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, FOR AUGUST, 1817.
A SHORT MEMOIR OF MR. JOHN DIXON,
Of Bassingham, in Lincolnshire.
The celebrated Bacon, complaining of the defective taste of his age for biographical productions, subjoins as a reason for his complaint, that though kings, princes, and great personages are few, yet there are many other excellent men who deserve better than vague reports and barren eulogies. And although many, more mortal in their affections than their bodies, esteem the desire of fame and memory but as a vanity; and despise praise, whilst they do nothing that is praise-worthy; yet, as Solomon informs us, “ The memory of the just shall be with praises, but the name of the wicked shall rot.” This sentiment being founded in truth, I judge Mr. John Dixon to be one of those excellent men who deserve more than vague reports and barren eulogies. Imperishable shall his memory be, for his name deserves solid praise. I only regret that so few of these interesting incidents and documents, which his excellent life must have furnished, have come into my hands; and that some person more able than myself has not been employed to arrange and exhibit them to the public eye.
Respecting the earliest part of this excellent man's life, I am incapable of giving any other information than that he became an orphan when he was but four years old. At that time he had an uncle, a resident at Bassingham, in Lincolnshire, who was in easy worldly circumstances; to him was this orphan sent for his education, and by him, as it appears, very reluctantly received. Time, however, gave the youth an opportunity of developing his superior abilities, and Mr. Gibson (for that was the uncle's name) of outliving this unmerited coldness to so promising a relative.
Mr. Gibson, although a perfect stranger to personal piety, and destitute of any remarkable thirst for knowledge, was, notwithstanding, a man of solid sense, and had a taste for reading: VOL. XL. AUGUST, 1817.
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hence, as may naturally be supposed, he endeavoured to promote a similiar taste in his nephew. The following incident will shew the correctness of this remark. One day as John was busily engaged in reading a novel, his uncle, on observing him, said, “ I would never spend my time in reading fiction, if facts were within my reach." " A sentiment most worthy the attention of all novel readers! Falling into the hands of such a man, Mr. Dixon's attention was directed to books at an early period of life, and a strong attachment to them was formed in him: they became his idols. Of course every lawful means and opportunity of procuring them was seized with eagerness; and every little present that he received he carefully treasured up until he had accumulated a sum sufficient to procure some of these precious articles. Thus trained in a love for books and reading, he soon acquired a habit of attention and observation, and experienced a daily growth both in his intellectual capacity and in a spirit of inquiry. He was particularly attracted by the peculiarities of human character, and was very desirous of diving into their causes. He was also deeply impressed with the beauty and grandeur of the works of creation. When in the fields he would often stand gazing on the heavens and on the earth, and ask, What way must I take to acquaint myself with the maker and governor of all these things, as my God? And had he been favoured with religious instruction, either from men or books, little doubt can be entertained that he would have been speedily brought under the influence and dominion of divine grace. But so far was he from possessing any such advantuges, that when he read his Bible, or any religious book that happened to fall in his way, he was obliged to do it by stealth, for fear of the displeasure and opposition of his unele. Yet, notwithstanding these untoward circumstances, by this slow process he obtained a very considerable knowledge of the Word of God.
Just about this time he found the means of procuring a perusal of some of Mr. Wesley's works and sermons. These furnished him with much information respecting the nature and effects of true religion, and otherwise so deeply interested him, that he was induced to copy, verbatim, the Rules of the Society, the Sermon on the New Birth, and the Treatise on Christian Perfection. Mr. Wesley's writings brought him to a knowledge of the amiable, able, and invaluable works of Mr. Fletcher, which he read with much delight and edification. These authors gave him such a view of the doctrines and principles of the Methodists as completely won his heart, and were the honoured instruments of keeping up his attention to heavenly and eternal things, at a time when the prejudices of his friends debarred him from the free and open use of the means of life and salvation.
Being now grown up to man's estate, Mr. Dixon was frequently
employed in transacting his uncle's business in the neighbouring markets. This circumstance led to his acquaintance with that ornament of the Methodist connexion, Mr. John Egglestone, of Newark, who was made particularly useful to him. One day, while be was in the house of this worthy man, he was observed to pay peculiar attention to a volume of the Methodist Magazine, then lying on the table: this incident favoured Mr. Egglestone with an opportunity, which he readily embraced, of speaking to him on the subject of personal holiness. This conversation was much blessed to Mr. Dixon's advantage.
