New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
MR. FRANCIS OLIVER FINCH,
of Argyle Square, London. The Artist, and Friend of the Mutual Improvement Society
BORN as young people now are in the improved condition of society—the result of the New Dispensation of the Second Coming of the Lord, though yet in its early infancy in the world—they are apt to suppose that Sunday-schools, and kindred institutions, for the healthy and elevating progress of the young, have always existed pretty much as they now do. Thus they do not fully value the already patent blessings of the New Age in the world.
Before THIS CENTURY, however, there were no Mechanics' Institutions, no Athenaeums, no Mutual Improvement Societies, connected with religious bodies, in the world.
These latter commenced, I believe, with New Church congregations first, and have been of great value, both with them and with religious bodies generally, throughout this country and America.
The idea used to be taken for granted, that young men were wild and foolish, and must not be expected to be sensible, rational, and virtuous, until they had got into many troubles and disgraces, and suffered much from bitter experience. Health and fortune were often seriously impaired—sometimes fatally ruined, before mature age was reached.
Whereas, if the acquisition of knowledge, the cultivation of the intellect and literary taste, with agreeable society and religious principle, were provided, the young would have orderly, healthy, and elevating pleasures, without descending into any unworthy path, or coarse and unbecoming company of any kind.
Indeed, young people with spiritual pursuits, and literary tastes, would feel repugnance at any contact with those so-called dashing blades, young men without any religious principle or reasonable conception of things, manifestly without common-sense.
Every religious body ought therefore to encourage and assist the young people to have a good Mutual Improvement Society among themselves.
There was a very excellent one, commenced at Argyle Square in its early days; and two of the senior members, who felt pleasure in the company and pursuits of young people, were appointed to meet with them, advise, and aid them in every way. These were, Mr. Sandy, a most excellent and genial spirit, and Mr. Finch, whose name heads this sketch, who as an artist had admirable classical taste, combined with Eterary and poetic feeling; and such a genial and amiable character, that he formed a charming companion for young men, one they would respect and esteem, as well as admire and love.
Mr. Finch was a water-colour artist, and his works were greatly admired by those who were familiar with them. They combined great beauty and truth to nature with a certain classical grace which imparted a continual charm.
The Mutual Improvement Society had readings sometimes from Swedenborg, sometimes from Shakespere, doctrinal and occasionally literary discussions, and sometimes political debates. There was the greatest freedom, yet always courtesy and decorum, avoiding anything involving disrespect for the feelings and views of others. But I remember, occasionally some of the old gentlemen thought they made too free with Lord Palmerston.
They had their weekly meetings, with Mr. Finch in the chair, or some other respected senior member, or one of themselves.
At these meetings I may say all were greatly assisted in the formation of their characters and abilities, as well as in their friendships, and capacities for future use in the Church; among these the Rev. John Presland, and Mr. Jobson, long the able secretary of the Missionary Society, and the worthy author of several admirable New Church pamphlets, and many others, who have distinguished themselves.
The feeling of the young men and young ladies as a body towards Mr. Finch will be evident from the letter addressed by them to his excellent widow, Mrs. Finch, on his departure into the eternal world in 1862:—
Argyle Square Junior Members' Society,
September 6th, 1862.
Dear Madam, —The committee and members of the above society desire to record their sense of the valuable services rendered by Mr. Finch to their society as a body, and to its particular members as individuals. They thankfully acknowledge that the present welfare of their society is to a great extent attributable to his kind assistance and counsel, to the high character which his presence conferred upon their meetings and to the wisdom of his numerous addresses, which they believe and hope lives, and ever will live in their memories.
While most sincerely and respectfully expressing their sympathy with yourself in your present bereavement, they trust that you will remember, among the sources of consolation left to you, their affectionate memory of Mr. Finch, and their hope that his Christian conversation and demeanour will prove an example for them to follow, as well as a recollection to love.
In behalf of the committee and the entire society
I am, dear Madam,
Yours very respectfully,
JOHN PRESLAND, Hon. Secretary.
Mr. Finch's eminence as an artist of course gave him weight and prestige among the young people, while his genial and amiable manners endeared him to them all.
