New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
And the Immediate Friends of Mr. Clowes
SOME forty years ago, passing near St. John's, Manchester, and seeing one of the doors of the church open, I felt a desire to go in and look at the two beautiful tablets: one by Flaxman, erected in 1820, to celebrate the 50th year of the Rev. J. Clowes' ministry; and the other by Westmacott, to commemorate his departure for the visible enjoyment of the eternal world, in the year 1831, at 88 years of age, after a ministry of 62 years. Flaxman was an especial and esteemed New Church friend of Mr. Clowes, and produced an exquisite representation of the venerable rector addressing three generations, children, parents, and grandparents, shown in a group of ten figures. The other was done by Westmacott, and the idea of Flaxman was carried out by the other distinguished sculptor, who represented the rector in his last hours, with the same three generations gathered at his couch.
After surveying, as I had done on former occasions, those lovely and interesting works of art, the aged female who acted as apparitor of the church came near, and I said, "Did you know Mr. Clowes at all, and the people who attended the church in his time?" "Oh, yes, sir," she replied, "I knew him and them very well; those were good people; they were heavenly people, sir. There are no such people come here now. It was quite happiness to be near them, sir. It is quite different now."
I was aware that after Mr. Clowes' departure a change had gradually taken place, by the prevalence of old church doctrines through his successor, and a more dogmatic state, even to the removal of the books explanatory of spiritual things he had written for children, from the Sunday School and its library. I was not, therefore, much surprised to learn that there was a considerable change in the spirit of the church altogether.
I then recalled my own recollections of these truly estimable gentlemen. They were most kind, gentle, spiritually-minded people. There was Mr. Shelmerdine, who acted as a sort of secretary to Mr. Clowes, especially in his communications with the Manchester Printing Society, established in 1782 to print and circulate the Writings of Swedenborg as Mr. Clowes translated them, and also such works as he wrote in their defence or elucidation.
This Society was much earlier than the one in London now called the Swedenborg Society, British and Foreign, which was established in 1810. Then there was Mr. Ollivant, the founder of the large silversmith business at the corner of St. Mary's Gate, leading into St. Ann's Square. He was a model of the good old English gentleman, upright, pious, exact in all his duties, true and charitable, with whom you would never think of associating anything not genuine or honourable.
The New Church books were not issued and kept at the bookshops of the regular trade, but were stored gratuitously in a portion of the establishment of Messrs. Hutchison and Mallelieu, admirable and worthy men, probably the most extensive ironmongers' in the town, situated in Cateaton Street.
One of the young men who himself valued the New Church works attended to the customers for them, and to the other business when not so engaged. One of my earliest friends, Mr. Thomas Leeming, a thoughtful, earnest, and loving New Churchman, had this duty for many years; and in his appearance, and in his whole demeanour, was a most suitable agent for the purpose. The country people, coming into the town with their work, on the market days, and seeking more of the heavenly instruction which they valued, would enter the shop and address one of the miscellaneous shopmen with, "Please, sir, I want one of the heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem."
The shopman, inclined for a little good-humoured banter, would reply, "Oh, I'm not the heavenly man. Yonder gentleman will do your heavenly business. That's your man. He'll make all right for you."
The country friend would go to Mr. Leeming, and be sure to be received in a kind and gentle manner, with a courteous word or two, and served with the book he required. Thus the work was done for many years. Mr. Leeming was also the librarian at the Temple on the Sundays, and the books were kept in the most perfect neatness and order.
Then there was Mr. Banning, the respected postmaster of Liverpool, for a long series of years a constant correspondent of Mr. Clowes, and universally respected and esteemed as a Christian gentleman. His son was afterwards a curate under the Rev. Mr. Hornby, a special friend of Mr. Clowes, and became later the incumbent of a district church at Croft formed out of the extensive parish of Winwick, presided over by Mr. Hornby. This younger Mr. Banning I once heard preach in his church a most admirable sermon, on the text, "By their fruits ye shall know them," full of New Church wisdom, in which also he condemned in the most decided way all trusting to salvation by faith alone, and insisted with great force on the necessity of uniting charity to faith. On making inquiry among the most intelligent looking members of his congregation, I was sorry to find how little his most excellent remarks had been understood and appreciated.
He had explained beautifully the gradual growth of a tree from seed or young plant, by the operation of the light and heat of the sun, and the action of air and rain, until there appear first the green leaves, then the delicate blossom, and at last the fruit. The fruit too he showed had a bitter, unpleasant flavour at first; only getting a delicious quality with maturity.
