William Mason

The Life And Ministry Of William Mason

Evangelical Magazine 1794:

William Mason, Esquire, Of Bermondsey, Late Justice Of The Peace For The County Of Surry.

The subject of this memoir was born at Rotherhithe, in the county of Surry, in the year 1719. His father was by trade a clockmaker. He gave his son a decent education at a grammar-school, where he learnt the rudiments of the Latin language; and, possessing a mind naturally inquisitive, devoted many hours of his younger years to reading. At a proper age he was bound an apprentice to his father; who having no idea beyond the acquisition of present good, took no pains to train him up in the way he should go, or to impress his mind with the truths of revelation.

Just before the expiration of his apprenticeship, his father was removed by death. By this event, Providence called him very early in life to act the part of a Joseph. A mother, a sister, and a brother, now became his charge. When reflecting on this circumstance, and the direction and support which that God, whose ways are in the great deep, was pleased to afford him, tears of gratitude would frequently burst from his eyes, and the language of praise fall from his lips. To his mother he rendered, to the day of her death, all that assistance, which duty, affection, and industry could inspire. His sister, by marriage, was taken from under his protection, and in a few years died. His brother, who yet survives, was, when very young, left to his care, whom he put to school, and afterwards brought up to his own business.

At the age of twenty-two, he gave his hand in marriage to Miss Cox, with whom he lived in happy union nearly fifty years, and which only terminated in his death. He frequently acknowledged the goodness of God, in restraining in him the violence of youthful passions. Though his mind was not impressed with religious truths, yet at no one period was he led captive by those vices to which youth are particularly addicted. But, as his moral conduct was exemplary, he derived from it no small hopes of obtaining the favour of God. He constantly attended his parish church, and was seldom absent from the sacrament; but, to use the language of the Prophet, he found the bed shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.” His mind was not unfrequently distressed with the suspicion, that he was not so good as he ought to be. His conscience would sometimes upbraid him with the omission of duty and the commission of sin. Being at this time wholly unacquainted with the nature of evangelical sentiments, and that peace which results from the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, he would seclude himself from the world, and, by agonizing in prayer, endeavour to perfect, by the flesh, that righteousness which he had long been attempting to establish. Being convinced that no exertions of his own would produce that happiness which his mind was ardently set upon, and finding that the system of mere heathenish morality, which he had been accustomed to hear at his parish church, would administer no relief to his soul; he began occasionally to attend at Mr. Wesley’s chapels, and in a few years was admitted into their societies, and appointed a leader of a class.

His new connection soon brought upon him the persecution of the world. In a diary, which he wrote in the year 1749, he has this remark: Aug. 7. “I was severely reflected on by one, who cursed and swore at me, saying I was commenced preacher: I was despised in the company of the world; a good lesson to me, that I am called out of the world.” This was succeeded by another persecution of the tongue: “My worthy friend the Rev. Dr.——— rages mightily: He says, I have ruined a good Christian family, for whom he had the greatest love. As for me, I am melancholy mad; or, as another honest inoffensive clergyman tells me, I perplex myself too much about religion.”

But this was not the only persecution he met with. Many of his former acquaintance not only deserted him, but used their endeavours to injure him in his business; several captains of ships, who before had given him large orders, now entirely withdrew their favours, and he had the very trying prospect of an increasing family, with a decreasing trade. To this circumstance he alludes in his Spiritual Treasury, in the meditation from Luke, 22:35. Lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. He begins it: “Precious words to me! With tears of thankfulness I record the goodness of my Lord to the chief of sinners. Upwards of twenty years ago, when it pleased him to call me by his grace, and make me happy in his love, my name was cast out as evil—friends became foes—their hands were against me—they withdrew their favours from me, and derided me; under narrow circumstances, tender feelings for a large family, carnal reasonings of my corrupt nature, and strong temptations from the enemy, I was often sore distressed. But my Lord was gracious; many and many a time did he bring this text to my mind, Lackedst thou any thing? I was constrained with gratitude to reply, Nothing, Lord: Christ is a most precious Master to serve! I have proved it.”

