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It was in the year 1784 that his mother's sister, then a member of the Wesleyan society, came to the house on a visit. It seems she had formerly been much attached to dress ; but her Methodism had wrought a great change both in her feelings and appearance. She had arranged this visit that she might have some religious conversation with her relations, and had requested the Preacher, who was then in the neighbourhood, to call on her. After a while, the subject of religion was introduced; but, when she spoke of her own experience, her sister put it all to the account of enthusiasm.
James overheard what was said, and was glad to find that a “ Methodist Parson” was coming,-anticipating the gratification of his love of ridicule and sarcasm. But,” he says, referring to the event,
as soon as he came, I saw that his countenance was expressive of something different from other men. It seemed as if a voice from heaven said, “This man has got what you want.' Seeking privacy, I began to weep, and said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?' I took
up the Bible, and kissed it, and resolved that I would break off my sins by repentance, and seek to be happy in religion.”
After tea the Preacher proposed prayer; and a messenger was sent to an aged female, a Presbyterian, who lived in an adjoining apartment, to request that the two sisters, with their friend, might come to spend a short time in prayer. James, whose heart was already full, wishing to hear the prayer, went to the door of the room, where what he heard strengthened all his convictions and purposes; so that he now began, with all his heart, to call on the name of the Lord.
As he did not wish to offend his father, his attendance at the Methodist chapel, which was distant about a mile and a half, was at first somewhat secret; but he was decided, that this people should be his people; and therefore, in March, 1785, he was received into the Wesleyan society, by the Rev. W. Thompson, then in the Oldham Circuit.
His mother, also, who had long felt the burden of sin, but had sought to remove it“ as by the works of the law," began now, as an humble penitent, to seek the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Mr. Buckley, sen., at first, was very angry, when he saw the change that had taken place in his wife and son ; but they received his rebukes with Christian meekness, and begged him, "just for once," to hear for himself. He consented, though reluctantly; but he kept his word. Returning home, he said, that Mrs. Buckley should not have given information to the Preacher of his intention to be present. He was assured, that nothing of the kind had been said; when he expressed his surprise, that the man should know the circumstances of his life so well. “But it matters not,” he added, in evident agony
of spirit; “ for if what he said be true, I am undone for ever.” Such was the effect of the word of God, that he became inconsolable; and was, for many days, confined, in great measure, to his room. His burden was
intolerable, and he wept and prayed till it pleased God to turn his sorrow into joy, by the gracious manifestation of his pardoning mercy. He soon after joined the society himself; and now five of the family, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley, two sons, and a relation who lived with them, went joyfully together to the house of God; and a happiness, unknown before, was diffused amongst them.
In the mean time, James was himself seeking the Lord with all his heart. Sometimes he had such views of the divine goodness, that he thought, “ If I perish, I will still acknowledge the love of God.” But at other times, as he says, he saw the flaming sword of justice suspended over his head. The law condemned. Conscience accused; and hell seemed to be moved from beneath to meet him at his coming. If he walked in the fields, he thought, "Everything can praise God : the heavens declare his glory; the vegetables display his boundless wisdom : and I, for whom the Incarnate shed his blood, -I cannot praise him." His Leader encouraged him, and instructed him in the doctrine of justification by faith, that these deep mental exercises might issue in his spiritual deliverance.
Thus he continued till the latter end of the year 1785 ; when, going one evening to a public prayer-meeting, his heart still meditating terror, suddenly the darkness passed from his mind; he was enabled to view the justice of God as satisfied by the propitiation of Christ, and to believe in the promise of forgiveness. “And now," he says, referring to this eventful period, “the whole face of nature appeared to be changed, and to proclaim the greatness of redeeming love.” For a few hours he was unspeakably happy, when the doubt arose, “ May I not have been deceived ? Is not all this only an emotion of the animal spirits ?" But he remembered the devices of Satan ; and, instead of yielding to a doubt, which might soon have become settled unbelief, he betook himself to earnest prayer, and obtained the deliverance which he sought.
