New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
of Bolton, Lancashire
THOUGH the Lord our Saviour, in making His Second Coming, has selected as His disciples some men of attainments and position, marked and striking enough to attract attention, yet, as at His First Coming, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. It is doubtless best so.
To mean minds, the inducement to follow the great of the world is so strong, that whatever is sanctioned by people of rank and wealth will command a large following, not for Truth's sake, but from worldly considerations. The loaves and fishes still violently draw the insincere, not for the bread of life, but that they may satisfy their worldly greed, and be filled. The heralds of heavenly truth must therefore have little to offer but truths for their own sacred worth, and because they lead to goodness. Their adherents will increase but slowly, and the hosannahs of the world will be reserved for those who flatter its prejudices, and who induce hope that falsity will not bring evil, and that Divine laws will be effectually evaded at last. For a good while the flock of the Divine Shepherd will be a little flock, but He will still encourage them with His tender consolations: "Fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
The Rev. Thos. Hartley, rector of Winwick, in Northamptonshire, one of the early friends of Wesley and Whitefield, a learned Oxford scholar, was the first clergyman who accepted the new truths of the Second Advent. He personally knew Swedenborg, and translated Heaven and Hell.
The Rev. John Clowes, rector of St. John's, Manchester, was led very wonderfully to accept the same grand principles, in the very year of Swedenborg's departure into the eternal world—1772.
These were distinguished as Christians, scholars, and clergymen; from whom other clergymen have received the heavenly teachings of the New Dispensation in a long and widening line to the Rev. Augustus Clissold, and many others at the present day in the Church of England, willing to diffuse the truth under difficulties, if by that means they can reach those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, in the forms better suited to a darker age.
Humbler disciples, however, have been used by the Lord to spread the truth around; devout men, with warm hearts and clear minds, like the disciples of the First Advent, whose wisdom was not that of great learning, but of deep thought, orderly ways, and noble, useful lives; and men "took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."
My object is to speak of some of these worthies, beginning with the name at the head of this paper, and ending with Flaxman, who, though famous all over the world, as the greatest of sculptors, is but little known as a devout receiver of the truths of the New Jerusalem. I trust my readers will find, as the true stories follow one another, partly from published sources of information, and partly from personal recollection, much will arise that will edify, interest, and encourage. "These things happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world (age) are come"—the end of the old age, and the beginning of the New (1 Cor. x., 11).
Samuel Dawson was, if not the very first leader of a New Church Society in a worship formed to address the Lord Jesus clearly as the only God of heaven and earth, yet certainly one of those very early ones whose hearts could only be satisfied by avowing, without dubious language, that IN HIM DWELLS ALL THE FULNESS OF THE GODHEAD BODILY, and He alone, Jehovah Jesus, is King of kings and Lord of lords. He was so much respected through his long life, that at its close, at the age of 79, no objection was made by the vicar of Prestwich church to the intimation of his principles on his grave-stone. Any one who will visit the beautiful church-yard of that once lovely village, formerly reckoned four miles from Manchester and now charming suburban district of that great city, may read, on a grave-stone leading to the main entrance to the church, the following striking epitaph:
To the Memory of Samuel Dawson, of Bolton-le-moors.
He was a humble, good, and faithful servant of his
Lord and Master: worshipping Jesus Christ as the
Only God of heaven and earth, and diligently
Making known to his fellow Christians the
Heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem.
He died March 11, 1823, aged 79 years.
Young Dawson was brought up piously by his parents, in the principles of the Established Church, having been born in the year 1744. As a youth he associated himself with a few others to read religious works, and led an altogether exemplary life. From his pious reading, however, his mind was early tinctured with the idea that God was dreadfully angry, both with him and with mankind in general. This distressing idea was, however, somewhat modified by reading a book lent him by a religious friend, Law's Spirit of Prayer, which led him to see to a certain extent that God was really Love itself, but that the changing aspects in which He is regarded arose from the changing states of the minds of human beings. He was relieved and edified by this, and was induced to read other works of Law, Behmen, and various writers of a mystical character. He derived much profit and delight from these, and was highly pleased to learn that there was a church being erected at the expense of the celebrated Dr. Byrom, a zealous promoter of the views of Law, and designed for a pious young clergyman then at the University, who would illustrate from the pulpit all that was excellent in the theology of the mystical writers.
