John Yeardley was born on the 3rd of the First Month, 1786, at a small farm-house beside Orgreave Hall, in the valley of the Rother, four miles south of Rotherham. His parents, Joel and Frances Yeardley, farmed some land, chiefly pasture, and his mother is said to have been famous for her cream-cheeses, which she carried herself to Sheffield market. She was a pious and industrious woman; but, through the misconduct of her husband, was sometimes reduced to such straits as scarcely to have enough food for her children.
Before they left Orgreave they were attracted towards the worship of Friends, and several of the family, including two of Joel Yeardley's sisters, embraced the truth as held by the Society. In the year 1802 they removed to a farm at Blacker, three miles south of Barnsley, and attended the meeting at Monk Bretton, or Burton, near that town, where the meeting-house then stood. At Blacker it was John's business to ride into Barnsley daily on a pony, with two barrels of milk to distribute to the customers of his mother's dairy. His elder brother Thomas worked on the farm.
Their attendance at Burton meeting brought the family under the notice of Joseph Wood, a minister of the Society, residing at Newhouse, near Highflatts, four miles from Penistone. Joseph Wood had been a Yorkshire clothier, but relinquished business in the prime of life, and spent the rest of his days in assiduous pastoral labor of a kind of which we have few examples. To attend a Monthly Meeting he would leave home on foot the Seventh-day before, with John Bottomley, also a Friend and preacher, and at one time his servant, for some neighboring meeting. He would occupy the evening with social calls, dropping at every house the word of exhortation or comfort. The meeting next day would witness his fervent ministry. In the afternoon they would proceed to the place where the Monthly Meeting was to be held the following day, which they would attend, filling up the time before and after with social and religious visits. In the intervals of the Monthly Meetings, when not engaged on more distant service, it was his practice to appoint meetings for worship in the villages around Highflatts, and very frequently to visit those places where individuals were "under convincement," particularly Barnsley and Dewsbury, where at that time many were added to the Society. On his return home from these services he would spend the day in an upper room, without a fire, even in the severest weather, writing a minute account of all that had happened.
It was in 1803 that Joseph Wood first had intercourse with Joel Yeardley's family. Under date of the 19th of the Fourth Month, he says, speaking of himself and some other concerned Friends: --
We felt an inclination to visit Joel Yeardley's family, who are under convincement, and who have lately removed from near Handsworth Woodhouse. We went to breakfast. He and Frances his wife, with Thomas and John their sons, the former about nineteen, the latter seventeen years of age, received us in a very kind and affectionate manner, expressing their satisfaction at our coming to see them. They appeared quite open, and gave us a particular account of the manner of their convincement and beginning to attend Friends' meetings, which was about four years ago. I believe there is a good degree of sincerity in the man and his wife, and the two sons appear to be tender and hopeful.
The next month Joseph Wood repeated his visit, and gives an account of the interview in the following words: --
5 mo., 1803. -- Having ever since I was at Joel Yeardley's the last month, felt my mind drawn to sit with the family, and this appearing to me to be the right time, I set out from home the 14th of the Fifth Month, in company with John Bottomley. Got to Joel Yeardley's betwixt four and five o'clock. After tea, Thomas Dixon Walton and Samuel Coward of Barnsley came to meet us there. In the evening we had a precious opportunity together, in which caution, counsel, advice, and encouragement flowed plentifully, suited to the varied states of the family. I had a long time therein first, from 1 Cor. xv.58; John Bottomley next. Afterwards I had a pretty long time, after which J.B. was concerned in prayer. At the breaking up of the opportunity I had something very encouraging to communicate to their son Thomas, who, I believe, is an exercised youth, to whom my spirit felt very nearly united.
Joel Yeardley unhappily did not long remain faithful to his convictions. He not only himself drew back from intercourse with Friends, but was unwilling his sons should leave their work to attend week-day meetings, and did all in his power to prevent them. This is shown by the following narrative from Joseph Wood's memoranda: --
As William Wass and I were going to attend a Committee at Highflatts, on our Monthly Meeting day, in the morning, we met with Thomas Yeardley of Blacker, near Worsbro', a young man who is under convincement. I was a little surprised to see him having on a green singlet and smock frock. He burst out into tears; I inquired the matter, and if something was amiss at home; he only replied, "Not much;" and we not having time to atop, proceeded, and he went forward to my house. This was on the 19th of the Ninth Month, 1803.
