Late Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Veterinary College, Edinburgh
John Barlow was born in 1815, at the Oak Farm, Chorley, Cheshire, an estate which had been in the possession of the family for about two hundred years. He was from childhood of a sedate and grave demeanour, and there is reason to believe that he very early became susceptible of religious impressions. When only nine years of age he went to Ackworth School, in Yorkshire, and remained there four years.
In his boyish days he evinced a strong love for animals, and the cows on his father's farm became the objects of his special attention. This youthful predilection doubtless influenced his choice of a profession, and tended to induce him to devote much of his time to obtaining a knowledge of the diseases to which domestic animals are liable.
When he removed to Edinburgh, to pursue his professional studies in the Veterinary College, his parents' anxieties were awakened lest his surroundings should have the effect of drawing him aside from the path of Christian self-denial, in which it was their earnest desire that he should walk. He evidently felt the danger himself, and in adverting to his association at this time, he says, in writing to a friend: “I did not seek this for the sake of spending time, and far less for the sake of simply forming connexions; I sought it for the quality of the people, intellectually estimated. Still, all things considered, I feel best satisfied to forego the association just alluded to, for I was often compelled to countenance customs to which I am in reality averse.”
It was a critical period of his life; his attachment to the Christian profession, in which he had been trained, and which his judgment approved, was closely tried; and his mental conflict was sometimes great. For a time he was not regular in his attendance of meetings for public worship, but the refiner was at hand, the power of Divine grace was near to help. “I do not attempt to vindicate,” he says, in allusion to this period, “my seclusion from Friends; I have been the loser, and intend, by right assistance, to do what I can to retrieve myself. I do not want conviction, but resolution to be more faithful – I must endeavour, however unworthily, to be more consistent. I have of late had much to endure, but I believe it has had its use, and I am thankful for it.” In further allusion to his attendance of meetings for Divine worship, he adds: “On returning home there arises a degree of satisfaction, which, poor as I am, would probably, I think, be withheld, did I absent myself from these gatherings; and I have the conscious, heart-felt satisfaction afforded me, of having done rightly, and of having more closely walked up to what I ever knew was a religious and spiritual obligation.”
It would be interesting and instructive to be able to trace the successive steps by which, under the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, John Barlow was conducted in his onward course, to that beautiful appreciation and appropriation of the Truth as it is in Jesus, which so much brightened the horizon of his early setting sun; but, at this juncture, the work that was going on between his soul and his God was, to a great extent, a hidden one. Yet the following remark respecting a change of residence which, at one time, he contemplated, clearly shows how, amidst all his intellectual pursuits, he was accustomed humbly to recognise, the Divine hand, even in the ordinary occurrences of life. “I was wondering where Providence might dispose my lot, and I did feel, I humbly confess, a tender thankfulness that, thus far, the trials I have sustained have, I trust, had their use. I further felt somewhat of an assurance that, if I did my part, in consistence with what I am given to believe is required of me, a blessing will rent even upon my temporal undertakings. Oh, that I may be enabled to trust that all will be for the best.”
He did not remove from Edinburgh, but after having obtained his diploma, he continued his professional engagements in connection with the College at which he had been a student, to the end of his days. To follow him through the various phases of his professional life is not the object of this brief notice – yet it may be interesting to the reader, to know how he was looked upon by those who were best acquainted with him as a professional man. One of these, after alluding to his being a member of the Society of Friends, adds: “His career has ever been marked by the principles which distinguish that body of professing Christians. Modest, gentle, and unassuming in his manners, he obtained the respect of all who came in contact with him. Moral worth, and a delicate susceptibility towards the feelings of others, secured to him the warm attachment of a circle of intimate friends.”
Dr. J. W. Gairdner remarks: “It was impossible to be brought into connection with him without admiring the thoroughly scientific spirit which entered into all his labours. In his own department he was always well informed, and even (without the least pretension or dogmatism) an original thinker, who rarely failed in forming a decided opinion where the matter admitted of it. His opinions, however, were always stated with a moderation and care which showed that they were only advanced after the most careful consideration. The display of his knowledge was distasteful to him: and although his information was always yielded up readily to a friendly question, it was rarely put into such a shape as to appear to claim anything for himself.
These qualities of his mind led him to frequent the, Physiological Society, the meetings of which he regularly attended, much more as a hearer than a speaker; and I have often been conscious that this subordination of his scientific ambition to the desire of learning and aiding the enquiries of others was, as regards the result, a misfortune. The very reserve which he imposed upon himself gave an additional value to everything that he said. The slightest affirmation of a truth was in him to be respected as much as the most dogmatic assertion. The habitual guard which he maintained not over his words alone, but over his thoughts and feelings, prevented much of that self-deception to which even good men are liable; and he would as studiously have avoided the appearance of a hollow or treacherous friendship as he did the over statement of a fact or an opinion. To say that such a man was greatly loved wherever he was thoroughly known, is to say what necessarily follows from a character so simple, so truthful, so unselfish.”
