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MR. ELIJAH Bush was a contemporary of the venerable Wesley, in the later years of his life, and received from him many kind attentions, By his removal another ring has been broken in the chain connecting the present day with that of the honoured Founder of the Wesleyan societies ; a day which before long will have its place in that past which there is no one living to remember.
Mr. Bush was born at Waterside, in the parish of Kilmersdon, September 29th, 1759. His parents were a truly respectable couple, strictly moral in conduct, and exceedingly regular in their attendance upon the religious services of their parish church. But of the Gospel in its great essential truths they were, till comparatively late in life, profoundly ignorant, and, in spite of the article of their Church which teaches that “we are justified by faith only,” they went about “to establish their own righteousness.” They were mere moralists, and insensible to the necessity of any new birth beyond that which they imagined had been wrought in their baptism. They laboured, however, so far as their light extended, to train up their children in the way they should go. Elijah, the subject of this Memoir, was conducted with the rest of the family to the venerable pile in which their fathers had worshipped, and shared in the benefits of domestic instruction and discipline.
Thus blessed, he was restrained from gross sins, and in his youth was thoughtful and serious. His parents placed him in a respectable school in the neighbourhood of their residence, in which establishment, after acquiring what was deemed suitable qualification, he became an usher.
At the early age of seventeen, young Bush received an appointment to the Mastership of the charity-school at Midsomer-Norton. It is delightful to observe, that at this period he was not unmindful of the doctrine of divine providence, nor of the duty of prayer. In this he VOL. IV.-FOURTI SERIES.
is well worthy the imitation of that interesting class, “our young men.” Not a few of these are apt to shut out God from his own world, and this under the influence of what they in their vanity imagine to be philosophy, but which is, in reality, the ignorance and imbecility of a guilty scepticism. In a manuscript Mr. Bush has left behind, embodying some brief notices of his life, there is found the following record, relative to the important event just mentioned. “Not knowing," he writes, “what the Lord was about to do with me, I was led to pray that if the Lord saw it would not be for His glory and my good, He would interpose to prevent my going thither, (to Norton,)—but, on the contrary, should He see otherwise, that He would open my way and make it plain before me; and that I might succeed in obtaining the appointment.”
This was life's turning-point. His settlement in Norton was attended with most important and happy results, both to himself and to others. Mr. Bush ever after saw in it the hand of God, and gratefully acknowledged and adored the kind providence which conducted him to this village. Here he found “the pearl of great price," and was gradually introduced into a sphere of usefulness which he diligently occupied till the Master came, a period of nearly seventy years.
For some time previously to Mr. Bush's removal to MidsomerNorton, there had been a Methodist society in the place. It is well known that Bristol and the surrounding district enjoyed somewhat largely the labours of the honoured Founder of Methodism, and the zealous helpers whom he gathered around him: and among the colliers of Gloucestershire and Somerset, their plain, earnest, evangelical preaching, wrought, through the divine blessing, effects which in many instances were very remarkable.
Among other scenes of early and successful labour, was the village of Coleford, now in the Shepton-Mallet Circuit, and where a chapel was built whose centenary has not long ago been celebrated. Having to pass through Norton on their way from Bristol to Coleford, the Preachers occasionally collected there a congregation in the afternoon; por was their labour in vain : a small class was soon formed, the nucleus of what is now a large and respectable village society, around which many others have been subsequently gathered in adjoining parishes. This "little flock” were as poor in circumstances as small in number. Such was their poverty, that no one individual among them could afford to furnish a meal for the Preacher ere he left the place to continue his journey. The necessary articles were therefore supplied by united contributions, one bringing this, and another that, till enough was provided.
Before Mr. Bush received his appointment to the Norton school, the Wesleyans there had been joined by two or three persons of some respectability : among these was Mrs. Frances Rooke, whose union with the Methodists was an important acquisition. Mrs. Rooke was a lady of good family; she possessed a vigorous understanding, had received an education in accordance with her station in society, and
was distinguished for the amiableness of her spirit, and the refinement of her manners. This excellent woman was admitted into the Methodist society by the venerable Pawson, under a sermon from whom she had found peace with God. In her case it required no small amount of moral courage to connect herself with the despised and persecuted followers of Wesley. She, however, “counted the cost,” and, having set her hand to the plough, never looked back. She became possessed of an eminent and enlightened piety, and laboured most zealously to promote the welfare of her friends and neighbours. Mrs. Rooke regarded Methodism as emphatically “the work of God," and cherished towards Mr. Wesley, as the chief instrument employed by the great Head of the church to bring about this blessed revival of primitive Christianity, profound reverence and the warmest filial affection. In the circle in which Mrs. Rooke moved, Wesley and his followers were “a proverb of reproach,” and she was not unfrequently called to defend their character and doctrines from the aspersions which were so liberally cast upon them by persons wholly unacquainted with spiritual religion, and who could see nothing in Methodism but enthusiasm, hypocrisy, and falsehood.