After the Monthly Meeting was over, I had an opportunity to inquire into the cause of his appearance and trouble, and found that he was religiously concerned to attend weekday meetings, which his father was much averse to; and in order to procure his liberty he had worked almost beyond his ability; but all would not do, his father plainly telling him that he should quit the house. The evening before, he applied to him for leave to come to the meeting at Highflatts to-day; but he refused, and treated him with very rough language. However, as the concern remained with him, he rose early in the morning and got himself ready; but his father came and violently pulled the clothes off his back, and his shirt also, and took all his other clothes from him but those we met him in, telling him to get a place immediately, for he should not stop in his house. Being thus stripped, he went to his work in the stable; but, not feeling easy without coming to meeting, he set out as he was, not minding his dress, so that he might but be favored to get to the meeting.
This evening we had an opportunity with him in my parlor, much to our satisfaction. The language of encouragement and consolation flowed freely and plentifully towards him through William Wass, John Bottomley, and myself; and afterwards, in conference with him, we found liberty to advise him to return home (he having before thought of procuring a place), believing if he was preserved faithful, way would in time be made for him, and that it might perhaps be a means of his father's restoration; as at times, he said, he appeared a little different, not having wholly lost his love to Friends, and always behaved kindly to them. He took our advice kindly, and complied therewith. After stopping two nights at my house, he returned home.
Joseph Wood did not suffer much time to elapse before he paid another visit to Blacker, to comfort the afflicted family. It was from this visit, as we apprehend, that John Yeardley dated his change of heart. "I was convinced," he said on one occasion, "at a meeting which Joseph Wood had with our family."
7 mo.17, 1803. -- Thomas Walker Haigh and William Gant accompanied us to Joel Yeardley's, where we tarried all night; but the two young men from Barnsley returned home after supper. Joel was from home, but after tea we had a religious opportunity with the rest of the family, in which I had a very long consolatory and encouraging testimony to bear to the deeply-suffering exercised minds from John xvi.33. Afterwards I had a pretty long time, principally to their son John, who I believe was under a precious visitation from on high. He was much broken and tendered, and I hope this season of remarkable favor will not soon be forgotten by him.
On his return home Joseph Wood wrote him the following letter: --
Newhouse, 10 mo.24, 1803
BELOVED FRIEND, JOHN YEARDLEY,
Thou hast often been in my remembrance since I last saw thee, accompanied with an earnest desire that the seed sown may prosper and bring forth fruit in its season, to the praise and glory of the Great Husbandman, who, I believe, is calling thee to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life. And O mayest thou be willing in this the day of his power to leave all and follow him who hath declared, "Every one who hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life."
Not that we should be found wanting in our duty to our near connexions, for true religion does not destroy natural affection, but brings and preserves it in its proper place. When our earthly parents command one thing, and the Almighty another, it is better for us to obey God than man, and herein is our love manifested unto him by our obedience to his commands though it may sometimes clash against our parents' minds. At the same time it is our duty to endeavor to convince them, that we are willing to obey all their lawful commands, where they do not interfere with our duty to Him who hath given us life, breath, and being, and mercifully visited us by his grace. I thought a remark of this kind appeared to be required of me, apprehending if thou art faithful unto the Lord, thou wilt find it to be thy duty at times to leave thy worldly concerns to attend religious meetings, which may cause thee deep and heavy trials; but remember for thy encouragement, the promise of the hundred-fold in this world, and in that which is to come, eternal life.
Thou art favored with a pious though afflicted mother, and a religiously-exercised elder brother, who, I doubt not, will rejoice to see thee grow in the truth. May you all be blessed with the blessing of preservation, and strengthened to keep your ranks in righteousness, and may you be a strength and comfort to each other, and hold up a standard of truth and righteousness in the neighborhood where your lot is cast. Do not flinch, my beloved friend; be not ashamed to become a true follower of Christ. When little things are required of thee, be faithful; thus shalt thou be made ruler over more; when greater things are manifested to be thy duty, remember the Lord is able to support, who declared by the mouth of his prophet formerly, "Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her." But if the Lord be on our side, it matters little who may be permitted to arise against us, for his power is above all the combined powers of the wicked one, and he will bless and preserve those who above all things are concerned to serve him faithfully, which that thou mayest be is the sincere desire of thy truly loving and affectionate friend,
The word which had been so fitly spoken took deep root in John Yeardley's heart, and on the following New-year's day he went up to Newhouse to converse with his experienced and sympathizing friend.
On the 1st of the First Month, 1804, (writes Joseph Wood,) John Yeardley came to my house, on purpose to see me. He got here betwixt ten and eleven o'clock in the forenoon, attended our meeting and tarried with us until after tea, and then returned home. He is a hopeful youth, tender in spirit, and of a sweet natural disposition; was convinced of the truth in an opportunity I had at his father's house, and, I hope, is likely to do well. I love him much, and much desire his preservation, growth, and establishment upon the everlasting foundation, against which the gates of Hell are not able to prevail.
