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REV. JOSHUA WELLS DOWNING, A. M.
IN laying before the public this selection from the writings of a departed brother, it may be proper that I should give a brief and unadorned view of his life and death. It would not become me to dwell on his character, and little can be said in sketching the progress of a career which has so soon ended. His life was, comparatively, but a life of promise. He was taken away, as many, alas, have been, in the bright morning of his days, and the short space of four years witnessed the commencement and the close of his ministerial labours.
JOSHUA WELLS DOWNING was born in Lynn, Mass., March 5, 1813. His parents were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church: they are now no more. may be truly said of them, that their lives were in unison with their Christian profession; they exerted a happy influence over the circles in which they moved, and, as Christian parents, sought by their prayers and pious instructions to lead their children with them in path to heaven. Of those children, eight in number, five died in infancy; the writer of this sketch is now the only survivor. The November following his birth, Joshua was
bereft of his mother. The loss of a mother is, to her surviving offspring, whether in their early or more mature years, one of the most severe and afflictive bereavements. Who can guide them "in the slippery paths of youth," shield them from the evils which are in the world, and lead them to the Saviour, like a pious mother? In the present instance, however, that mother's place was supplied, in the order of a kind Providence, by another, who is still living.
In September, 1830, at the age of seventeen, Joshua became a student of Brown University. At that time it was his expectation, on leaving college, to devote himself to the profession of law; but his views and feelings in regard to all earthly pursuits were soon after very materially changed. He had connected himself as a teacher with one of the Methodist sabbath schools in Providence, and it was while endeavouring to teach his class the truths pertaining to salvation, that he himself was taught of God. He now saw and felt his insufficiency for the responsible work in which he had engaged. He could not, he reflected, teach that of which he himself was ignorant; and if a personal interest in Christ was of importance to others, it was, he justly reasoned, of no less importance to himself. He was led by the Holy Spirit to view his guilt and danger while unreconciled to God; he sought the pardon of his sins, and, in penitence and faith, was enabled to give himself to the Saviour in an everlasting covenant. Not long after, he made a public profession of his faith in Christ, and was admitted to the Methodist church in Providence, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. D. Kilburn. From this time his course was onward and upward." True, doubts and fears pursued him far on his way; but they could not retard his progress. It was manifest to the brethren with whom he was associated that he was growing in grace,
and in the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour. For a view of his Christian experience, and for his own expression of his thoughts and feelings before and after entering the ministry, the reader is referred to the extracts from his letters in this volume.
In the second year of his collegiate course he was called to mourn the loss of an affectionate and only sister, Mrs. Mary D. Pool. Death's sad messenger had not entered our dwelling since he took away our mother; and we were then too young to know the dreadful nature of his commission, or to remember his visit. While we were fondly hoping that our little circle would remain unbroken for many a year to come, one of our number declined and died. We never knew before what it is to part with one endeared to us by every tie of kindred and affection. We could not but feel, when forced to part with Mary; she was an only sister, and when she died, we suffered the agonies of a first bereavement. Yet we rejoiced in the assurance that it was to her a happy change.
My brother was graduated September 3, 1834. His Commencement Oration is placed in the present collection. He received his second degree in course, September, 1837.
His duty in regard to entering the Christian ministry had been to him, from the time of his conve nversion, a subject of anxious reflection and fervent prayer. And well it might have been. The question, Does the Saviour require me to preach the gospel? is one of solemn and momentous import. The interests of the individual for time and for eternity are affected by its decision. Satisfied at length that it was his duty to become a minister of Christ, he joined the New-England Conference at its session in