In the year 1798 he was first favoured with an opportunity of hearing the Methodists, while he was on a visit at Nottingham; and had this favour been continued, I have no doubt that he soon would have been brought to know the truth as it is in Jesus. But at this time they did not preach in any place nearer to Bassingham than Navenby, which, I think is more than four miles distant;
in addition to this disadvantage, their preaching was sometimes in the afternoon of working days. These obstacles, however, did not hinder Mr. Dixon from going to hear them whenever he could do it without the knowledge of his neighbours and of his uncle. He had not heard them long before his darkness was dispelled by the light of divine truth. From this time he appears to have longed for liberty to attend on the ordinances of God, and to serve him according to the teaching of his Holy Spirit. Indeed, so greatly did he feel his need of salvation, and so ear. nestly did he covet it, that he had much to do in prevailing on himself to tarry with his uncle, who was strongly opposed to these good beginnings in bis soul. But when he became most uneasy and determined to leave him, it used to be suggested to his mind, “ He assisted me when I was young and incapable of taking care of myself, and it will be very criminal in me to leave him now when it is in my power to return his kindness.” At the very juncture when he was passing through these inward conflicts he became acquainted with Mr. Jonathan Parkin, whose ministry and advices were much blessed to him. Mr. Parkin urged him strongly to remain with his uncle; assuring him that a way would speedily be made for him to hear and obey the gospel of God his Saviour. With this advice Mr. Dixon complied, although his feelings still continued to be such as those of every other person similarly circumstanced. The more satisfaction he derived from religious instruction, the more anxious was he to enjoy it. Hence, not content with hearing a sermon now and then on the week day, he determined to employ the Lord's day also, as far as he had any opportunity, to gain saving knowledge. For this purpose be would often go to Newark in a morning (a distance of nine miles) to hear one sermon, and from thence to Retford (twenty miles from Newark) to hear another sermon in the evening, and then return home. My readers, perhaps, will be ready to remark, that in all this there would be no want of bodily exercise. And I can assure them there was no lack of spiritual enjoyment. These were seasons of peculiar instruction and refreshment to his soul. He now found by experience the truth of that apostolic declaration, “ Godliness is profitable for all things;" for his circumspect, uniform, and truly christian deportment, so conciliated and gained the affections of his uncle, as to give him an interest in his esteem as a religious character, and to procure for him all his property at his decease.
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As Nr. Dixon had a soul formed for society, and capable of relishing all the delicacies of friendship, he contracted an intimacy with Miss Elizabeth Wood, of Bassingham, early in life; an intimacy which continued and improved into an union in holy matrimony No sooner had he a house of which he was the visible head, than he erected an altar in it to the Lord of Hosts; and on this altar he daily presented the genuine and accepted sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Would to God that every head of a family would go and do likewise. How will any who have sustained this important relation, especially any who have professed the religion of Jesus Christ, answer to Him as their Judge, in the last day, for their neglect of it? Reader, whoever thou art, carefully consider this matter, and if thy conscience now accuses thee of having neglected this Christian duty, humble thyself before the Lord; pray to him that he may forgive thee; and immediately address thyself to the right performance of this essential branch of religious obedience for the future. In how amiable a light does religion appear, when we consider it as first making a man careful to save his own soul, then the souls of his own household, next the souls of his neighbours, and then the souls of all mankind. Thus did it appear in Mr. Dixon. He was not anxious for his own salvation only, nor yet only for that of his own family, he felt for his neighbours, invited them to join them in family worship, read sermons to them, and did what he could to promote their salvation. In this particular he was a burning and a shining light. But his love to other men's souls did not stop here; for in the year 1801, Mr. John Hickling, who at that time travelled in the Newark circuit, was invited by Mr. Dixon to preach at Bassingham; and from that day to the time of his death his house and his heart were open to the ministers and messengers of God; and a more hospitable and comfortable home a Methodist preacher would not wish.
Soon after the introduction of regular preaching, and the stated ministrations of Divine ordinances into Bassingham, Mr. Dixon appears to have obtained more comprehensive views of the plan of salvation, and to have been directed into a better method of seeking it. For nearly nine years he had been sitting under the