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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XIV. - Rev. James Turner


At the base of the Blue Ridge, in the County of Bedford, Virginia, and in sight of the Peaks of Otter, James Turner had his birth-place and his burial. His parents were of English descent. His mother eminent for her piety in her unobtrusive life, gave birth to this son May 7th, 1759, in the midst of the troubles of the Indian wars. Her efforts to train him in his boyhood, to walk in. the paths of true wisdom, were ultimately crowned with success. In his early years, the Rev. David Rice, the apostle of Kentucky, was the pastor of the church at the Peaks, to which his mother belonged. Classical schools were cherished by the citizens of Bedford from the earliest settlement, and were much encouraged by Mr. Rice. The capacity of young Turner for language was found to be of a high order. He mastered the Latin Grammar in two weeks ; and his proficiency in Greek was remarkable. His classical education, however, was never completed, and his Greek studies were not prosecuted to an equal extent with the Latin. In Mathematics and Philosophy his education was entirely neglected. He learned to speak the English language with purity and elegance, and was never at a loss for fitting words.

Having made choice of the law for his profession, he set out for the residence of the gentleman with whom he intended to pursue his studies with a wardrobe befitting his circumstances. While on his journey he was robbed of his clothes and money; and returned home mortified, and abandoned his scheme for a profession. In after life he was accustomed to speak of this frustration of his early designs with thankfulness, as one of the means used by the Lord to bring him to a heavenly life.

In early manhood his personal appearance was commanding ; tall in stature, masculine in frame, with great activity and strength. In disposition kind, and in manners attractive. His sense of honor was quick, his integrity unimpeached. He possessed in a high degree the power of making mirth; and at gatherings in the neighborhood, and on court days, he indulged his vein of humor upon the follies and improprieties of others, for his own amusement and the enjoyment of the company. The life of the circle in which he moved, a party was not complete unless Turner was there. Unhappily he indulged himself in witty oaths "to point a sentence” and provoke a laugh. The use of ardent spirits was universal among his companions; card-playing was the amusement of all. Professional gambling was dishonorable. Horse-racing was patronized for the excitement, and the supposed improvement of the breed of horses. In all these Turner took a part with unbounded glee and humor. It was not uncommon for men to call at taverns and take a game of cards for a drink of spirits ; or to stop in the woods to play for sport, or for a small sum of money. The Rev. James Mitchel, with whom Mr. Turner was afterwards associated in the ministry, used to relate — that one day passing Turner, in his wild days, with some others, playing cards by the road-side, Turner, with a great deal of profane mirth, insisted he should dismount and take a hand with them. In one of the trials of the speed of his horse, common in those days, he was thrown, and for a time was supposed to be dead. In the early part of the Revolutionary war he served a short time in the army. The camp was not inviting, and he declined becoming a soldier in the regular army.

Pugilistic encounters to ascertain who was the “best man,” were common in the mountainous regions of Virginia while Turner was a youth. When parties from different neighborhoods met, it was a point of honor to determine, by an encounter, who was the best boxer. One match led to another, and sometimes ended in a general fight. Challenges were sometimes passed by individuals, or sent from one neighborhood to another for a trial on a given day, at an appointed place, not uncommonly the court-house. Frequently the combats were ended without much injury ; one party finding himself getting the worse, would yield, and cry “enough.” Sometimes the angry passions, excited by ardent spirits, raged with terrible ferocity. In some places gouging became an art, and biting of the ears and nose a science. Barbarity has its limits ; and to gouge both eyes was esteemed cruel and dishonorable. These customs have passed away, and scarce a relic of the victims can be found. Mr. Turner, by his frolic and fun, gave cause for many of these fights and was too high spirited to refuse what he had provoked. He received no lasting bodily injury, nor is there any tradition of his having inflicted any. In his ministerial life he seldom referred to any of these scenes. Once, however, illustrating the power of sympathy between a speaker and his audience, he said that when in his early days he got a hard fight on his hands, and was evidently getting worsted, a shout from his friends of “Well done, Turner!” — “Well hit, Turner!” would rouse him up, and he would put in a blow so much the better. The expression of his friends that he would gain the mastery often made him gain it. Through his whole life he was an example of the power of sympathy.