Shortly after this, we obtain from John Yeardley's own hand an insight into the depth of those religious convictions which had so mercifully been vouchsafed to him. The manner in which this interesting memorandum concludes is quaint, but it expresses a resolution to which he was enabled to adhere in a remarkable degree throughout the course of his long life; for of him it may be said that, beyond many, his pursuits, his aims, and his conversation were not of the world, but were bounded by the line of the Gospel, and animated by its self-denying spirit.
Blacker, 2 mo.9, 1804. -- As I pursued these earthly enjoyments, it pleased the Lord, in the riches of his mercy to turn me back in the blooming of my youth, and favor me with the overshadowing of his love, to see the splendid pleasures that so easily detained my precious time. He was graciously pleased to call me to the exercise of that important work which must be done in all our hearts, which appears to me no small cross to my own will, and attended with many discouragements; yet I am made to believe it is the way wherein I ought to go; and I trust Thou, O Lord, who hast called, will enable me to give up, and come forward in perfect obedience to the manifestations of thy divine light, so as a thorough change may be wrought, that I may be fitted and prepared for a place in thy everlasting kingdom. Though at times I am led into great discouragement, and almost ready to faint by the way, fearing I shall never be made conqueror over those potent enemies who so much oppose my happiness, O be Thou near in these needful times, and underneath to bear me up in all the difficulties which it is necessary I should pass through for my further refinement, whilst I have a being in this earthly pilgrimage. Strong are the ties that seem to attach me to the earth; but O! I have cause to believe, from a known sense, stronger are the ties of thy overshadowing Spirit than all the ties of natural affection. Great and frequent are the trials and temptations, and narrow is the way wherein we ought to walk; alas! too narrow for many. O may I ever be preserved, faithfully forward to the eternal land of rest!
Dear Lord, who knowest the secret of all hearts, thou knowest I am at times under a sense of great weakness; but thou, who art always waiting to gather the tender youth into thy flock and family, hast mercifully reached over me with thy gathering arm. Mayst thou ever be near to strengthen me in every weakness; and make me willing to leave all, take up my daily cross, and follow thee in the denial of self, not fearing to confess thee before men. Always give me strength to perform whatsoever thou mayest require at my hands; wean my affections more and more; attract me nearer to thyself; and lead me through this world as a stranger, never to be known to it more but by the name of JOHN YEARDLEY.
In the Third Month Joseph Wood again addressed his young friend by letter, encouraging him to be steadfast in trial, and to beware of the gilded baits of the enemy; and promising him, that if he followed the Lord faithfully, his works should appear marvellous in his eyes, his wonders be disclosed to him in the deeps, and he on his part would be made willing to serve him with a perfect heart.
In the Sixth Month, again visiting Blacker, he had a "precious, heart-tendering religious opportunity with all the family."
About this time Joel Yeardley was so much reduced in his circumstances as to be obliged to give up farming, which compelled his sons to seek their own means of livelihood. Thomas and John went into Barnsley, where they applied themselves to the linen manufacture, and were taken into the warehouse of Thomas Dixon Walton, a Friend, who afterwards married a daughter of Thomas Shillitoe.
In the First Month, 1806, Joseph Wood records another interesting interview with his young friend: --
1 mo.7. -- I called on Thomas Dixon Walton and John Yeardley, with whom I had a religious opportunity in which the language of encouragement flowed freely; I being opened unto them from Luke xii.32; "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
In the Third Month of this year John Yeardley made application for membership in the Society of Friends, and was admitted in the Fifth Month following, being then twenty years of age. His brother Thomas had joined the Society some time before. The brothers are thus described by one who knew them intimately: -- Thomas, as a man of homely manners, of hearty and genial character, and greatly beloved; John, as possessing a native refinement which made it easy for him in after-life to rise in social position, but whose reserved habits caused him to be less generally appreciated.
The call which John Yeardley received, and which he so happily obeyed, to leave the world and enter by the strait gate into the kingdom of heaven, was accompanied, as we shall afterwards see more fully, by a secret conviction that he would one day have publicly to preach to others the Gospel of salvation. A sense that such was the case seems to have taken hold of Joseph Wood's mind, in a visit which he made him some time after his admission into the Society.
1 mo.29, 1808. -- Sat with T.D. Walton and his wife, and his man John Yeardley. I had two pretty long testimonies to bear from Colossians iv.17. I had to show the necessity there was for those who had received a gift in the ministry to be faithful, and, as Satan was as busy about these as any others, to be careful to withstand his temptations, that nothing might hinder our fulfilment of this gift, nor anything be suffered to prevail over us that might hinder its proper effect upon others.
