Summerfield, John

Summerfield, John a distinguished divine and minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was born at Preston, England, Jan. 31, 1798. His father was a local preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist connection in England, and he educated his son in those religious principles, which governed his own heart and life. At a suitable age he was put under the tuition of the Moravian Academy at Fairfield, near Manchester, where he gave early indications of that precocious genfius for which he was afterwards so eminently. distinguished. In 1810 he taught a night school in order to aid his father, who had become embarrassed. Before he was fifteen he became clerk in a mercantile house in Liverpool, conducting the French correspondence. He now, through moral weakness, fell into evil habits and company, and had also an intense passion for listening to eloquent speakers, whether in the pulpit, the senate house, at the bar, or on the stage. He would at times shut himself up in his room and study intently for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four with insufficient nourishment. This, together with the terrible remorse he suffered, seriously and permanently injured his constitution. Established in the coal trade by his father, he was so discontented and neglectful that he brought poverty and distress upon his father's family, and was himself thrown into the Marshalsea of Dublin. Here he employed himself in drawing up the necessary memorials of his fellow prisoners, and was so successful that he continued in this business for some time after his release. In 1817, in great distress and almost despair, he was led by a plain Methodist mechanic to services, and the same night found peace. He became the principal of a "praying association" which exercised in public, and in April, 1818, took his place among the local preachers. He was received on trial in the Methodist Conference of Ireland in 1819, emigrated to America in March, 1821,'and was received on trial in the New York Conference. His first appearance in public after his arrival in New York was at the anniversary of the American, Bible Society, and his speech on that occasion produced a wonderful effect, and was regarded as one of the very highest efforts of platform eloquence, The following June he was admitted into the Troy Conference. He entered on his labors in New York city, where the churches could not contain, the audiences that desired to hear him. Persons of all professions and classes of society were attracted by the fame of his eloquence, and expressed their admiration of the power with which he enchained them to the words that dropped from his lips. He continued to preach to large audiences until early in June, 1822, when his ministrations were suspended by the failure of his health... Desiring a milder climate, he was appointed delegate from the American Bible Society to the Protestant Bible Society in France. He returned to America, April 19, 1824, but was unable to perform regular service, and was appointed by the Missionary Board of the Philadelphia Conference to travel in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and to take up collections. He united with ministers of other denominations in forming the American Tract Society, and his last public act was an eloquent address at its organization. He died June 13, 1825. Mr. Summerfield was very famous as a pulpit orator; naturally eloquent, deeply devoted to the cause of God, possessed of great command of language and of a rich stock of the most useful knowledge, whenever he spoke in the name of God he poured forth from a heart overflowing with the kindliest feelings a stream of evangelical truth which melted his audiences. A "godly sincerity" was evidently the pervading principle of his heart, and a tone of simplicity characterized his style of preaching. James Montgomery, the poet, said of his discourses that, "the sermons are less calculated for instantaneous effect than for abiding usefulness." His only publication was A Discourse on Behalf of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb (1822). After his death appeared, Sermons, and Sketches of Sermons, by Rev. John Summerfield, A. M., with an Introduction by Rev. Thomas E. Bond- M. (N.Y. 1842, 8vo). See Holland,. Memoir of Summefield's Life and Ministry (1829, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1830, 8o; N. Y. 8 vols; reviewed by L. Bacon in the Amer. Quar. Rev. 79, 141; Christ. Quar. Spec. 2, 118); his Life by Rev. William M. Willett (Phila. 8vo); Sprague, Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, 7:639-654; Fish, Pulpit Eloquence (1857); 2, 539; Waterbury, Sketches of Eloquent Preachers (1864, 12mb), Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Bangs, Hist. of the M. E. Church, 3, 324-329; Minutes of Annual Conferences, 1, 508; Simpson; Cyclop of Methodism, s.v. (J. L. S.)

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