In the year 1778 he was married to Miss Sally Leftwitch, daughter of Colonel William Leftwitch, of Bedford. This marriage proved to him a source of much happiness: he lived with his estimable lady half a century wanting a few months. She bore him sons and daughters. After his marriage he settled on a farm about two miles from Liberty, the county seat; and for a series of years indulged in his mirth and frolic. A beef-steak club was formed to meet regularly once a week at a tavern in Liberty, in a room expressly appropriated to their use. Turner was captain. Drinking, gambling and carousing employed this company to a late hour; often the whole night.

About the time of his marriage he served his fellow citizens one session in the Legislature. His efforts at business and public speaking were not satisfactory to himself, though spoken well of by others ; and at the close of the session he retired to private life, and never again permitted his name to be mentioned as a candidate for political honors. At that time he did not knowr his own powers of oratory. Of these he never seemed conscious till he saw their effects upon audiences listening to his exhortations to flee from the wrath to come.

In 1784 Rev. James Mitchel became pastor of the Peaks Church. Under his ministry, Bedford enjoyed repeated revivals. In the year 1789 the Rev. Drury Lacy preached repeatedly in the congregation of Mr. Mitchel. Multitudes were attracted to the place of meeting— among them Mr. Turner. While walking around the place of worship, and standing in the shade talking with his companions, the sweet, clear-toned voice of Lacy, fresh from the excitements and religious exercises of Prince Edward, caught his ear. He could not resist its charms ; drawing nearer to enjoy its music, some sentences of gospel truth arrested his mind. He drew still nearer to hear what such a man would say on religion. When the congregation was dismissed, and the inquirers were seeking instruction from the ministers, Mr. Turner with an aching heart turned homewards. Strange thoughts passed through his mind, sad feelings possessed his soul, unusual sorrows pressed on his heart, melancholy forebodings overwhelmed him. He could neither drive these things away, nor fly from them. He was wretched and forlorn. _ He thought sometimes he was about to die ; and sometimes that perhaps he too would become religious like the new converts he had heard of in other places. Home had no comfort for him.

When his sufferings became intolerable, he mounted his horse to seek his mother, and ask her sympathy and advice. The arrested man thought of the instructions of his childhood, and in the time of his distress fled to his mother’s bosom. With great simplicity he told her his feelings about himself and God, and religion, and death ; and inquired wrhat he should do in his strange case. To his utter surprise, his mother, instead of expressing sympathy or giving counsel, exclaimed with tears — “My son! this is the very thing for which I have prayed for years!” She then broke forth in ascriptions of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God, for his wonderful mercy in bringing her son under conviction. He stood and wondered if his mother had gone crazy. Her rejoicing added to his grief. Knowing his characteristic fondness and honesty, his mother did not for a moment doubt the reality of her son’s convictions ; she believed the strong man armed was seized by one stronger than he; and she rejoiced in his convictions and sorrow of heart, as the forerunners of peace in believing. When her first gush of joy was passed she gave the counsel a Christian mother might give her son. He attended preaching, sought instruction, went to prayer-meetings, prayed in private, and read the word of God. Wearisome days and sleepless nights passed before he could find rest to his soul. He could make no excuse for his sins; and saw he deserved the worst from the hands of God. In receiving mercy, if ever he did, it seemed to him some mark ought to be set upon him, in memory of the past.

