable conversation. And from the public ministry and pastoral instructions of such men as Thomas Pinder, Edward Oakes, William Aver, and James Blackett, who were, at that time, or soon after, stationed in the Chester Circuit, he derived much knowledge on religious subjects, and was built up in faith. It is not known how long he sought for mercy, being made sorry after a godly manner, even unto repentance ; nor what was the particular nature of those mental exercises through which he passed previously to his obtaining joy and peace through believing; but it is known that only a very few months elapsed before there was given to him “the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” being brought from the guilt and bondage of sin, and blessed with the sense of pardoning love, and with the experience of “the liberty of the children of God.” And though little can now be remembered of the circumstances of his conversion, yet the change itself was so remarkable and evident, and was followed by a life so uniform and consistent, that none by whom he was known could doubt of its reality, or of its genuine scriptural character.
When he first joined the Wesleyan society, he was accustomed to attend public worship with its members at Tattenhall, in the Chester Circuit, three miles distant from his own residence ; but subsequently, it was more convenient for him to attend at Duckington, in the Whitchurch Circuit, which was only half the distance. He never neglected his worldly calling ; but he was also a pattern of regularity and diligence in the use of all the means of grace, especially valuing the week-night services, and rarely omitting any opportunity of being present at them, however busy and laborious the day might have been. He was before long appointed the Leader of a class at Tattenhall : he commenced one, also, at his own house, where, likewise, public worship was regularly conducted. These two classes continued under his care as long as he remained at Broxton. He was very zealous, too, in company with Peter Woolley, in holding prayer-meetings in various
cottages in the neighbourhood, sometimes addressing a “word of exhortation" to those who were present on these occasions ; he and his friend being then almost the only persons in that part of the country who felt it to be their duty to seek in this way to benefit their fellow-creatures. Sometimes he founded his exhortations on a passage of Scripture, and thus was naturally led to preaching. Eventually, his name was placed on the Circuit-Plan, as that of a regular Local Preacher. Nor was he ill qualified for his work, especially among the class of persons whom he had generally to address. It is true that “the ample page of knowledge, rich with the spoils of time, was ne'er unrolled” to his view ; but he had read his Bible well; his “delight was in the law of the Lord, and therein did he meditate day and night.” And not only was he thus instructed in the doctrines of salvation, but he understood, from personal and happy experience, the way of salvation. He knew, from the depth of his heart, what were repentance, faith, and holiness ; and it was from the fulness of his heart that he spoke, warning sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and with the most affectionate and zealous earnestness beseeching them to flee for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before them. And often was the word as spoken by him attended with great power; and this, together with the general conviction of his steady piety entertained by all who knew him, made his services as a Local Preacher as acceptable as they were useful.
When he ceased to associate with his former companions, they told him that he would soon be impoverished by the Methodists ; but far was the prediction from being verified. Although he afforded to Wesleyanism bis full share of pecuniary support; although his house was a home for both the Ministers and Local Preachers, when they paid their appointed visits to the place; although, with kind liberality, he several times assisted in relieving deserving men from painful embarrassment, and had a hand ever ready to supply the wants of the poor ; yet, by the blessing of God on his integrity and diligence, aided by the property which he obtained as his wife's portion, he was enabled to purchase a farm for himself. It was thus that he became, in 1826, a resident at Minshall-Vernon, in the Nantwich Circuit. Here, also, he opened his house for public worship. With this, however, he was not content. He wished the Wesleyans to have a chapel in the place. So much was he interested in this, that he often said, that "he would have a house for God before he had a new one for himself,” although that in which he resided was both old and inconvenient. He gave the land on which the chapel was to stand, and also the bricks which were required. When the chapel was built, he so watched over its interests, and so carefully husbanded its resources, that, with the money raised by subscription, and by the collections when it was opened for divine service, as well as subsequently, when he resigned the management of its temporal concerns, there was only a debt on it of £20. His wish was, that the pecuniary proceeds should be as far as possible available for the support of the ministry of the Gospel in the Circuit ; and it is therefore hoped that this small debt will soon be liquidated, that his benevolent designs may be effectually accomplished.
