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MEMOIR OF THE REV. JOHN KEMP:
BY MR, JOHN STEELE.
It is to be regretted that MR. KEMP kept no diary, and preserved Do other record of his life and early labours. The particulars of bis conversion were communicated to the writer a few weeks before his friend's death ; and an intimate acquaintance, of forty years, during which a regular correspondence was maintained, has furnished the materials from which the following memoir has been compiled.
Mr. Kemp was born at Carthorp, a small village near Bedale, in the year 1777. His parents were in humble circumstances ; who, having the fear of God before their eyes, endeavoured to train up their children in the way they should go. There is reason to believe that his father was led to seek religion through the instrumentality of an old man, a resident in the village, who had been awakened, while a soldier in the British army, under the powerful ministry of George Whitefield. On returning to his native place, this good man began to exhort bis neighbours to flee from the wrath to come, and to tell them what great things the Lord had done for him. Among others to whom he was made a great blessing was the father of Mr. Kemp, in whose death there was ground for hope.
“ The word of the Lord was precious in those days." There was in all that neighbourhood no evangelical preaching, no gospel vision. Gross darkness rested upon the minds of the people. Mr. Kemp attended the Church of England in the forenoon of the Lord's day; was, on the whole, outwardly blameless; but still remained ignorant of spiritual things. He was apprenticed to the business of a slater, and removed to Kirkby-Malzeard, a small town at a little distance from the place of his former abode. While there, during one of the annual " Feasts,” he was invited to a Methodist prayer-meeting at Ringbeck, a neighbouring village ; a meeting to be held with a view to counteract the evils connected with the mirthful occasion. He at first gave a flat refusal ; but no sooner bad be done this, than his conscience smote him. “ These men are the servants of the most high God," said he, “sent to show me the way of salvation ; and yet I refuse to hearken and
go with them.” Deep convictions seized him, and he resolved to go to the meeting. Yet, lest he should be seen, and called a Methodist, he waited till evening, that the gathering shades might cover him. Like Nicodemus of old, he at first “came to Jesus by night.” This, howVOL. IX.-FIFTI SERIES.
ever, proved an important era in bis religious history; and to it he ever afterwards referred, as the commencement of his heavenward journey. He broke off from his ungodly companions, connected himself with the Methodists, and began to seek mercy at the hands of God. His conviction for sin was deep; twelve or thirteen weeks he went forth “weeping, bearing precious seed." Still he persevered, and, like Jacob of old, cried, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” God heard and answered ; brought the penitent up "out of the horrible pit, and out of the miry clay ;... put a new song in his mouth,” which many afterwards heard him sing; "and established his goings.”
Brought to the enjoyment of pardoning love, he went on his way rejoicing, holding fast the beginning of bis confidence steadfast to the end. Soon after his conversion, he began to labour in the vineyard the Lord, by calling sinners to repentance. For a long time he could not be prevailed upon to take any higher rank than that of an exborter, regarding that as his own province. He went out into the neighbouring villages, where there was a lamentable dearth of the means of grace. His beginning was very small; his appearance and dress, anything but clerical ; his manner, plain ; his talents, not of a very high order: yet his fervent zeal, added to simplicity and genuine piety, helped bim through all; and his labours were owned and blessed of God. Encouraged by his Superintendent, he ventured to take a text, and because a Local preacher in the Ripon Circuit, which was at that time very extensive. When he had laboured in this capacity ten or eleven years, tbe late Rev. Daniel Jackson spoke to him on the subject of giving himself up to the ministry. He shrunk from a work so great and important, regarding himself as utterly incompetent. But there was an urgent want of labourers. Many Circuits could not be supplied with preachers
, In such emergency he at length yielded, and left himself in the hands of God, and of the church. He was accepted by the Conference, and appointed in 1807 to Newtown, Wales. The journey was long; the facilities for travelling were very different from those of our time; and his means were scanty. But, having bid farewell to all his early friends, he went forth, with his scrip on his back and his staff in bis hard, to preach the glad tidings of the kingdom. The Circuit was very laborious, walks were long, roads bad, and privations many; but an ardent, selfdenying zeal bore him up above all. At the risk of his life, he crossed rivers, and encountered dangers from which others shrunk, rather than disappoint a congregation. God gave him favour in the eyes of the people, and crowned his labours with success. He was invited, and he consented, to remain a second year.