Hearing the subject of the new birth set forth, he was fully convinced of its truth and importance; and in his own case of its immediate necessity. And believing, as he afterwards related, that the new birth was attended with an agony of mind beyond anything he had felt, and that in his case particularly, it ought to be so, he stood, literally stood in the corner of the room, where the services were that evening conducted, desiring, praying, waiting, for that untold agony of mind and body, which should precede spiritual life. He went away from the meeting alarmed, that not only had he not felt the expected agony, but had lost the distress he had been sinking under, and was becoming calm. He thought of the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinner’s friend ; and his soul broke forth in praise, of him for his wonderful ways to the children of men. He felt he loved him; and yet could scarce believe that such a wretch, as he had been, could love him, or be loved by him. He knew not what to do.. But as he meditated the tide of feeling became resistless. The mouth, once filled with songs of revelry, now spoke God’s praise in no measured numbers; and he that had urged others, even preachers, to sin, now most earnestly exhorted them to repent and believe in Jesus.

The great change in Mr. Turner, and his vehement exhortations, alarmed and impressed the people of Bedford. In the month of September, the Rev. William Graham returning from his noted visit to Briery, tarried a few days, together with his young companions, in the neighborhood of New London, and joined in a series of religious meetings with the pastor and Dr. Smith, and Mr. Legrand. The religious excitement was very great. One that heard Mr. Turner exhort, Archibald Alexander, said—“his pathetic appeals in prayer-meetings, were overwhelming.” In October, the Presbytery of Hanover held its meetings at Pisgah, one of the preaching places of Mr. Mitchel. The religious exercises were numerous; and the sermons were addressed to crowded auditories. On Sabbath the mind of Mr. Turner was greatly agitated. His views of divine things were clear, and his sense of unworthiness overwhelming. His past evil associations troubled him beyond measure; he threw himself upon the ground beside a fallen tree top, and gave vent to his agitated feelings in groans and cries.*

The awakening on religious subjects becoming general, the demands for preaching the gospel were more numerous than the members of Presbytery could supply. The Presbytery, therefore, determined at this meeting to relax somewhat the strictness of their rules respecting a classical education, that they might admit to their number, Mr. William Moore, a Methodist minister, with high recommendations—“Because,” say they, “in the present state of religion, and of our churches, men of liberal education and real piety cannot be obtained in sufficient numbers to supply the pressing demands of the people for the word and ordinances; they do, however, declare their approbation of that rule, in the general, and their intention to preserve a regard to it, as extremely useful, and perhaps necessary.” This paved the way for an application to be made tor the licensure of Mr. Turner.

The Beefsteak Club lay with weight upon Mr. Turner’s mind. Having assembled the members by special invitation, he recounted their past acts of friendship and confidence, and their course of living; he stated the change in his mind and feelings, and the consequent change of life he had commenced. He said one thing lay with weight upon him. He had gambled with them; and in so doing had both lost and won money; and probably was about even in his loss and gains. But he was troubled about the matter; such gains were sinful; and he was prepared now to begin to return the money he had won from them, as far as he could recollect, and would go on, if it took all he was worth; and he requested them to state all the instances of his winning they could recollect. He then exhorted them to attend to the salvation of their souls through Christ, of which they had as great need as himself. The club dissolved ; and many of its members became hopefully pious. A prayer-meeting was set up in Liberty, conducted by Mr. Turner. His life was consistent, his zeal ardent, and his powers of attraction unusual; and at the same time his doctrines and exhortations were scriptural. His pastor called his attention to the gospel ministry; his heart was not averse to the work; but his circumstances, degree of education, his sense of propriety, and of the dignity and sanctity of the ministerial office, were great impediments in his way.

At a meeting of the Presbytery at Briery, May 7th, 1790, “Mr. James Turner, of Bedford-, was recommended by Mr. Mitchel, to the notice of this Presbytery, as a person who had made some progress in learning, and of whose piety he had good hopes, being desirous to receive the advice of Presbytery respecting what constitutes a call to the ministry.” After conversation with him, and hearing from him the circumstances of his conversion, and his religious experience, “the Presbytery thought proper to assign him subjects to write upon, as a specimen of his abilities.” Though not enrolled as a candidate, they recommended him to write an essay upon the Imputed Righteousness of Christ, and a discourse upon Hebrews 5th : 4th, and a comment upon Romans 8th: 28th, and onwards. A question was proposed by Mr. Mitchel — “Whether a private Christian of good character might be permitted to exhort his fellow Christians in social meetings?” Answered in the affirmative, “provided the society themselves approved of it.” Thus encouraged by Presbytery, Mr. Turner held meetings for exhortation and prayer, read the Greek Testament, and pursued the studies in preparation for the ministry, while attending to the duties of the head of a family.