And now, he not only found the service of God to be perfect freedom for himself, but his heart was enlarged after sinners. He thought he could suffer anything, to bring them to Christ. He remembered the words of Christ to Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren," and began to give “ a word of exhortation,” when opportunity occurred. Love to souls, a strong desire to promote their salvation, evidences of the divine approbation, as he believed encouraging instances of usefulness to be, prompted him, young as he was, to proceed in the path thus opening before him.
But all was not pleasing to flesh and blood that he met with in this path. He had agreed to hold a prayer-meeting in a neighbouring village ; and a number of wicked men resolved to seize him when he came, and throw him into a lime-kiln. When he arrived at the village, the house was so full, that he could not enter, and many were assembled without; a stool was therefore procured, on which he stood,
and began to give out a hymn. The mob arrived; but an athletic man in the crowd was so affected, by seeing such a youth engaged in so solemn a service, that he turned round on the opponents, and loudly threatened any who dared to touch him. All became quiet and attentive, many were very seriously impressed, and the meeting concluded
On another occasion he was requested to preach at a village called Royton, a place from which the Preachers had frequently been violently driven. James resolved to try again. A house was procured; and he went one Sabbath-day, accompanied by a friend. That all might hear, within the house and outside, he stood in the door-way. The Clerk of the parish first came, with a number of children, and gave out a psalm, intending to disturb the Preacher by their singing ; but, becoming weary, and seeing that the Preacher appeared as strong and fresh as ever, they retired, leaving the field to a female, a respectable housekeeper in the village; who, to show her zeal for the Church, had resolved to pull down the Preacher, whom the mob were then to drive out of the town. On her approach, she was so struck with his appearance, that her resolution failed, and she exclaimed, “God bless the pretty bird ! I cannot pull him down.” The service went on, and, in the course of it, several were deeply convinced of sin.
In the spring of 1786 he, for the first time, saw Mr. Wesley. The impression made on the mind of the youthful disciple, by the ministry of the venerable servant of God, was deep and profitable. While he remained in the neighbourhood, James followed him from place to place, and derived great advantage from his instructions.
About this time, also, Sunday-schools began to be established in the neighbourhood, presenting to those who, like James Buckley, were young, active, disengaged, and zealous, fine opportunities of useful labour. He united with his brethren in conducting the schools which were opened in his own locality, and found them greatly instrumental in promoting the work of God, not only among the children, but among their parents also. Religion, and its attendant blessings, were thus brought to many a family, who might otherwise have long remained ignorant and destitute of them.
Thus, in various ways, were the grace and providence of God preparing him for future and more extended usefulness. He began, also, diligently to apply himself to the work of mental improvement. He was directed, by kind and judicious friends, to such books as were adapted to his circumstances, and calculated especially to increase his theological knowledge.
In 1787 the Conference was held at Manchester, and young Mr. Buckley gladly embraced the opportunity of attending the services usually held in connexion with its assembling. These he found to be very edifying; and the sight of the Preachers (occupying the front seats in the gallery, during public worship) at once powerfully im
pressed his mind, and strengthened his resolutions; while the kind attention of some of the Preachers who knew him was peculiarly encouraging to him. He returned home, established in the faith, rejoicing in God, and thankful for the choice he had made.
Previously to this time he had frequent impressions, that he should be called to a wider and more elevated sphere of usefulness; but he had resisted them, fearing lest they should be a temptation from Satan. They were now, however, deepened, and he was in great perplexity. To run without being sent he felt would be sinful ; and yet the language of his heart was,
“O for a trumpet voice,
On all the world to call !” He became, therefore, more earnest in prayer for divine direction : and he did not ask in vain. Mr. Thompson coming to Oldham, and meeting his Class-Leader, kindly inquired about him; and was told both of his continued zeal and activity, and of his feelings in respect to preaching Mr. Thompson requested him to direct Mr. Buckley to go to Flathead, (a place in the Halifax Circuit,) and preach for him on the following Sunday. The message increased his perplexity ; but it came in such a form that he dared not disobey, especially as his Leader and friend offered to accompany him. This was just as he had entered on his nineteenth year.
