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Past and Present
The Rev. James Wilson

At this writing in ’54, but recently gone to liis reward, was one of the active worthies of the period of which we write. Though but lately deceased, yet living, from extreme age, so long in retirement before his death, those who have come upon the stage of active life since he retired, or who have but lately landed upon our shores might wish to learn something about him.

“ He was a native of Ireland, and came to this country about middle life. He entered the itinerant ministry soon after he arrived. We have heard him say, he was converted at the “ Methodist Preaching House, Gravel Walk, in the City of Dublin.” Although he had only been a local preacher in his own country, yet being a person of good natural abilities, a clear Christian experience, and fair education, he had been very active and useful for many years. He had been, I believe, “ a cavalry man,” or trooper, during the Irish rebellion; and brought a good deal of the martial spirit and bearing into his religion and ministry. No man could be more heartily loyal than he was. It was not only a matter of principle, but of sentiment and feeling with him. He had imbibed it in his infancy. I used to delight in hearing him pray for the King and Government—there was a heartiness about it that was truly refreshing. Perhaps in exercising the discipline of the church, and in his treatment of people in general, there wag more of martial authority than ecclesiastical law.

The writer remembers well his first sight of Wilson, of whom he had heard favorable mention before. It was a lovely, sunny, Sabbath morning. It chanced to be our last quarterly meeting for the year. A number of preachers had arrived on the Saturday preceding (on horseback, as they used then altogether to travel) on their way to Conference; and when the doors were opened for love-feast, a number of them came pouring into the church. Among the rest, there was a small sized man, some forty-five or fifty years of age, straight and trim in his build, with a great appearance of determination in his black, fiery eyes, and a most remarkable head, having the crown towering up at an angle of forty-five degrees from the perpendicular, not unlike an Egyptian sphinx, covered with a thick coat of black, glossy hair. After the love-feast, which in those days of healthful activity was always held in the morning, and used to commence at half-past eight o’clock, this same dark complexioned, severe looking little man ascended the pulpit and commenced the service. It was Wilson. I thought I had never heard a man read a hymn with such force and propriety. And then his prayer was so copious, confident and powerful. He excelled in the gift of prayer. But no sooner had he taken his text, than jets of fire began to flash from under his dark, shaggy eyebrows. The foundation of his discourse was, Colossians, chap. i, v. 21-4.‘—“ And ye that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel which ye have heard.” From these words he gave us the whole remedial scheme—as indeed he was prone to do, whatever was his text—with a lustre and a power that thrilled through the congregation like electric fire. It was a gracious means of edifying and com^ forting my poor soul. Oh, how much good I did use to get under preaching in those days! The “ word ” did “ profit,” “ being mixed with ” the most implicit, cordial “ faith ” in the youthful hearer. It was our privilege, subsequently to that, to hear the preacher of that morning on various occasions, and always with profit.

Mr. Wilson used to preach the doctrine of entire sanctification clearly ; and he professed the enjoyment of the blessing. But, although it is not at all likely his experience was a delusion, yet his mental and nervous constitution and temperament were such, that the fruits of that exalted state of Christian attainment did not appear to so much advantage as they otherwise would have done.

A number of incidents of a somewhat amusing character might be told, illustrative of the peculiarities of the man. On one occasion he commenced preaching at a camp meeting, on the afternoon of Sunday, from Zech. ix. and 9th.—“Bejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout 0 daughter of Jerusalem ; behold thy King cometh unto thee; he is just and having salvation ; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” The meeting had been very dead and powerless, but Wilson had not progressed far in his sermon before he obtained uncommon liberty, and the people were much moved ; and before his discourse was finished by one-third, the power of conviction so descended on the people that their cries of distress, and believers’ shouts of praise were so great as to drown the preacher’s voice, and forced him to give over. The other brethren on the “ Stand ” went down and commenced a prayer meeting, in which some of them received the blessing of full salvation; and, among others, one young man was converted, went home and commenced exhorting the next Sunday. He has been a preacher for many years—was once the Secretary of the Conference—and the Chairman of a District. While the prayer meeting was in progress, Wilson walked the stand ” exulting in what was going on; and some friend overheard him to exclaim, clapping his hand upon his thigh, while his black eyes glistened with joy, “We’re the boys!”

