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MEMOIR OF JOSEPH AGAR, ESQ.,
OF YORK. The venerable man whose name graces this page kept no diary, and left no record of his early days, his conversion to God, or his subsequent life. It is probable that, like many other Christians, he wished nothing to be said respecting him after his decease. It is, however, in accordance with the Divine will, that “the righteous" should “be had in” honourable “remembrance;” nor can the church of Christ afford to lose the instruction which their lives are adapted to yield.—The following brief sketch has been drawn up, principally from papers furnished by one of Mr. Agar's intimate friends,-a Minister of the Wesleyan Connexion, -who, during several years of personal indisposition, repeatedly stayed for weeks together under his hospitable roof; and who quietly noted down the substance of many conversations, bearing on the personal history of his excellent host.
Joseph Agar was born at Kilburn, under the Hambleton-Hills, in the county of York, on the 25th of March, 1761. His parents attended the Established Church, and endeavoured to train their children in the fear of God, as well as in the habit of attending the public ordinances of His house. After receiving a suitable education, he was apprenticed, at the age of fourteen, to Mr. John Lister, currier, of York.
During his early residence in this city he was highly favoured, in regard to religious privileges; and the Holy Spirit often strove powerfully with him, particularly under the ministry of the late Rev. William Richardson, of the Established Church. But for several years be resisted that blessed Monitor, and sought to drown the voice of conscience by the tumult of worldly pleasures and amusements. He was not yet prepared for a full surrender to the service of God; and hence all his impressions proved unavailing and evanescent.
It was not until his nineteenth year that he became decidedly serious, and connected himself with the Wesleyan Methodists. This happy change is mainly attributable, through Divine grace, to the efforts of a godly fellow-apprentice,-the late Mr. Wadman, who had become a member of the Society some years before. Up to this time Mr. Agar, like many others, was a bitter persecutor of the VOL. VI.--FOURTH SERIES.
Methodists, and even ready, like Saul of Tarsus, to “breathe out threatenings and slaughter ” against them ; so that he long resisted all his friend's entreaties that he would give their Preachers a candid hearing. But at length he was persuaded to attend an open-air service in the market-place, when Mr. John Hampson preached ; and afterwards to go and hear Robert Carr Brackenbury, Esq., in the Peasholme-Green chapel. But his prejudices were unsubdued ; of which a very singular fact was the plain indication. When Mr. Brackenbury began to repeat the Lord's Prayer at the conclusion of his own extemporaneous devotions, the youthful zealot started up and left the chapel, thinking it audaciously wicked, on the part of the Methodists, to take such a prayer into their lips!! Yet, with apparent inconsistency, he continued occasionally to attend their ministry : he became enlightened as to their views and principles; and, in the same degree, his prejudices vanished. In the course of time he was thoroughly awakened under their preaching, and led to attach himself to their communion. He now panted for the river of life ; but three or four years passed before he obtained a satisfying draught. He seems to have cherished a delusive expectation of some miraculous voice or sign,--which, it is needless to say, was not vouchsafed.
His companion, Mr. Wadman, seeking further improvement in his knowledge of business, had meanwhile gone to London. Mr. Agar, when released from his apprenticeship, followed him with the like design. There God honoured the means of grace and of Christian fellowship, by speaking peace to the humble mourner. Mr. Agar had the high privilege of hearing some of the most holy and gifted Ministers of the metropolis ; among whom were the two venerable Wesleys, the Rev. William Romaine, and others. By means of their preaching he was roused to increasing earnestness; and now the time of his redemption drew near. He met in class near City-road chapel, with the Rev. John Atlay,—then, and for some years after, Mr. Wesley's Book-Steward. The weekly meeting was held at six o'clock on Sabbath morning; and Mr. Agar's residence was four miles distant. It was on his return from one of those early class-meetings that God graciously manifested Himself, assuring the contrite one of an interest in the Redeemer's atoning death, and enabling him to say, “ Abba, Father.” He had early sought the Lord; and the Lord met him in the way, and blessed him. This was in the year 1783.
Some appearances of declining health hastened his return to York in 1784. Here he commenced business, in connexion with his early friend, more than once already named. This partnership continued six years, and was dissolved in 1790.—During this period, he was united in marriage (April 12th, 1787) to Miss Hawkswell, of York, -a lady like-minded with himself, and in every respect an eminently suitable companion. With her society and counsels, which he ever esteemed above all price, Divine Providence indulged him during more than fifty-four years. To her influence, under the blessing of God, he was accustomed to trace much of his success and prosperity in life.- Of his eight children, only three survive. All of them, from
their infancy, he steadily endeavoured to train up for God. Nor was he unsuccessful in this important task. He lived to see most of his children converted to God; and one of them, the second son, a faithful Minister of the New Testament of Jesus Christ. This zealous and indefatigable man, the late Rev. Joseph Agar,—whose praise was in all the churches,—was early called to rest from his labours. He died in blissful peace at Gosport, having travelled in the Wesleyan Connexion twenty-one years. The surviving parents, who had gladly “ lent him to the LORD as long as he lived,” now sorrowfully bowed and kissed the rod.
On settling in York for life, Mr. Agar devoted himself with conscientious industry to business, and to the interests of religion in the city. The hand of the Lord was with him, and prospered him in all his way. Nor did he forget “to honour the LORD,” in grateful return, with his “substance," and with the choice “ first-fruits of all his increase.” In his own playful way he often said, when reverting to this part of his life,--" I began, and became rich by giving away.” Paradoxical as this may appear, it is not the less certain that the more he gave, the more he had. The Lord returned sevenfold for all that had been consecrated to His blessed service.
In religious matters he was blessed with equal success. His zeal was great, and his exertions were in proportion to the ardour of his love for souls. Mr. Agar was not a man who could enjoy religion alone, and quietly see his fellow-citizens perishing for lack of knowledge. Nor did he labour in vain, or spend his strength for nought. His prayers were not unanswered ; nor his efforts unblest. Few and poor were the members of the York Society, when he became allied to it. Its quarterly income, contributed for the support of two Ministers, did not amount to twenty pounds. There was, in the second city of this realm, but one small chapel belonging to the Wesleyan body; while the entire Circuit, far more extensive then than now, numbered scarcely six hundred and fifty members. In the good providence of God, Mr. Agar was spared to see no less than four chapels erected in the city, and four regular Ministers appointed to the Circuit; above three thousand members, within its greatly contracted bounds, in church-fellowship; and more than a thousand pounds annually raised for the glorious object of sending the Gospel to the Heathen. These results were not attained without the combined efforts of many noble-minded and devoted men ; among whom the subject of these memorials bore an honourable share of toil and anxiety. None surpassed him in zeal, perseverance, or generosity. He cheerfully undertook the burden and responsibility of Trusteeship, in behalf of several chapels in York and its Circuit ; while his active efforts and pecuniary aid were bestowed with unsparing bounty. As each additional chapel was completed, opened, and filled with attentive hearers, —and as each new convert was joined to the church,—his heart rose in gratitude to God for what his eyes had seen, and his willing hands had assisted to accomplish. He was intimately acquainted with the revered Founder of Method