After Thomas was gone to breakfast, my mind was unexpectedly opened in a pretty long encouraging testimony to John, from John xxi.22 -- "What is that to thee? follow thou me;" having gently to caution him not to look at others to his hurt, but faithfully follow his Master, Jesus Christ, in the way of his leadings.
In 1809 John Yeardley married Elizabeth Dunn. She was much older than himself, "plain in person," but "full of simplicity and goodness," and of a "most lovable" character. Like her husband she had come into the Society by convincement; and like him she had partaken in a large degree of the paternal sympathy and oversight of Joseph Wood. She had been a Methodist, and was one of the first who joined with Friends at Barnsley in the awakening which took place there in the beginning of the century.
John Yeardley and his wife inhabited, on their marriage, a small house at the southern extremity of the town, whither very soon afterwards was transferred the afternoon meeting which it was customary to hold at some Friend's house in Barnsley. The morning meeting continued to be held at. Burton until 1816, when a new meeting-house was built in the town.
They had only one child, a son, who died in infancy.
John Yeardley commenced his Diary in 1811; and this valuable record of his religious experience, and of his travels in the service of the Gospel, was maintained with more or less regularity to the end of his life. The motive which induced him to adopt this practice is given in the following lines, with which the manuscript commences: --
It may seem a little strange that I should, in my present situation, attempt to keep any memorandums of the following kind; but feeling desirous simply to pen down a few broken remarks as they may at times occur to my mind, I apprehend no great harm can arise; and if, by causing a closer scrutiny into my future stepping along, they should in any degree exercise my mind to spiritual improvement, the intended purpose will be fully answered.
The first entry is dated the 6th of the Tenth Month, 1811: --
First-day. -- Have been sweetly refreshed at our little meeting this morning. I have long felt assured that Time calls for greater diligence in me than has hitherto been rendered. And when I consider the innumerable favors and privileges which I enjoy at the hands of Divine Providence, beyond many of my fellow-creatures, and the few returns of gratitude I am making, it raises in me an inexpressible desire that my few remaining days may be dedicated, in humble obedience, to Him whose great and noble cause I am professing to promote.
How unstable is human nature! On sitting down in meeting this evening I got into a state of unwatchfulness, which continued so long as to deprive me of the refreshment my poor mind so often stands in need of.
In the entries which follow, the progress of the inward work and the preparation for future service are very evident: --
13th. -- Went to our morning gathering in a low frame of mind, and was made afresh to believe that were we more concerned to dwell nearer the pure principle of Truth when out of meetings, we should not find such difficult access when thus collected, but each one would be encouraged to come under the precious influence of that baptizing power which would cement and refresh our spirits together. O then, I firmly believe, our Heavenly Father would in an eminent manner condescend to crown our assemblies with the overshadowing of his love, and enable us not only to roll away the stone, but to draw living water as out of the wells of salvation.
17th. -- "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me," was a language which secretly passed my mind in meeting this morning; and though inwardly poor as I am, yet I dare not but acknowledge it a privilege to be favored even with a good desire.
24th. -- Was a little refreshed at our morning gathering, my spirit being exercised under a concern that I might not rest satisfied with anything short of living experience; and I felt comforted with a lively hope that He whom my soul loveth will not fail to manifest his divine regard to one who is sincerely desirous to become acquainted with his ways. O, how shall I render sufficient thankfulness for such a favor, thus to be made once more sweetly to partake of the brook by the way.
Thought the evening sitting rather dull, though the ministry of T. S. was lively, which is a confirming proof that however favored we may be at certain seasons, yet if at any time we suffer our attention to be diverted from the real object, it frustrates the design of Him who I believe intends that we should wait together to renew our strength.
In the Eleventh Month Henry Hull, from the United Slates, accompanied by John Hull of Uxbridge, visited Burton, and had good service their, both amongst Friends and with the public. They lodged at John Yeardley's, and, in describing their labors and the pleasure he derived from their society, he records his thankfulness at being placed in a situation in life such as afforded him the opportunity of entertaining the Lord's servants.
His disposition was lively and strongly inclined to humor, and he early felt the necessity of having this natural trait of character subjected to the rule of heavenly wisdom. Under date 27th of the Eleventh Month he says: --
I feel a little compunction for having these few days past given way too much to the lightness of my disposition, and not being sufficiently concerned to seek after that stability and serious reflection which never fails to improve the mind.
On the 26th of the Twelfth Month he records a state of spiritual poverty.
