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A SHORT MEMOIR
THE LATE DAVID SAUNDERS,
TUB SHEPHERD OF SALISBURY PLAIN.
True Religion is like the cut diamond, which reflects a lustre in whatever position it may be placed. Religion gives dignity to the meanest condition of life, and confers happiness without the aid of riches. A striking proof of this occurs in the instance of David Saunders, of West Lavington, Wilts, better known to the world as " The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain;" being the undoubted subject of the beautiful tract, which, some years since, issued from the ingenious pen of Miss Hanwatj More, under that title. >
David Saunders was born about the year 1717; and, in his youth, enjoyed the then distinguished privilege, among the lower class, of being taught to read, and particularly to read his Bible: and here we may observe the mistake of those persons who are afraid to teach children to read in the Scriptures, lest it should give them a dislike to them in after-life. It is easy, from other principles, to account for this distaste: the carnal mind has no natural relish for divine truth; and when men become vicious in their conduct, they very naturally become inimical to the Bible, because it will not tolerate their sins. There are innumerable instances, however, of the ad- v vantages of an early acquaintance with the sacred volume. How often has an awful text, rivetted on the mind of youth, checked the career of Vice ! — or a pertinent circumstance of Scripture-History guarded the mind from temptation, or sup
fiorted the sinking spirits above despair! And when, in afterife, it has pleased God to renew the heart, in circumstances unfavourable to reading, O what a treasure has the Christian found already stored in his memory, though hitherto but seldom recollected; for the traces of our first reading are generally the easiest to be recovered, and the last to be forgotten.
In early life, David was greatly afflicted with the leprosy; w hich, mentioning one day to a pious young man who wa» Walking with him., he told him he had a much worse leprosy ia, jcm. 4 D
Jiis soul than in bis body; and affectionately recommended him to the good Physician. He was prevailed on to go to hear a person preach in one of his master's fields; where he found out both his soul's disease and remedy. It may deserve mention, ns :wi awful circumstance, that a gentleman's servant, who, violently opposed this minister, was soon after seized with the frenzy-fever, and died insane. We should not be hasty in pronouncing such cases instances of divine judgment, bot we have wften occasion to remark, that the same word which is made the savor of life to one person, is the savor of death unto another, through theii rejection of its blessings.
While our young shepherd lived at Imber, which was before he married, alter ho had clone work in the evening, he used to walk about eight miles to meet the people of God at Sceend; and return Again the same night to be ready for his business early in the" morning: — an admirable example of prudence, industry, and zeal united.—' More than thirty years was he (Employed as the shepherd upon one farm. A long life of rural occupation must afford many materials for reflection; and his paiticular employment gave him much leisure for it. Besides, David conveistd daily with his Bible, and always found matter there for his meditation; while every object in the field, the sheep, the pasture, the surrounding horizon, and his own occupation, had all a tendency to bring to his recollection a p-aiin, a prophecy, a parable, or some other blessed portion oi the Scriptures.
Notwithstanding his humble situation and scanty means for supporting a family, David Saunders married. lie did not reason as many do, who seem to consider the increase of wealth as a grand object in entering upon this state: he considered the lilies of the field, how they grew; and he saw hovf the birds of the air were fed. God blessed him with a mast excellent wile and a numerous offspring: he had sixteen children born, all baptized at the parish-church ; and twelve of them at one time, were " like olive-branches rimnd about his table.*' It is not to be supposed that a poor shepherd, with such a family, could he without his difficulties, especially as his wile suffered much from sickness: but she was a most pious, notable woman: andf.il the childien were brought up in earlv habits of industry. W hen trouble used to prey upon her spirits, her constant method was to repair, with cries and tears, 10 her husband's large Bible, which he used to keep in the thatch of his cottage; and there, as her daughter has since informed the writer, she always found something to comfort or support her.
Her husband, good man, fled to the name resource in nil his trials: his salary being but (is. 3d. weekly, out of which he was sometimes obliged to pay a boy for assistance; but when 'femes o! peculiar necessity occurred, God always raised him
up a friend. Dr. Stonehouse (alterwards Sir James) repeatedly assisted bim ; and sometimes his good neighbours, in hainbler life, united to supply his wants. In one of his letters, in his old age, he thus writes, with much Christian simplicity : “As for my part, I am but very poorly in body, having very sore legs ; and cannot perform the business of my flock without help. As to the things of this world, I bave bui little share, having my little cot to pray and praise my God in, and a bed to rest on : so I have just as much of this world as I desire. But my garment is worn out; and some of my Christian friends think they must put their mites togeiber and buy me one, or else I shall not be able to endure the cold in the winter: so I can say, Good is the Lord !--- he is still fulfilling his promise, “ I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee * !" .
At one time, having been obliged to apply to the parishofficer for assistance, he was cruelly repulsed, under the pretence that he was a preacher, and got money by hus preaching. David was compelled to suinmon the officer before a; magis trate, where he made the same plea; but the good man dewed the charge. He acknowledged, indeed, that, on a Sabbaths morning, before he went out to attend his sheep, be used to read his Bible, and sing and pray in his family, and if any of his neighbours came in to unite with him, as sometimes many of them did, they were very welcojne ; and he did not know that he offended afty lány, Tue worthy magistrate, struck with the good man's sienplicity, reproved the unfeeling overseer; telling him, he had better unploy himself as well, and ordered him to give all the relief desired. Sii1.,, i
Good David Saunders was remarkably spiritual in bis con. versation ; and though worldly business sometimes necessarily engrossed his attention, when that was done, he would say, “ Now let us have something profitable ;" or he would ask his Christian friends, “ Is it agreeable to spend a little tiine in prayer?” When Mr. Stedman went to the neighbouring yil. Iage of Cheverill, to settle as curate ibere to Dr. Studehouse, the first person he met in that parish was our shepherd, who told him, in a conversation he had with him some time afterwards, that, taking the stranger tu be the minister expected there, he could not help repeating to himself these words of St. Paul, “ How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad udings of good things!? The same clergyman adds, that he“ had acquired a surprizing knowledge of the Scriptures, readiness in prayer, and spiritual conversation.” By "reading” his Bible and prayer, he seemed to keep up a constant coumunion with God 4."
Sce a Letter from the Shepherd, in the Evan. Mag. for 1803, p. 476.
Letters from the Rev. Job Orton and Sir J. Stonehouse to the Rev. T. Smedmin, vol. p. 22, wole,