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FOR JANUARY, 1821.
MEMOIR OF MR. WILLIAM TURTON,
MANY YEARS A MISSIONARY IN THE BAHAMA ISLANDS.
MR. WILLIAM TURTON, the subject of this memoir, was born in the island of Barbadoes: his father was a planter, and, at his death, left the family in very comfortable circumstances. The death of his father happening when he was a child, the whole of his juvenile life was under the guardianship and direction of his mother, who, in some respects, feeling the importance of her situation, exercised over him a very strict discipline; which, however, being mixed with much affection, did not fail to command his filial obedience, so that when grown up to manhood, the influence of her authority had frequently a salutary influence upon him.
But notwithstanding the strict attention paid to his morals, it appears he still remained a stranger to vital godliness; for it was not until he was sixteen years of age, that he had the privilege of hearing a gospel sermon. This was from a Baptist preacher, who had obtained liberty to preach on his mother's plantation to her slaves. The permission granted to this servant of the Lord appears to have been merely a compliment; for so great was the prejudice of his mother against true religion, that although she had given leave for her slaves to hear the Word of Life, she determined that neither herself nor her family should, on that day, be on the estate. Young Turton, however, felt a strong desire to be present; and, after much importunity, was permitted, when the word delivered had such an effect upon his mind, that it created in him a strong desire to give his heart to God; but, for want of the fostering advice of a pious friend, it soon died away, and the pleasures of the world triumphed over his affection. Mrs. Turton, on whose information I write, observes in a letter, "Being of a very volatile disposition, he gave himself up to the vain amusements of the world, and so much was he carried off,
that, contrary to the expectation or wish of his family he had projected entering the navy, which, had it not been for the timely interference of his parent, he would have carried into effect. Being prevented in this, he entered into business for himself; and not being under control, he gave full scope to his desires for pleasure." To all who knew brother T., it was evident attention had, in early life, been paid to inform his mind: but the above shews how ineffectual a guard accomplishments, independent of true religion are, to young persons, to preserve them from those temptations, with which the early stages of life are so particularly assaulted; and yet it is painful to reflect how careful parents in general are, to have their children every thing but religious! Had the parent of our brother, with all her anxiety about his welfare, been so wise as to have taught him the things of God, what snares might he have escaped; and the reflection that she had trained up her child in the way of the Lord, (the way in which he was found at death) would have afforded her a lasting source of comfort!
The circumstances which led to that repentance in our brother, which is unto life, are very important. Hearing his companions speak of the new doctrine, taught by the Rev. Dr. Coke and Mr. Pearce, he expressed to them a desire to go, not to hear as for eternity, but to have some sport. It met with their approbation, and they consented to accompany him. After getting some pins for the purpose of pinning together the people's clothes, a servant was sent to the chapel to know the hour of service. Prompted by curiosity to see as much of the service as he could, he forgot the object of his errand, until nearly the close of the sermon, when he ran and told them service was commenced, who, lest they should be disappointed in accomplishing their purpose, hastened to the house of God with all possible speed. The doorkeeper observing their conduct, asked them to sit down, which was refused; the request was made again; their conduct having attracted the notice of the congregation, brother T. felt ashamed, complied with the request, and sat down, when his attention became arrested:-the word was applied to his heart:-he saw and felt himself a sinner :-he forgot his pins and projected evil, and resolved to save his soul.
There is, probably, nothing more commonly practised, nothing, the sinfulness of which is thought less by persons in general, (particularly in the West-Indies) than irreverence in Divine worship. It is a sin more or less committed in every circle of life; it is practised by the polite gentleman, and man of letters, as well as by the school-boy and the clown. It is considered by many parents but a small breach of decorum, and as not deserving a word of reproof, much less the rod of correction. But is it not painful to the pious mind, to see the truths of God thus contemned, the
ambassadors of Christ thus ridiculed, and the sacred ordinances of God's house thus profaned? Whilst witnessing such evils, their eye affects their heart, and how much more must it grieve that holy and just Being, who hath declared he is jealous for his honour.
