« PreviousContinue »
MEMOIR OF THE REV. C. ATKINSON. As year after year glides away, how rapidly do our friends fall around us! The standard-bearers in our churches, one after another, are removed. Their toils and dangers end, their conflicts cease, and the victory is gained. We have now to record the death of another faithful minister of Christ.
The Rev. Christopher Atkinson was born December 24, 1782, in Sheffield. He has left it on record that his ancestors for generations had attended the Established. Church. He speaks" with warm affection of his mother. She was the daughter of Mr. Joseph Eyre, & respectable - master 'cutler. · At the age of twenty-two she was married to Samuel Atkinson, a young man of industrious habits, and of good moral character at the time, though a stranger to personal piety, and subsequently of evil habits. They had eleven children, of whom Christopher was the youngest. When only nine years old his father died; "but it is said he died a sincere penitent, relying on the mercy of God in Christ. Christopher was thus early cast on the special care of a' widowed mother, who industriously employed her energies to provide for the temporal wants of her children, was careful to instil into their minds the duty of attending Divine worship, and storing their minds with the Church Catechism, the Lord's Prayer, and what is called the Apostles? Creed. Christopher's attendance and behaviour at the church were exemplary. He says, “I was found at the church three times on the Sabbath, and very frequently on the week nights as well ; and so regular and so devout was I, that I often had halfpence given at the close of the service, with the expression You are a good boy.” He was of necessity early put to business. His master was a religious man, and required not only his family, but his apprentice to attend Queen Street Chapel. “Here,” says Christopher, “ the minister prayed without a book, and preached without a surplice.” His mind was gradually enlightened, and his affections drawn to the things that were good. At this early period the desire of his soul was to be a minister of the Gospel. “At this period there was an extensive and blessed revival of religion in Sheffield. God owned in a remarkable manner the labours of a Moor, a Bramwell, a Taylor, and others." Amongst those whose hearts were filled with sorrow for sin, and afterwards with love to Jesus, were many young people. The change effected
in them had its influence on many of their parents; and homes which had been the scenes of ungodliness were transformed, and became the abodes of piety and peace. During this revival of religion, young Atkinson was often found listening to the Gospel proclaimed by those devoted and successful ambassadors of Christ ; and when the services could no longer be held in the open fields, or on vacant plots of land, he mingled with those who held religious meetings in private houses. One of those places of resort for prayer, he says, was the house of Thomas Croddock. While many were happy in the conscious possession of the love of Christ, or rejoicing in God as their portion, he was the subject of disquietude and spiritual distress. But on one occasion, while the prayer of faith ascended to God, he felt his heart softened, trust was reposed in Christ, and a sweet calm ensued. Love to God and all mankind, pure and ardent, sprung up in his soul. His tears were now stayed, and serenity beamed in his countenance. Soon as this all-important and joyous change was wrought within him, he longed for closer fellowship with God's people. He began to meet in class, and to employ his powers in his Master's service; and now, as his knowledge of Divine truth increased, his aspirations for the full possession of Christian privileges became more ardent.
At this period his Methodistic attachments and associations exposed him to sarcasm, reproach, and persecution ; but, trying as this was, he admits, with all candour, that his greatest foe was his own evil heart. Unhappily, his ardour cooled, his attendance on the means of grace was not so exemplary and constant as it had been ; but, he says, “I could not be happy in this state, nor long remain in it." “ About this time,” he says, “the division of 1797 took place, and a few months after this event I was invited to join a class that was led by a pious and sensible man, of the name of Amos Hobson, a leader in the Methodist New Connexion Church. He had a very grateful remembrance of the spiritual good he derived under the ministry of a Mortimer, a Kilham, a Thorn, a Driver, and others. His joy was to be in the means of grace, drinking of the stream of that river that "maketh glad the city of God.” He says, “Soon after my union with the church, it pleased God to convert my mother and my sister Sarah, who was a widow with five children. I had a strong affection for my mother, and did all I could to help her, and often wept because the aid I could render was so small.”