During his connection with Mr. Wesley, though he in a great measure perceived the insufficiency of his own righteousness to justify him before God (for in the diary before alluded to, he expresses himself thus, “I would as soon attempt to swim by the help of a mill-stone, as to rely on my own works for salvation”); yet the doctrine which he had been taught to believe to be scriptural, that a person might be one day high in the favour of God, and the next, an object of the divine vengeance, would often make him miserable. One night returning from Mr. Wesley’s chapel, under great dejection of mind, fearing he might not be faithful to grace received, and so make shipwreck of faith, and finally perish; these words were immediately suggested to his mind: “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God, by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled we shall be saved by his life.” His fears instantly subsided, his conscience felt a calm, to which before it was a stranger, and his mind was made happy in the belief of the truth.

In his next interview with Mr. Wesley, he hinted at the doctrine of the faints’ final perseverance; upon this Mr. Wesley asked, “Where have you been to learn that?” He related the distress of his mind, together with the cause of it, and the means by which he had been relieved. As his understanding became more enlightened, he found this connection less desirable; he was less pleased with the Society, and they were not more satisfied with him: His attendance on ministers who preached the Calvinistic doctrines soon procured his dismission.

He now became personally acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, was particularly intimate with the Rev. Mr. Jones, Chaplain of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, and had the happiness to class among his dearest friends the Rev. Mr. Romaine, for whom, to the day of his death, he ever expressed the most sincere regard, having sat for many years under his ministry.

In the religious world he was well known as an author. Many of his productions have met with general acceptance. He had been frequently solicited to exercise himself in public preaching, which he has often declined, under the impression of his not being called to glorify God in that service. Though he could never be prevailed upon to comply with the solicitations of his friends in that particular, yet his talents were not laid up in a napkin; for since his death his family have found among his papers, letters from correspondents in England, Scotland, Ireland, and America, expressing the spiritual benefits they derived from his publications.

He first appeared as a writer, in a pamphlet under the title of Morality not Christianity; or Remarks on a very extraordinary Sermon, preached at St. George’s, Southwark, by the Rev. Mr. Wingfield, Curate of the said Parish; in a Letter to that Gentleman, by a Layman of the Church of England.

In the year 1754, he published some Plain Queries, humbly offered to the Clergy, with an expostulatory Address to the Laity of the Church of England, on the Declension of scriptural Christianity.

He wrote, in the year 1758, Remarks and Observations on the Morality and Divinity contained in Dr. Free’s Certain Articles, proposed to the Court of Assistants of the worshipful Company of Salters, in a letter to the Rev. Dr. Free. The motto in the title-page is, “AS FREE, and not using your liberty as a cloak of maliciousness,” 1 Peter 2:16. He evidences in these pieces, a knowledge of his subject, an acquaintance with the scriptures, and a concern for the glory of God. Though he much disapproved of the Arminian doctrines of free will, justification by works, universal redemption, &c. yet was he no less an enemy to the licentious tenets of the Antinomians; and, at the time when Mr. Relly disturbed the peace of the church, by his unscriptural preaching, and his Treatise of Union, he nobly appeared to defend that truth, “which is according to godliness,” and printed a pamphlet under this title, Antinomian Heresy exploded, in an Appeal to the Christian World, against the unscriptural Doctrines, and licentious Tenets, of Mr. James Relly, advanced in his Treatise of Union.

In a pamphlet which he published under the title, Methodism displayed, and Enthusiasm detected; intended as an Antidote against the delusive Principles and unscriptural Doctrines of a modern Set of seducing Preachers; and as a Defence of our regular and orthodox Clergy, from their unjust Reflections; addressed to the Rev. Mr. Romaine, the Rev. Mr. Jones, &c.; he might truly adopt the language of St. Paul, “I caught you with guile.” Many eagerly bought it, who afterwards as heartily repented of their purchase. A gentleman passing by a bookseller’s shop, caught by the title-page, went in and bought it. In the evening, after the business of the day was over, he put it into the hand of his son, saying, he had purchased it as an antidote against that poisonous doctrine he had lately imbibed, and insisted upon his reading it, hoping it would prevent his running after a set of enthusiastic preachers. The son obeyed. While reading the first and second pages, the father frequently interrupted him by saying, Mind that: But proceeding a little farther, he soon perceived the design of the author; and altering his language, begged he would cast it behind the fire: The son replied, “Sir, I began to read it at your request, do suffer me to finish it.”

