Walsh, Thomas

Walsh, Thomas one of the remarkable men in early Methodism, was born at Ballylin, near Limerick, Ireland, in 1730. He went to school until he was nineteen years of age, when he commenced teaching on his own account. His parents were Romanists, and lie as educated in the faith of their Church. His temper was constitutionally serious, bordering on melancholy, and he had deep religious solicitudes from his childhood. Devotion to the requirements of his Church brought him no relief. In his eighteenth year he became convinced of the errors of the Church, formally abjured its creed, and united with the Established Church. His religious anxiety was now deepened. He heard Swindells and other Methodist itinerants; and in one of their assemblies "he was divinely assured," to use his own words, "that God, for Christ's sake, had, forgiven all his sins." He joined the Methodist Society in New Market, and in 1750 he commenced to preach. Persecutions awaited him, not only from Romanists and Churchmen, but even more severely from the Presbyterians of the North (see Morgan, Life, ch. 3). No man contributed more than Walsh to the spread of Methodism in Ireland. "He went like a flame of fire through Leinster and Connaught, preaching twice or thrice a day, usually in the open air. The guileless peasants flocked to hear their own rude but touching language. They wept, smote their breasts, invoked the Virgin with sobbing voices, and declared themselves ready to follow him as a saint over the world" (Stevens). His name became famous throughout the country. The priests became alarmed; they instigated mobs, circulated slanders; but in vain. 'The people still ran after him and wept aloud under his word, as he proclaimed it in mountains, meadows, highways, market-places, prisons, and ships. In 1753 Wesley called him to London, where he had frequent discussions with the Jews, and preached to the Irish in Moorfields and Short's Gardens. "Such a sluice of divine oratory ran through the whole of his language as is rarely to be met with" (Morgan). "I do not remember ever to have known a preacher," says Wesley, "who, in so few years as he remained upon earth, was the instrument of converting so many people." It was while in London he commenced the study of Greek and Hebrew. In these studies he progressed with incredible swiftness. "No Catholic saint ever pored more assiduously and devoutly over his breviary than did this remarkable man over the original Scriptures during the rest of his life" (Stevens, ut infra, 1, 291). His memory was a concordance. "The best Hebraean I ever knew," exclaims the enthusiastic and generous-hearted Wesley over this "blessed man," as he was wont to call him (Short History of the Methodists, par. 71). "I knew a young man who was so thoroughly acquainted with the Bible that if he was questioned concerning any Hebrew word in the Old, or any Greek word in the New, Test., he would tell, after a little pause, not only how often the one or the other occurred in the Bible, but also what it meant in every place. His name was Thomas Walsh. Such a master of Biblical knowledge never saw before, and never expect to see again" (Wesley, Sermons, ser. 91). Young men from the University of Cambridge, when in London, chose Walsh to initiate them into the Hebrew tongue. But young Walsh was burning the candle at both ends. The manner of his preaching, intense study, habitual self-absorption, and excessive labor and fatigue broke him down, and his nervous sensibilities, at last, suffered great tortures. Wesley, a sagacious man, and who wrote excellent sanitary rules for his ministers, never seems to have admonished Walsh, for whom, indeed, he seems to have had a sentiment of reverence, if not of awe. Walsh was seized with sickness at Bristol, in February, 1758, sailed for Cork as soon as his strength would permit, and was removed by his friends to Dublin, where, after suffering extreme mental anguish on account of a temporary eclipse of faith — occasioned, no doubt, by nervous disorganization — he died with words of rapture on his lips, April 8, 1759.

The Church has produced few such men as Thomas Walsh. With the devotion of a Kempis — strongly tinged, too, with his asceticism-and the saintliness of Fletcher, he had the memory of Pascal and the studiousness of Origen. "His life," says Southey, "might, indeed, almost convict a Catholic that saints are to be found in other communions as well as the Church of Rome." Socrates was not more lost in contemplation on a Potidaean battle-field than was Walsh in introspection and prayer as he walked through the streets of great cities." In his devotions he was sometimes so rapt and absorbed in the visions of God that in these profound and solemn frames of mind he remained for hours still and motionless as a statue. Such were his learning, his talents in the pulpit (where he often seemed clothed with the ardor and majesty of a seraph), the saintly dignity and' moral grandeur of His character, that contemporary allusions to him are touched with reverence and wonder (see Stevens, 1, 338). "His portraits might almost be taken as facsimiles of the current pictures of Jonathan Edwards, whom he resembled much in other respects" (ibid. 1, 339, note). Charles Wesley wrote several hymns in memory of Thomas Walsh, commencing "God of unfathomable grace;" "Glory, and thanks, and love;" and "Tis finished, tis past." Nine Sermons by Walsh were published, with a preface by Morgan (1764, 12mo). See Morgan, Life of Walsh (Lond. 1762, 12mo; N.Y., 1843; republished in Jackson's Early Methodist Preachers, 3rd ed. vol. 3); Home, Appendix to Walsh's Life (in Jackson's Preachers, 3, 278 sq.); Jackson, Life of Charles Wesley (N. Y. 1842, 8vo), 21:551 sq.; Tyerman, Life of John Wesley, 2, 200, 239, 661; Smith, Hist. of Wesl. Methodism, 1, 253, 522; Stevens, Hist. of

Methodism, 1, 287 sq., 337 sq.; Myles, Chronicles Hist. of Methodism, ann. 1750, p. 69; Crowther, Portraiture of Methodism (Lond. 1814), p. 356 sq.; Atmore, Maeth. Memorials (ibid. 1801), p. 438-443; Southey, Life of Wesley, ch. 23; Wesley, Works (3rd ed. ibid. 14 vols.), 7:54; 12:448 (see Index); Tefft, Methodism Successful (N.Y. 1860, 12mo), p., 138.

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