CHAPTER 3--SET APART UNTO THE LORD--1824-1832

IT was long, however, ere the young people were to see much of one another. James had his way to make in the calling he had chosen, and Amelia's holidays came no oftener than before, though more eagerly desired. But at sixteen and seventeen a long engagement is inevitable, and brings with it so much of hope and happiness that it is comparatively easy to bear.

When the young apprentice returned to Rotherham, it was with stronger incentives than ever to do well. There was new zest in business and study, and the blessing of the Lord so filled his heart that it could not but overflow to others. His employer perceiving his reliability, decided to put him in charge of a branch-establishment in the neighbouring town of Conisborough. Here James Taylor found, as others before him, that " prayer and pains with faith in Jesus Christ will do anything." The business prospered, and better still he prospered in it, according to the suggestive promise of the first Psalm.[In whatsoever he doeth, he shall prosper (Psalm 1:3, R.V. margin)].

With comparatively little leisure in the years that followed he had a growing love for study, especially of a kind that would throw light upon the word of God. The Bible was his chief delight, and he longed to share the wealth he found in it with others. At no great distance from Conisborough were many neglected villages to which he made his way Sunday by Sunday, telling in out-of-the-way places the wonderful love of God. He could not but speak, for his own heart was brimming over, and not a few among his hearers were awakened and blessed. Seeing which, the authorities of the Church to which he belonged recognised that the lad was called to this much-needed ministry, and at nineteen years of age his name was added to the list of Barnsley local preachers, of whom his grandfather had been the first.

Meanwhile his fiancee was still at Castle Donnington gaining health and experience for days to come. Constant reading kept her mind bright, and regular correspondence cultivated a habit of rapid, easy writing, of more value than she could suppose at the time. Her letters were full of interest and did much to encourage the one who received them as he took up on his own account the responsibilities of life.

His apprenticeship over James Taylor had returned to Barnsley, and with money advanced by his father rented one of the best shops in town. It was a step of faith, for 21 Cheapside was a serious undertaking for so young a man. But the premises were in a good situation, right on the busy Market Place, and large enough to afford a permanent home. One of his sisters took charge as housekeeper for the time, leaving him free to devote his energies to business six days a week and to his preaching appointments on Sunday. At least as much work and prayer were given to the shop as to his sermons, with the result that he succeeded in both and became known as a reliable man of affairs as well as a helpful, popular preacher throughout the Circuit. At length after years of uphill work the way seemed clear before him. He was able to repay his father's loan, and with a home and sufficient income of his own, felt he might claim his bride.

It was in the quaint old town of Barton-on-Humber that the Hudsons were living when the long engagement drew to a close. Seven years' friendship had done much to develop the boy and girl into earnest manhood and womanhood and to prepare them for the union to which they now looked forward. James had learned to pray his way through difficulties and was full of confidence in God, and Amelia at twenty-three more than fufilled the promise of her girlhood. Her father, whose ministry had taken him to Chesterfield and elsewhere since Barnsley days, was still in the North country, in charge of the Barton Circuit, and had it all been planned on purpose, nothing could have been more delightful under the circumstances than the Manse and its surroundings. No little comfort this, amid the varying fortunes of an itinerant preacher's life.

For a something indescribable of old-world loveliness pervaded the little town, seen at its best no doubt through lovers' eyes that sweet spring-tide in 1831. From the famous Ferry of the Doomsday Book to the fine old churches on the Green, dating back to Norman and even Saxon times, the cosy, straggling place breathed an air of comfort and repose. About it lay an undulating country noted for its corn, malt, bricks and tiles. The spacious Market Place and numerous windmills bore witness to a measure of commercial activity ; but the quaint, irregular streets and picturesque houses, half hidden among trees and flowering creepers, were more in keeping with the spirit of a bygone time.

In the very heart of the town, the preacher's house near the Chapel seemed specially a bower of greenery and bloom. " Maltby Cottage, Maltby Lane," was an address with which James Taylor was familiar, but even he can hardly have anticipated the charm of that sheltered home. Within the high, old-fashioned wall lay a spacious garden with its lawn and flowers, its fruit-trees all in blossom, and a green field beyond, where quiet cattle fed. Looking out upon this pleasant scene stood the square, red-brick house covered with creepers, whose wide windows welcomed the sunshine and almost made the lower rooms seem part of the out-of-doors. A sweeter spot could hardly be imagined for a homelike, happy wedding, nor a more charming bride than the minister's daughter whom James Taylor had loved so long.

Here then they were married on April 5, 1831, in the beautiful church of St. Mary's just beyond the trees.

Busy and happy were the days that followed when Amelia found herself again in Barnsley. The John Taylors were still living in the house on Pitt Street, and both there and in the Chapel the welcome she received was warm and true. And the more she became known among her husband's friends the more she was beloved for the sweet spirit that seemed to have no thought or consciousness of self. Intelligent and attractive as she was, there was no desire to shine or make an impression on others. Her voice alone would have brought her notice, but there was a shrinking from display of this or any other gift. Yet she enjoyed society, loved to see others admired, and was so good a listener that men and women alike found her companionship delightful.

But it was the chemist's home on the Market Place that really saw her shine. There the qualities that made her an ideal wife could not be hidden, and James Taylor must often have realised at his own fireside the truth of that word "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord."