As a farther proof of the vivacity of his disposition, one day reading Mr. Wesley’s Christian Library, and observing in how many places he had published the works of those who had maintained the doctrine of imputed righteousness, he immediately formed the design of making extracts, which he accordingly did, and sent them into the world, under the title of “The Scripture Doctrine of imputed Righteousness, asserted and maintained by the Rev. Mr. John Wesley, A. M. late Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford.” This little piece was soon caught up. It quickly ran through the societies in London, and at length reached Ireland, where Mr. Wesley then was. One of his preachers coming to thank him for the very excellent piece he had lately published, on the doctrine of imputed righteousness; Mr. Wesley instantly started with amazement, and pronounced it a pious fraud; but the book being produced, and the contents read, he found in the last page, that the whole was declared to be taken from his Christian Library.

After publishing several small pieces for children (A Plain Sermon, recommended by the Rev. Mr. Jones; a Catechism; the History of Jesus; A Precious Testimony of Jesus, in the Experience of two Children, one ten, the other twelve Years of age), he entered upon that work which will long live in the remembrance of those who have read it; two volumes entitled, “A Spiritual Treasury for the Children of God, consisting of a Meditation for each Day in the Year, upon select Texts of Scripture:” The first volume for morning, the second for evening. Never did a miser arise with greater avidity from his bed, to accumulate wealth, than he did to compose these meditations. Hence, while others were indulging themselves in sleep, he would be up in the morning, in the depth of winter, at four o’clock, would sit in his room without a fire, and has declared, that his mind was so intent on the glorious and animating truths, on which he was writing, that he felt no cold.

While executing this work a gentleman waited upon him on business. Instead of taking his name and address as desired, and as he thought he had done, he wrote the chapter and verse on which he had been meditating; and when he came afterwards to look at the paper, in order to wait upon the gentleman, he found nothing upon it but Acts the second, verse the eighth; so much was his mind absorbed in divine things. He has frequently mentioned the many happy seasons he enjoyed, when writing his Treasury, and he lived to know that his labour was not in vain in the Lord.

As he professed himself a member of the established church, and constantly attended her worship, he felt a concern that many, who had written on the Lord’s Supper, had advanced doctrines which were in direct opposition to those maintained and taught in her Articles. The Companion to the Altar may do for a self-righteous moralist; but is a miserable guide to a mind enlightened by the Spirit of God. He, therefore, published a small octavo, under the title of The Christian Communicant, or a suitable Companion to the Lord’s Supper. Mr. Romaine, in his Recommendatory Preface, says, “The subject here treated of is one of the deep things of God, of which none can write, as Mr. Mason has, unless he be in his heart alive to God; nor can any but such understand the nature of the ordinance, or be fed and nourished at it.”

It might, perhaps, prove tiresome to our readers, to notice the whole of his publications. The Believer’s Pocket Companion met with a very favourable reception, and in a very little time ran through six editions. After the death of Mr. Toplady he became the editor of the Gospel Magazine, which he solely conducted for several years; and in this publication first appeared his notes on Bunyan’s Pilgrim.

Though, as a private christian and an author, Mr. Mason was distinguished from many religious characters, yet he was too sensible of the depravity of his nature, and the spirituality of God’s law, not to feel and acknowledge that he was wholly indebted to the sovereignty of divine grace for whatever he enjoyed in preference to the generality of Christians; and would frequently express himself, in the language of the apostle, By the grace of God I am what I am.

Having presented our readers with a striking likeness of the subject of these memoirs, and faithfully delineated the prominent features of his mind; we would not pass over unnoticed those imperfections, from which he only was entirely free, “who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.”

He was naturally very warm and hasty: And as the heat of his temper would sometimes gain an ascendency over his judgment, in the moments of cool reflection it would produce the most serious contrition. Being frequently called to struggle with this constitutional evil, he thought, on this account, no person more competent to point out the sinfulness of yielding to passion, and the evil effects which flow from an ungovernable warmth of temper.

His mind being deeply impressed with the truth of that scripture, The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price, and his conscience feeling the smart of that godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation, he wrote An affectionate Address to passionate Professors, showing the blessedness of a meek and quiet spirit, the evil of giving way to bad tempers, and pointing out some likely means for subduing them. He begins this little tract with, “My brethren, suffer a word of exhortation from a heart that knows its own bitterness, and groans under the ruins of a sinful nature and disordered passions. Permit one, who freely owns with grief and shame, that he is naturally of a very hasty temper and passionate disposition, to address you on the evil of indulging and giving way to this. In this attempt, I humbly crave your most serious attention and affectionate regard, hoping therein mine eye is singly directed to our Lord’s glory, and my heart sincerely engaged for your spiritual good, and my own. Bear with my freedom, as I assure you I desire to write from my own sense and experience of this evil, as well as from observation of it in others. I would apply to my own soul all that I write to you; and desire to fall under every conviction myself, which I may bring against you.”

