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The New Zealand Evangelist

Varieties — Pulpit Eloquence.—

page 181


Pulpit Eloquence.—

William Dawson had opportunities of getting into the ministry of the Church of England. He was not without frequent and urgent solicitations to that course, from the several Ministers in the neighbourhood of his parish. But believing that he should be more extensively useful among the Wealeyan Methodists, and the task of providing for his mother and brother devolving upon him, he was led to that most useful and honourable position among the Wesleyan Methodists, which he so worthily filled for many years, that in that wide-spread connexion none were better known, none were more deservedly popular than Billy Dawson, the Yorkshire farmer. A correspondent of an American Religious journal, relates the following as an instance of his astonishing power over his hearers, the writer having been an eye and ear witness.

Mr. Dawson was delivering a discourse peculiarly suited to his genius, at a village in England. The sermon was styled by his admirers, “Death on the pale horse,” founded upon Revelations VI, 7, 8. He was indulging in that peculiarly vivid imagery which was the basis of his popularity. “Come and see! the sinner is in the broad road to ruin; every step takes him nearer to hell, and farther from heaven. Onward, onward he is going; death and hell are after him; quickly, untiringly they pursue him. With swift but noiseless hoof the pale horse and his paler rider are tracking the godless wretch. See! see! they are getting nearer to him,—they are overtaking him! “At this moment, so perfect was the stillness of the congregation that the ticking of the clock could be distinctly heard in every part of the chapel, and upon this, with a facility peculiarly his own, he promptly seized, and, without any seeming interruption, leaning over the pulpit in the attitude of attention, he fixed his eyes on those who sat immediately beneath, and in an almost supernatural whisper continued, “hark! hark! here they come!—that's their untiring footstep—hark!—hark!” and then imitating for a moment the beating of the pendulum, he exclaimed in the highest pitch of his voice,—“Save the sinner,—save the sinner,—save him! See the bony arm is raised,—the dart is poised! O my God, save him,—save him; for if death strikes him, he falls into hell, and as he falls he shrieks, “Lost! lost! lost! Time lost! Sabbaths lost! means lost! heaven lost! all lost! Lost! LOST! “’ The effect was so overpowering that two of the congregation fainted, and it required all the preacher's tact page 182 and self command to ride through the storm which his own brilliant fancy and vivid imagination had raised.

Perhaps somewhat apocryphal, yet generally accounted as true, is an anecdote of his preaching at Pudsey, a village inhabited by woollen-clath weavers, some five or six miles from Leeds. As the story prevails, Mr. Dawson was preaching from the history of David slaying Goliath, and was indulging freely in the pictorial representation of which he was so perfect a master. Personating David, he had struck down the boasting Philistine, and stepping back in the pulpit, he cast his eye downward, and commenced a train of irony, which had the twofold effect of piercing every one that exalted himself against the Lord, and of adding force to the graphic picture he had already given of that strange conflict. So powerfully did the speaker depiet the conqueror's emotion, and so rapidly did he heap taunt upon taunt on his prostrate foe, that the congregation seemed to forget the actual state of things in the ideal, and waited in breathless suspense for the catastrophe. Some in the gallery, in the intensity of the excitement, literally leaned forward, as though they expected to see upon the floor of the pulpit the giant's form with the stripling's foot upon his breast; and one person, carried away by his feelings, and forgetting in his excitement the sanctity of the place, exclaimed, in the broad dialect of his county, “Off with his head, Billy!”