Page images

M.A., in the conduct of an academy. And the Isle of Wight was his spiritual birth-place. He was now far from home, and thoughts of home and home instruction induced deep seriousness of soul, as I gather from his ordination statement. The many prayers which had been pre sented on his behalf under the parental roof, and the deep solicitude which he knew was felt there on the subject of his spiritual condition, came up before him. He had now, as it were, entered on the world, and saw the importance and necessity of decision. He recalled the solemn and salutary warnings of his father, and the affectionate counsels of his mother, and for the first time really and ardently desired to be a Christian and a child of God. The prayers which had hitherto been but a form, now became the utterance of the heart. He resolved to watch his words as well as his conduct, that he might not fall into sin. He was troubled, not so much with fear of punishment as with the consciousness of his sinfulness. Thus moved he earnestly desired and endeavoured to abandon sin ; but the attempt was made in his own strength and in his own way. Day followed day, and his anxiety regarding his spiritual condition became more intense. Theoretically, he knew the way of a sinner's acceptance with God through the blood of the cross; but his proud heart—the words are his own-wished to work out a righteousness for itself. Hence he continued for some time a stranger to the peace of God. And he thought that if religion consisted in the duties which he endeavoured to perform, with no more enjoyment than he had, it must be miserable. It was in this state of mind he opened James's “ Anxious Inquirer," which his father had put into his hands before leaving home. “While perusing the chapter on faith,” he said at his ordination—"it was on a Sabbath day ; I recollect it well—the Spirit of God unfolded to me the perfection of Christ's atonement, opened my eyes to see the transcendent excellency and value of His righteousness, and convinced me of the worth and preciousness of His shed blood. This was what I required. I saw myself sinful, guilty, helpless, lost : but in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the mediator between God and man, I perceived pardon, reconciliation, peace. By the grace of God I was enabled to place my confidence in Him who died that I might live. Then peace

flowed into my

conscience, comfort was poured on my wounded spirit, and joy filled my soul."

James Spence was now a new creature. Prayer was no longer a mere duty, but a privilege, he said, which brought his soul into fellowship with the Divine Redeemer. And now the desire awoke within him to proclaim to others the preciousness of the Saviour. His life found a purpose from which he never swerved. His first thoughts turned to the great mission field into which his native Huntlay bad sent forth so many honoured labourers. But feeble health raised an insuper able difficulty, and for a time prevented him from taking any steps with reference to the Christian ministry. At length, in 1840, he resumed his studies at King's College, Aberdeen, gained a high “ Bursary” by competition, and for four years he prosecuted his studies with an ardour which, it may be feared, laid the foundation in a naturally delicate constitution of much of the suffering of his after life. In 1844 he took his Master's degree, having already attained the highest honours which the University could bestow in classics and mental philosophy.

During his four years of College life, Mr. James Spence was a member of the church then under my pastoral charge, and of which his own uncle, afterwards in the Isle of Wight, had been pastor for fourteen years. I cannot deny myself the pleasure of saying one word in memory of the elder James Spence. He was my pastor for a brief space, and I owe much to his ministry. He was more than a pastor. He and Mrs. Spence, a Huntlay Macdonald, were as parents to me when for the first time I was removed from my father's roof-tree, and exposed, while still a boy, to the temptations of College life. His memory will ever be cherished as one of the most precious memories of my youth. I venture at the same time to recall the names of some of those who were James Spence's contemporaries at College, or by one or two years his juniors, and who used to come to my study of a Saturday afternoon to receive familiar lectures on Bible subjects; his brother, Robert Spence,-his relative, Robert Troup,--Robert Bruce,—George Macdonald,--MacRae Moir,--and others, all of whom entered the ministry, although all have not persevered in it, and some of whom have acquired celebrity in another line of things.

