New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire
MANY friends will recollect the Rev. C. G. Macpherson, B.A., who received the doctrines of the New Church fully in the island of Trinidad, and threw up his position in the Church of England for conscience sake, returning to this country, and after some time entering the ministerial work in the New Church at Liverpool, in 1862. Four years of loving labour endeared him to all who knew him, and at its close by death, in 1866, the expression of the mourning Society was universally felt in the Church to be the simple truth: "The unaffected sympathy and genuine truthfulness of Mr. Macpherson's character, combined with his universally amiable and polished bearing, had endeared him to all, and that between himself and his flock a closer unity had been established than generally marks such a connection."
Mr. Macpherson's reception of the truth was not hasty and hurried, but thoughtful and steady. I recollect his informing me that his first impressions were obtained from the worthy but very poor man whose name is at the head of this article.
Mr. Macpherson was a curate in the neighbourhood of Loughborough, and when walking out, frequently met job Abbott, and, speaking to him on religious subjects, was struck with his depth and clearness of thought; and learning he was a reader of Swedenborg, when great perplexity arose later in his own mind, the conversations with this humble friend came up and led him in what he found was the right direction.
Such is the leading of Divine Providence in thousands of instances. We are led by a way we know not. The story of Job Abbott was told later by the Rev. W. Mason, in an admirable work, now out of print I am sorry to learn, but full of instruction and edification. The book was entitled Job Abbott, and though the subject of it was a poor stocking-maker, of whom Mr. Mason remarks he never earned more than six shillings per week, his career was such as to show
"The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the gow'd for a' that."
In the Midland counties, and especially in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, there seem to have been throughout this century remarkable individuals who were known widely in their neighbourhoods as somewhat peculiar, but as profoundly good and wise men.
William Howitt, in one of his early works, mentions such a one in Nottinghamshire who gave him his first leanings towards the appreciation of Swedenborg, and who no doubt assisted him to diffuse the hallowed and beautiful tone which has distinguished the works of that highly gifted family. Many such men there have been in the towns and villages of the Midlands; some I have known and esteemed, and from such men heavenly truths have been given out, and have served to elevate the general atmosphere of thought, and assisted to disperse the old Calvinistic horrors which formerly infested the Midland counties.
No doubt, Mr. Pike, of Derby, must have felt the influence of this change, coming, when he wrote his doleful pamphlet denouncing the blackness of darkness against the readers of Swedenborg, and against all who did not think in the same melancholy way as himself, poor man, one of the most bilious-looking Christians I have ever seen. Job Abbott was born in 1790, in a village in Leicestershire, and the circumstances of his parents were such that he was not taught to write until he had arrived at maturity, and by the kind instruction of a fellow-workman. He was brought up as a stocking-maker, but being of a nervous and weakly constitution he could never earn an average amount of wages, in that ill-paid employment.
In truth, job Abbott had a soul too active, and a mind too large, for his body. Mr. Mason informs us: "He thirsted for knowledge, and, so far as his scanty means allowed him to do so, he diligently applied himself to the improvement of his mind. Books he had no money to buy, and therefore he was constrained to borrow them whenever he could; and in order to help his memory he used to make copious extracts or copies from them, and that principally during the night, after a hard day's work.
He was particularly attached to the study of astronomy, and having borrowed some books relating to that science, he made copies from them, and by the help of the diagrams they contained he used to pass his nights frequently in the open air, watching the motions of the heavenly bodies. This, after a hard day's sedentary toil, showed his invincible zeal to obtain a practical knowledge in his favourite pursuit; and the result was that persons competent to form a judgment declared that Job Abbott possessed sufficient learning to qualify him for a popular lecturer on astronomy, had he also possessed the necessary language and manner for its public communication. He was possessed of a remarkably retentive memory. Having so much knowledge of music as to be able to read it readily at sight, he was accustomed to copy sacred tunes and pieces, and after copying a book in four parts, all the parts were distinctly impressed upon his memory, as likewise were the hymns or words sung to the music, merely from his joining in the use of them with his friends, or with the religious body with which he was accustomed to worship. Being able also to recollect with facility various anecdotes and statements which he had read (for, considering his contracted circumstances, his reading was remarkably extensive), he was an agreeable and instructive companion, more especially as in conversation he was never forward or intrusive.
