New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
MR. FRANCIS MARCELLUS HODSON
WE have spoken of the excellent, heavenly-minded men who, in immediate association with the Rev. John Clowes, formed the leading portion of the company which, under the name of a "Society of Gentlemen," were the centre in Manchester for publishing the Writings of Swedenborg, and those of Mr. Clowes in elucidation of them.
These held a monthly meeting, which they called "The Coffee Meeting," for spiritual edification chiefly, but also to direct any business to be transacted in relation to their publications.
Mr. Clowes met with them, and a very reverent and sacred atmosphere pervaded such meetings.
There grew at St. John's a feeling, even among many of the most serious and devout, that the incongruity between the New Doctrines and the wording of the Liturgy of the Church of England in the prayers, with the unscriptural addition, "for Christ's sake," and especially the invocations of the Litany, "O Holy and Blessed Trinity, three persons and one God," were injurious to that simplicity and truthfulness of mind which are essential to full and happy worship of the Lord. This feeling increased, until a considerable number determined to have a place of worship and a service in which the Lord Jesus Christ was directly adored, without any obscurity from the semi-idolatry of the dark ages.
A curate of St. John's, the Rev. Wm. Cowherd, much encouraged this sentiment, and offered to be their minister; and the circumstance of the New Churchmen in London having arrived at a similar conclusion in 1787 and opened a chapel in Great Eastcheap on the 27th of January, 1788, giving their reasons to the brethren generally, increased their determination, and they erected a commodious church in Peter Street, Manchester, which was opened August 11th, 1793, by the Rev. J. Proud.
Mr. Clowes thought the movement was premature, and there was much discussion on the subject, oral and printed, but conducted in a Christian spirit, and events have fully justified those who would not utter in their worship what they did not believe in their hearts. The brethren who separated took their own course, and those who were of a different opinion still attended St. John's. Both sides continued to meet in "The Coffee Meeting," and to support the publication of the works.
One of the most active of the separated friends was the gentleman whose name heads this paper, Mr. Francis Marcellus Hodson, the father of the late Mrs. Bayley. He resided in Quay Street, very near to St. John's Church, and was very intimate with Mr. Clowes. Mr. Hodson was a calico-printer, in business, when the trade was comparatively new. He and his excellent wife had been pious Methodists; at length read the works as translated by Mr. Clowes, and were attracted to his ministry.
When Mr. Clowes visited Mr. Hodson's house, or "The Coffee Meeting" was held there, the children looked on it as the visit of an angel. Powder was worn then, and considered especially proper in a clergyman. One of the brothers, when both were very young, called his sister, then a little girl, to smell at Mr. Clowes' hat, and see if it did not smell just like an angel's. Their next-door neighbour was Peter Clare, of the Society of Friends, subsequently one of the main supporters of the triumphant movement for the abolition of slavery in the West Indies. Mr. Hodson was very earnest, studied deeply the works as they appeared, and was an eloquent and affectionate preacher. In a short time, the Rev. Mr. Cowherd, though the first minister at Peter Street, evinced an eccentric and intolerant spirit. Instead of thoroughly mastering the spiritual unfoldings by the Lord through Swedenborg, he diverged right and left. He spoke of heaven as being in the sun. He became an early vegetarian, and abstained from wine; and instead of leaving every one to decide on such subjects according to his conscience and sanitary convictions, he made a religion of them. He refused the sacrament to all who did not perfectly conform in these matters.
He soon, however, quitted Peter Street, and built a separate chapel for himself, in King Street, Salford, erecting a tomb in the front for his burial, inserting upon it, after his own name, the sad inscription, which I have often seen:
"All feared, none loved, and few understood."
He was succeeded at Peter Street by the Rev. Mr. Dean, of Blackburn, also a minister of the Church of England, who received the doctrines in a general way, was a preacher of considerable ability, and zealous; but rather superficial as a student. He was invited to London after hardly two years, and soon exhausted himself wherever he went.
On the departure of Mr. Dean from Peter Street, the Society invited Mr. Hodson, and Mr. R. Jones, afterwards the Rev. Richard Jones, a most pious and saintly man, to become joint ministers of the Church, about the year 1800. They undertook to supply as well, on alternate Sundays, a small Society at Radcliffe, six miles from Manchester.
