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I have not been able to find, among the few papers left by our venerable friend Mr. Fish, any account of his first entrance on the Christian course. In many instances, (and, I believe, in this also,) the absence of such documents is found to be one of the fruits of genuine humility. While some, for their own instruction, have kept a journal of their religious feelings and proceedings, aiming only at the divine glory,-others, viewing the subject under another aspect, see little that they think worthy of being recorded. Character is formed, office assumed, and its duties discharged with conscientious fidelity; and they commit themselves to God, only seeking to find mercy with the Lord in “ that day,” for which they are looking, and to which they are hasting. Mr. Wesley was accustomed to require, from all whom he employed in the work of the ministry, a written narrative of their early history, and of their personal conversion ; but if such a paper were ever drawn up by Mr. Fish, it no longer exists.
The writer labours under another inconvenience. Mr. Fish was not aware that he had a relation in the world; and he had outlived nearly all with whom he had been acquainted in the first stages of his religious life. No particular account of that important period, therefore, could be procured. But Mr. Fish was a Wesleyan Minister; and this proves that when he commenced his valuable labours, he could give such a statement as would satisfy even the godly jealousy of Mr. Wesley ; while the well-known facts, that he could rejoice in the labours, sufferings, privations, and reproaches to which the first Methodist Preachers (and especially in the West Indies) were exposed, and teach the spiritual religion of the New Testament so much to the edification of his hearers, satisfactorily evince both the soundness and the steadfastness of his principles.
He was born in 1764, at Littlecoats, in the county of Lincoln. He was the grandson of a Clergyman of the Church of England, and imbibed early, and long retained, strong prejudices in favour of that communion. But his regard both for its services and officers became gradually less favourable, as he saw the inefficiency of the former, as then too frequently administered, and the persecuting violence of the
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latter, of which the early Methodists in the neighbourhood were the objects; and it is not unlikely that their sufferings and patience first drew his attention to them, and led to those inquiries which resulted in that union with them, which, to the end of a long life, was never broken.
As he was called to the full work of the Wesleyan itinerant ministry in 1785, when he was only twenty-one years of age, he must have been distinguished for his youthful piety. His first appointment, too, (the Hull Circuit,) seems to intimate that he was regarded as a young man of considerable promise. He laboured in several Circuits, in England and Wales, till 1792, when he was selected by Dr. Coke as one of the Missionaries to the Negroes in the island of Jamaica.
At this period, the treatment of the diseases of tropical climates was not so well understood as at present; the unsuitableness of the country to an English constitution, combined with the effects of continued and harassing persecution, occasioned the Missions in the West Indies to be for some time carried on at a fearful sacrifice of life. That he was chosen by Mr. Wesley and Dr. Coke for such a work, and at such a time, argued the existence in Mr. Fish of a degree of piety, knowledge, and prudence creditable to his character ; while his willingness to labour in such a field, and the courage with which he pursued his labours, proved how strong was the conviction in his mind, that his call was of God.
He has left a brief narrative of his Jamaica Mission, from its commencement till 1805, when declining health compelled him to remove, after a residence of thirteen years. When he first went, he found a society consisting only of one hundred and seventy members; but the efforts of himself and his few fellow-labourers were, through the divine blessing, successful. Little did Mr. Fish think that, before he died, slavery would be abolished in all the West-India islands, and that in Jamaica alone the number of members in communion with the Wesleyan branch of Christ's church would be considerably beyond twenty thousand, not taking into the account the thousands of those who have died in the Lord, and entered into blessedness and rest.
He thus speaks of his appointment to Missionary work :-“Immediately after Mr. Werrill's death, as it was doubtful whether Mr. Brazier's health would permit him to return to Jamaica, the society wrote to Dr. Coke, informing him of their desolate condition; and he at once wrote to me, requesting, if I found myself willing to give up my friends at home, that I would come to London without delay, to prepare
for my voyage. For about three years I had felt a strong desire to visit the Blacks, and preach to them; and a persuasion, also, that, sooner or later, I should have the opportunity. But such was my fear of running before I was sent, that I kept the matter to myself, concealing it even from my most intimate friends. On receiving Dr. Coke's letter, I had only to determine whether the time were really come, and whether the various and concurring circumstances amounted to a providential call. I sat up in my own room till two o'clock in the morning, praying, and seriously weighing the matter before God. It clearly appeared to me to be my duty to accept the invitation I had received. I left my Circuit the next week; and so evidently was I forwarded by divine Providence, that, in about two months from the receipt of Dr. Coke's proposal, I was in my place at Jamaica."