About seven years before his decease, Mr. Walker resigned to his son the management of the farm at Minshall-Vernon, as his own father had previously given up to him the farm which he had occupied at Broxton. He then became a resident at Nantwich, where he spent the remainder of his days. Being now free from secular business, and having his time at his own disposal, it was fully occupied with spiritual affairs, private and public ; and, as in his two former places of abode, so here also, he gave proof that his heart was as deeply as ever interested in the prosperity of that branch of the cause of God with which he was connected. He was soon intrusted with the charge of a class ; and afterwards a second, and then a third, was placed under his care. It was while he was thus exercising his talents as a Class-Leader and Local Preacher, and spending much of his time in visiting the abodes of sickness and want, that I first became acquainted with him. I was greatly struck, as no doubt many Ministers before me have been, with his venerable appearance, with the intense interest which was expressed in his countenance while listening to the preaching of God's word, and especially of those portions of the word which were most deeply experimental and closely practical, as well as with the fervour and heartiness of his responses in prayer. We cannot but regard the death of such a man as a great loss. We miss him as a hearer in the public worship of God. We miss him in those offices which he so usefully sustained. And, above all, we miss him as a visiter of the sick. To this work of mercy he seems to have regarded himself as specially called by the great Head of the church ; and certainly his qualifications for it were so improved both by much thought and by long practice, as to render him more than ordinarily suited for the discharge of the sometimes difficult duties which it involves. This was the case in comparatively the earlier part of his life, while residing at Broxton. He was at that time sent for to visit the sick and dying, both far and near. It was the case at Minshall-Vernon ; but it was so most particularly at Nantwich. The Wesleyan Ministers there, in succession, have been often introduced to sick and poor persons first found out by himself; and they have rarely visited any with whom he has not, at one time or another, conversed and prayed. Many persons, it is known, have obtained divine consolations whilst he has been addressing to God prayers and supplications with them and for them, as they have been lying on a bed of affliction ; and many members of the church to which himself belonged, who, previously to their illness, had sought and found, and continued to enjoy, the peace which passeth all understanding, have been greatly cheered and animated by his conversation and prayers during the season of their trial.
Mr. Walker was for some years a very active member of a Benevolent Society, for the relief of the sick poor, which was supported by the annual contributions of persons for the most part connected with
Methodism, at Nantwich. He was a subscriber himself; and it is now well known, that besides affording relief as an agent of this society, he frequently made it larger, sometimes by adding to the sum which had been apportioned to the case, sometimes by procuring provision, which he sent from the shops where he had purchased it, to the houses of the needy. As others have been, whilst engaged in the same honourable duty, so was he too frequently imposed upon ; but when imposition had been detected, while he lamented and condemned the sin, he would still say, “ It is better that several undeserving objects should obtain the relief which was not intended for them, than that one truly deserving object should go without assistance.”
It should be added that those who were in his employ, and especially those who had been so for the longest period, speak of him as their master in the highest terms. Not only did he give to his servants that which was their due, as wages, but he felt and manifested a deep concern for the salvation of their souls. When he resided at Broxton, to prevent those who lived at some little distance from having to go home for their clothes, or any other purpose, on the Sabbath, he was accustomed to afford them the opportunity of going the preceding afternoon or evening. And in the time of harvest, when particularly busy, and the men had to work on the Saturday till perhaps it was late, he would dismiss one of them somewhat early, allowing him the use of a horse, to ride to his own house, and to the houses of the others, to deliver their messages, and to bring them what they wanted. And as to domestic worship, if, at the appointed season, any members of the family were unavoidably absent, he would perform a second time what he considered as a sacred duty, when those who had been absent could be collected together. In Broxton he acquired also the character of a kind and obliging neighbour, especially among the poor. He would often lend them his horses and plough to turn up their potatoe-land at a time when this exposed him not only to inconvenience, but even to loss.
At the same time truth requires that I should state, that by some it was thought that he was too careful in his habits, and that his aid in support of that religious cause with which he was connected was not always in due proportion to his means. On the other hand, it should be observed that he was often considered to possess larger means than was really the case. Allowances, too, should be made, when it is remembered that he was nearly forty years of age when he first experienced the converting grace of God, when his general feelings on the subject of pecuniary matters had become more fixed than they would have been had he literally sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. He was likewise of a somewhat reserved turn of mind, and this prevented his attainment of those more extensive views which a freer communication with others would have afforded. I confess that I have sometimes felt a little regret that he was not always so deeply interested in the financial affairs of the Circuit as I could have wished; and perhaps his usefulness would have been increased had such an interest been more fully cultivated. Still, what