In 1844 Mr. James Spence entered Highbury College, and after one session under the tuition of Dr. Henderson and Mr. Godwin, accepted a call to become pastor of the Congregational Church in Oxford. This he did with a deep consciousness of the difficulties of the post to which he was called, and called while yet a youth of four-and-twenty. But he had strong faith in the commission which he had received to preach the glorious gospel of the grace of God, and in the sufficiency which is of God Himself. And this, aided by the buoyancy of youth, enabled him to enter on his charge in a hopeful spirit. His confession of faith at his ordination (July 3, 1845) was such as might be expected from his early training. And those evangelical truths which brought him not only peace but life while a youth of seventeen, and which were now clearly avowed in the presence of many “Presbyters,” formed the staple of his ministration to the last. With years his knowledge of them increased, and he understood their bearings on God and man better, But his faith in them never faltered. And this, not that he shut his eyes and ears to the great spiritual conflicts of the age, but because the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

more he studied them, and the more fully he understood them and the speculations that are antagonistic to them, the more clearly did their divinity shine forth to the apprehension of his heart and of his intellect.

The Tractarian movement, which has since developed into Ritualism, was then of but a few years' growth. But its character and tendencies were unmistakeable. And the young pastor girded himself for battle. To Oxford men who might condescend to notice the matter, his action would appear as audacious as the conduct of the stripling David when he went forth against Goliath. Would that the result of the audacity had been equally triumphant! But Mr. Spence did what he could. With a view to give his own congregation a somewhat clear understanding of the Tractarian heresy, and after much anxious thought, he resolved to deliver a course of lectures on the subject. “ Considerable interest was excited; many ame to hear who did not usually attend his ministry, and some who, perhaps, were never before in a nonconforming place of worship.” These lectures were carefully re-written and given to the public as a “ Voice from Oxford.” The argument throughout is put with great clearness and force; and the service which he thus rendered was not forgotten by his people when Providence removed him to another sphere. “We cannot but most cordially thank you,” they said, “ for the noble stand you made in the lectures on Tractarianism. We deem it no small honour that the only public advocacy of the glorious doctrines of the Reformation, amidst almost universal religious corruption, should be left to a humble Nonconforming minister, who in his own pulpit valiantly defended God's truth, when every pulpit in the city was silent.”

Soon after entering on his ministry in Oxford, Mr. Spence was married to Miss Charlotte Underhill, who, as a widow with seven children, now mourns his loss. But it soon became evident that the climate of that city and neighbourhood was unsuited to his constitution. In 1848 he had an attack of hemorrhage, and was never after really strong again. His work through life was accomplished more through strength of will than through strength of body. He would rest only when absolutely obliged, and when urged to cease from study and work, his common reply was—“It is better to wear out than to rust out.” It was with deep regret both to himself and his friends in Oxford, that he accepted a call to Cannon-street Chapel, Preston, in 1848. In this Lancashire town he laboured with great acceptance and success for six years, taking his full share in the discussion of all the public questions which at the time agitated the public mind. Among his papers I find full newspaper reports of a series of lectures addressed to the working classes. These lectures are able and eloquent. They were well received, and must have produced good fruit.

During his Preston ministry, Mr. Spence published a small volume entitled, “ The Religion for Mankind : Christianity adapted to Man in All The Aspects of His Being.” The book was well received by reviewers. While it does not attempt to meet the objections of scepticism, it contains a clear and forcible statement of the adaptation of Christ's religion to our common humanity, such as is fitted to be useful, especially to the young.

In 1852, Mr. Spence was greatly perplexed by overtures that were made to him with a view to his becoming co-pastor with the Rev. George Clayton, at Walworth. He had preached in York Street Chapel in June, and by a unanimous vote of the Church he was asked to preach for a month in autumn. His own chapel in Preston was being enlarged at the time. And this and other considerations induced him finally to decline preaching again in Walworth. His perplexities were renewed in 1854, when he received, almost simultaneously, unanimous invitations to the pastorate in Grosvenor Street Chapel, Manchester, and in the Poultry Chapel, London. About the same time he was waited on by two deacons of the church in West George Street Chapel, Glasgow, to ask him to preach in the pulpit so long honoured as the scene of the labours of Dr. Wardlaw, who had died in the end of 1853. The difficulty of deciding the path of duty in these circumstances was great. His people in Preston appreciated his ministry as much as ever.

