MEMOIR OF MR WILLIAM NORTON, OF CAULDWELL
Cauldwell Baptist Chapel: now a private cottage.
© Copyright Rita Dowse, 2004
Numerous and constant are the mementoes given us of the instability of all temporal possessions, and that our life is even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. To all former remembrancers of these weighty but much neglected truths, we have now to add another, presented in the sudden and unlooked for removal of the subject of the following brief memoir.
The late Mr William Norton, of Cauldwell, in the county of Derby, was the third son of Joseph and Ann Norton, of the village already named. Mr. Norton was one of the very few persons to whose lot it falls to end their days where they began them, for he died in the same village, and nearly on the same spot on which he was born. His birth occurred December 25th, 1789, and his death, November 21st, 1853; so that when he died he had nearly completed his sixty-fifth year. Our friend's course, though it occupied almost sixty-five years, owing to the circumstances in which he was placed, supplies but few remarkable incidents; yet it would be improper to suffer him to pass away entirely unnoticed, both on his own account, and on account of his estimable connections.
In a religious point of view, Mr Norton was favoured in early life with privileges which are not very common even in these days of comparative advancement. At that time the General Baptist interest was not only as it is at present - the only dissenting cause in his native village, but it was the principal one in the immediate vicinity, and was, moreover, in a flourishing condition. The parents of the deceased were at that period amongst the leading members of the church; and his mother in particular appears to have been distinguished amongst her contemporaries, both on account of her mental capacity and her piety. Every one who reflects on the strength of maternal influence in a family, either for good or for evil, over sons quite as much if not more than over daughters, will justly esteem it one of the highest of privileges to be favoured with a mother truly characterized by wisdom and holiness. Those young persons who either abuse or neglect to profit by so great an advantage, doubtless incur the displeasure of Him who has said, "Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise."
There is reason to conclude that our brother owed much to this salutary parental influence. Parents such as those that we have described would naturally be anxious for the spiritual and eternal welfare of their children, and would manifest that solicitude not only by protecting them as much as possible from exposure to evil communications of every kind, but also by bringing them within the reach of those sacred influences by which youthful piety is promoted: such as a constant attendance on public worship and the ministry of the Gospel, and also that discipline which is indispensible to bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But whatever means may have been used for the spiritual welfare of their children by the persons in question, it is pleasing to reflect that they were crowned with considerable success, inasmuch as, with only one exception, all their children who attained maturity became connected with the church of Christ, and several of them, of whom our departed friend was one, have been prominent and useful in the cause of the Redeemer.
The subject of this brief sketch passed his earliest years under the paternal roof, probably in acquiring such an education as was possessed only by the more favoured of the rural population upwards of fifty years ago, and in rendering himself serviceable in the family as opportunity might enable him. However, for reasons respecting which we have no certain information, it was decided to send him to business at an age much younger than is customary at present. Accordingly, in the year 1801, when he was still under twelve years of age, our friend was apprenticed to Mr Thomas Yates, senr, who had recently commenced business as a tailor, in Birmingham. Our aged friend, Mr Yates, who survives his younger brother, bears honourable testimony to his character as "a steady and faithful young man" and subsequently to his making a profession of religion, as a consistent and worthy Christian.
The rustic youth's residence in the populous and busy town of Birmingham was not destined to be of long continuance, as shortly after his removal there, Mr Yates accepted an invitation from the General Baptist church at Hinckley, to serve them in the ministry in conjunction with Mr Freestone. At that period, the Hinckley church comprehended also Earl Shilton, Thurlaston, and Wolvey, which accounts for its requiring the services of a second stated minister. The time of Mr Norton's abode at Hinckley, which extended some years beyond the term of his apprenticeship, was certainly one of the most eventful of his life. During those years events transpired which without doubt materially influenced his after course. It was then that his conversion to God and his union with the church took place - things of far greater moment, and exerting a far more powerful influence, both on our temporal and eternal interests, than any merely secular or social changes.
We cannot at this distance of time, and in the absence of any written record relative thereto, ascertain the means by which the saving change was effected in its youthful subject, nor can we describe the features by which his early piety was distinguished; whether he was greatly alarmed while under conviction of sin, and deeply distressed by the sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation; whether he was filled with all joy and peace in believing, suddenly and at once, as is sometimes the case, or by a more gradual process, which is the experience of many. Nor is the decision of these points essential to our purpose. We may safely refer the proof of the reality and completeness of the change, of which our brother avowed himself the subject, to the undeviating perseverance of his subsequent course. He was baptized and united to the church at Hinckley, in the year 1806, when he was not quite eighteen years of age. Having, therefore, conscientiously and heartily put his hand to the plough, he did not look back and render himself unfit for the kingdom. On the contrary, he endured unto the end, and was found faithful unto death.
It may be stated, also, that it was when Mr. Norton lived at Hinckley that he was married to his first wife whose maiden name was Catherine Marston. Mrs. Norton was in an infirm state of health at the time of their marriage, and was removed by death within a few months after their union.