More than two hundred specimens of his artistic power, chiefly landscapes and views and scenes of earth and sky, remain as illustrations of his genius; they are valued by those who possess them as gems of beauty, and as recollections of a mind they would not willingly forget.
He was said "To be the last representative of the old school of landscape-painting in watercolours; a school which had given pleasure to the public for half-a-century, and contributed to obtain for Englishmen in that department of art an European reputation."
Mr. Finch was extremely clear and cogent in his rational perceptions, and therefore well calculated to assist his young friends of the Mutual Improvement Society on their argumentative evenings. This is very evident from his tract on The Existence of God. From the two self-evident propositions, which the ancient declared and unbelievers admit, he obtains all the leverage he wants to demonstrate the conclusion he seeks.
He says: "You cannot get something out of nothing."
"You cannot get out of anything that which it does not contain."
From the first of these propositions it follows there must have been an Eternal First, from which all things have been, which was not nothing, for something cannot come out of nothing.
But this Eternal something must have been adequate to produce all things which exist, for according to the second axiom, "You cannot get out of anything that which it does not contain." You cannot get a sovereign from a pocket which does not contain one.
Human beings have life, affections, and faculties. The cause, whatever it was, which gave the first human beings their faculties, must have had such things to give. What it gave it must first have possessed.
Man is a living being, and therefore the cause which produced life must have had life. Man thinks and reasons. The cause which imparted these powers must, by previously possessing them, have been intelligent. Man has love or affection. This must have come from a cause possessing it, and so of every other faculty.
All life, all love, all wisdom or intelligence that ever existed in subsequent existences, together with all power, from this cause must have been derived, and in it must have had their eternal residence.
And if, of such qualities, the first, the eternal cause is possessed, must it not be a person; for if living, loving, thinking, and acting do not constitute personality, what does?
Altogether, then we think no rational man can doubt the soundness of the positions we have taken, or fail to draw from them with us the inevitable conclusion to which they lead, namely that the first cause must be God, and can be nothing else, and consequently that thereby is proved the existence of God.
To this most satisfactory demonstration by our friend Mr. Finch, some philosophical opponents started the objection,—if all things come from God, then matter came from God, and if so God must Himself be material, according to Mr. Finch's second proposition, "Nothing can be obtained out of anything, which that thing does not contain." To this Mr. Finch replied "The mistake these gentlemen run into in jumping to the conclusion that because God produced matter, He must be Himself material appears to me to be this: they assume that every CAUSE must have the same mode of existence as its EFFECT, whereas it can easily be shown that no such necessity exists. "Mr. Finch explained that the origination of the material universe from the Lord was according to the LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT, in which the effect differs from the cause by a discreet degree. The substance being the same, but the mode of existence different. Matter is the name we give to the collection of properties which we perceive by their action upon ourselves. What the force is which makes itself manifest in so many forms, no one knows. But, in the Divine Being, it is not matter.
He illustrated his views very perfectly by THOUGHT, and the RESULTS of thought; thus: "The words I am now writing come out of my thoughts, and it is a proof of my axiom, 'You cannot get out of anything that which it does not contain,' that these words must exist in my thoughts before I can write them. Well, when I have written them, they are material; I can measure their length, can scratch them out with my penknife, but that does not oblige my thoughts and intentions to be material also. I cannot touch or measure them, nor have they any property of materiality belonging to them"
Mr. Finch's affectionate and refined tone of mind loved to express itself in poetry, as well as in painting, and he has left many very sweet sonnets, as well as one poem of considerable length called The Artist's Dream. We will conclude this sketch with a short extract, expressive of the author's devout hopes and firm faith for the future of the Church he loved and honoured so highly, and which will long cherish his memory:—
Long hast thou trod the thorny ways of earth,
Divinest Charity; thy royal seat
One called Religion fills, whose alien birth
Darkness and cold attest, and all the dearth
Of Christian brotherhood, and hence the cheat
That gold outvalues love, has still to meet
Its doom in aching hearts; but now the worth
Of all things must abide that look Divine
That fills the world with light; already shine
The morning splendours of thy coming reign.
Great Charity! thy twelve-starr'd crown again
God will restore and evermore sustain,
And Earth, through thee, her Golden Age regain.