On another occasion, he had to pass through great difficulties in getting to his appointment, and arrived a little late and much fatigued. Observing he was a little out of humor, and wishing perhaps to say some good natured, soothing word, one of the by-standers remarked, “You have had to como by a very bad road, Father Wilson.” “Yes,” said he, pettishly, “but not half so bad as sinners have to go to hell.”

On one occasion, it is said, while addressing a congregation in the village of Hallowell, now Picton, he was led to branch out so far m the early part of his discourse, that by the time he had got through his introduction, he had forgotten his text. After several ineffectual attempts to recall it, or to find it, said he, looking around upon the congregation, with the peculiar looking smirk his countenance used to wear, “ Brethren, if any of you will tell me what or where my text is, by the grace of God I will try and preach a sermon worth hearing.” A brother rose and informed him where it was—Wilson thanked him and went on not in the least disconcerted.

He was capable of a sly sarcastic thrust at error and errorists, by way of inuendo. Once when giving an exhortation, after the Presiding Elder, at a quarterly meeting, (something deemed almost indispensable in those days) who had preached on the subject of Gospel Fishing, perhaps, from the text, “I will make you fishers of men.” Wilson remarked, “he had known a great many fishermen in his time, both at home in Ireland, and in this country, and that, generally speaking, they were a poor despised set of men; and he had known some of these to make themselves very rich by fishing, but unhappily while they caught vast multitudes of fish, they let them stink for want of salting.” The reader, perhaps, can make the application as well as his hearers could.

Preaching one Sabbath, in the “old framed meeting house,” about the time that Dr. Strachan’s celebrated “ Report,” in which he stigmatized the Methodist ministers as incompetent, was exciting no small stir in Upper Canada, on one of his favourite texts—a The priests lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts”—while describing the “ knowledge” which the true spiritual instructor should be possessed of, said that a large share of human learning, however desirable, was not indispensable, but said that of which he should be possessed was a knowledge of God and things divine. “And,” continued he, “it is generally thought that we Methodist preachers are an ignorant set of men, but,” said he with one of his peculiar leers, while he lowered his voice and emphasised every word “We-know-a-little-and-they-had-better-let-us-alone” This fling derived point and pungency from the fact that a Methodist preacher had been giving the Doctor to feel by a “Review” of his “Sermon” and “Report” that he knew quite enough for the assailants of Methodism.

Father Wilson once performed a feat that somewhat nonplused certain parties. He had spent a year on a circuit, where, as usual, he was the pride of the Methodist people, and where he was also a great favourite with the Baptists and Quakers, who were very numerous within the bounds of the circuit. Both of these denominations claimed him as the advocate of their peculiar opinions, on which account he thought he ought to speak out before he left. A numerously attended field meeting was the last public service for the year. Wilson mounted the “stand,” announced for his text the words of Elihu, Job xxxii, 10. “1 also will show mine opinion and proceeded to show his opinion, and reasons for it, on sundry texts of scripture which had been pressed into the service of these sects respectively in a manner which he thought unwarrantable, and on the subjects of adult baptism, close communion, final perseverance “silent waiting,” denial of ordinances, &c., &c., that could not have been peculiarly flattering to the parties mentioned. How his sermon was received by those for whom it was intended, deponent did not say.

These instances, which might be multiplied indefinitely, showed a sound heart and right meaning lurking under modes of expression, which one that did not know his worth, might think were characteristic of infirmity.

Wilson was a most prolific rhymer; and wrote some clever acrostics and rebuses—but poet he was not—though I am inclined to think the assertion would not have pleased him very well, or some of his admirers. But he has gone—he has dropped the infirmities inseparable from human nature- in the terrestial state, to experience the full development of his excellencies and powers in the celestial world..

It speaks well for the subject of the above sketch, that all his surviving children are staunch friends of the cause which their father so ably advocated. One of his sons is a talented and influential local preacher.

"The saints all in this glorious war,
Shall conquer though they die:
“They see the triumph from afar,
“And faith presents it nigh.”

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