Such, he says, has been the instability of my mind, that my "Beloved is unto me as a fountain sealed." But, he adds, I feel a little tendered this evening, on reading over a few comfortable expressions in a letter from my friend, Joseph Wood.
This condition of mind continued for some months, when he thus breaks forth: --
3 mo.8, 1812. -- How pleasant it is once more to be favored with a few drops of living water from the springs of that well which my soul has had for many weeks past to languish after, and which I trust has been wisely withheld in order to show me that, although it is our indispensable duty to persevere in digging for it, yet it is only in His own time that we are permitted to drink thereof.
His just appreciation of the nature of meetings held for the discipline of the Church, and of the spirit in which they are to be conducted, is shown in an early part of the Diary.
3 mo.15. -- Was at our Preparative Meeting. The queries having to be answered, I was led into deep thoughtfulness respecting the same, and inwardly solicited that the Father of mercies would lend his divine aid, in the performance of such important duties; which I have reason to believe was in some measure answered, for they were gone through with a degree of ease and comfort to my own mind. May I ever keep in remembrance the testimonies of his love which are so often manifested!
8 mo.17. -- Meeting for discipline at Burton. The forepart was conducted, I think, to edification; but in the latter, one subject occupied much time unnecessarily, and did not conclude to general satisfaction. When some whose spirits are not well seasoned, speak to circumstances which they may not have sufficiently considered, it sometimes does more harm than they may at first apprehend.
The entries in the Diary at this time shew many alternations of discouragement and comfort, and of that deep searching of his own heart from which he seldom shrank, and which is the only way to the liberty and peace of the soul.
4 mo.12. -- In contemplating the gracious dealings of the Almighty with me from time to time, I have been led to query, Is it not that I might, by patiently submitting to the turnings and overturnings of his most holy hand, become fashioned to show forth his praise? But alas! where are the fruits? Is not the work rather marring as on the wheel; can I, in sincerity say, I am the clay, Thou art the potter? I feel weary of my own negligence; for it seems as if the day with me was advancing faster than the work, I fear lest I should be cast off for want of giving greater diligence to make my calling sure. O may he who is perfect in wisdom strengthen the feeble desire which remains, and melt my stubborn will into perfect obedience by the operation of his pure spirit.
In the next memoranda which we shall transcribe we see when and how his mind was imbued with the love of Scriptural inquiry and illustration. Two or three good books well read and digested in younger life often form the thinking habits of the man, and supply no small part of the substance, or at any rate the nucleus, of his knowledge. This shows the vast importance of a wise choice of authors, at the time when the mind is the most susceptible of impressions, and the most capable of appropriating the food which is presented to it. Those who knew John Yeardley will recognise the intimate connexion between these early studies and the character of his future life and ministry. If any should think his language on this or kindred subjects marked by excessive caution, they must bear in mind the comparative by unintellectual circle in which he moved.
I trust, he writes, under date of 4 mo.28, a few of my leisure hours for two or three weeks past have been spent profitably in perusing some of A. Clarke's Notes on the Book of Genesis; and although I am fully aware that the greatest caution is necessary, when these learned men undertake to exercise their skill on the sacred text, yet I am of opinion, if used with prudence and a right spirit attended to, it may tend considerably to illustrate particular passages. I think this pious man has not only shown his profound knowledge of the learned languages, but some of his observations are so pertinent and so judiciously made, as may have a tendency to produce spiritual reflection in the mind of the reader.
5 mo.24. -- Having read with some attention Fleury's "Manners of the Israelites," by A. Clarke, I am convinced that even a slight knowledge of those ancient customs tends to facilitate the proper study of the sacred writings; for many of the metaphors so beautifully made use of by the prophets and apostles, and even our dear Redeemer himself, to convey a spiritual meaning, seem to have had an evident allusion to the antique manners and customs which I find explained in this little volume.
The commotions referred to in the reflections which follow, were no doubt the great European war which was then raging. Buonaparte, it may be remembered, was at that time making preparation for his Russian campaign, and a universal alarm prevailed as to the final result of his insatiable lust of conquest.
5 mo.7. -- In viewing the commotions of the times, it has induced me seriously to consider the great importance of procuring, as far as ability may be afforded, a free access to the never-failing source of our help; and in a little contemplating this subject I have been comforted in a hope that, if we only abide stedfast and immovable, He whom the waves of the sea obeyed will in his own time speak peace to the minds of his tossed ones, and a calm will ensue.