Before his apprenticeship had expired, he says, “I was pressed to try to preach, but I had no confidence in myself; my desire to be useful was strong, but I felt so fully my unfitness, that I hesitated. At length I yielded to entreaty, and one Friday night I made the attempt to speak in a house where a weekly prayer-meeting was held. What I said, or how I proceeded I cannot tell, but to my astonishment, I was urged to continue in my efforts. My companions and I had held meetings in a room in our house, where we had attempted to preach. One of my companions was at length put on the Wesleyan plan, and I was brought on the New Connexion plan. The Sheffield Circuit at that time extended to Barnsley and Mapplewell in one direction, and to Claycross in another. I often preached three times on the Sabbath, and walked sixteen or eighteen miles."
After havirg given full proof of his delight in the work of preaching the Gospel, and of ability to instruct and edify the people, he was called to the full work of the Christian ministry. At the Conference of 1807, he was appointed to the Halifax Circuit. He resided at Brighouse, where endearing friendships were commenced wbich continued for many years.
Mr. Atkinson removed from the Halifax Circuit to Huddersfield, and from Huddersfield to Newcastle. He passed creditably the period of his probation. He was married at Sheffield, June 25, 1811. The next circuit in which he laboured was Norwich and Yarmouth, and at the next Conference he was appointed to Hull. This circuit at that time was extensive, embracing Thorne and the country places connected therewith. Here, Mr. Atkinson remarks, there were a number of very kind friends and hospitable families. Here he had assurances of success. These were to him, as they are to all devoted ministers of the Gospel, additional inducements to activity and diligence. While in the Hull Circuit, a person resident in that town had a dream. She thought she went to a chapel, had a clear view of the minister, and the text from which he addressed the congregation was, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” This dream was for a time disregarded by her. But she afterwards went to Bethel Chapel, and was surprised to see in the preacher the man whom she had seen in her dream, and still more surprised when he took for his text the very words she had so distinctly heard in her dream. These things impressed her mind, and it is believed resulted in her conversion. How mysterious are the ways of Providence !
After two years spent in this circuit, with visible tokens of the Divine blessing, Mr. Atkinson was appointed to the Nottingham Circuit. This was to him a fresh starting-point. He commenced a course of reading the Scriptures on his knees, and mixing the exercise with devout and earnest prayer for Divine illumination. This practice imparted a special interest in the Holy Scriptures, unfolded their excellences, and invested them with a charm which made them highly profitable alike for private devotion and public ministrations.
Writing on the 24th December, 1814, he says :-“This day I have attained my thirty-second year. From a review of my past life, I am ashamed before God that my time has not been improved to greater spiritual advantage ; but through the assistance of Divine grace, I hope to spend the remainder of my days better, by trying to be more stadious, more watchful, and more faithful in the discharge of all the daties of religion.” At the close of his ministry in Nottingham, he writes :-“I cannot review the two years spent in this circuit without thanksgiving to God for his presence and supporting grace. Here I had some of my greatest comforts and a few of my severest trials. Here, my daughter, Eliza, was born ; here, too, my wife had a long and tedious affliction, and for months there was little prospect of her recovery." His next appointment was Chester. Here, he says, he had appointed for his colleague a young man, who soon finished both his labours and his life. It was Richard Henshaw, a brother of our esteemed ministers, James and Robert Henshaw. “He was deeply pious, and had abilities which, if his life had been spared, would have rendered him useful in the Connexion." This year was one in which many sinners were converted and added to the church ; and it was pleasing to find that, after several years had passed, Mr. Atkinson became acquainted with eight or ten individuals who had been brought to God and a knowledge of salvation through his ministry in that circuit.
At the close of Mr. Atkinson's ministry in Chester, he was appointed to Stockport. During his residence in this town, he had his mind greatly exercised with the care of the church, and also with domestic afflictions. Mr. Atkinson remarks, he “found the circuit in a state of spiritual declension. There had some time previously been a remarkable revival, and a number of new places had been added in Derbyshire. But the work was superficial. Hopes were blighted, and considerable solicitude was felt. Nevertheless, at the close of his stay in that circuit, he remarks :—“I can look back on the time spent in this circuit with considerable satisfaction and thankfulness.” At the Conference of 1820 he was stationed in Leeds. Here he found a wide field for the employment of his energies. This appointment, he remarks, "met both his views and the views of the people." He entered
the duties of the circuit. He soon found, however, that there was great need of the exercise of the utmost prudence on the part of himself and his colleague. Speaking of Leeds, Mr. Atkinson observes :—"In no circuit have I found more and better material for a good and prosperous cause.