His next station was Aberdeen. Notwithstanding the distance, he performed a great part of the journey on foot; the Circuit being too poor to bear his travelling expenses, and he being unwilling to burdes the Contingent Fund. In Scotland, as in Wales, he was in labours more abundant." On one occasion, having to attend a DistrictMeeting forty miles distant, he set off on foot, and halted not, eren for refreshment by the way, till he had accomplished his herculeso task. His constitution at that time, and for some years following,
was as iron ; his habits were severely abstemious ; his diligence and perseverance, almost without a parallel. The Rev. J. P. Haswell, who laboured in the same District, speaks of him in the highest terms. “ His early ministry,” says he, "was marked for deep Christian experience. In his first years, all his labours and pastoral visitations convinced his acquaintance that he might say with truth, 'One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after. His humility was as evident as his self-denial was great. A more transparent man I never kpew. Surely, few Christians learned more fully the art of Christian contentment. Mr. Kemp practically believed it was more blessed to give than to receive.' For several years he returned me part of his anouity, stating as his reason, So many of my beloved brethren are worse off than I am.'”
After twenty years acceptably spent in the work of the Lord, an affliction in the eyes, which was attended with great pain, and nearly deprived him of sight, obliged him to become a Supernumerary. He "sat down,” as the phrase runs, at Carlisle and Wigton ; and then went, at the special request of the friends, to reside at Barnard-Castle. He was well known there, having laboured two years in the Circuit, and was highly esteemed for his work's sake. The trustees of the chapel built him a comfortable house, and he was allowed a small salary. He laid himself out for usefulness in many ways, especially in pastoral visitation from house to house. As his strength increased and his sight improved, he shared with the two ministers the full work of the Circuit.
About this time he began to take a more active part in the Missionary cause, and to deliver those allegorical speeches for which he was deservedly popular. For this work he had a peculiar talent, generally selecting some striking figure, which he wrought up, and applied with great tact and ingenuity. At the District-Meeting of 1837, being then in his sixtieth year, but having greatly recruited bis strength, he again placed bimself at the disposal of the Conference. The offer was accepted, and he was appointed to Worksop. This Circuit he found to be an arduous one. “My walks,” he writes, “are seven, ten, and occasionally thirteen, and sixteen miles.” But he bad all the zeal and energy of youth, and shrunk from no toil he was at all able to perform. He found the Society much disturbed, in consequence of unhappy differences which then agitated the Connexion ; but, under his judicious superintendency, peace was restored, and followed by prosperity. The congregations greatly improved, additional sittings were let, and several sinners in the town and country were brought to God. The memory of his labours in that Circuit, where he remained two years, is still precious.
His next appointment was to Snaith, where he was much respected. Thence be removed to Holbeach. During his residence there, a large new chapel was built, which was opened in 1813 by Dr. Newton, Dr. Beaumont, and other ministers. The collections, far surpassing expectation, amounted to £140.—After travelling in the Market-Rasen and Driffield Circuits, he began to feel the infirmities of threescore years and ten coming on apace; and, having lost his wife, he finally retired in 1846 from the work he so dearly loved, and settled down in the village of Sinderby, in the Thirsk Circuit. But did he then cease to labour ? No: he was still “ready for every good work;" visiting from house to house, and caring especially for the sick; distributing tracts; conducting week-night services; and on the Sunday taking appointments regularly both in the Thirsk and the Bedale Circuits ; not unfrequently walking out four or five miles, and preaching twice. His visits were always anticipated with pleasure, especially by the young; to whom he generally addressed a few striking remarks, accompanied by some familiar illustration. He still took an active part in the Missionary cause, by collecting subscriptions in his own neighbourhood, and by assisting at the country meetings for many miles round. For ten years after he became Supernumerary be thus continued to labour, till he reached his fourscore years ; when increasing infirmities compelled him to confine his exertions within a narrower circle. His strength began to fail, and increasing pain was felt in his left eye. This seemed to be the beginning of an insidious disease, which gradually spread, and finally terminated in decided cancer. In one of his letters, bearing date about that time, he writes : “Sixty-five years I have been trying to do the will of God, and I now feel willing to suffer it. O Lord, belp me! My soul rests in God.” The best advice was sought, and means were used to arrest the painful affliction which he suffered, but without effect. The disease proved incurable, and finally brought him to the grave.