On the 2d of April, 1791, at Briery, he read before Presbytery “a discourse upon the words, ‘And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaronwith which the Presbytery was so well pleased that they admitted him to trial, and agreed to sustain that sermon as a part.” At Cub Creek, October 22d, 1791, Mr. Turner opened Presbytery with his trial sermon. His trials and examinations being passed satisfactorily, he was, on the evening of the 29th, at the house of William Morton, licensed to preach the gospel. A regular call was immediately put in for his services by the Peaks church. He hesitated to accept the invitation to his native congregation, in which he had lived so long in sin. Mr. Mitchel urged the matter. He took time for consideration. His mind became dark and his hope clouded immediately after his licensure. “Last Saturday being licensed to preach the everlasting gospel, in the evening had some sore exercises, and dreadful, awful apprehensions of the wrath of God due to me for sin, which drove me near the brink of despair.” Upon recovering his peace of mind he devoted himself anew to God.

The succeeding May, he informed the Presbytery that he accepted the call. On the 28th of July, 1T92, he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry, at Bethel church, in Bedford, Mr. Graham, of Lexington, preaching the ordination sermon from John 21st: 15, 16, IT, and Mr. Lacy presiding and giving the charge. He was also installed co-pastor with Mr. Mitchel. This relation he held till his death; and to the honor of both it is recorded that no jarring string was ever known to be struck between them. Mitchel never envied Turner; and Turner never scorned Mitchel. Mitchel took the position of senior pastor undisputed, and Turner of the eloquent preacher. Both were beloved and honored by the people.

Mr. Turner had great power to move assemblies. He had been unequalled in producing mirth. His few efforts in the legislature led others to anticipate, what he did not think possible, success as a public speaker, on grave subjects. His exhortations in prayer meetings produced effects that revealed to himself his own powers. He preached for years to a congregation embracing many very intelligent and many shrewd people; and the influence of his oratory was neither weak nor transient, nor wanted novelty to give it effect. Impressed himself, he impressed others. His great physical strength permitted him to pour forth a current of feeling that would have destroyed a weaker body. The gentle flow of his own bosom, or the rapid torrent of his excited passion swept his audience along with unresisted influence. He carefully studied his subjects ; and sometimes made notes of thoughts and arguments and proofs and texts, but never wrote out a sermon in full, and generally made no written preparation. The commencement of his discourse was generally in a low voice, in an easy, unpretending conversational style and manner, without any promise. His train of thought was good, arranged in a plain, simple, common sense way, so natural the hearer would be inclined to think he would have arranged it in the same way, and that it cost no effort in the preparation, and was so plain everybody ought to see it. The outbreak of feeling was unpremeditated, and equally unexpected by himself and audience. He, in common with the hearers, seemed confident that the subject prepared would excite him; but in what part of the sermon, or in what particular channel the torrent would run, he neither knew nor desired to know till the moment came, and then he revelled in the delicious excitement. If the inspiration did not come upon him, and the spring of feeling was not opened, he went mourning from the pulpit, but the audience always had a good sermon, one satisfactory if it were not known that he could do better. His preaching hours were generally seasons of delight; often of the highest enjoyment. On some well prepared, important subject of the gospel, his imagination taking fire, his heart melting, his tones and ' gestures and words were graphic; and his hearers saw and felt and rejoiced with him.

