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FOR FEBRUARY, 1838.
THE LATE REV. SOLOMON ASHTON,
OF STOCK PORT.
l is conceived that the subject of the following memoir well deserves a place in the biographical department of the Evangelical Magazine. His long standing and great reputation in the church of Christ, the respect which we owe to virtue, and the obligation which we lie under to honour those to whom honour is due, conspire to remind all who knew him, that he ought not to be passed over in silence. A brief history, therefore, of the leading events and circumstances of his life, interspersed with a few miscellaneous remarks, will be the highest eulogium on his character, and the best way of discharging the duty which it is thought the writer owes to the public.
Solomon Ashton was born on the 22nd of October, 1774, in the parish of Bury, in Lancashire. During his infancy, his parents removed into Derbyshire, where he was brought up. Being in easy circumstances, and having but two children, they gave their younger son, who is the subject of this memoir, a suitable education to enable him to act with credit in the capacity of a cotton manufacturer; sending bim for instruction into various parts of the country, to learn the different branches of the trade. But he who“ overrules all mortal things, and manages our mean affairs," had sent him into the world for the accomplishment of nobler objects than those contemplated by mere tarthly enterprise. In a manuscript,
(which it is obvious he did not intend to publish, and which should be regarded accordingly,) he has left the following account of himself :
“Upon reviewing my past life, I cannot recollect ever having those early convictions of which many speak. It was in the year 1793, being then about nineteen years of age, that I first found my mind inclined to embrace religion, My first desires to know the truth were excited by reading several deistical publications. The arguments appeared new to me, and raised a degree of doubt concerning the authenticity of the Scriptures. For some time my mind was much perplexed, as I wished to know the truth; but not being acquainted with the evidences of Christianity, I struggled alternately with the sentiments acquired by education, and the sophistical reasonings of Deism. Sometimes I strove to expel all thoughts of this kind from my mind, and at other times I thought myself blameable for not examining a matter of such moment, in the manner in which it demanded , for I concluded, that if Christianity were true, the belief of its doctrines, and the practice of its precepts, ought to be my chief concern; and that all other things which Divine Providence cast in my way should yield to it. About this time Newton's Dissertation on the Prophecies, and several other works on the evidences of Christianity, were pro
videntially put into my hands. By reading these books, I was convinced that Christianity, as it is revealed in the Scriptures, would stand the test of examination, and that it had all the marks of a religion worthy of God. I then began to perceive, that many of those who professed to be Christians, were not such as the Scriptures described, and that I, as one, was a stranger to that change which appeared necessary before that high character could be truly applied to me. About this time, a sermon on the spirituality of the law made considerable impression on my mind; and as light increased, convictions of my lost state increased, fears of death, and the more dreadful consequences that must inevitably follow, if called into eternity in my then unhappy condition, deeply exercised my mind night and day. These views of my state I disclosed to a neighbour, who, being a member of the Methodist Society, took me to a class, or experience meeting. The more I heard, read, and prayed, the more my mind was perplexed; and not receiving any answers by such manifestations as others spoke of, and which I expected, I conceived myself to be in a state of sin, such as was beyond the reach of mercy. Often did selfexamination take place, and being conscious in my own mind that I had given up every known sin, at the same time using all the means that I conceived to be scriptural, yet finding no answer of comfort, but still more distressing views of my natural state, I began to despair. I was so much affected with these views, that most persons who knew me thought I was in a deep decline. Here I would observe, how necessary it is that those who conduct experience meetings should endeavour to do it on Gospel principles; for had the doctrine of the atonement, and redemption thereby, been explained to me, I am inclined to think that I should not have given way to such hard thoughts of God as I then did. But God, who is rich in mercy, saw my ignorance; and though my views were very confused, he graciously manifested himself in such a manner that no fear or doubt of my acceptance remained. This was in September, 1794. A strong desire to spread the truths of the Gospel accompanied this manifestation of God's love to me; these desires increased daily, and in a few months became so strong, that I was rendered quite un
happy by them; for I was now persuaded that the Almighty had committed unto me talents which I did not improve; yet such were my views of the greatness of the work, and of my insufficiency for it, that I was afraid lest I should run before God had sent me. Thus, labouring between conviction and fear, I struggled in this state for more than twelve months; when, by the importunity of some of my religious acquaintances, I was prevailed upon to attempt to speak publicly in the name of my Lord and Master."
He preached his first sermon in the house of a friend, in Derbyshire, from Matt. xi. 28. Having begun his religious career among the Methodists, it was not surprising that he first began to preach in connexion with their society. He was introduced by the late Rev. Jos. Benson, and itinerated along with a Mr. Midgley, in the North of Yorkshire and Lancashire, and the South of Westmoreland. He continued among the Methodists for about two years, when his views of Divine truth became in accordance with those generally entertained by the Independents, whom he soon joined, and continued with during the remainder of his life, with uniform consistency.