Mr. Jones found this labour too great for him, and for some time he left Mr. Hodson to minister alone at Peter Street, where his ability, and the interesting character of his discourses, strengthened the Society in every way. This was in 1802. He had the habit of taking texts of which the common reader could make nothing, and bringing out their Divine wisdom with extraordinary brilliancy.
Hence, he was acceptable wherever he went. He was very instrumental in encouraging the friends at Radcliffe to erect their first chapel, and his labours were most welcome to the good people there. Their eyes would glisten as he preached, and no one was more helpful to the church at Radcliffe in the early days than Francis Marcellus Hodson. The call for Mr. Hodson, with his special abilities for that work, to visit the places in the country was so great, that he resolved to deliver up Peter Street to Mr. Jones, and devote himself to that use. He was a poet, and frequently, after having delivered an interesting and impressive sermon, he would give out an excellent new hymn he had composed on the subject, which would be sung with affectionate warmth by the congregation. He was of great assistance at Accrington in their early days, and each Sunday rode over the twenty miles from Manchester, to perform the service of the day.
He opened their first chapel in 1807, and took for his text the verse respecting finding a bird's nest (Deut. xxii., 6). He drew from the injunction to "take the young bird to thee, and let the old dam go," a brilliant lesson, to take new truths to the soul, and let the Old Dispensation go.
He was always known afterwards with affection by the population generally as "The Bird's-Nest Fellow." Whenever it was known that "The Bird's-Nest Fellow" would be there, the chapel would be certain to be full.
In 1818 he had a strong feeling that there ought to be other places of worship in Manchester, in districts not near enough to be served by either the church in Peter Street or the one in Salford. He took a small chapel in Ancoats Road in 1819, and collected his hymns and added some new ones, to be used in the worship there. This constituted their hymn-book. The Society had some success, but the exact duration of the continuance of worship there I am unable to state. He was, induced, however, to give it up to go to Hull, to a chapel where the friends were without a minister. This chapel with an unfortunate name (it was called Dagger Lane Chapel) was quite made famous for a time by the sermons of Mr. Hodson.
He gave sermons to the sailors, on quitting for their whaling voyages; sermons on ships, seas, storms, and calms; and became remarkably popular. His advancing age, and the unwillingness of his family to leave Manchester, led him reluctantly to resign that very promising field of labour, and, as it turned out, to come home and die, in 1828, at the age of 66.
He was a most exact and accurate arranger of a sermon; quite a large number of his sketches came at one time into my hands, and they were remarkably clear, and were always very neatly written.
His hymns, of which we have six in our present hymn-book, are full of pious and beautiful feeling, and disclose special felicity in introducing passages of Scripture with admirable effect. See hymns 2 and 189, in our present collection, as specimens. He wrote some very appropriate hymns for Sunday School recitals and Charity Sermons. There are more of his hymns quite worthy to have been adopted in our present hymn-book, only of course a limit was indispensable. One, however, I was sorry was not continued, it is so grand, and with a spirited tune and a large congregation I have often heard it with majestic effect:
"For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth."—Rev. xix., 5, 6.
- Hark, a voice in the sky, Proclaiming on high,
Through all the ethereal plains,
Ye servants of God, Now publish abroad
That the Lord, the Omnipotent reigns!
- Oh, sing to His praise, In celestial lays;
Tune your harps to the loftiest strains;
To Him whom ye fear, With rapture draw near,
The Lord, the Omnipotent reigns!
- As the voice of a host, On the heavenly coast,
Many waters the music maintain;
Mighty thunders proclaim His ineffable name,
And announce His Omnipotent reign!
- In the concert of praise, Which to Jesus they raise,
Hallelujah fills all the glad strains;
Small and great they all join, In the anthem Divine,
The Lord, the Omnipotent reigns!
- May I mingle among The sanctified throng,
And to theirs join my own feeble strains;
My tribute of praise In eternity raise,
And sing the Omnipotent reigns!
He commenced a little book on Correspondences for Children, on an ingenious plan, which it is a pity he had not time to carry out, for he would have been sure to do it well. It was to have a picture at the top of the left-hand page, say the Sun, a little descriptive poem under it, and on the right-hand side question and answer showing the correspondence and its applications.
Taking him all in all, we may truly say that one of the early worthies who largely diffused Divine Truth in his time, was Francis Marcellus Hodson.