Out of the pulpit, in his conversation on the truths and experience of religion, he was often carried away with the excitement and wTas as resistless as in it. His pulpit subjects were the weighty truths of the gospel. Over the depravity, ruin, and danger of sinful man he was agitated to tears, and sighs, and sometimes groans, and exclamations; and the audience sighed with him. On repentance, justification by faith, and the dignity and glory of Christ he was enraptured and enrapturing. With a mind clear to discover the truth, he had no delight in metaphysical discussions. He taught doctrines practically as the foundation of experience and the comfort of life. With him, imputation of Adam’s sin, universal depravity, and the certainty of coming wrath were subjects of deep commiseration and powerful incentives to action; justification by faith, a source of unspeakable thanksgiving; election made him humble and gave him strength. He felt what he believed. In preaching, the rapid transition of his thoughts and variety of feeling in grouping his ideas and illustrations, would sometimes excite his audience to a pleasant smile, and then suffuse the cheeks with tears before the smile had died away. At some unexpected turn of thought his hearers would often spring to their feet, without noise, or consciousness of what they were doing. Unstudied in his manner and attitudes, impulsive, honest, frank, kind, unsuspicious, full of zeal and tender feelings, and of strong sympathy with his fellow men, he was an orator of nature.

He was successful as a co-pastor, and as an evangelist to the destitute neighborhoods in Bedford and the surrounding counties. Dr. Speece used to tell an anecdote characteristic of the two men. In one of the excursions the ministers of Hanover were accustomed to make for the purpose of preaching in destitute neighborhoods, Messrs. Turner and Speece went together according to the Scripture rule, of two and two. Turner all feeling, vehemence, and passion; Speece cool, didactic, and argumentative. It was usual for the ministers to alternate, and the preacher of yesterday followed the sermon of to-day with an exhortation. It was Speece’s turn to preach, a large congregation had assembled where preaching was seldom heard. Mr. Speece gave an able discourse, full of gospel truth, in his unimpassioned style and manner, without any thing as Mr. Turner thought to excite or interest the people. At the close of sermon, Mr. Turner asked Mr. Speece to close the meeting, his feelings being too much borne down to exhort. As Boon as they were a little withdrawn, Mr. Speece says — “Brother Turner, what is the matter with you to-day?” he replied—“Brother Speece, I do not like your preaching at all. If I could use such language and sentiments as you have at command, I could prostrate all before me. But you go drawling along, letting your words drop out of your mouth like stones out of the tail of a cart. Why don’t you fire, man? — put in more powder, and fire clear; and then you may expect to do execution.”

The blessings which God showered upon him, in his person, and family, and congregation, Mr Turner enjoyed with a glad heart. He may be said, after his conversion, to have enjoyed life. He loved his Redeemer, and loved his fellow men, and enjoyed the favors of God to a degree of blessedness he had sought in vain, in the ways of sin, in his younger days. The common sorrows and griefs of men, were mingled in due proportion in his cup. But in his griefs he had joy. Two of his sons entered the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. One of these used to tell a characteristic anecdote of his father. About the time he was licensed he was called to preach in his father’s pulpit, the old gentleman sitting directly behind him. The presence of the father added nothing to the composure of the son. His subject was interesting, and the sermon pretty well prepared. But he delivered it rather tamely. When he was about finishing the ,old gentleman pulled him by the coat, saying — “stop a little — let me try” — and taking his place he began the subject again — that of the New Birth — and poured out a short sermon, with great pathos, visibly affecting the whole audience. “There,” said he, turning to his son, “that is the way to preach.” I slipped down from the pulpit,” said the son, “and got away, hardly knowing whether I should preach again or not.”

In 1810, his daughter Betsey, married to a Mr. Hoskins, died in her 30th year. Her illness was long. She lost her hope in Christ. Her father mourned with her in the depths of sorrow. But God did not permit her to pass away in a cloud; her mind became clear, and her hope rapturous. She died triumphing. The father’s heart overflowed as he recorded in his Bible the death of his daughter in the sweetness of hope. On the 3d of October, his son William Leftwitch, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, was called to his rest, leaving a wife and three children, and a congregation that loved him tenderly. This stroke was unexpected by the lather, and overwhelming. When the bitterness of the grief had a little passed, he said — “I cannot do better than raise up children for the kingdom of heaven.” .

