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MEMOIR OF ROBERT MIDDLETON, ESQ.,
LATE OF NORTH VILLAS, CHELTENHAM :
BY THE REV. ROBERT NEWSTEAD,
MR. MIDDLETON was born early in the year 1766, at Hartlepool, Durham; and, being descended from pious parents, was in childhood trained “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
He was one of five brothers,—four of whom lived to a very advanced age ; and all of whom, having found the grace of God, died in the full triumph of faith. Robert received the rudiments of his education at a village school, and pursued some of the higher branches of learning at a grammar-school in the neighbourhood. When about twenty years of age, (as we find from his manuscripts, whence some of the following notices are selected,) he resolved to go to London, and, having obtained the consent of his father and mother, left his home (as he says) for “a very perilous place.” The family with whom it was arranged he should reside were Methodists.
“I left the county of Durham,” writes Mr. Middleton, “in a merchant-vessel, for the metropolis ; and after a safe voyage arrived in London, where I was unknown to a single individual.” Divine Providence, however, directed the steps of this interesting youth ; 80 that, after serving for a few years as an assistant, he entered on his own account into a business, which after a while became one of great importance, and which he conducted as the head of the firm for a long period, with equal prudence, honour, and success. “At this time," he observes, “ I was a gay, thoughtless young man, seeking my happiness in those amusements with which London abounds, especially in the theatre.” The retrospect occasioned him great pain in after-life, and constrained him to exclaim,—“O the mercy and long-suffering of the blessed God, who had compassion on me, and, while I was desecrating His Sabbaths, and neglecting the ordinances of His sanctuary, still spared me another and another year, till I arrived at the thirtieth of my life!” “Up to this time I had no deep convictions of sin, though I was not without occasional alarms from the dread of future punishment. But [now] a new world, as it were, opened upon me. Darkness and obscurity, which had for so many years prevailed, retired before the light which visited my intellect, though I could hardly say even then that I beheld “men as trees walking.' Yet the change was a mighty one. I had no clear views
VOL. IV.-FIFTH SERIES.
of the plan of redemption, the glorious doctrine of justification by faith being as yet to me a sealed truth : nevertheless, the first step I took, after having been thus far enlightened, was to break off all habits that I knew to be sinful ; and this was done, I thank the Lord, with a decision which never allowed them to regain their influence. I now began to search the sacred volume of inspiration, with deeper attention and much prayer. I also regularly attended the ministry of Divine truth, to which I listened with reverential awe; and solemnly felt the force of the message which was from time to time delivered by the heralds of salvation. But, although these important steps were taken, and graciously accompanied by an increased measure of heavenly intelligence, I had not for many weeks a satisfactory assurance that I was received into the Divine favour ; and without this I could not rest. I still went on mourning, seeking and praying in the various means of grace for pardoning love and the peace of God, though my convictions were not of that deep, awful, and distressing kind which some have experienced, and which I then considered to be necessary. I read books and sermons which I supposed would assist in producing such a state of mind; but I did not find in this course what I sought-I wanted pardon for my sins, and an assurance of reconciliation with God : these books, however, did not introduce me to the only way, failing as they did to point me to 'the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.””
Everyone enlightened in spiritual things will admire the transparent sincerity and earnestness manifested in the foregoing paragraphs, and will be prepared to sympathize with the sentiment which follows :“I have since that period been greatly surprised at my want of knowledge concerning the fundamental doctrine of justification by faith, and the necessity of the aid of the Holy Spirit to open and apply the great and gracious truth. After a few months I found the consolation of that blessed passage, ‘Everyone tliat seeketh findeth.'' About this time Mr. Middleton was greatly encouraged by an interview with a younger brother, who had been reclaimed from a “long career of much dissipation,” and had recently received an evidence of the pardoning love of God, through faith in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. And now also his own long-sought deliverance drew near.
This shall be narrated, as nearly as possible, in his own words :
“ It was on the 28th of March, 1796, after having heard a sermon from a venerable man now in glory.* I was gracionsly impressed at the time of hearing ; and, though I did not return to my habitation a pardoned sinner, I was not without hope. On this day, to me a day ever to be remembered, I had met in the course of business with something which sorely tried my temper; and I was almost ready to conclude I should never obtain pardon and peace.
I retired to my bed-room with a heavy heart, and, having closed my door, went into an inner closet, and upon my knees approached the throne
* Understood to have been the Rev. John Pawson.