In all his work and interests she bore a cheerful part, while caring for domestic matters with a thoroughness and perfection of detail that characterised all she did. His "Class" of forty or fifty lads felt the influence of her sympathy and prayers only less than the girls who became her special care, and one of the joys of their early married life was an old-time revival in the Chapel that resulted in the conversion of many of these young people. [The revival commenced in Westgate Chapel, as it was then called, with the Watch Night Service on December 31, 1832, and one of the lads converted in James Taylor's class was his cousin John Bashforth, whose mother was a daughter of James and Betty Taylor, brought up in the little cottage on Old Mill Lane. The Bashforths became one of the leading families in Barnsley. Young John Bashforth from this time onward lived a consistent Christian life, and was for many years Superintendent of the Sunday School.]

In his preaching engagements throughout the Circuit she also proved an unexpected help. Preparing his sermons was no longer the solitary task it had been. Together they prayed and studied, and when James Taylor's heart was full and his pen could not keep pace with the thoughts he longed to utter, his wife would take rapid notes and write out for him many a sermon delivered as he paced the little room behind the shop. He was a gifted speaker, and gave much care to the preparation of his discourses.["Possessing good natural abilities, which he carefully improved by study, James Taylor was a most able and effective preacher. His manner was at once pleasant and dignified. His sermons bore evidence of much thought and study, and as literary compositions were considerably above the average of lay discourses " (from the Obituary Notice in The Barnsley Chronicle]. In this work Amelia's pen proved invaluable through many a long year, and the joy of seeing souls brought into blessing through his ministry more than repaid the sacrifice of time and strength.

And then the young wife had the happiness of finding her expectations more than realised in the character her husband sustained as a business man. He was an excellent chemist and highly respected for his influence in the town. So scrupulous was he in financial matters that he made it a rule to pay every debt the very day it fell due.

If I let it stand over a week," he would say, " I defraud my creditor of interest, if only a fractional sum."

In dealing with his customers he was upright to a farthing or a grain, and full of genuine sympathy. He never sued for a bill, and did not think it desirable for Christians even to press for the payment of an account. On the contrary, he frequently returned in whole or part sums that his customers could ill afford to spare. More than one neighbour barely able to settle an account was cheered by his generosity.

It's all right, John," he would exclaim. " We'll send that bill up to heaven and settle it there."

Genial and kindly to all he was specially so to the poor and to strangers in sickness or trouble. A foreigner or traveller far from home could always find a friend in the busy chemist.

"Come again, come again," he would say if he thought they needed help. " Bring the bottle back when the medicine is done and I will gladly fill it."

Yet he was a keen man of affairs and made his business successful. This was partly on account of skill in the management of money-matters, and partly through careful attention to detail. His fellow-townsmen recognising his financial ability appointed him Manager of their " Building Society," an office he continued to fill for two-and-twenty years. That he did not regard lightly the duties of such a position may be judged from the fact that he worked out lists of interest at various rates to four or five places of decimals, and compiled tables of logarithms to assist his calculations. Public funds were to him a sacred trust, demanding the greatest care and fidelity in their administration. [ "He was one of the founders and for many years Acting Manager of the Barnsley Permanent Building Society. . . . After his retirement from business, about 1864 or 1865, he was able to devote a considerable amount of time to the work of the Society, which had by this time attained important dimensions, and all its members will agree that from first to last he had its interests thoroughly at heart. . . . On the eve of his leaving Barnsley he was presented by the directors, officers, and members of the Society with a solid silver tea-service and an illuminated address ' as a mark of their esteem for his personal character, and in recognition of his faithful services as Manager of the Society from 1853 to 1875. " During the long period of his residence in Barnsley, Mr. Taylor enjoyed the confidence and esteem of all sections of his fellow-townsmen, and of him it could with truth be said as his active, well-knit figure was seen passing -along our streets: 'An honest man, close-button'd to the chin, Broadcloth without, and a warm heart within.' " Ibid.]

But it was to God above all James Taylor sought to be faithful, and he was possessed by a profound conviction of His infinite faithfulness. He took the Bible very simply, believing it was of all books the most practical if put to the test of experience. In this too he met with fullest sympathy from the young wife who was herself so loyal to the Lord.

On a day they could never forget, in their first winter together, he sought her Bible in hand to talk over a passage that had impressed him. It was part of the thirteenth chapter of Exodus, with the corresponding verses in Numbers " Sanctify unto me all the firstborn ..." " All the firstborn are mine .." " Mine shall they be . . " Set apart unto the Lord."

Long and earnest was the talk that followed in view of the happiness to which they were looking forward. Their hearts held back nothing from the Lord. With them it was not a question of how little could be given, but how much. Did the Lord claim the best gift of His own giving ? Their child was more their own for being His. To such parents what could be more welcome than the invitation, nay command, to set apart their dearest thus to Him ? And how precious the Divine assurance, " It is Mine," not for time only but for eternity.

Together they knelt in the silence to fulfil as literally as possible an obligation they could not relegate to Hebrew parents of old. It was no ceremony to be gone through merely but a definite transaction, the handing over of their best to God, recalling which the mother wrote long after:

" This act of consecration they solemnly performed upon their knees, asking for the rich influence of the Holy Spirit," that their firstborn might be "set apart" indeed from that hour.

And just as definitely the Lord responded, giving them faith to realise that He had accepted the gift ; that henceforth the life so dear to them was their own no longer, but must be held at the disposal of a higher claim, a deeper love than theirs.

Thus spring-time came again touching with tender loveliness those Yorkshire hills and valleys, and on May 21, 1832, this child of many prayers was born, and named after both parents, James Hudson Taylor.

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