The perusal of Elizabeth Smith's "Fragments" occasions him to remark how profitable it is to read the writings of others; but he wisely adds: --
I am often desirous not to rest satisfied with a bare perusal of these, believing they are only advantageous to us so far as they stimulate to a closer attention to that inward gift, which alone can enable us to witness the same experience. It is often a query with me, how am I spending this precious time, which passes so swiftly away never to return? and, in order to answer this query aright, how desirable it is to dwell with thee, sweet solitude! to turn inward, to examine and correct the defects of our own disordered minds; how delightful it is to walk alone and contemplate the beautiful scenes of nature. Yet in these retired moments, when viewing the works of a divine hand springing up to answer the great end for which they were created, I am often deeply perplexed with a distressing fear lest I should not be found coming forward faithfully to answer the end of Him who has created man for the purpose of his own glory.
The meetings for the discipline of the Society were often times of spiritual refreshment to him.
6 mo. 23. -- I left home to attend our Quarterly Meeting at York. The meetings for business were generally satisfactory; on re-examining the answers to the queries, divers very weighty remarks were made. I thought the two meetings for worship favored seasons; and, although I left home with reluctance, I cannot but rejoice at having given up a little time to be made a partaker of the overflowing of that precious influence which, I trust, made glad the hearts of many present.
The extracts which follow develope still further the progress of his inner life, and the secret preparation of the future preacher of the Gospel and overseer of the flock of Christ.
6 mo. 29. -- A deep-searching time at meeting yesterday, wherein I was given to see a little of my own unworthiness The secret breathings of my spirit were to the Father and fountain of life, that he might be pleased more and more to redeem me from this corrupted state of human nature, and draw me by the powerful cords of his love into a nearer union with the pure spirit of the Gospel.
7 mo. 6. -- Thought an awful solemnity was the covering of our small gathering yesterday morning, under which I felt truly thankful to the Dispenser of every gift; and was enabled to crave his assistance to maintain the watch with greater diligence, and pursue the ways of peace with alacrity of soul.
29th and 30th. -- The General Meeting at Ackworth was large, and I thought very satisfactory through all its different sittings. The meeting for worship was a remarkable time; the pure spring of gospel ministry seemed to flow, as from vessel to vessel, until it rose into such dominion as to declare the gracious presence of Him who is ever worthy to be honored and adored for thus condescending to own us on such important occasions. Iron is said to sharpen iron; and I thought it was a little the case with me at this season, feeling very desirous to enjoy that within myself which I so much admire in others.
8 mo.13. -- Many days have I gone mourning on my way, for what cause I know not; but if I can only abide in patience till the day break and the shadows flee away, then I trust the King of righteousness will again appear.
25th. -- In contemplating a little the character of that good man, Nehemiah, I cannot but think it worthy our strictest imitation, when we consider the heartfelt concern he manifested for the welfare of his people, in saying, "Come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach." This proved him to be a man of a noble spirit and a disinterested mind, and, I say, worthy our strictest imitation; for to what nobler purpose can we dedicate our time than in endeavoring to build up the broken places which are made in the walls of our Zion?
In the following entry is shown a just insight into the nature of man, and a discernment of the uses and limits of human knowledge. Although John Yeardley's talents were not brilliant, and his opportunities were scanty, he possessed that intellectual thirst which cannot be slaked but at the fountain of knowledge. At the same time he was sensitively alive to the necessity of having all his pursuits, of whatever kind, kept within the golden measure of the Spirit of Truth.
11 mo.11. -- In taking a view of some of the temporal objects to which my attention has of late been more particularly turned, with a desire to enlarge my ideas and improve my understanding in some of the more useful and extended branches of literature, it has excited in me a considerable degree of caution, lest thereby I should, in this my infant state of mind, too much exclude the operation of that pure in-speaking word which has undoubtedly a prior right to govern all my actions. But I have long been convinced that the active mind of man must have some object in pursuit to engage its attention when unemployed in the lawful concerns of life, otherwise it is apt to range at large in a boundless field of unprofitable thoughts and imaginations. I am aware that we may be seasonably employed in suitable conversation to mutual advantage, and I trust I am not altogether a stranger to the value of sweet retirement; but there is a certain something in every mind which renders a change in the exercise of our natural faculties indispensable, in order to make us happy in ourselves and useful members of society; and it is under these considerations that I am induced to apply a few of my leisure hours towards some degree of intellectual attainment, in the humble hope that I may be preserved in that path which will procure at the hands of a wise Director that approbation which I greatly desire should mark all my steps.
The next extract from the diary will find a response in the hearts of many who read these pages.
1813.2 mo.17. -- Never, surely, was any poor creature so weary of his weakness! Almost in everything spiritual, and even useful, I have not only been as one forsaken, but it has seemed as though I was to be utterly cast off. When I have desired to feel after good, evil has never failed to present itself. O, when will He whose countenance has often made all within me glad, see meet to return and say, "It is enough!"