A little while after he was laid aside from public labour, I paid him a visit. He seemed to think his work was done ; and, as he could not bear the idea of living a useless life, he could scarcely say Amen to the prayer that his days might be prolonged. I remarked, that he had been long spared to exemplify the grace of God in active service, and now it might be that he should be called to exhibit the passive graces, and become a witness of the Divine power in full resignation. And so it proved. Wearisome days and nights were appointed unto him. He was chastened with pain, yea, with strong pain. Yet a murmuring word never escaped his lips ; scarcely, indeed, would be ever allude to this trial, unless in answer to a direct question. His patience was proverbial; and in his affliction he preached and taught by his example lessons as powerful and practical as he could by any means have enforced from the pulpit.
His Christian experience may be gathered from his letters, of which a few extracts may be given. “What a blessed thing it is,” he writes, “to have sunshine through the wilderness! Thanks to God for the true light, which enables us to look to the end, and see the glorious reward which awaits us in the skies! Blessed hope !
It lifts the fainting spirit up,
It brings to life the dead." And if the near view and earnest have such an influence on the mind, what must the full possession be! I feel that I can say, 'God is love ;
and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'” Again : “Our path through the wilderness is up and down, never long at one stay. Well, so let it be: but there will be no up-hill road in heaven; no louring skies; no pelting storm. It will be always even, always right. Praise the Lord, we are on our journey home. I have set my heart upon heaven, and I am determined to have it. My outward man decayeth ; I feel as though I had nearly done with all earthly things. I want more of Christ ; more of a present salvation, a present heaven. To be filled with all the fulness of God' is
• More than angel-tongue can tell,
Or angel-mind conceive;' and yet it is a purchased blessing, and it may be ours.” Once again : “I am making it my great business to glorify God. I feel that I possess that religion which keeps my mind in peace, and saves me from the fear of death. Christ is mine, and I am His. What a blessing to know that God is reconciled! Surely the world hath nothing to equal this.” - Quotations like these might be multiplied ; but those given are sufficient to illustrate the character of his religious experience, which was uniform, rich, and deep. In the last letters he was able to write, and when his strength was greatly enfeebled, he bore his steadfast testimony: “God bas long blessed me, and He still blesses
His presence makes my paradise.' Thank God for a prospect of heaven! What can equal this ?” The last line he wrote was, “I am living for eternity; the Lord is my portion.”
Henceforth Mr. Kemp's correspondence had to be kept up through the medium of an amanuensis ; and a kind lady in the village gladly rendered him this service. By the aid of her pen he testified, “I have constant pain, yet I have great cause for thankfulness. My mind is kept in perfect peace : I have no upbraidings of conscience. I am thavkful I have been able to steer a steady course. I am anxiously waiting till the final summons shall come.
I can say,
• To me to live is Christ,' but to die' wonld be great gain.' The same lady adds, in a postscript, “It is very delightful to see the sustaining power of Divine grace exemplified in Mr. Kemp, enabling him to bear constant pain without repining, calmly viewing death, and arranging for his obsequies as if only for a journey."
From this time the malady increased in virulence. I went a distance of forty miles, to see my old, afflicted, dying friend. That interview I shall never forget. I found him lying on his couch, with his face covered with the shade he generally wore. He was aware of my coming, and I well knew no one would more rejoice to see me. Yet he made no attempt to rise ; and there was not the cheerful smile, nor tbe gladsome greeting, as of yore. His feelings were quite overpowered, and his mind sunk beneath the pressure of heavy affliction. “0,” said he, “I am a wreck, a perfect wreck.” And, most truly, he was but the shadow and remnant of his former self: for the strong man was bowed down. He said his work was done, and he was now laid aside as a broken vessel; adding, that he desired to depart, and be with Christ.