In November 1818, Mr. Turner writes to Rev. J. H. Rice of Richmond — “I am thankful I attended the meeting of Presbytery in Lynchburg. The very cordial reception I met with from my brethren in the ministry, and others male and female, made me experience more enjoyment and fellowship than I had proposed to myself this side of the grave. Yes, my friend, I did enjoy unexpected pleasure at different times while there, and more particularly was it the case during your delivery of that discourse on Sunday night, from * I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’ Whether any of my sermons have ever been useful to you, I cannot pretend to say; but this I believe I can say, that sermon was edifying to me.” Referring to the young preacher he says, “I was more especially delighted with the exhibitions of preaching talents made by that truly amiable young man Mr. Thornton; but these feelings have ever since been attended with fears of a too early removal from those labors in which he appeared so cordially engaged.”

The appearance of Mr. Turner at the Presbytery referred to in the preceding letter, is thus given by his friend J. H. Rice, in the Evangelical and Literary Magazine, for Nov. 1818. “An aged clergyman who attended this meeting particularly engaged my attention, and I may even say fascinated me. He had in his manner nothing austere, nor reserved; but seemed accessible and communicative to every one. All stiffness of etiquette, all doctorial dignity are perfectly foreign to his nature and habits. Every thing about him is plain, simple and unaffected. The tones of his voice are more expressive of cordiality and perfect good-will than any I have ever heard. His eye expresses the deepest tenderness. The whole cast of his countenance expresses strong intelligence. His perceptions are quick and clear, and his imagination ever ready to kindle into a blaze. It is impossible to hear him speak without being convinced of his absolute sincerity. His style is like himself, perfectly plain and unadorned. He never uses any but common words, put together in the most natural order, and in sentences usually very short. But as these wrords express the conceptions of a strong original thinker, and the feelings of a most affectionate and tender heart, they seize and enchain the attention and subdue the hearts of his hearers.

“His preaching is in the tone, and style and whole manner of animated conversation, except when occasionally he is borne away by his feelings, and speaks too loud for his own ease or the comfort of his audience. In fact this is the only thing that I could censure in his manner of preaching. On the w hole, he comes near, in many respects, to my idea of an orator. And he more than ever has convinced me that simplicity is one of the highest attributes of true eloquence. Involved sentences, unusual expressions, the fragments of splendid metaphors broken and mixed together in dazzling confusion, are, since I have seen this venerable preacher, more disgusting than before. In private conversation, the Rev. Mr.-is as pleasant as in the pulpit he is edifying. He has a very considerable store of anecdotes; relates them in the most natural manner; and generally brings them to bear on some point of utility, so as to afford instruction and make it delightful. In younger life he was a man of pleasure, and mixed much with the gay world. His observations on men and things, thus have great truth and pungency. I was gratified to hear such a man as he is, bear a most solemn testimony against the daily, even though moderate use of spirituous liquors. It was his declaration, that according to his experience this practice had produced greater trouble in the Church and created more scandals than all other sources of evil combined.”

Such was the appearance of Mr. Turner, all the latter part of his life, with this only exception, that like fully ripened fruit he grew more mellowed and lovely as he drew near his end. Preachers and people hung upon his lips to catch some of the lovely thoughts of the simple-hearted venerable Christian. When it became evident that his attendance on Synod and Presbytery was drawing to an end, the anxiety to see and hear him, became uncontrolled. “Will father Turner be here ? Has father Turner come ? Where is he ? Will he preach ? No, he is unwell; but he will perhaps give an exhortation. Where does he lodge ?” His age was crowned with reverence and honor.