There is reason to believe that the part of our brother's life now under review, whatever it may have been in other and less important respects, was characterized by considerable spiritual prosperity; for although, as we have seen, he was not free from trials, and even deeply affecting ones, yet comparatively his cares were few, and his comforts many. In one important particular he was highly favoured. It was his privilege to enjoy the ministry of Mr Freeston, at whose death Robert Hall is reported to have said, "the holiest man in the world is dead." The writer has heard the subject of these remarks, even within these few years, speak of Mr F. in the highest terms. His sermons, said he, were beautiful. Such a ministry could not fail to be highly edifying to devout and enquiring minds.
Some years after he became a widower, our friend was apparently brought to the verge of the grave by an attack of fever - a circumstance which led to important changes in his situation for the rest of his life. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered to be able to bear the fatigue of the journey, and indeed almost before he was able, he was removed to his native air, and in consequence was soon restored to his accustomed health. He who appoints the bounds of our habitation, and chooses our inheritance for us, saw good in this way to remove his servant from Hinckley, and to fix him at Cauldwell for the remainder of his days, where connections and undertakings awaited him, of which probably he had no previous expectation. One of these was his marriage with Miss Brown, of Derby, by whom he had one son, and in whom he found an attentive and affectionate partner.
Soon after his return to Cauldwell, circumstances occurred which led him into the stated ministry, in the exercise of which he extended his labours to some of the adjacent villages, and in one of them - Overseal - a neat and commodious meeting house was some years ago erected. These labours were continued almost without intermission until his death.
During the former years of Mr Norton's ministry, the state of the cause at Cauldwell was comparatively flourishing. The number of members was considerable, and the congregations good. But in course of time, owing to the frequent removal of members and hearers to places presenting worldly advantages superior to those which a place so small and secluded as Cauldwell could afford, the number, both of hearers and members, was greatly diminished. Without doubt this tended to discourage the heart and weaken the hands of the minister. It may also be mentioned, as a circumstance unfavourable to the efficiency and success of his labours, that like many others similarly situated, Mr Norton was necessarily much occupied with business, so that little opportunity was afforded either for mental improvement, for preparation for the pulpit, or for pastoral supervision. This, and other things of a discouraging tendency, doubtless exerted pressing influence upon both the body and the mind of the deceased, and contributed to hasten the crisis which so unexpectedly removed him from the world.
Notwithstanding his discouragements he persevered through evil report and good report; he held on his way, without deviating or wavering, until arrested in his course by the resistless hand of disease. He had been favoured with good health for many years, and his last illness was neither severe nor of long continuance. Near observers had perceived for some months a marked failure, both of his mental and physical strength, but a stranger would hardly have been aware of either before he was actually laid aside. Indeed, so latent and insidious was the fatal disease under which he suffered, that its presence was not suspected by any, excepting, perhaps, his medical attendant. For several days before his death, he seemed to have so far recovered from his indisposition as to be able to resume some of his lighter engagements; and during the last week of his life he was repeatedly miles away on business, when, as the event showed, there was but a step between him and death.
It is consolatory to reflect that, though to our friend the evening of life was somewhat beclouded by circumstances already adverted to, his sun set in tranquillity and smiles at last. This is especially applicable to the last day which he was permitted to spend on earth. That day was the Lord's-day, and to him it was apparently a day of decided enjoyment. It is true that he was not publicly engaged on what proved to be the closing day of his earthly sojourn, but though he did not preach he was present at public worship, and evidently enjoyed himself. After tea the friend who had preached for him arose to return to Burton in time for the evening service. Before parting with him, Mr Norton said, cheerfully, "Friend Wardle, if I should need your services again, as I may not be able to preach just at present, will you come?" On receiving an answer in the affirmative, he returned into the house, showing evident signs of satisfaction and pleasure. The few remaining hours of the evening were passed pleasantly and profitably in reading and conversation, after which he offered his last prayer, and then retired to bed at an early hour. "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching; and if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants".
It would seem that on composing himself to rest, our unsuspecting friend soon fell into his final slumber, from which probably even death himself when he came scarcely aroused him. Soon after midnight Mrs Norton was awakened by the startling and alarming sounds of deep-drawn sighs, occasioned by the laborious and intermitted breathing of the final conflict of her unexpectedly departing husband. She raised his head from the pillow, but it fell powerless on his breast; and before a light could be procured, the spirit had returned to God who gave it - so sudden and unanticipated in this instance was the coming of the Son of man.
"Then with no throbs of fiery pain,
No cold gradations of decay,
Death broke at once the vital chain,
And freed his soul the nearest way."
The immediate cause of death is supposed to have been disease of the heart. On the following Friday the interment took place in the burial-ground adjoining the meeting house in which, during so many years, the departed had proclaimed the word of life. The writer of these lines officiated on the occasion. This solemn and impressive providence was afterwards further improved by the same person, both at Cauldwell and Overseal, to large and attentive congregations. The discourse at Cauldwell was founded on Hebrews xiii. 7, 8, - "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation; Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever." The subject of discourse at Overseal was Psalm xxxvii. 37, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace."
July 19, 1854
"The General Baptist Magazine, Repository and Missionary Observer"
Vol 1 - New Series: September 1854. No. 9
Pages 394 - 397
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