This church was St. John's, Manchester; the young clergyman was the Rev. John Clowes. He commenced his ministry in 1769, and young Dawson was a regular, devout, and delighted hearer. He listened from Sunday to Sunday to his spiritual teacher, and became more and more spiritual-minded; but after two or three years he found there were some readers of Law and Behmen who seemed to think they were so exalted in spiritual attainments that they need not mind external worship, but stay and read at home, or walk out and meditate. Before giving way much to the persuasions of friends of this class, he thought he would venture to speak to his clergyman on the subject. He was received and listened to in the kindest manner. Mr. Clowes pointed out that the deeper real religion, the more faithful it makes us to our external duties. It is only the natural man, striving for the mastery, and having no taste for spiritual things, that suggests these phantasies, which lead to negligence of the duties of piety, and then to avoiding conversation on spiritual subjects, and then to downright sin. The bottom of it is evil. Mr. Clowes, having explained the necessity of worship and the propriety of spiritual discipline and church order, to the surprise of his visitor added that even the angels of heaven had their constituted times for public worship.
Mr. Dawson, in giving an account of this interview, used to say he forgot for a moment Mr. Clowes' gown and band, and took the liberty of asking how he knew that. He was answered by the remark that the Lord had not entirely ceased to communicate to His servants the knowledge of His Kingdom and the wonders thereof, and this for the purpose of preparing them for a more perfect dispensation. "Is it possible," said Mr. Dawson, "for our Heavenly Father to communicate a more perfect knowledge of the Divine economy than that made known by His Holy Spirit to such men as Mr. Law?" "I will endeavour to explain myself to your apprehension," said his friend, "by a familiar comparison. Suppose a traveller has lost his way in the night time, and finds himself in much embarrassment to pursue his journey homeward, on account of the darkness with which he is surrounded. In the midst of his perplexity the clouds begin to disperse, and the stars make their appearance and give him hope of being enabled finally to reach his home. After sometime," continued Mr. Clowes, "he is cheered by the light of the moon, and he travels with much more confidence that he will safely reach his destination. With alacrity in his steps, and his eye towards home, he pursues his journey with gratitude and delight. But how are all these pleasing sensations enhanced when he beholds the sun rising majestically, whilst the moon and the stars, by which his hopes had been cherished in their turn, disappear! Such is exactly the case as to what has been vouchsafed of God in His mercy, and will be displayed to His creatures in the Christian world." "And may I ask," said Mr. Dawson, "the name of him who is so highly favoured an instrument in the hands of the Lord?" In reply to this, his ears were first greeted with the venerable name of Swedenborg. "Well, sir," continued he, "and how may I obtain a sight of what you have raised so great a desire in my mind to behold?" The works of Emanuel Swedenborg, he was informed, had not yet made their appearance in the English language, but they would very soon be translated. "When that is the case," said Mr. Dawson, "I will part with the stars and the moon, to be cheered in my turn with the light of the sun."
This conversation took place probably in 1775. Two years before, in a very marvellous manner, Mr. Clowes himself had come into the possession of the True Christian Religion in Latin, at the recommendation of Richard Houghton, Esq., a gentleman of great piety and learning in Liverpool. In the spring of 1773 he got the book, Vera Christiana Religio, but on looking into it felt little disposition to continue its perusal, and placed it away on a shelf. In the autumn of the same year, in the month of October, he was about to pay a visit which for some years he had done annually to a friend in the county of York, a former college pupil. On the evening before he set out he got down the neglected volume, to turn over its pages in a general, desultory way. In doing so the words Divinum Humanum several times arrested his eye. He closed the volume, however, and the next day he went off to his friend, the Right Honourable John Smyth, of Heath. "On awaking early one morning, not many days after his arrival," Mr. Clowes relates, "his mind was filled with a tranquillity and heavenly joy such as he had never before experienced. Whilst he lay musing on this strange and to him most delightful harmony in the interiors of his mind, there was made manifest in the same recesses of his spirit what he could call by no other name than a Divine glory surpassing all description, and exciting the most profound adoration. The glory continued during a full hour, allowing him time both to view and analyze it. Sometimes he closed his bodily eyes, and then opened them again, but the glory remained the same. There was no visible form, but only a strong persuasion that the glory proceeded from a visible form, and that this form was no other than the Divine Humanity (Divinum Humanum) of Jesus Christ. When the glory disappeared, as it did by degrees, the impression remained with Mr. Clowes all day, and, what was still more remarkable, the next morning the glory was again manifested, but if possible with increased splendour. There now arose in his mind an irresistible desire to return home immediately, in order to enter upon a serious and attentive perusal of the neglected volume. He had intended to remain a week or a fortnight longer, yet he hastened back to Manchester, he says, rather with the impetuosity of a lover than with the sedateness of a man who had no other object of pursuit but to consult the pages of an unknown and hitherto slighted book."