Dr. Baxter conversing with a young friend in the year 1831, respecting the prayerfulness and spiritual-mindedness of Mr. Turner, said, on one occasion when the Synod met in Lexington, (probably 1805), during recess, Mr. Turner walking down the street to a friend’s house, became absorbed about the things of eternity, and, apparently unconscious of the place or company, took off his hat and began to pray aloud for a blessing on the occasion and people. And said the Doctor, after a pause of deep emotion, “there are souls rejoicing in heaven over the result of that meeting.” The Rev. J. C. Willson, speaking of the same Synod, said, he had no doubt that at times Mr. Turner was more eloquent than Patrick Henry ever was. He preached on Sabbath afternoon of the Synod on Rev. 1st. 7th. “Behold he cometh with clouds and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him; even so, Amen.” And so great was the power of his description, that during a good part of the discourse I seemed to see the Saviour coming and hear the people wailing. Mr. Willson and a number of others, as J. D. Ewing, Samuel M’Nutt, Joseph Logan, A. B. Davidson and John M’llhenny, that were impressed at that time, and particularly moved by that sermon, afterwards entered the ministry.

Mr. Turner was not unconscious of his powers, neither was he unmindful of the fact that the inspiration of truth and the gush of resistless feeling that came upon him, in his ministry, were not at his bidding. He looked for them, and if they came not, he went away bemoaning himself and humbled before God. He once told an anecdote of himself, illustrating the operations of his mind and heart. Preaching of a week-day in the extreme part of his charge, in the earlier part of his ministry, Mr. Lacy and another brother in the ministry heard of this appointment on their road, and, anxious to hear him planned their arrival so that he should be in the exercises of worship on their entering, and so prevented from calling on them. He had commenced his sermon when he saw them quietly enter and take their seats, said—“Ah, why did you not come earlier—you will get only plain fare from me to-day.” It was a hot day, and he had taken off his coat to be more free. He wished he had it on again.

On he went with his sermon, and his little congregation were in tears; he looked round and saw the tears rolling down the cheeks of his brethren — “Ah, have I got you too?” So he concluded to preach when it was his duty, and not to mind who came in.

The time came that he must die. His strength was evidently giving way fast. He set his house in order. On the 10th of March, 1827, he put his hand and seal to his last will and testament, in which are these sentences: “I, James Turner, a minister of the gospel, in Bedford County, Virginia, convinced of the uncertainty of human life, and of my own in particular, and now laboring under a complication of complaints, that I am apprehensive will before long, remove me from time to eternity; but in full exercise of my reason and judgment, do institute and appoint this my last will and testament. In the first place, as a poor lost and ruined sinner, I cast myself wholly upon the mercy of God, in and through his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, hoping, praying for salvation from sin and hell, in no other way; and do hereby solemnly ratify and confirm that written covenant with the Lord, into which I entered not long after I became a professor of religion, and renewed shortly after I was licensed to preach the gospel. I know most assuredly that upon any other plan than that of the gospel I cannot be saved; but upon this plan of infinite grace and mercy, the vilest sinner upon earth, who has become a believer, may humbly, yet confidently hope for heaven with all its everlasting enjoyments. As to my body I feel no anxiety about it, only that it should without parade, and in the plainest manner, be committed to the earth to see corruption, believing that at the last day it will be raised to immortality. With respect to the disposal of my earthly property amongst my children, it has long been a settled point with me, that I would as near as possible, make an equal division.

In the October following, in Lynchburg, he met the Synod of Virginia for the last time. On Sabbath afternoon, the sacrament of the Supper was administered, the communicants occupying the entire area of the church. The sight of this assembly, as he looked at it from the pulpit, overcame him. The minister that read the hymn of institution, as he took his seat, saw the tears flowing down Mr. Turner’s cheeks. “This large assembly,” said the old. man, “of the people of God, so reminds me of what is said of their coming from the north, and the south, the east, and the west, and sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven — and the thought that I shall so soon be there myself, quite overcomes me.” He at the earnest request of the brethren girded up his strength and delivered one sermon, perfectly characteristic. It was on the progress of the church of God from the day of Pentecost to the present, and its anticipations of future glory. With graphic power he recounted its trials, its enemies, its conflicts, and its victories. It was the last effort of the old man. On the 18th of January, 1828, a fit of apoplexy brought him to his end. He was sensible of his disease, its power, and progress, and uttered but one sentence — “I am dying.”


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