The friends there will live in my affectionate remembrance while the power of recollection remains. Leeds is identified with everything that is dear and interesting to the lovers of our Zion. Here the Connexion was formed; here the Irish mission was commenced ; and from Leeds our first missionary, the Rev. John Addyman, went forth to Canada.”
The next appointment of Mr. Atkinson was to the Hanley Circuit. Mrs. Atkinson was at that time in a very delicate state of health-so enfeebled and helpless, that fears were entertained as to whether she could at the time bear the fatigue of the journey. They arrived at Burslem on the Saturday afternoon, and received a cordial welcome from the friends. Mr. Atkinson says, “I entered the circuit with a praying heart, and a determination to spend and be spent in my Master's service.” And in carrying out this holy purpose, he remarks, "he was often exhausted by exertion.” This was particularly the case during a revival which, he says, took place at the time of holding the Stokes' Wakes. He had been the witness of a good and gracious work in the church, and had taken an active part in it, but he had never witnessed before such a signal display of Divine power in the awakening and conversion of sinners, as that which he then beheld, and in which he had so lively an interest. “Sinners were crying out in all parts of the chapel, ‘God be merciful to me,' even while he was yet in the pulpit; and one man, who was in the bottom of the chapel, fell down as if dead. “I then left the pulpit, and went amongst the penitents. Many were made happy in God, and some by their life gave evidence of the reality and genuineness of the work." And why should not showers of Divine influence as copious still fall upon our churches, and produce results as blessed and glorious ? Let the spirit of worldliness, apathy, and unbelief be put away, and the spirit of love, unity, and faith le cxercised, and promises of the Holy Ghost, with his richest influences, will be realized.
The first year of Mr. Atkinson's labour in the Hanley Circuit was to him a memorable one, the events of which will be remembered by him through all eternity. During this period he had one of the heaviest afflictions of his life. He was disabled for labour nearly a whole quarter. He was not only the subject of severe physical suffering, but his mind was affected in a peculiar manner. Referring to this circumstance, he says, “My mind was brought into a state of such dejection, that everything was seen by me through the darkest medium. I thought of Job's affliction, and compared myself to him. I had no sleep for near five weeks. I had the most frightful visions, My wife also had the rheumatic fever, and could not be moved for weeks, except when lifted by her attendants. She was confined in one room and I in another. The friends were kind and attentive, but the dispensation was dark—it was Egyptian darkness, till God was pleased to restore me. Then my voice returned, my mind was invigorated, and I was enabled to resume the duties of my calling."
Without attempting to follow our beloved brother through the long course of his ministry, or any special reference to the circuits in which he laboured, we may say that he speaks of pleasures which he enjoyed, and of endeared friends which he left in all, or nearly so. From the time he left Hanley he travelled in Longton, Halifax, Barnsley, Ashton, Shields, Thorne, Dewsbury, Hull, Leeds, Mossley, Stockport, Stourbridge, Sunderland, Ripon, Leeds (a third time), and Huddersfield. Here the regular duties of the ministry with him closed. For a short time he had charge of our little cause in Wakefield; after that he took up his residence in Hunslet. During the years he spent in the circuits just named, many events transpired which were of the deepest interest to him, and some of which were recorded by him.
While he was stationed in Sunderland, in the year 1849, his wife, who had for many years been very feeble, and had been attended by him with the greatest tenderness, finished her earthly course. They had been married about thirty-eight years. For the period of twentyfive years she had been unable to dress herself, but his kindness and attention were unceasing. She slept in Jesus. He felt his loneliness ; but, while health and opportunity were continued to him, he laboured on, desiring to secure the smile and benediction of his great Master.
Mr. Atkinson was blessed with a vigorous constitution, and for this he was often constrained to give thanks to Him from whom every good gift comes.
While his mental powers were not of the highest order, he had a quick perception, a lively imagination, a rich vein of humour, and a readiness of speech, combined with Christian simplicity, genuine piety, and ardent zeal. These often rendered his ministry not only pleasing but effective. He was, as many could testify, an agreeable colleague. His kindness and affability secured for him especially the esteem and veneration of the junior ministers who travelled with him, and a high place in the affection of his brethren generally. He was ever welcome on the platform, and to advocate the general interests of the Church, the Sabbath school, or of the missionary enterprise, he was well