It may readily be concluded, from this brief description of his character, taste, and habits, that Job found himself confined, by his poverty, to a sphere of life by no means congenial to him. He lived, however, in a world of his own—a world of clear thought and intelligence, which had nothing in common with the coarseness, sensuality, and ignorance which were often forced upon his notice by those with whom he was constrained by his occupation to mingle. But as their habits were not attractive to him, the evil of their example was not productive of any effect upon him but that of exciting his pity or disgust. No man was more distinguished for purity of life, propriety of discourse, or prudence of behaviour than our humble friend Job Abbott. At early periods of his mature life, the annoyance which low-mindedness in others caused him made him rather irritable; but he learned patiently to endure ills which he could not avoid, and to bear with the fallacies of those around him with an inward feeling of pity and an outward demeanour of dignified calmness which ensured general respect. Hence it was a universal impression with those with whom he associated that he was a remarkably respectable person.
Job Abbott was an attendant upon the Established Church until he arrived at mature age, when he was attracted by the apparent earnestness and zeal of the New Connection of General Baptists, and became a convert to their peculiar doctrine concerning baptism.
He had much edifying intercourse with that body of earnest Christians, until he found them often referring to the covenant and election concerning those who should be saved, which took place among the three Divine Persons in the Tri-personal Trinity before the creation of the world.
The more he thought of this, the more Job was puzzled. He then thought over descriptions he had heard of the council held by the three Persons in God on the subject of human redemption.
"It is commonly believed," said Job, "that a council was held before creation in anticipation of the fall of man; but some suppose that it took place after the fall. The observations of the First Person at this council are variously described. Some say that He was greatly enraged at the disobedience of Adam, and therefore condemned all his posterity to hell without exception. Some describe Him as saying, 'I made man perfect, and commanded him not to eat of a certain tree, but he has disobeyed my command; I will therefore wreak all my fury upon him and will torment him for ever and ever, and will not pardon him.' Others describe Him as saying, 'I declared that if man did not obey my command I would punish him eternally; I must keep my word, or I should bring contempt on my person and government. I wish I could devise some scheme whereby I could, consistently with my honour and dignity, forgive man; but I must punish him either in person or by proxy; nevertheless, I am very sorry for him, and would gladly afford him a way of escape, but I do not see how to reconcile the showing mercy to him with justice to myself and my broken laws, except by the vicarious sacrifice or punishment of some competent substitute. If you, the Second Person, will allow yourself to be punished in man's place, I will cancel my decree against him.' Whichever, then, be the accurate description of the declaration of the First Person at this council, all accounts agree that the Second Person addressed the First, and said, 'You demand a substitute to be punished to satisfy your justice; but neither I nor the Third Person make any such demand; on the contrary, I am willing to forgive man his offence against me without a substitute being punished by me, or at my desire, because I do not see that my dignity requires one. And not only so, but I consent to become a man, and be punished in man's place, in order to satisfy you, provided you revoke your decree of eternal punishment against man and accept me as a sacrifice in his place.' Those who describe the First Person as so exceedingly wrathful describe the Second as using the most urgent and affecting entreaties that He would lay aside His anger against man, and accept Himself to bear all that anger, and to drink the cup of His fury to the dregs, in man's place.
"And then the Third Person is described as saying, 'I neither demand a substitute, nor will I be one myself; but if you two can agree on the matter, I will, for my part, consent to sanctify all those whom you may consent to forgive.' Some say that the First Person would only consent to forgive a part of the human race, called 'the elect,' and insisted on punishing the rest, as well as punishing the Son; others say that He forgave the whole; but whether he forgave the whole or only a part, all Trinitarians agree that He declared He would not forgive any at all, unless they should first believe that the Second Person had been punished in their place.