The church in Manchester had been the scene of the ministry of Roby and R. Fletcher, and held a high place among the churches of Lancashire. The church in the Poultry had long enjoyed the ministry of the Rev. John Clayton, and for a few years that of the Rev. S. Bergne, who had now accepted the office of Secretary to the British and Foreign Bible Society. Both of them were positions of honour, but of difficulty. And after a most anxious and prayerful consideration of the claims of these spheres of labour, he accepted the call to London, and began his work in Poultry Chapel, in May, 1854. It is no small proof of his ability and diligence, that, under the blessing of the Great Head, this city church, notwithstanding the many drawbacks which affected it, was sustained in efficiency during the thirteen years of his ministry. Seven hundred and thirty persons were received into its fellowship; Foreign Missions were liberally supported ; Sabbath schools were conducted with great zeal; and City mission work was earnestly prosecuted. In connection with this last department of christian well-doing, the chapel once known as Grubb Street Chapel, where Mr. Buck had laboured, and where Mr. Thomas James had been ordained to the ministry, but which had become « The City Theatre," and was afterwards converted into swimming-baths, was rescued and turned into Milton Street Chapel, and used for evangelistic and Sabbath school purposes. This Mr. Spence felt to be one of the happiest events in his London ministry, and to the last he took the deepest interest in all the operations conducted in Milton Street. It was his honour to have around him at this time deacons whose praise was in all the churches, and it is no small testimony to his worth that he should be appreciated by such men as Mr. Joseph East, Mr. Eusebius Smith, Mr. David Lonsdale, Dr. Waller, and others like-minded.

In 1856 his Alma Mater, the University of Aberdeen, conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1865 he accompanied Dri Stoughton, Dr. Allon, and some other friends on a pilgrimage to Egypt and the Holy Land. But greatly as he enjoyed his travels amid scenes which he had longed to visit, the result to his health was disastrous. In Damascus he had an alarming attack of dysentery, his recovery from which seemed to his brethren almost miraculous. And he resumed his work in the Poultry in a condition of great physical weakness. His strong will and unfailing conscientiousness sustained him for a time. But in 1867, feeling his strength unequal to the necessities of his City charge, he accepted a call to succeed the Rev. John Davies as pastor of the church in Old Gravel Pits, Hackney, with which the name of Dr. Pye-Smith is so honourably associated. In this new sphere his labours were blessed as they had been elsewhere. And the church was encouraged to undertake the erection of a new, large, and costly building in Clapton Park, And in this new building he hoped to preach, with the ripeness of five-and-twenty years' experience, the glorious gospel of the Son of God. But the Master had otherwise ordained. In August, 1870, his many illnesses culminated in paralysis and increased disease of the heart. And only once was he able to open his lips in Clapton Park Chapel, and that was when, presiding at the Lord's table, he tendered to the church the resignation of his charge. I should not omit to say that on his retirement the churches in the Poultry and in Hackney gave practical proof of their gratitude and respect.

Only two months before Dr. Spence was thus finally laid aside from public work, he lost a brother to whom he was most tenderly attached. Robert was only 18 months his junior, and, after five years' ministry in Liverpool, had occupied the pulpit, once that of Dr. David Russell, in Dundee, with great power and success for fourteen years. James and Robert were like twin souls. They wrote to each other every week in the most confidential manner, “ keeping nothing back," and thus became partakers of each other's thoughts and feelings. And the death of the younger was the heaviest trial that could befal the elder, outside the circle of his own family.

For six years, 1865-1870, both included, Dr. Spence was my colleague as visitor of Brecon College on behalf of the Congregational Fund Board Our intercourse on these occasions was of the closest and most intimate

« PreviousContinue »