6 mo.27. -- The thoughts which he put into writing under this date seem to have been occasioned by entering into business on his own account.
Am now about to enter the busy scenes of life, which sinks me into the very depth of humility and fear, lest the concerns of an earthly nature should deprive me of my heavenly crown, which I have so often desired to prefer even to life itself. But O, should there remain any regard in the breast of the Father of mercies, for one who feels so unable to cope with the world, may he still be pleased to preserve me in his fear, and not only to take me under the shadow of his heavenly wing, but make me willing to abide under the guidance of his divine direction!
7 mo.15. -- "Cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there." These words of our weeping prophet have sensibly affected my heart this morning, under a prevailing desire that my gracious rather may not permit me to remain as in the prison-house of worldly affairs, lest I die my spiritual death there.
We shall see that he was not successful in business; and it may be that the disappointments he experienced in this way were in some sort an answer to these ardent prayers to be kept from the spirit of the world.
Under date 21st of the First Month, 1814, he writes:
I trust the few temporal disappointments I have met with of late have been conducive to my best interest, having had a tendency to turn my views from a too anxious pursuit after the things of time to a serious consideration of the very great importance of a more strict reliance on the never-failing arm of divine support, for the want of which I believe I have suffered unspeakable loss.
About this time he had frequently to mourn over the difficulty of fixing his mind in meetings for worship. He often complains of "wandering in the unprofitable fields of vain imagination;" but sometimes also he bears a joyful testimony to the Lord's power in enabling him to unite in spirit with the living worshippers.
The fear of man is one of the most universal of the besetments which try the faith of the Christian; and it may be encouraging to some to see on this point the confession of one whose natural character was that of a strong and independent mind.
2 mo.6. -- I am too apt to let in that slavish fear about men and things which render me unable to cope with the world, and even unfits me for properly seeking after the assistance of my Maker. O, may He who sees my weakness enable me to overcome it!
During the summer of this year, several parties of Friends travelling in the work of the ministry came to Burton; Sarah Lamley of Tredington, with Ann Fairbank of Sheffield; Ann Burgess (afterwards Ann Jones); Elizabeth Coggeshall from New York, with Mary Jefferys of Melksham; and John Kirkham of Earl's Colne. The labors of these Friends are recorded by John Yeardley with delight and thankfulness. He accompanied John Kirkham to Sheffield, where they found Stephen Grellett.
How sweet it is, he remarks, to enjoy the company of these dedicated servants, whom their great Master seems to be sending to and fro to spread righteousness in the earth! I often think it has a tendency to help one a little on the way towards the Land of Promise. When I consider these favors, I am led to covet that a double portion of the spirit of the Elijahs may so rest on the Elishas that others may also be raised to fill up the honorable situations of those worthies, when they shall be removed from works to rewards.
But of all the above-named, the visit of Sarah Lamley and Ann Fairbank was for him by far the most memorable, and was the means of developing that precious gift of ministry to which he had been called from his youth. The extracts from his Diary which are given below speak of this visit, and most instructively describe the time and manner in which he first received his gift, as well as the weight which the approaching exercise of it brought upon his mind.
5 mo.27. -- Sarah Lamley and Ann Fairbank lodged six nights with us, and I accompanied them to Dirtcar and Wakefield. I can acknowledge their innocent and agreeable company has been truly profitable to me, and has united me very closely to their spirits in tender sympathy.
7 mo.30. -- Such a load of exercise prevails over my spirit, that it requires some extra exertion to support it with my usual cheerfulness of countenance. If I go into company, I find no satisfaction; for I cannot appear pleasant in the society of my friends, feeling it irksome to discourse even on matters of common conversation. From the feelings which have attended my mind, it is evident that the cloud is at present resting on the tabernacle, and I never saw more need for me to abide in my tent. And O that patience may have its perfect work! for there is much to be done in the vineyard of my own heart, before I can come to that state of usefulness which I believe the Great [Husbandman] designs for me. The secret language of my heart is, May his hand not spare nor his eye pity until he has subdued all in me which obstructs the progress of his divine work!
31st. -- I trust I was once more favored, in meeting this morning, to put up my secret petition in humble sincerity to the Shepherd of Israel, that he would be graciously pleased to help my infirmities. In the afternoon meeting I thought the petition was measurably answered; for towards the conclusion the rays of divine light so overshadowed my mind as to induce a belief that I should be assisted to overcome that spirit of opposition which has too long existed to the detriment of my best interests, if there was only a willingness to abide under the forming hand.