With respect to the subject of these sketches, God, in deserved wrath, remembered mercy; but it might have been otherwise: he might have been justly marked out by Divine Justice, as an object of eternal displeasure. Had he resisted the convictions of the Spirit upon his conscience, who can tell what would have been the result? Let those, who are guilty of such evil practices, seriously reflect and desist from them, lest the icy hand of death should arrest them in the impious act, and their naked souls be arraigned before the dread tribunal, to answer for their conduct. When God ariseth to judge, how will such answer?
Conviction having taken a fast hold on brother T. to have been enabled to transmit to the world the workings of his mind, under conviction, the manner and time of his conversion, with his trials and conflicts in the first stages of his Christian life, would have been edifying to the younger classes of Christians, and highly satisfactory to the Church of Christ; but with this we are not, at present, privileged.
It is a maxim in philosophy, that the way to ascertain the latent qualities of the different parts of nature, is to endeavour to find out the cause by tracing the effects produced. And, although nature in general is inexplicable, and often eludes the penetration of the most deep and piercing mind, yet, in some cases, experience will prove the certainty of the philosopher's conjecture. In judging of the work of grace, we are authorized to adopt the same maxim, and by the effect, may judge accurately of the cause. Divine Revelation having given a description of the influence of saving grace in its various ramifications and effects, we may, by a constant observation of the lives of persons professing godliness, form more than a probable conjecture whether they enjoy the power of it or not. "By their fruits ye shall know them." If we were to act upon this maxim in the present instance, I am confident we should not only find abundant evidence that Mr.T.'s conversion was sound, and his experience of Divine things deep and genuine; but that in his conduct he was a bright and a shining light.
From personal acquaintance I could expatiate largely on the piety of our excellent brother; but the following traits, which are by no means exaggerated, I suppose, will suffice. In his temper and disposition he was mild, compassionate, and forgiving; in his conversation he was spiritual and edifying; he held sin in perfect abhorrence, and in the practice of Christian duties, was constant and regular. The rising sun was a witness to his early
and pious devotions, and the evening shades were ushered in with grateful acknowledgments to his God. His steady, pious, and uniform conduct, has constrained the tongue of prejudice to confess, and the mixed multitude to acknowledge, "Mr. Turton was a man of God."
As the graces of the Spirit, which adorned the advanced stages of our brother's Christian life, gave evidence to the soundness of his early piety, so did the manner of discharging his various ministerial duties show the fitness of his appointment to the sacred office.
The character and talents of our worthy brother, had been long known to those excellent missionaries, Messrs. Baxter and Warrener; and it was under the auspices of these holy men that he was encouraged to employ himself publickly for his God. His first labours were among the inhabitants of the island of Antigua, at which place it appears he was provisionally employed until he should receive an appointment from the English Conference. In 1798, he received a regular appointment for St. Bartholomew, and honourable mention is made of his labours there in Dr. Coke's History of the West-Indies.
To be the instrument of planting the gospel where its gennine seeds have not before been sown, is certainly a work of no small importance, and cannot fail to make the memory of the man, whom the great Head of the Church employs, and whose labours he blesses, to be had in reverence and honour. It is this which makes the name of Coke so dear to the Christians in the Western world. To this honourable work brother T., after due consideration, was called and solemnly appointed.
Through the influence of Dr. Coke, who had been applied to by a respectable black man, to send to the Bahamas, a Methodist preacher from England, to instruct a few, who were willing to Bee from the wrath to come, the attention of the English Conference was directed to these islands; and in 1798, Mr. Brownell was appointed; but this appointment, it appears, could not be complied with. In 1800, brother T. received an appointment, and sailed from Antigua in May of the same year. The place at which he landed in the Bahamas, was Turk's Islands, these islands being distant from New-Providence, the place to which his attention was directed.
After staying there two months, and no opportunity offering, or likely to offer, he was obliged to take passage to New-York, to get from thence to his place of destination.
The kindness of the American Methodists, and the happy meetings he enjoyed whilst with them, were frequently mentioned by him with great feeling and affection. His stay, however, among these kind friends was short; he sailed from New-York the 10th day of October, and after a very disagreeable and