To the foregoing we add the testimony of Professor J. Y. Simpson: “His character was indeed of a very high order, both intellectually and morally. He was wonderfully informed on many of the most intricate modern questions in anatomical science; and I seldom or never conversed with him on such questions without deriving much information from his conversation. It often appeared to me that he was a man destined to advance and elevate veterinary medicine; and we must all deplore his loss, the more so, as he has been removed from among us while scarcely yet in his prime. I believe that all who knew him well respected him deeply, not less for his amiability and kindliness of heart, than for his great talents and high intellectual cast of mind.” Such was the estimate, which, while scarcely in his prime, his professional associates, themselves of high standing as men of science, formed of John Barlow.
His professional career was successful and distinguished – and great hopes were entertained of his future usefulness. A happy matrimonial connexion, and the added comfort of an interesting group of children, seemed to render his domestic enjoyments complete, when towards the end of 1855, he was seized with an, illness which gradually assumed the character of a severe spinal affection, and after some weeks of intense suffering his system yielded to the pressure of excruciating pain, which the ablest medical skill failed to: subdue.
In the early stages of his illness there was but little allusion to his spiritual state; but from what he said afterwards, it was evident that he had thought and felt much during this season of suffering and humiliation. “When at last his lips were opened to tell of the power and mercy and the pardoning love of his Saviour, his whole thoughts and conversation seemed fixed on his own immortal interests, and on that which tended to the eternal welfare of all within his reach, and indeed of the whole human family. On one occasion he alluded forcibly to the passage: “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day,” [Isaiah 2:11] adding, “There have been growing convictions for some time past, that greater faithfulness should be mine. I feel that I have not occupied all the talents committed to me, and if permitted to recover, I must, through His grace, dedicate myself to the service of my Heavenly Father. I have dearly loved science and my profession, and have followed it with a too exclusive devotion; have perhaps made it somewhat of an idol. The pursuits in which I have been engaged arc laudable and useful; and I believe I have been considered successful, though I do not say this with any self-congratulation, but now I feel they have too often been permitted to take the place of higher things, when they should have been lawfully pursued, in subjection to concerns of eternal moment.”
This view he frequently dwelt upon, saying, “I have made intellect and human knowledge too much the one object, this has been my weakness; though at one time I would not have acknowledged it a weakness. Pecuniary success has not been my point of ambition; the snare has been in an over ardent desire for the advancement of science; and perhaps some corresponding care for scientific reputation. But in all these things there is no anchor of refuge for the immortal soul; and nothing to satisfy the cravings of increasing spiritual perceptions. Oh no! Nothing but the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus will avail; Christ, the only door of reconciliation provided by God. Oh, to think of it! To think of His sending His beloved Son into the world, to redeem man from his lost and fallen state! And on this foundation we must all stand for the redemption of the soul. Creeds and systems are nothing, this is what all must come to. If persons could but view eternity in the light in which I now see it, how would they think upon it, dwell upon it, and make its interest the first and all-important business of their lives!”
The principal feature of his disease was the intense and unremitting bodily suffering which accompanied it, oftentimes amounting to agony; but in this painful discipline, he recognized the chastening of a Father's love, saying, “Oh, I do believe that the Lord, the Almighty God has prescribed a right remedy for every disease; and I feel that this intense suffering is the means peculiarly adapted to bring me to this remedy. Even, in the first temple, the veil had to be lifted up, before the priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies; and in the second Temple, in Christ Jesus, the new and living way, there, too, a veil must be taken away from the heart, before we can fully comprehend the mysteries of the kingdom.”
To one of his affectionate watchers, he said, “May I beg of thee to ask for me, at the common place of union, if consistent with His holy will, a little relief from pain?” but added, after a moment's pause, “Yet, not my will, but Thine be done!”
He frequently acknowledged with thankfulness, that he believed, within the last few hours, even within the last hour, he had been permitted to make some spiritual advancement; and felt increasingly sensible of the application to his soul of the great work of redemption; that it was not merely an outward belief and acknowledgment of the Gospel that would do: “Oh, no, it is the Word, the power of Christ's Spirit in the heart.” At another time, he said, “Nothing earthly will do; if anything earthly would do, it would not be all to the Lord's glory. He is the beginning and the end, only think of that, the beginning and the end!” Then, expressing thankfulness for the joy and comfort that were granted to him, he earnestly prayed that he “might never be permitted to speak of these things with unsanctified lips.”
He dwelt much about this time, on the necessity of coming to the cross, “the very foot of the cross.” Again adverting to the value of natural endowments, when sanctified and dedicated to the service of Christ, he said that those, thus gifted, were doubtless fitted for more extended usefulness; but he continued, “It is a simple way, a child may walk in it, but it is a narrow way.”