Such is Mr. Clowes' own account of the extraordinary way in which his interest in the New Church Writings was excited, and having become enraptured by the spiritual treasures found therein contained, he taught Mr. Dawson and others in and around Manchester to receive with avidity the translations as they appeared.
The first works issued were the Doctrine of Life, and the Treatise on Influx, published by the estimable Mr. Cookworthy, of Plymouth, a member of the Society of Friends. The next was Heaven and Hell, by Mr. Hartley, the rector of Winwick; and then followed a series by the Rev. Mr. Clowes himself. As they came one after another, it was to Mr. Dawson a continual feast. His delight would express itself like those of old, who said, "We have seen strange things to-day." He had some difficulty in the account in Heaven and Hell that the scenes in the other world are from the spheres of the inhabitants, and correspond to their states. He was very fond of botanising, and had many rare plants in his garden that he might study their natures and uses. One day, when he was out in a field, he came into a state of abstraction, and for some time it seemed as if all his plants were visibly about him. All appeared so real, and continued so long, that he said to himself, if this can happen to me, why can it not be in the other world on a grander scale. So vivid were his spiritual convictions, that he desired to impart the same truths and delights to others.
He attended a meeting of congenial spirits at the house of a friend at Oaken-bottom, about a mile from Bolton. This meeting continued for several years. Others joined from Bolton, and at length it was agreed to have the meeting in Bolton itself, and, finding his teachings always so clear and affectionate, he was solicited to become their leader, which office he faithfully occupied for thirty years.
His wife was rather set against her husband's new views for many years, and being a strong-minded woman sometimes met him on his return home from service rather with a scowl than with a smile. Dawson's Christianity, however, was a patient Christianity. He was pre-eminently a man of peace, and endured long. Their youngest child, a boy I think of about six years of age, sickened and died, and as it was the last it was a bitter trial to the mother. One day, as they sat at tea, the moody, mourning mother fainted and fell on the floor. It was some time before consciousness returned; but when it did, her first words were, "I have seen the child." He asked her to describe it: how it seemed, and how it was dressed; and her account was so like that of Swedenborg in the Arcana Coelestia, 2296, that he got down the volume and read it to her, and from that day she became as willing to learn as she had before been adverse.
The friends of Mr. Dawson were a very estimable, thoughtful, spiritually-minded company. In my early days it was a great pleasure to visit them. Their eyes would brighten, would glisten, at what they heard. One of them, old Ralph Harrison, was a fine specimen. He would come, as soon as service was over, and exclaim, taking the hand, something like, "Oh, young man, what a beautiful string of pearls you have brought us this morning; how much we thank you!" Mr. Dawson was universally respected. In his later years asthma prevented him almost entirely from quitting the house. Some few kind friends, headed by the benevolent Mr. Samuel Mottram, of Manchester, subscribed annually a sum sufficient to relieve him of care and anxiety. About two months before his departure he had a deep mental conflict which he thus described to a visiting friend: "I have suffered," he said, "the most grievous temptation that ever my Lord permitted to come upon me. I have experienced all the pangs of desperation, and my spiritual foes have spent their utmost rage upon me. But the Lord has triumphed gloriously, and set my feet upon a rock." After that a state of peace set in and his departure was blessed.