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The Life of Peter Jaco

The Lives of Early Methodist Preachers, no. 4. Edited by Thomas Jackson.

[These little biographies were personally commissioned by John Wesley in examining his associates for ordination. Forty-one of them responded by penning their own biographies; we will be posting a few of the shorter ones here for those interested.]

THE LIFE OF MR. PETER JACO,

WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.

LETTER TO THE REV. JOHN WESLEY.

Rev. and dear Sir,

I am sorry that I cannot comply with your desire so effectually as I could wish; having left the papers containing the particulars of God’s dealings with me some hundred miles off. At present I can only give you some circumstances as they occur to my memory.

I was born of serious parents, at Newlyn, near Penzance, in Cornwall, in the year 1729. When capable of learning, I was put to school, where I continued till I was near fourteen; but, being of a gay, lively disposition, and my master being given to drink to excess, (on which account I soon learned to despise both him and his instructions,) did not make that proficiency which I otherwise might have done. As I could not endure the school under such a teacher, my father took me home, and proposed several businesses to me; but I chose rather to be under his care, and to be employed with him in the pilchard-fishery: first, because I knew him to be a perfect master of his business; and, secondly, because I knew he was a truly serious man.

From my infancy, I had very serious impressions, and awful thoughts of God; which, with the care and precepts of my parents, prevented my running into many excesses incident to youth: though in other respects I was bad enough. I was exceeding proud, passionate, and ambitious; and so fond of pleasure, that at any time I would neglect my ordinary meals to pursue it. But amidst all my follies, I was still miserable; and often to such a degree, that I wished I was anything but a rational creature. After many a restless night, I was ready to say, with Job, “He scareth me with dreams, and terrifieth me with visions.” I frequently resolved to leave my sins: but, alas! my goodness soon vanished away. Thus I repented and sinned; and as I was totally ignorant where my strength lay, I was frequently at the point of giving up all striving against the torrent; and of gratifying every passion as far as my circumstances would permit.

About the year 1746 God sent His messenger into our parts, who proclaimed free and full redemption in the blood of Christ. But though this was the very thing my conscience told me I wanted, yet I would not give up all to come to Him. No: I would dispute for His servants, fight for them, (an instance of which you, dear sir, saw the first time you preached on the green between Penzance and Newlyn, when a few lads rescued you from a wicked mob,) but I would come no nearer. However, going one Sunday night to hear Stephen Nichols, a plain, honest tinner, the word took strange hold on me, and seemed like fire in my bones. I returned filled with astonishment, retired to my apartment, and, for the first time, began to take a serious review of my past life, and present situation with regard to eternity. My eyes were now truly opened. I saw myself a poor, naked, helpless sinner, without any plea, but “God be merciful to me.” My convictions became more and more alarming, till I was driven to the brink of despair. And though my religious acquaintance (for I immediately joined the society) did all they could to encourage me, I would often say, “I have no hope.” In this deplorable state I continued near four months, when one Sunday, (may I never forget it!) as I was attending to the exhortation before the sacrament, when the minister pronounced, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself,” (a very wrong translation,) “not discerning the Lord’s body;” I immediately concluded, “Then I am lost for ever.” Yet, through the persuasion of my father, I stayed; and I resolved, if I did perish, I would perish in the means of grace. Accordingly, in the afternoon, I set out by myself for church, a mile distant from the town, for solitude was all my comfort. I had not walked far, before it was strongly suggested to my mind, “Jesus Christ died for the vilest sinner.” I immediately replied, “Then I am the wretch for whom He died!” In that moment it seemed to me as though a new creation had taken place. I felt no guilt, no distress of any kind. My soul was filled with light and love. I could no more doubt of my acceptance with God through Christ, than I could of my own existence. In this state I continued near two years, and am firmly persuaded might have still continued in it, but for my own unfaithfulness. I was now convinced it was my duty to do all I could for God; and, accordingly, reproved sin wherever I saw it, without regard to the character or station of the person; and, wherever I found a disposition to receive it, added a word of exhortation.

Some years after, my friends thought I might be more useful, if I was to exhort in the society: with much reluctance I made the attempt; but, though God blessed, in a very remarkable manner, my feeble efforts, I was with difficulty persuaded to continue it.

When you, sir, visited us in 1751, you persuaded me to enlarge my sphere, and appointed me to visit several societies. I accordingly complied, but still with unwillingness. In your next visit to Cornwall, you thought I was not so useful as I might be, and proposed my taking a Circuit. This I could by no means think of. I looked on myself as an occasional helper, having a good deal of time on my hands; and if a preacher was ill, or unable to keep his Circuit, I thought it my indispensable duty to fill his place. But, though I knew I was called to this, I could not see that I should go farther, on account of the smallness of both my gifts and grace.

In the year 1753 you proposed my going to Kingswood School: and accordingly, having settled the terms, I set out for Bristol in April, 1754; but, to my great disappointment, I found the school full, and a letter from you, desiring me to come immediately to London. This, together, with your brother’s telling me, that if I returned back to my business, he should not wonder if I turned back into the world, determined me to comply with your desire. At the Conference in London, the 4th of May, 1754, I was appointed for the Manchester Circuit, which then took in Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and part of Yorkshire. Here God so blessed my mean labours, that I was fully convinced He had called me to preach His Gospel. Meantime my hardships were great. I had many difficulties to struggle with. In some places the work was to begin; and in most places, being in its infancy, we had hardly the necessaries of life; so that after preaching three or four times a day, and riding thirty or forty miles, I have often been thankful for a little clean straw, with a canvas sheet, to lie on. Very frequently we had also violent oppositions. At Warrington I was struck so violently with a brick on the breast, that the blood gushed out through my mouth, nose, and ears. At Grampound I was pressed for a soldier; kept under a strong guard for several days, without meat or drink, but what I was obliged to procure at a large expense; and threatened to have my feet tied under the horse’s belly, while I was carried eight miles before the commissioners: and though I was honourably acquitted by them, yet it cost me a pretty large sum of money, as well as much trouble.

