New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
And the Radcliffe Society
IN previous sketches we have stated the very early period in which readers of the New Church Writings, and receivers of New Church truth, are known to have existed at Radcliffe, a place six miles from Manchester.
In 1783, a Society was formed, and a few years afterwards a small place of worship was erected for Divine service, according to the heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem. Mr. Robert Ashworth, of Radcliffe, Mr. Ogden, Mr. Pickstone, Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Booth, and Mr. John Heywood, were among the promoters and steady supporters of the place; and a warm, zealous, brotherly affection distinguished the members one among another.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Hodson supplied the pulpit alternately in the early days, and later, the missionaries of the Manchester Missionary Society, with James Booth as leader.
The chapel would contain about two hundred people; there was a vestry behind, and a room over the vestry, from which the minister entered the pulpit through a door in the wall. The music was aided by violins, large and small, assisted by clarionets, and quite an effective band was produced. Half the congregation, probably, sometimes came from places three or four miles distant, often more, and that they might stay at both services they would bring some provision that would serve for dinner. The vestry was used for kitchen and dining-room. And, at their meal, they would often divide with one another, and so make a repast with variety. One old gentleman that came invariably from Ringley, whom I knew for years, and up to the age of ninety, old James Holt, always brought an apple-dumpling, usually formed of one apple. Great simplicity, kindliness, and intelligence prevailed among them, and frequently there was much interesting conversation.
Old John Bradshaw, who had much to do with Mr. Clowes, Mr. Cowherd, Mr. Clowes' curate, and others in the early times, used to mention incidents which illustrated the different dispositions of these gentlemen.
Old Bradshaw had a tolerably strong will of his own, and stood and walked very upright indeed. He had been, as he thought, insulted and harshly treated by some one, whom otherwise he respected, but to whom he would not for a moment give way. He would never submit.
When his excitement was at the highest, he trudged off with his grievances to Manchester, to Mr. Clowes.
He was kindly received, and desired to explain the circumstances; which he did fully, but vehemently; and which Mr. Clowes heard with silent care and patience.
The old man stood quite stiff while he expatiated upon his case. At length he ended, and Mr. Cloves saw he was partly right, and partly wrong, but was making too much of his grievance. Mr. Clowes got up, and gently laid one hand on the arm of his visitor, and the other on the middle of his back, and said gently, "John, can you stoop?"
The question seemed so different from the stately speech the visitor expected, that it excited his good humour; and then Mr. Clowes pointed out where he might give way a little, and explain a little, and restore the old friendship with advantage, and sent him home with a lighter, kindlier heart.
Mr. Cowherd, on the other hand, had a harsh and haughty spirit. He considered the business of the priest was to lay down the law, and of the people obediently to submit. He was opposed to Mr. Clowes' desire to translate the works of Swedenborg out of Latin into English, that the people might read, themselves, the spiritual and beautiful things therein contained, so necessary and serviceable to their regenerate life.
Mr. Cowherd considered that the clergy should read such things in the Latin, and unfold them to the people, and the people should listen and obey.
Mr. Bradshaw thought that this keeping of the works of Swedenborg to themselves would be entirely wrong, and he would go and remonstrate with Mr. Cowherd, whom he knew very well. I had the story from the old man himself.
He said he was received cheerfully at first, but when he told his errand and stated his case, Mr. Cowherd became quite excited, and told him he considered it was a most impudent thing for him, a layman, and an ignorant countryman into the bargain, to come and instruct him, an ordained clergyman and a priest of the Lord.
Mr. Cowherd became so excited and violent at what he considered the impertinence of a mere layman, that he threatened to put him out of the room by the shoulders, but the other rose briskly and assumed an attitude of defence, declaring if Mr. C. put a hand upon him it would be worse for him, and so ended the interview, and John Bradshaw returned home.
The Radcliffe Society was noted during the many years of its early existence for two things, the genuine, steady character of its members for orderly, good lives; and secondly, the delight that was expressed in their bright eyes and cheerful faces, as they sat listening to the delivery of truth in the sermons.