8 mo.1. -- I now feel freedom to give a short account how it was with me under this concern from its commencement down to the present time.
I remember well, about the year 1804, when in my father's house at Blacker, once being in my chamber, in a very serious, thoughtful frame of mind, receiving an impression that if ever I came to receive the truth which I was then convinced of, to my everlasting benefit, I should have publicly to declare of the gracious dealings of Divine Goodness to my soul. The impression passed away with this remark deeply imprinted in my mind, that if ever a like concern should come to be matured, I should date the first intimation of it from this time. I was apt to view it for a long, time as the mere workings of the enemy on my mind, and when it has come before my view, I have often secretly said, "Get thee behind me, I will not be tempted with such a thing." By these means I put it from me, as it were, by force, not thinking it worthy of notice and often praying to be delivered from such a gross delusion. At other times it would come with such, weight on my spirit, that I could not avoid shedding tears, and acknowledging the power which accompanied the revival of so important a matter; and was led to query, If there is no real intention of a heavenly nature, why am I thus harassed? and O the fervent sincerity in which I desired that the right thing might have place, and if it was wrong, that I might be enabled to find a release in His time who had appointed the conflict! And I do believe, could I then have come at a perfect resignation to the divine will, I might have been brought forward in a way which would have afforded permanent relief to my own mind; but such was my dislike to the work, that I suffered myself to be lulled into a state of unbelief as to the rectitude of the concern.
Thus many outward circumstances transpired, and some years passed over, with my only viewing the matter at a distance, until He who first laid the concern upon me was pleased to bring it more clearly home to me, and seemed at times to engage his servants, both in public and private, to speak very clearly to my condition. And although I had a concurring testimony in my own mind to their declarations, yet I had always an excuse to flee unto by secretly saying, It may be intended for some one else; until the Most High was graciously pleased, by the services of his sincere handmaids, Sarah Lamley and Ann Fairbank, in their family visits to Friends of Barnsley, as mentioned last Fifth Month, to speak so clearly to my situation in their private opportunity with us, as to leave no room for excuse; but I was forced to acknowledge, Thou art the man. Indeed, Sarah Lamley was led in such an extraordinary manner, that I had no doubt at all but that she was favored with a clear and fall sense of my state. She began by enumerating the many fears which attended the apostles in their various situations; how that Satan had desired to have some of them that he might sift them as wheat in a sieve; "but," added she, "I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren." And how it was with Moses when the Almighty appeared to him in a flame of fire in the bush, and that it was not until the Most High had condescended to answer all Moses' excuses that he was angry with him, and even then he condescended to let him have Aaron, his brother, to go with him for a spokesman. Also how it was with Peter when the threefold charge was given him to feed the lambs and the sheep. "It is not enough," said she, "to acknowledge that we love the Lord, but there must be a manifesting of our love by doing whatsoever he may command." Methinks I still hear her voice, saying, "And O that there may not be a pleading of excuses, Moses-like!" Thus was this valuable servant enabled to speak to my comfort and encouragement, which I trust I shall ever remember to advantage; but O that I may be resigned to wait the appointed time in watchful humility, patience, and fear! for I find there is a danger of seeking too much after outward confirmations, and not having the attention sufficiently fixed on the great Minister of ministers, who alone is both able and willing to direct the poor mind in this most important concern, and in his own time to say, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come."
12 mo.22. -- My poor mind has been so much enveloped in clouds of thick darkness for months past, that I have sometimes been ready to conclude I shall never live to see brighter days. Should even this be the case I humbly hope ever to be preserved from accusing the just Judge of the earth of having dealt hardly with me, but acknowledge to the last that he has in mercy favored me abundantly with a portion of that light which is said to shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
We shall leave for the next chapter the relation of his first offerings in the ministry, and conclude this with a striking passage which we find in the Diary for this year.
John Yeardley was all his life very fond of the occupations of the garden. A small piece of ground was attached to his house at Barnsley, which he cultivated, and from which he was sometimes able to gather spiritual as well as natural fruit.
Under date of the 22nd of the Seventh Month, he writes: --
A very sublime idea came suddenly over my mind when in the garden this evening. It was introduced as I plucked a strawberry from a border on which I had bestowed much cultivation before it would produce anything; but now, thought I, this is a little like reaping the fruit of my labor. As I thus ruminated on the produce of the strawberry-bank, I was struck with the thought of endless felicity, and the sweet reward it would produce for all our toils here below. My mind was instantly opened to such a glorious scene of divine good that I felt a resignation of heart to give up all for the enjoyment of [such a foretaste] of endless felicity.