Flathead being distant about eighteen miles, they went on the Saturday. Through the agitation of his mind, he had little rest that night; and during the service the next morning he was so affected, that he almost resolved that he would never make another attempt. When he had concluded, however, the Leader of the class at Flathead unexpectedly announced, that their young friend would preach again at two o'clock. He was not at all prepared for this. He had neither sermon nor text. He spent most of the interval in private, pleading carnestly with God, that if he had called him, he would assist him; and if not, that he might be confounded before the people, that they might be his witnesses that he was not called to preach the Gospel. He went in the name of the Lord: he had great freedom both in prayer and preaching; the congregation was evidently affected; and a new class of feelings arose in his mind; so that his heart said, “ Lord, send me.” At the close of the service, the Leader again published, “Our young friend will preach at Hilltop, at six o'clock.” Unprepared as he was, he yielded to the call, and again found liberty. He was not yet, however, fully satisfied on the subject. He returned home in a state of great mental suffering, which soon so affected his health, as to alarm his friends. He was advised to go to Harrogate for a short time: but here his way was still more clearly opened. A lady noticing him, privately asked his friend if he were not a Preacher; adding, that if it were so, she hoped he would give them a sermon. He had come not to labour, but to rest ; but he dared not refuse to obey the directions, as he believed, of divine Provi
dence. Ile consented to preach, and had a crowded congregation: Many persons were much affected, and he was invited to preach in the Baptist chapel. He preached, likewise, in the small room which the few Methodists at Harrogate then occupied ; and subsequently, as his health permitted, in several places in the vicinity.
He returned home much improved in health, and easier in his mind, and was soon afterwards placed on the Local-Preachers' Plan, in the Manchester Circuit. He was employed almost every Lord's day, and was encouraged by the kind attention of his friends, and favoured with evidences of usefulness ; so that his mind became more satisfied, and his doubts respecting his call to preach ceased to perplex him.
Not long after this, a singular circumstance occurred. His father, who was strongly opposed to his preaching, hearing that he was appointed to a distant place, not only refused the use of a horse, but forbad his going. Believing it right to obey on this occasion, he procured a supply for the place. He was requested, the same evening, to attend a prayer-meeting, and to give an exhortation. Opposite the house in which the prayer-meeting was held, was a public-house, where a number of young persons were dancing. Hearing the singing, they said, “ It is young Buckley: let us go and hear him.” They did so; and, during the exhortation, two young women of the company were so deeply convinced of sin, that they could not refrain from crying out for mercy, even in the presence of their dancing companions. One of them found peace with God before the meeting was concluded.
In the year 1790 it was in contemplation to separate Oldham from the Manchester Circuit; and Mr. T. Tennant resided in that town, to prepare the way for the change, and to afford more pastoral care to the rapidly-increasing society. This was another link in the chain of circumstances which led to Mr. Buckley's engagement in the Wesleyan itinerancy. He was requested, in consequence of Mr. Tennant's ill state of health, to supply his place in the Circuit. This was an arduous task; but he applied himself diligently to study and prayer, and had the satisfaction to find that his services were not only acceptable, but profitable, to the societies and congregations to whom he had to minister.
About this time he experienced a severe domestic affliction, in the Joss of his beloved mother. Her removal was very unexpected, as she died after an illness of only three days. In her he seemed almost to lose his best earthly friend; and the effect on his health was such, as to render it necessary for him to spend a short time at Blackpool, a watering-place in Lancashire. While there, he preached several times to the visiters and inhabitants in the open air, there being then no place large enough to contain the congregation.
At the Conference of 1791 it was at first proposed to appoint him to Liverpool, with the Rev. Thomas Taylor; but as Oldham was now the head of a new Circuit, on the application of his friends there, it was