For many years I was exposed to various other difficulties and dangers. But, having obtained help from God, I continue to this day! And, all thanks to Him, I wish to live and die in His service. At present I find my mind as much devoted to Him as I ever did. I see and feel the necessity of a greater conformity to Christ. May I never be satisfied till I awake up after His likeness!

Thus, dear sir, I have given you a brief account of my life, as far as my memory would assist me. If it is useful to any soul, my purpose is full answered.

PETER JACO.

London, October 4th, 1778.


It is stated by Mr. Atmore, that Mr. Jaco was remarkably comely in his person, tall and handsome, and possessed an amiable natural temper. His understanding was strong and clear; and he had acquired much useful knowledge, which rendered him an agreeable companion. His talents for the Christian ministry were very considerable; and he was a scribe well instructed in the things of God. In consequence of bodily indisposition, he was compelled, for several years before his death, to desist from his itinerant labours. He died in peace at Margate, in Kent; and his remains were interred in the burying-ground connected with the City-Road chapel, London; where a stone, erected to his memory, bears the following inscription:—“In memory of Mr. Peter Jaco, who died July 6th, 1781, aged fifty-two years.

‘Fisher of men, ordain’d by Christ alone,
Immortal souls he for his Saviour won;
With loving faith, and calmly-potent zeal,
Perform’d and suffer’d the Redeemer’s will;
Steadfast in all the storms of life remain’d,
And in the good old ship the haven gain’d.’”

The following original letter of Mr. Jaco is worth preserving. It was addressed to Mrs. Hall, of London:—

“NEWLYN, NEAR PENZANCE, Sept. 11th, 1776.

“Having a few minutes of freedom from multitudes pressing on every side, to ask me how I do, and bid me welcome once more to the place of my nativity, I with pleasure embrace the opportunity of fulfilling my promise to my much-esteemed and valued friend. Perhaps it may not be unentertaining to give a brief account of my journey to this world’s end, which is upwards of three hundred miles from London.

“On Thursday, August 29th, at six o’clock in the morning, Mr. Folgham and your friend set out. We travelled hard all the day, being allowed fifteen minutes for breakfast, and twenty for dinner; but no tea, nor any supper. We arrived at Salisbury at seven o’clock; stayed half-an-hour for Mr. Folgham, who had some business to do; and then set out for Blandford, in Dorset, twenty-three miles from Salisbury, across the plain and open country, without any enclosures. The night was remarkably fine. The moon was full; and there was not a cloud in the sky to obstruct her light. Not a breath of wind was stirring, nor any living creature near, except large flocks of sheep, penned on each side of the road, whose innocent bleating, reverberating from the adjacent hills, rendered the scene awfully delightful. All the fine sentiments dispersed through the ‘Night Thoughts’ crowded upon my imagination; more especially those in the ‘Ninth Night,’ where the author has given us a picture at large, which I would recommend to your serious perusal. I was much affected with that instructive passage:—

‘Night is fair Virtue’s immemorial friend;

The conscious moon, through every distant age,

Has held a lamp to wisdom.’

“But, alas, like all transitory scenes, this pleasant night gave way to a gloomy rainy morning, when the bleak winds, coming down from the stupendous mountains, attended by impetuous floods, formed a contrast the most disagreeable.

“Nothing memorable happened till Saturday afternoon, when I had the pleasure of seeing our worthy friend Mr. Wesley, who received me with the warmest affection.

“At Plymouth-Dock I stayed till Tuesday morning, and then set out on horseback for this place; full ninety miles. Through the infinite mercy of God, I arrived safe on Monday evening, to the great joy of an affectionate father.

“My apartment here is, perhaps, the most agreeable that you ever saw. I have two neat chambers, built upon the extreme margin of the shore. A large bay opposite my windows is twenty-one miles long and twelve wide; so that at this moment I can see nearly twenty sail of ships, and upwards of a hundred large fishing-boats, passing and repassing. Nothing on earth can be more agreeable to me. Yet I must soon part with it. I have no home but heaven. God grant that I may not fall short of it!

“I hope this will find you resolved to be a Christian indeed; determined to take heaven by violence. Nothing short of this will do. Christ cannot approve of any sacrifice but that of the heart; and not even of this, without a surrender of the whole. O, give it Him. He is worthy of it. It is His undoubted right. He has paid dearly for the purchase. Let Him have it, in God’s name. This is perhaps the most critical period of your whole life. [* At this period Mrs. Hall had lately become the youthful and unencumbered widow of a negligent spendthrift. She was possessed of great personal beauty, and of sprightly conversational talent. In her second choice, she profited by the advice of her friend.] You have need of all your understanding and prudence. Above all, you have need of much prayer, that God may direct and keep you in every step you take.

“How long I shall stay here I know not. I have done nothing yet; and when I shall do anything I cannot tell. Perhaps I shall do nothing, after all my expense and trouble, except that of getting a few fair promises of amendment from my brothers, which may last while I am on the spot.

“Your affectionate and obliged friend,

“PETER JACO.”

 

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