Under the pressure of severe pain, he said, “But oh! what are my sufferings compared to my blessed Saviour's, who not only endured the depths of physical suffering, but also bore the load of the sins of the whole world, and all this for me, and not for me only, but for the whole world.”
At this time he seemed to be made a rich partaker of the joy of believing, expressing his fervent adoration in the language of Scripture: Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Feeling at the same time, the depth of un-worthiness, he said, “It is no merit of my own, no merit of my own!”
The work that was going forward was the more striking, as it did not appear to be from the anticipation of his being near his end: for, within a short time of his decease, he expressed the feeling of probability that he would be, through mercy, raised up again to his tenderly-loved wife and three little ones; and if so, the hope and prayer of his heart was often poured forth that if such were the will of his Heavenly Father, he might be enabled to dedicate his whole talents and life to the service of his God and Saviour, and be made as “a pillar in the temple of the Lord.” At the same time, if it were the Divine will that it should be otherwise, he felt an assurance that all would be well, and entreated his dear wife not to grieve; endeavouring to comfort and console her tenderly sorrowing spirit. Then, after a while, he most touchingly added: “I think I have reached the depth of the lowest valley. But through infinite mercy, a full assurance of pardon and acceptance is granted; and if my life should terminate this night, my peace is made with God. “Twice, after nights of severe suffering, his remark in the morning was: “What a blessed night, what a short night;” and on one occasion he uttered most impressively: “The finished work! The finished work!”
His whole soul seemed absorbed in the stupendous thought of eternity, and the mighty importance of its interests; and out of the abundance of his heart, he was almost constantly giving utterance to prayer and praise in short sentences, often interrupted by the anguish of his suffering, and then recommenced after a partial relief from pain.
He breathed the atmosphere of love to wards all – to those around him – to his medical attendants – and to a few students who saw him, at their own request. It seemed his mission to urge upon them the importance of keeping the thought of eternity always before them, and uppermost, and everything else in due subordination: by which alone a blessing could rest upon any earthly pursuit or enjoyment.
On being asked by his kind medical attendant, how he had passed the night, he replied, “I trust I have made some spiritual advancement, and perhaps have not lost ground in other respects.” He then with gratitude expressed his belief that the beat of human skill had been exerted in his case, and added: “You are but instruments in the hand of a higher Power;“ and when the physician responded, “Yes, we must leave it to Him,” he replied, “I trust Him; I trust Him.”
In sending messages of dear love to his absent friends he said, “Tell them, that although they may not have exactly the same road to travel, yet they have all the same end to attain, and that I am not ashamed now publicly to confess my Lord and Saviour.”
Within the last twenty-four hours he began to feel, that according to all human probability, his close drew near; but again expressed the fullest assurance that all would be well. “I believe it is not presumptuous now to say these things, for it is a moment in which there is no deception – no delusion.”
He desired to see the servants; addressing them by name, he said to them: “Though their positions might be different, and their's a life of daily toil, yet that all were alike regarded in the eyes of their Heavenly Father.” He thanked them for their labours on his account. It was met by a grateful acknowledgment of his kindness to them, as one of the best of masters: to which he replied, “It was only my duty – my course is nearly run – but do not grieve for me, for I die the death of the Christian.”
On more than one occasion he had remarked, “It would be very hard to leave my dearly-loved wife and children;” yet when his dear children, whom he had, according to his own confession, loved almost to idolatry wore brought to him, he was perfectly calm, having, it is thankfully believed, committed his precious ones to the care of the heavenly Shepherd.
Observing that his wife was looking, with much feeling and earnestness, on something which she held in her hand, he enquired: “What is that my darling?” On the reply, that it was a likeness of himself, he sweetly and impressively said, “Registered elsewhere for eternity – eternity!”
On a wish being expressed, that his death-bed experience might be a blessing and stimulus to those left behind, and that we might all meet above, he rejoined, “A company of saints in glory;” frequently saying, as if dwelling on the anticipation of coming joy, “Sing praises, sing praises;” and once adding, “with the saints in light.”
Near the close, he said, “I am ready to go now, or a little later – any moment – all is peace, peace, peace!”
In the course of the evening he said, “I have had very great pleasure in my professional pursuits and studies, and was progressing in them – and my reputation was perhaps a little dear to me – but now, through marvellous mercy, I have no anxieties – now I look to the full fruition in glory, where I believe I shall soon sing praises, sing praises, sing praises.” In a little while after, he said cheerfully, “I have had a sleep – I do not know that I could call it a dream – but I saw happy, happy people” then after a pause, he added, “I believe it to be one of those manifestations, sometimes permitted to those who are near entering into glory.”
These were nearly his last words, and, in a short time after, his spirit gently passed away. He was in his fortieth year.
Tract No. 134, Friends’ Tract Association,
5, Bishopsgate Street Without,
London. — 1889.
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