On the 15th of October, 1804, he officiated for the first time, as a supply, in the Old Chapel, at Stockport. His first sermon was from Hebrews iv. 9. In so low a state did he find the cause of God in this place, that when he had preached for three successive Sabbaths, There were not more than thirty-two people. The chapel, however, soon became numerously attended under his ministry; and, having received an unanimous call from the church and congregation, he was set apart to the pastoral office over them, June 19, 1806. On the 22nd of April, 1805, he became a student in the Academy, at Manchester, over which the late Rev. William Roby presided, as Divinity Tutor: an institution chiefly, if not entirely, owing its existence and support to the piety and affluence of the late Robert Spear, Esq. Here he prosecuted his studies to the end of the period prescribed, maintaining himself at his own expense; and going on the last day of every week to Stockport, to preach to the people of his charge on the following Sabbath ; returning again to Manchester on Monday, The chapel having become crowded with hearers, and dilapidated with age, (hav.
ing then stood more than a hundred He was a man of unbending resoluyears,) Divine service was performed in tion. He was a perfect stranger to fear it for the last time, March 22nd, 1807; in delivering the message of the Lord ; after which it was taken down, and the what he thought that he said, and what he Tabernacle built on its site ; which was said he would by no means retract, even entered into and used as a place of wor- if it involved the sacrifice of his worldly ship, on the 23rd of the succeeding interest. It was his constant aim to August. Here he laboured even unto preach the truth, the whole truth, and death.
nothing but the truth; and how suc. After his decease, the following reso- cessfully he laboured for this end, many lutions were found, in his own hand- experienced and enlightened Christians writing, in a desk to which no one had can testify. access but himself, and which, it is ob He was a Calvinist from principle ; vious, were intended for no eye but his and, convinced of the importance of the own. “I resolve, through the help of sentiments called by that name, he God, to keep the following resolutions : boldly came forward to his own congre
1. “I resolve that secret prayer, by gation, and to any other which he occamyself alone, shall be performed every sionally addressed, declaring salvation to morning, before any other work be un be entirely of grace, and the unmerited dertaken ; and that family prayer shall gift of God. But he was by no means be performed constantly, and seasonably, an Antinomian; he hated the doctrine, at most convenient times.
and denounced it in the most positive 2. “I resolve to speak evil of no manner. He was always solicitous that man ; but if any be angry and insolent, the trumpet of the Gospel, at his mouth, to answer them with meekness and gen- should give a certain sound, that every
one might prepare himself for the battle. 3. “I resolve, if I go into company, He would never cast its "pearls before not to speak much ; and to endeavour to swine, nor give the children's bread unto divert vain discourse to useful subjects. dogs;" but he hesitated not to proclaim
4. "I resolve to be charitable accord the acceptable year of the Lord, liberty ing to my ability, and to watch for op to the captives, and the opening of the portunities to do good.
prison to them that were bound; and a 5. “I resolve to be cautious of pro- full, free, and everlasting salvation to mising ; and when I have promised, to every one that believed. He believed that keep strictly to my word.
in the Gospel feast there was a suffi6. “I resolve to have innocent con- ciency for all who would partake of it versation, mixed with profitable dis by faith, and in his exhortations to sincourse, at my table.
ners he never betrayed any fear lest one 7. “I resolve to spend some time more than the elect should be saved; he every day in the week, in fruitful medi- was a stranger to such a miserable feeltations. Subjects: death, judgment, ing. His style was plain and simple, hell, heaven, God's mercies, Christ's much resembling the graver and happassion, &c.
pier composition of Dean Swift, and like 8. “I resolve every day to entertain his, also, in being occasionally somewhat humble thoughts of myself.
humorous. He seldom dealt in figura9. “I resolve to put a charitable con tive language of any kind, and had none struction upon the actions of others. of that false and frivolous taste which
10. “ I resolve to call myself to an seeks to overpower rather than persuade, account every night, how I have spent and to dazzle rather than convince. In the day.
his sermons, he invariably made an im11." I resolve to review every visit provement; to the saint he always gave and sermon, and to consider wherein a portion of meat in due season; to the they might have been improved."
im penitent sinner his remarks were To these resolutions he firmly ad. caustic: he was wont to insulate his hered.
hearers, and he never permitted any The distinguishing trait in his cha- individual to escape by losing himself in racter was sterling honesty. He was the crowd. There was a great evenness not a man who could “ smile, and smile, in his discourses ; like his late reverend and be a villain.” He was honest in his tutor, (the late Rev. William Roby,) work for God; honest in his dealings he was never caught with a poor with men; and honest to himself.
sermon. If there was no brilliancy in