"Whatever ideas other people may entertain of what is becoming to a Divine Being, or to a council of Divine Persons, these descriptions," said Job, "do not agree with my ideas of the 'fitness of things.' To me there is nothing of dignity, or even of decency in them; there is nothing but the grossest contradictions and absurdities!"
Very deeply did these difficulties press upon Job's mind. He did not know how to give up revelation, because he loved its pure precepts of piety, charity, and attentive duty. But he did not know how to retain any confidence in the Bible as a revelation from God until his difficulties should be removed. This state of mental conflict secretly wore down his spirits and irritated his feelings, combined with the recollection of his various experiences of the moral unworthiness of many people professedly religious.
One day, when he was uttering his feelings with some bitterness, the pity of his brother was excited, and he remarked, "There is one sect which you have not yet tried." "What sect is that?" impatiently demanded Job. "The Swedenborgians," was the reply, "they have no chapel at present, but they meet at the house of their preacher."
Thither Job went. He listened to the discourse with astonishment. He went again. Here was a new system of doctrine presented to him, not to be blindly believed, but rationally understood—a system which inculcated the divinity of Jesus Christ without mystery, and which, nevertheless, rejected the supposed vicarious sacrifice, with all its horrors and injustice, and vindicated the Scriptures from the charge of setting it forth; a system which gave a new view of the inspiration of the Scriptures, and which, as Job thought at the time, if it could be established by conclusive evidence, would prove the Scriptures to be indeed the "Word of God," by raising them to that true and real dignity which that magnificent title implies—the dignity of being, in every part of it, the repository of infinite goodness and infinite wisdom. He sought the conversation of the preacher. None of his questions were evaded, but every one was met in the most ingenuous, unassuming, and liberal spirit, and answered in the most consistent, lucid, and satisfactory manner.
He began to read the writings of the illustrious Swedenborg. A new intellectual and moral world opened upon his delighted view. He found he was able to see the Lord Jesus Christ as "God over all, blessed for ever," without qualification or reserve, and in a clear and glorious light, without a single over-shadowing cloud of mystery or contradiction. Without going back to Tri-personalism he could now embrace a new Scripture doctrine of the Divine Trinity, and one perfectly free from every blemish of contradiction, and thus could entertain far more exalted ideas of his Saviour than he was ever able to form while he was a believer in three Persons in the Godhead. He could also now see his God as ONE, because one Divine Person; and in an aspect of love and mercy immensely exceeding his utmost efforts so to behold his Maker, while, as a Unitarian, which he became for a time, he endeavoured to think of God as a benevolent Somewhat diffused like an ethereal essence through infinite space.
Indeed he was delighted to find that whatever is good and useful, whatever is lucid and consistent, in other systems of Christianity, is harmoniously brought together in its proper arrangement and connection in the doctrines of the New Church, so that those doctrines may be regarded as embracing all the revealed truth deduced from the Holy Word by all denominations of Christians, purified from all admixture of error and human invention. He found the Divine authority and sanction, the unchangeableness of doctrine, and the infallibility of interpretation, which is the boast of the Roman Catholic, combined with the utmost freedom of investigation, so that the general doctrines of the New Church may be regarded as invisible "bands of love" (Hosea xi., 4) by which the Father of mercies guides and holds His children.
We have now only to remark respecting our friend Job Abbott that he remained in connection with the New Jerusalem Church at Loughborough about seven years, daily increasing in the knowledge of her doctrines, and also growing, as there is good reason to believe, in practical wisdom and goodness, and in the experience of peace, calm serenity, and happiness.
