From The June, 1826 Issue of
The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine
Letter from John Lewis to Adam Clarke
Jan. 11, 1826
I send you a short account of John Johnson, late of Effirth, in Sandsting, a member of our society, who lately died in the Lord. He was born in Clousta, in Eithsting parish, on the mainland of Shetland. From his earliest infancy he was left to the sole care of his mother, as his father enlisted for a soldier, and left his native Isle for Ireland, where by the grace and providence of God, he was brought to "know a Saviour's love," through the ministry of the Methodists. When John was a boy, little care was taken of his soul; and as he grew towards manhood, he gave strong proofs that his carnal mind was at enmity with God.
As soon as he was able, he went to the Greenland whale fishery, where he met with many who were eminently wicked, and whose manners he copied; so that he soon became as wicked as they. The winters he always spent in Shetland, during which, having little to do, he soon became the leader of all his equals in vice and folly. He was tall, active, and handsome; and being possessed of a very ingenious mind, he soon became master of whatever he took in hand: and he did everything with all his might.
Having chosen his master, he was indefatigable in his service, and greatly promoted his cause: he went on in a course of sin that appeared black even to the eyes of sinners, until his marriage; when, contrary to all expectation, he took a final farewell of all his former associates, and assumed quite another character, which he preserved from that day. He was no more seen with his former companions in their revels; but directed his whole attention to the interest of his family.
Yet he was all this time a stranger to himself, and to God. He continued to attend the Greenland fishery every summer, and to spend the winters with his family, until he caught a severe cold in Greenland, which rendered him unable to do anything either at sea or on shore. But the winter before this happened, the Lord was pleased to awaken him by our preaching. He became deeply concerned for the salvation of his soul, and on his return is Shetland, I admitted him on trial into our society.
From this times his health declined apace; but, although his "outward man perished, his inward man was renewed day by day." In March last, he became unable to attend the means of grace, and was wholly confined to his house. Our friends from Groting went occasionally to hold prayer-meetings there, which proved to him times of refreshing. During his affliction I had several opportunities of visiting him, and always found him in a state of resignation to the will of God, and in general happy in his soul.
As to temporal things, he was far from being comfortable, having been unable to earn one penny for many months. In the spring his wife was confined; their child did not live four mouths; and during all this time they were poor, and had not the means of procuring any of the comforts that many deem necessary on such occasions. Yet, in this state his gratitude was equal to any thing I ever witnessed. For the smallest trifle he was thankful, and acknowledged all as coming from God to an unworthy sinner. The following is an extract of a letter he wrote to me: I insert it here, because it shows the state of his mind at the time.
"Effirth, May 20th, 1825.
"Dear Sir, my soul has longed very much for you all the time I have been ill. O, Sir, the Lord only knows how near I have been to the grave; but I have to magnify and bless the great and eternal Jehovah, who hath not only brought me from the grave, but has redeemed my soul by his holy blood from the second death. O Sir, I can tell you, with comfort, that when I was nearest to death, then death was no terror to me; for which I bless the Lord. I can tell you likewise, that once [before his conversion] when I thought of death, every joint in my body did shake and tremble. O Sir, I should be happy to speak with you. I can tell you that, by the grace of God, I have my treasure in heaven; where my soul shall through all eternity dwell. May the Lord ever keep me from falling. Amen and Amen.
"I remain, with the help of God, your friend and well-wisher for ever, John Johnson."
In a few days after receiving this letter I went to see him. He was reduced to a mere skeleton, his cough was very severe, his soul was happy; I preached in his house, to as many of his neighbors as came in; and, after preaching, baptized his child. His heart was full, and his language was nothing but praise. To say that he had learned contentment is not enough; he had learned more: for in the midst of deep poverty and severe affliction he acknowledged them as mercies.
On the 25th of June he wrote to me again: from his letter I extract the following:
"Dear and faithful friend; I take this opportunity of letting you know how the case stands with both my soul and body. O my soul's well-wisher, help me to give praise to God the Saviour, that ever he was pleased to call me, a poor sinner, from darkness into his marvelous light. O Sir! this is the sweetest summer that my soul ever enjoyed. My body is very weak and corrupted, and fast decaying. My soul would rejoice to see you. Christ came to save the chief of sinners. Blessed be God; praised be God. Amen, and Amen.
"I am your friend, through Jesus, for ever, John Johnson."
From this time he became gradually weaker and weaker, and his soul evidently ripened for heaven. For many months his death was daily expected; but, contrary to all expectation, he was spared until December. He daily exhorted his wife and his mother to seek the Lord by prayer; and taught them, as well as he could, the way to Jesus and to all who came in his way he said something about their souls.
The night before he died he said to his wife, as she was helping him from the fire to his bed, "You have had much trouble with me, but this is the last time that you will ever have to help me, for I shall never get out of bed again. I shall soon be in heaven with Jesus. I long to be in heaven with Jesus but, O my Lord, give me patience." The difficulty of breathing was very great, and he said, "I long to be in heaven: but, Lord, give me patience." About nine o'clock his wife called in a young man from the next house. On his entering the room, John said, "Rasmy, is that you? You have been very kind to me during my sickness. I thank you for all your kindness, and hope that the Lord will repay you for all you have done for me: you see me dying; but I am not afraid. O pray to the Almighty to make you ready." He asked his wife, if this were not the Sabbath; she said, "Yes." On hearing this, he said, "I thought so; this will be the happiest Sabbath I ever saw, for I shall end it in heaven with Jesus."
He now desired that the children should be brought in. He spoke to each of them as his strength would admit, but being quite exhausted, he rested a little, and making a mighty effort, he lifted up his dying hands, and said, "God Almighty bless you all!" He again spoke to his wife and his mother, about being resigned to the will of God, and to pray to the Almighty to make them ready for death.
In the course of the evening he said, "Jesus Christ is in this place: I feel him very near to me." About eight o'clock his wife asked him if he wanted any thing; and, by putting her ear close to his face, she heard him for the last time, say, "Nothing but heaven and Jesus." In about half an hour the spirit took its flight, Thus died John Johnson, Dec. 11, 1825, in the thirtieth year of his age.
This is the fifth Methodist that I know of, who has died in the Lord, in Shetland; and should we be instrumental of no more good, the thought that these souls have been conducted to glory, will amply pay us for our services, and our friends in England for the expense they have been at in supporting this Mission.
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