Very prominent and very lively amongst them was the good old man, John Heywood, whose name is at the head of this paper, and who was extremely useful in leading the singing. He was quite as earnest in listening to and appreciating the truth in the discourses, as he was in seeing that the hymns and anthems were duly effective under his direction, which is not always quite the case.
In the chat after a discourse, when I had been officiating on one occasion, he named a conversation he had been having the week before with an old lady, a neighbour, who said she liked the New Church people for some things; they were very kind, neighbourly folk, but she could not do with their spiritual sense of the Bible. She thought people should take the Bible just as it said, and do just as it told them.
"Dear me," said old John, "do you think so, Mary? And when are you going to begin? Because belike some of us had better be getting out of the way. You know, it says in th' Psalms, 'Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones'" (Ps. cxxxvii., 9).
The old man suited the action to the word, and startled his motherly old friend as he imitated dashing the children with violence against the stones.
"Oh, no, John," she said, "that must have another meaning. What does it mean, do you think?"
He then explained that Babylon in Scripture signified a haughty, domineering spirit in religion, making religion the means of ruling. The little ones of Babylon mean the beginnings of such spiritual pride, and we should destroy them by the truths of the Bible, which are God's stones, before they become too strong for us.
A small Sunday School was commenced in a cottage at Rhodes, fifty years ago, four miles at least from his home—probably five. The time came for them to have a charity sermon, and this worthy old man went week after week to teach and train the scholars in the music of their hymns; he came to me one evening seven miles to request me to go and preach for them, which he thought would help them. All this after his day's work was over, and on foot. I consented of course, and preached in the low room; being on a stool, my head as nearly as possible touched the ceiling, and the apartment was so crammed up with people that it was as nearly as possible like preaching in an oven. However, it was all very satisfactory to them, and when after service I expressed my delight at seeing their faithful labour, another old gentleman, the superintendent, remarked, "Oh, yes. But it's all right. We serve a GOOD MASTER; He pays us as we go on."
Such was the style of men of which the Radcliffe Society consisted. I visited them at one time pretty frequently, and on many occasions preached their annual charity sermons, which they have invariably on Whit-Sunday.
I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Dr. Philip P. Carpenter, the Unitarian minister at Whitefield, close to Radcliffe, who was a most excellent and spiritually-minded man. He became quite interested in New Church truth. He invited me subsequently to preach for him; and later, when he took the ministry at Warrington in the chapel formerly used by Dr. Priestley, when he, Dr. Aitken, and Mrs. Barbauld carried on the Warrington Academy, Philip Carpenter often urged me to come and preach there, which on several occasions I did. He not only became a New Churchman, but spread quite a New Church element throughout the congregation. When he went to America, in the interests of conchological science, he was followed by the Rev. Dixon Porter, at Warrington, who also adored the Lord Jesus as the manifested and only God.
The edition of the Heaven and Hell which is called "The Future Life," was commenced by Dr. P. P. Carpenter, and only passed to others when he was leaving for America. I have no doubt the favourable disposition which induced Dr. Carpenter to look into New Church principles was aided by the general esteem induced by the excellent character of the friends at Radcliffe.
When Mr. Boys became their minister, in 1840, the Radcliffe Society had lived and grown in the atmosphere of New Church principles, and consisted of 98 members, and had a Sunday School of 240 scholars and 50 teachers.
They have pursued their way steadily, quietly, but earnestly, and under the same respected and venerable pastor, with the help recently of my dear young friend Mr. Stonestreet, there are now 219 members, a school of 333 scholars, and 51 teachers. They have also a day school of 298 scholars.
They have built a beautiful church, instead of their former homely place of worship; they are as solid, as influential for good, as they ever were, and have an offshoot in the Society at Besses bidding fair, under the vigorous ministry of the Rev. Mr. Tansley, to be as successful and diffusive of goodness and truth as a New Church Society can possibly be.