Though a large share of outward trial and bodily affliction fell to his lot, this he piously converted into the means of promoting his spiritual and moral improvement, by the exercise of patience and resignation to the Divine Providence. About six months before he was removed into the spiritual world, his strength gradually decayed, and he felt that he was about to undergo the last and all-important change. This he contemplated with lively hope and silent joy, tempered with humility and heightened by gratitude. This was remarkably evident when he was in the near prospect of death, as was shown by the language which he held to a lady who visited him, and who had long known his worth. After he had settled his worldly affairs, he exclaimed, "Now I have done with the world, and am perfectly happy. My Lord and Saviour found me in my low estate, and raised me up. I am now going to be with Him and live in that state of happiness where I shall be more useful than I can be in this world." Upon being asked whether there was anything in the nature of religious instruction or consolation that he desired, he replied to the enquirer (the New Church preacher in the town), "You have supplied me with this already, and the work is now done." This reply, given as it was with peaceful calmness, testifies that the faith of the New Jerusalem is one which brings peace in death, provided it has previously been allowed to conduct to a humble and pious rectitude of life. Such indeed was the language our friend uniformly held during the short period, only one week, in which his illness became serious. He had a constant and grateful sense of joy and rejoicing, accompanied with a calm and even state of the feelings, and the ground of his joy was this—that his work had been done before his illness. To a question put to him on the day of his departure, whether he held fast to the faith of the New Jerusalem Church, he pleasantly replied, "Do you doubt it?" He departed in peace, at Loughborough, on the 14th day of July, 1839, and in the 49th year of his age.
Our friend left various MS. papers behind him, and an examination of them fully proves that he had made a good progression in the spirit and life of the new doctrines, as well as in the knowledge of them. Previous to his acquaintance with the New Church, he had sometimes manifested a somewhat confident, rash, and condemnatory exercise of the judgment, as appears from some of his papers; but under the blessed influence of the new doctrines he gradually acquired habitual feelings of meekness, kindness, patience, and forbearance. As a proof that such was the frame of his mind, some extracts from his papers are now presented to the reader. The truly Christian reader, of every denomination, will rejoice to perceive, and not without feelings approaching to amazement, how great a deliverance Job Abbott experienced from the woes of doubt, darkness, infidelity, and despair, into which he had fallen; and to what a height of wisdom and peace he had been conducted by means of the principles of the New Jerusalem Church.
We conclude with presenting to the reader some of the overflowings of our friend's pious feelings, expressed in verse. These productions were written about a year before his death:
"Have faith in God."
"Behold, I have set my bow in the cloud."
"Lo! I am with you always, even to the end."
There is a principle within—
Faith in God's love and power;
Upon this moveless Rock I lean
In sorrow's darkest hour.
This oft my drooping heart bath cheered,
With anguish worn, and care;
And all I doubted, all I feared
Have vanished into air!
What though a cloud o'ershade my sight,
Big with affliction's tear;
Yet faith amidst the drops that fall
Discerns a rainbow there.
I need not shrink, I need not fear,
Whate'er the future be;
Since God is love, and God is near
In man's extremity!
ALPHABET OF SOME OF THE DIVINE CHARACTERS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST:
My All in all, below, above,
My Benefactor filled with love;
My Captain, all my foes to quell,
My great Deliverer from hell;
The End of all I have in view,
My Friend unchangeable and true.
To realms of heavenly bliss my Guide,
My Haven when by sorrows tried.
Immanuel, the great I Am,
Jesus the sin removing Lamb.
Keeper of Israel, night and day,
The Light, the Life, the Truth, the Way.
The Mighty God, the only Lord,
The Name by heaven and earth adored,
My One thing needful thou shalt be,
The Prince of Peace thou art to me.
Quickener art thou of all within,
Refiner from the dregs of sin;
My Shepherd, Saviour, Sun and Shield,
The Tree of Life which fruit doth yield;
The Vine from which the branches grow,
The Well whose waters overflow;
My Yea, Amen, both sure and fast,
In Zion thou art First and Last.
Such was the intelligent and estimable character of Job Abbott, of Loughborough; and such was the bounty of the giver of all good to a poor stocking-maker—not a perishable and transient bounty of gold and silver, but an imperishable and ever-enduring bounty of goodness and truth, heavenly love, and heavenly wisdom—a bounty infinitely more valuable than precious stones, because imperishable and eternal!
May the reader of these pages have humility and candour sufficient to discover and correct his errors! May he prove willing to change his opinions when he can do so for the better; and may he be led to sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ as his only Divine Teacher, and account it his one thing needful to learn, and do, His blessed Word! And may his eyes be opened to behold the surpassing glory of the heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem!