Some Account of Martha Barham

Some Account of the Conversion and Death of Miss Barham, late of Bedford. Arminian Magazine IX (1786): 603-607, 653-655.

Editor’s Introduction: Martha Barham was born in 1760 in Bedford, Bedfordshire to Joseph Foster Barham (1729-1789) and Dorothea Vaughan. Joseph Foster Barham was a prominent Moravian lay-person and wealthy Jamaican planter who had inherited both his name and the Jamaican estate of Mesopotamia in western Jamaica from his step-father, Henry Barham. Bedford was one of the most important centers for the Moravians in England and Foster Barham was instrumental in establishing the Moravian Church in Jamaica in 1754 – especially among the slave population.  Foster Barham himself owned over 200 slaves and, though he did not free them, he did work to improve living conditions for slaves on his own plantation. Later his son and heir, Joseph Foster Barham II (1759-1832), was directly involved in the debates over the abolition of slavery as a Member of Parliament – arguing for a more gradual process of abolition rather than an outright ban. In this (moderate) support for the slave trade the Barham’s stood at odds with the majority of the evangelical movement in England at the time – with such noted evangelicals as John Wesley, Hannah More, and William Wilberforce calling for the outright abolition of both the slave trade and slavery.

Little is known about Martha Barham’s short life.  From the age of 18 until her death in 1786 she kept a detailed spiritual diary that remains in manuscript in the archives of the Moravian Congregation in London. A selection of this diary was reprinted in the Arminian Magazine in 1786 after her death – though the means by which it came to be printed in the Methodist periodical are unknown.  Despite the break between the Wesleyan Methodists and the Moravians in 1739, there continued to be extensive cross pollination and movement between Methodist and Moravian congregations throughout the century and it is quite possible that Martha Barham was well known to Methodists in both London and Bedford.

Unique to Martha’s account is an explicit dedication to the Eucharist and the intense bridal imagery that accompanies her participation in the sacrament, imagery that is more typical of Moravian accounts than Methodist. As it stands, however, these selections from her diary, printed when John Wesley still had editorial control of the Arminian Magazine, are clearly exemplary of a type of piety that both the Moravians and Methodists wished to promote.

Note: For more on Martha Barham within the context of Moravian narrative culture see Hindmarsh, D. Bruce. “‘Poor Sinnership’: Moravian Narrative Culture.” The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 162-192.

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Some Account of the Conversion and Death of Miss Barham, late of Bedford

In 1781 her mother died: soon after which she said, it seemed to her as if she should soon follow her. In the spring of 1782, she was seized with appearances of an approaching consumption, which, in the course of four years reduced her to a mere skeleton, which proved the means of her conversion.

March 18, 1781, she wrote as follows, “It was in this year (after I had received the holy communion for the first time)

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I received Jesus into my heart, as my Saviour, and gave myself entirely to him. Since that blessed event took place, I neither have nor can doubt for one moment of the reality of that precious truth, My Beloved is mine and I am his. At present our Lord is impressing on my mind the necessity of deep humility. He teaches me, that I can only be so far united to him, as I partake of that spirit of humility, which was so evidently displayed in his whole suffering life in this world: that it is in that, I must imitate him; that it is by this means I can truly learn to comprehend his sufferings; and that the reason why I am yet so deficient in this point, is because my greatness can in no wise understand his littleness.

Aug. 8, 1781. “Having been for some time in a very barren state of heart, and the time for the holy communion drawing near, in my great perplexity whether I should go or not, the following prayer was the language of my heart.

“O my Saviour, look down in thy tender mercy and pity on me! I have destroyed myself; but in thee is my help found! O may thy will be done in me! I am still thine, though I have proved an adultress to thee, look at my affliction and pain, and forgive me all my sins, O my God! I dare not approach thy table with an unwashed heart! I dare not go into the marriage suffer without a wedding garment, clothe me then that I be not found naked! My gracious Saviour, if thou wilt permit me to taste of thy suppcr, I will go as the prodigal, unworthy of the smallest crumb. I depend entirely upon thee, and I commit my whole self, body, soul, and spirit unto thee. Amen.

Sept. 4, 1781. “After much prayer, I ventured to taste of his supper, which was to me a divine repast. But before two days were elapsed, my Beloved had again withdrawn himself. From that time to this, I have been like one alone; nothing affording me any joy, because my Love was gone. When I could pray, I poured out my groanings before him, for my spirit longed to be entirely devoted to him: but I seemed to

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be very far from this mark. I thought he had left me, because I had grieved him; but did not know the depth of mercy he intended by it. O what precious love has he at length shewn me! I now know whereabouts I am: and what is the first thing I must learn before I can go any further: even to be as a worm before him; having my own spirit subdued and brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ. O may I be found faithful To his Spirit, not turning a deaf ear to any of his reproofs; but may every occurrence within and without, tend to make me as nothing before my all-wise Potter.

March l0, 1782. “As every visit of my dearest Lord, is an important season to my heart, I cannot pass by unnoticed many precious interviews which my soul has enjoyed since I wrote last. The work begun, has been carried on, and I hope takes deeper root. I feel an eager desire to die with Jesus; that is, to have the old man in me crucified by the power of his death. When I shall be able to say with a divine certainty that this event has taken place in me, my Saviour only knows; but one thing he has assured me of, viz. that it shall be when he sees best.

For many days past, my soul has been in great heaviness, because the Enemy has such power over me, and I feel no spirit nor strength to resist him: but Jesus, my almighty Conqueror does not fail to step in when all my weak efforts have proved of no avail. My prayer is, that this work of humiliation may be carried forwards every day, O Jesus, do with me what thou will! only let me be as thou wouldst have me, I wish for nothing but what thou sees best. I want to come continually to thy light, that every work of darkness may be made manifest, and my soul may be brought into the full liberty of thy children.

Nov. 7, 1784. “I have been alternately better and worse; and am still far from being recovered, so that it often seems dubious how it will end. Be this as it may, I am perfectly satisfied, During this illness, I have had innumerable opportunities

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of seeing how deeply hidden self-will lies in the heart. I have endeavoured to rid myself of it; but this has answered no other end, than to leave me hopeless of ever attaining my wishes. I have also been made to believe that the application of the blood of Jesus to the heart, could effectually remove whatever was contrary to the divine nature. It is my great grief, that I have so seldom made the experiment. Human reason is a powerful bar to the simplicity of faith; and if possible, would hinder my entering into this great reality of becoming a little child. Nothing but a close attention to the holy Spirit’s teachings, and a deaf ear to the voice of every stranger, can possibly effect a change so great.

I have been for some months past, in a particular near connection with my dear Lord. Growing worse in my health, I thought this illness might finish my course: and though I never dreaded my departure, but felt a confidence in my Saviour, believing that if he took me, he could soon finish his work; yet upon examining my heart strictly, I found so many things contrary to the spirit of Jesus, as often made me weep in secret before him. But this did not lessen my confidence; it only made me very jealous over myself, lest I should rest satisfied short of this pearl of great price. O how busy was the Enemy at this period, when he saw that my spirit could not live out of Jesus. Grievously harassed have I often been, till, with Mary, I could sit at the feet of Jesus, and hear His words only. O blessed stillness of heart, when the voice of the Beloved is alone attended to, and every enemy keeps silence before him! What the holy Spirit seems to be most active in at present is, to lead me, or rather prepare me to understand the great mystery of the cross and passion of Jesus. My heart says, Amen to it a thousand times; for I long fully to experience the greatness of my redemption, that I may be able to love my Redeemer, with a more pure affection. I am each day made sensible of my great unlikeness to my best Friend, whom however I try to imitate: but in the midst of

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all discouragements my heart cleaves to him, and can find no happiness out of him. If he pleases to take me by means of this illness, most gladly will I obey his will, and bid an everlasting adieu to all below; but if I am still to be a sojourner in this vale of tears, my only wish is, that his blessed will may be fully accomplished in me.

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Till the end of last year I continued in a blessed connexion with the sinner’s Friend: no intervening cloud hid the beloved object for one moment from my view; but all was peace within. No wonder my spirit was often winged with desire

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to be with him for ever; especially as my declining health shewed, that event could be at no great distance. Indeed this seemed to be the only thing wanting to complete my happiness. As I was daily sensible of faults and wants, and felt myself defective in love to the suffering Saviour, my desire increased of experiencing full redemption in his blood. At these times it was impressed on my mind that I had a fiery trial to pass through, in which every disposition contrary to divine love, must be consumed. I was not dismayed at this, but thought I could go through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, if he would stand by me and manage the process. I felt an eager desire to have full deliverance from every thing that could hinder me from attaining to his rest, and longed for a clearer manifestation of the dying love of Jesus. At last the Lord granted me the desires of my heart. When feeling myself most unworthy, and least expecting a visit from him, he was pleased to reveal himself to me. O how thankful was my inmost soul for this revelation!

My wish now is, that I may be kept in an humble state of mind, and never be suffered to rise higher than the cross. I am far from thinking the work is finished; O no! as long as I remain in this world there will be still something to do; but let me feel what I will, I know that there is a remedy for every evil in him: and I am divinely assured, that whenever he pleases to take me home he will receive my spirit to himself.”

To conclude,

On the 16th of Feb. 1786, it was thought she was on the point of departure, but on reviving she said, “I thought I had been going, and felt quite tranquil and serene.” The next morning she said to her sister, “As my being saved, appears to me as great a miracle of mercy as possible, I cannot open my mouth against any one: they are all better than I am.” This she said with tears running down her cheeks.

March 6. She said, “No one can guess how greatly I feel the need of patience! I am now more desirous that our Saviour

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may grant me That, than remove my sufferings. If his sufferings were but always rightly impressed on the heart, I think we might he carried above our own. In submission and patience the work will be soonest perfected.”

A little before her death she wrote to her father as follows, “My heart is kept in a patient waiting for Him. The chief concern I feel is, lest I should retard the accomplishments of his work, through unbelief, by not suffering him to break me to pieces. My cry often is, that he would shew me what he has to say against me, and sit as a refiner to purge away all my dross. Ah, I am a poor worm! how glad should I be (as my late dying mother expressed it) to creep through and be saved, at any rate!”

On the 29th, she said, “It costs more to die than you can possibly be aware of! It is one thing to talk of it; another to experience it.”

April 4, she said, “Dying requires perfect resignation. I am obliged to give up the very desire I had about departing.”

The night preceding her departure, she frequently cried out, “My sweet Jesus, come and take me!” Accordingly, on the seventh of April, she fell asleep in Jesus, in the twenty-sixth year of her age.

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