Having been long named in the commission of the peace for the county of Surry, in the year 1783 he retired from business, and became an acting magistrate. As the evening of life was now drawing on, he thought, in this department, he might employ those hours for the public good, which otherwise might appear to himself dull, and to others useless.

About four years previous to his death, he first felt a slight stroke of the palsy His speech for a few days was interrupted, and he complained of a pain and numbness in his head. It then left him; but not without having, in some degree, impaired his faculties. About two years after, while performing the duty of a magistrate at Union Hall, in the borough of Southwark, he suddenly fell from his chair, and was taken up speechless: From this shock he also recovered; but not without a greater debility of the mental powers.

On the morning of his death, he intended to walk as usual; was as perfectly in health as he had been for some time, and appeared to possess a more than common vivacity: He ran down stairs with an unusual agility; and when engaged in prayer with his family, evidenced a more than common degree of fervour. About eleven o’clock in the forenoon, as he was walking in his own room, in a moment he was deprived of the use of his limbs on one side. An apothecary and physician were immediately called in; but death had received his commission: In less than two hours, his speech, which from the first had faultered, was entirely taken away; and though it would have afforded his surviving relatives the greatest pleasure, to have heard him, in his dying moments, extol that Saviour, whom having not seen he loved, and boast of that salvation from which he had derived unspeakable joys; yet that God, who orders all things after the counsel of his own will, was pleased to deny them that privilege; for at eleven o’clock in the evening of the same day, Sept. 29, 1791, in the 73d year of his age, he breathed his last.

He has left a widow, two daughters, and a son. His remains were interred in the church of St. Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey, in which parish he had resided upwards of sixty years, and where, for the last twelve years of his life, he attended on his son’s ministry.

Mr. M. may with strict propriety be classed among the good, the great, and useful of society. In his personal appearance, there was nothing to impress a stranger with a favourable idea of his talents; but in company, his conversation evidenced marks of superior sense and prevailing piety, and rendered him an instructive and entertaining companion. Influenced by the power of divine grace, he glorified God in his generation. His soul was the peaceful residence of all the social virtues. In the discharge of the filial, fraternal, conjugal, and parental duties, he was cheerful and exact. The urgencies of business were never suffered to intrude upon the more urgent claims of his soul. In persecution for righteousness sake, his heart was fixed, trusting in the Lord;” and at length he had the happiness to experience, that God had “redeemed his soul from all adversity, and brought him through fire and water, into a wealthy place.” Many years he lived on Jesus Christ, as the alpha and omega of his own salvation, and poffessed the enviable talent of recommending him to others with peculiar advantage. His mind was equally averse to the leaven of Pharisaical pride and Antinomian presumption; which he considered as dangerous extremes, and against which his exertions were uniformly and equally directed. Though he was never dignified with the epithet of reverend, or elevated to the pulpit, yet, by the discreet husbandry of his time, he was enabled to compose those works, which, during his life-time, rendered him useful to thousands; and which will embalm his memory, and convey instruction to succeeding generations.

Reader, for thee this memoir was collected—not for the entertainment of thy leisure moments, but for the improvement of thy future days.

Learn from the character and conduct of a private individual, that real worth, heavenly wisdom, and extensive usefulness, are not confined to men of public professions. Let Jesus and his salvation be thy first concern. Assured of his favour, make it thy study to live for God, and glorify him in thy body and spirit, which are his. Then, when called to drop the veil of mortality, thou wilt survive in the esteem of his saints, the excellent of the earth, and be rewarded by the admiration of posterity—while thy happy spirit, wasted to the regions of bliss, shall enjoy in the beatific presence of Jesus ineffable and eternal felicity.

William Mason (1719-1791) was a High-Calvinist author. For many years he served as a Justice of the Peace, and in 1783 was appointed a Magistrate. He served as editor of the Gospel Magazine before and after the editorship of Augustus Toplady. He is best known for a morning and evening devotional entitled, “A Spiritual Treasury For The Children Of God.”