So, he said, was it with the tree of religion in the human mind. It began with instruction from the Word of the Lord. The seed, he said, quoting the Gospel, is the Word of God (Luke viii., 11). The Sun is the Lord. His love and wisdom are the light and heat. As you lookup to the Lord in prayer and spiritual mindedness His light and heat are shining upon you. The air is His Spirit, infusing into the soul His strength and help; and the rain is the refreshing of true doctrine, which you get on the Sabbath from time to time. The leaves are true thoughts from the letter of the Bible; the blossoms more heavenly thoughts from the spirit of the Bible. The fruits, He said, are good works, and their flavour at first is tainted with self-merit, and only with their progress in humility and experience do good men mature, and their works attain to the right flavour of good, done from grateful love, without any self-righteousness.
I was charmed with the discourse, but, so far as I was able to ascertain, the congregation present while it was delivered carried but very little away. I said, at last, to one of them on leaving, "Don't you think that was very excellent about uniting charity to faith?" "Oh, yes," he said, "he is very charitable. He gives many a shilling to the sick, and sometimes physic too." From this, and similar experiences, I was led to conclude that the position of a gentleman who had been able to receive the truths of the New Church, still ministering in the old, must often be very unsatisfactory. If he aimed at placing the truth very plainly and definitely before them, contrasting it clearly with its opposite, he would arouse the prejudices of many and appear to be opposing much that is wrong in the Litany and elsewhere. If he clothed his views in general and indefinite language, they would not be roused to think, but would assist, as the French call it, by being there happy and contented while, as they trust, the right sort of thing is going on.
A sense of something of this kind, felt a few years ago, no doubt induced many persons to send letters to the papers suggesting that the writers thought it would be profitable to go to church to say their prayers, as they said, and leave before the sermon.
Such persons could have little perception of the infinite value and beauty of truth, or the force of the Lord's words, "Ye shall know the TRUTH; and the TRUTH shall make you free" (John VIII., 32).
The Rev. Mr. Clowes, though disapproving of the movement to form separate Societies, yet regarded with kindness and encouragement the small companies that formed in several towns around Manchester, for those who feared the Lord spake often one to another. He visited them occasionally, and addressed them seated in a chair, either in a private house, a schoolroom or a barn, and from these visits occurring about once in six weeks, at some of the places our friends were denominated "six-weeks folk." His visits in this way were always greatly prized at Radcliffe, Bolton, Ringley, Ramsbottom, and one or two other places, and remembered with admiration.
Another of the greatly valued friends of Mr. Clowes was Samuel Mottram, Esq., who not only exemplified the spiritual wisdom then being given to mankind, but was especially generous in affording aid in a great variety of ways. He and Mr. Clowes were greatly attached to each other by the principles which yielded both such heavenly delight. In the first of these papers we noticed the annual help he afforded for years, in the late old age of good Samuel Dawson. Mr. Mottram was a constant visitor at the house of Mr. Clowes, and many are the stories told of their brotherly affection for each other. It was scarcely possible for Mr. Mottram to come across and enjoy any good thing, but he would wish directly that Mr. Clowes should also participate in it.
Mr. Mottram was one of the earliest members of the Printing Society, and very ingenious in suggesting means by which the translated works, and especially the pamphlets and tracts of his friend Mr. Clowes, should be placed within the reach of as many as possible. I am inclined to believe that colportage which has been in recent years so admirably useful in connection with the Bible Society all over Europe, and the New Church Colportage that has done such excellent work amongst us, especially in Lancashire and Yorkshire, was first started by Mr. Mottram.
He devised, and caused to be constructed, a number of covered hand-barrows, with various divisions for holding the publications of the Society, and especially the books for young people written by Mr. Clowes: The Young Prince, The Rainbow, The Mysterious Ladder, The Golden Weddingring, The Parables and Miracles, all attractive as well as of a deeply instructive character.
Mr. Mottram employed a number of young men at his own expense, and under his direction, with these barrows, to go through Lancashire, and some of the adjoining counties, to sell the works; and, where it could be done with discretion, to lend or to give them.
In this way, it is believed, thousands of these publications were circulated, and good was done to an extent only to be estimated in the eternal world.
He was a diligent attender at the meetings, including the Hawkestone Meeting, as long as his health would permit; and his presence aided the heavenly cheerfulness which pervailed at them. His generous support to the small Societies, and the useful charities of Manchester and Salford, especially those connected with education, made his name to be long remembered with warm affection.
Mr. Clowes wrote his obituary for the Intellectual Repository for 1816, p. 126, which closes with the following testimony to the excellent Samuel Mottram, whose name heads this paper:
"Notwithstanding, therefore, his departure as to bodily presence, he will still remain, through the recollection of his excellencies, virtually present with all who loved him, while the brightness of his example will still continue to promote the uses in which he delighted; so that the regret which his friends may feel from the apparent loss of him, is more than compensated by the conviction, that in truth and reality they have suffered no loss, but are rather become gainers by having now an additional friend in heaven, who by his influence is ever prompting them to virtuous energies, and whom they may hope soon to meet again in those happy mansions where God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." Amen.