The following letter is an interesting document, as showing how an intelligent and pious lady, connected with early Methodism, boldly stepped forward to defend a calumniated servant of Christ. This letter was addressed to a neighbouring Clergyman :
“Rev. Sır,-Permit me to address a few lines to you, to acquaint you that the Rev. Mr. Wesley will be at my house next Thursday morning at nine o'clock, at which time I invite you to come and accuse him to his face of those things you so uncharitably aspersed him with the day I was in your company at Mr. Salmon's.
“I doubt not but that, as a Christian and a gentleman, you will gladly embrace this opportunity of freely conversing with Mr. Wesley, and, if you find you have injured him in his character, will have candour enough frankly to acknowledge your fault, which to an ingenuous mind must afford great satisfaction. The great commandment of the Gospel is love; and love,' saith the Apostle, 'worketh no ill to his neighbour.' May God, out of the unsearchable riches of his grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, abundantly pour into your heart the Spirit of power, of love, and a sound mind;' and then you will no longer oppose Mr. Wesley, or the doctrines he preaches, but rather praise God for raising up such an instrument for promoting his glory, in the conversion of sinners. He will preach in the church at ten, when I hope you will add one to the numerous congregation which we expect on the occasion.
“I am, Rev. Sir,
Mr. Bush's conversion to God and union with the Methodists were brought about by the instrumentality of Mrs. Rooke. He had no sooner come to reside in the village than he became an object of her zealous interest.
The papers of our venerable friend furnish the following memorandum :-"Soon after being settled in Norton, a pious, zealous follower of the Lord Jesus (Mrs. Rooke) sent me a very kind and respectful note, saying, that as I was a stranger in the place, perhaps I did not know that there was preaching in the chapel at such and such times, by the Rev. Mr. Wesley's Preachers, when she should be glad to see me there.” The young Schoolmaster, like most around him, was strongly prejudiced against the Methodists; and, to use his own language, “the proud Pharisee within rose against this Christian invitation."
In reply to this communication, Mr. Bush informed Mrs. Rooke, that as he was a member of the Church of England, and should by no means dissent from it, he must therefore desire Mrs. Rooke would not expect to see him at the chapel. Too many Christians would have allowed such an effort to suffice, and have left the young man to wander on in his ignorance and prejudice. But Mrs. Rooke resolved to persevere. She wrote to him again, stating in her second note, “ that she knew by experience that the doctrines taught by the Methodists were the doctrines of salvation.” On this communication Mr. Bush remarks : “ I determined not to answer it, especially as she had used one expression that surprised me beyond measure : it was, that she knew by experience that the doctrines taught by these servants of God were the doctrines of salvation. I was at a loss to know what she meant by the experience of salvation, as at that time I had no other idea of salvation' but that of going to heaven. Her writing to me in this manner appeared to me the greatest foolishness; proving the truth of the Apostle's assertion, that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.""
The silence of Mr. Bush on receiving this second letter must have been somewhat discouraging to the devoted Christian who so earnestly desired to be made the instrument of his enlightenment. She was not, however, deterred by it from further effort ; and her zeal was as judicious as it was persevering. “Going to church soon after this,” proceeds Mr. Bush, “I met this good woman at the church door, when she kindly invited me to come and take tea with her. I went; and she introduced such subjects of conversation as she thought suited to me.” This interview made a very favourable impression on his mind; for he writes, “At parting, I expressed my satisfaction, telling her that I had lately been in the company of several Clergymen, and hoped to have received some spiritual advantage, but had been greatly disappointed, as their conversation was entirely of another character ; but our intercourse on this occasion gave me great satisfaction, being quite of a different kind, and turning on religion. She expressed her pleasure at my observation, and her hope that I would repeat my visit ; which I did.” It is an interesting and profitable