New Church Worthies

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley


And the Middleton Society

IN 1828, at the annual meeting of friends from the various adjacent towns, on the Friday in Whit-week, which was held in the somewhat humble room in which the Society at Middleton held its worship, the Rev. Richd. Jones in the chair, and the subject the twentieth chapter of John; after many excellent speeches had been delivered, each speaker selecting the particular verse which impressed him especially as affording matter for edification, the worthy Chairman said he noticed a young friend present who sometimes addressed them at the monthly lecture to the young men, and he thought he might say on this occasion some things that the elder friends would like to hear.

The young man, thus kindly introduced, then eighteen years of age, took the 17th verse of the chapter for his theme, and was kindly listened to, and is the writer of the present article. This was his first really public address.

Thus was his acquaintance made with the New Church at Middleton, and with the pious and most estimable leader, Richard Boardman. He was, then an aged man, gentle, wise, and good. He had received the doctrines by reading the work on Heaven and Hell, in 1785, and after a period of doubt and anxious thought, his eyes were opened, and heavenly light streamed in. He had much intercourse, both on the Sabbath and week evenings, direct with Mr. Clowes himself, and was a living example of the worth of the new truths he embraced. He delighted to speak in phrases borrowed, perhaps unconsciously, from his teacher, and impress his hearers with what he called THE LESSONS OF ETERNAL TRUTH.

He was rather above the middle height, with a thoughtful, intelligent face, somewhat slender, dignified, and solemn, yet kind and cheerful. His whole conversation was on heavenly things, and it was a rich spiritual treat to spend, as I was often enabled to do, a few hours in his company.

Middleton being only six miles from Manchester, the Society claimed and obtained considerable help from the friends in Manchester. Their place of worship, in the upper part of Wood Street, has been mentioned. It was a rather humble room over two cottages, approached by open wooden steps outside. This had sufficed for many years, since 1798; an many an earnest soul, among them David Howarth, afterwards the Rev. D. Howarth, had received his spiritual nourishment there.

Mr. Boardman's cottage, for he was a working weaver, where the visiting ministers stayed between the services, was a model of order, neatness, cleanliness, and comfort. The walls were chiefly decorated with needlework by his daughters. There was a neat garden behind, and not very distant a pond well supplied with frogs, which in autumn made a loud murmuring croaking noise, which was followed in due time by a steady march of hundreds of them, engaged in emigration. They would come over the field, through the hedges, up the garden, and if not guarded against into the houses; as they did in the time of Pharoah, when his pride had to be humbled by these ugly croaking pests.

To defend themselves the cottagers placed a good layer of salt across their back-door sills, and, thus met, the army of frogs turned away.

Here I learned for the first time the beautiful illustration of the law of correspondence afforded by the action of salt on frogs. The croaking of the frogs representing the noisy opposition of false seasoning against the truth; salt, representing the affection for truth, will soon compel the frogs to depart, or will destroy them. The Lord said, "Have salt in yourselves, and peace with one another."

When troubled by the murmuring and grumbling of short-sighted discontent, how much wiser than incessant complaining would it be, to pray for some more of the heavenly salt of affection for Divine Truth; that our faith might be increased, and our confidence in the behests of Infinite Love and Wisdom might be settled into perfect peace.

The steady virtues of the Boardman family, and of the Middleton friends generally, led to great respect among their neighbours; and the assistance of the friends in Manchester and Salford, which was freely rendered, encouraged the Society to determine on building a becoming chapel for themselves. Mr. Ogden resided at Middleton, and was of considerable service at that time. A young New Churchman, Mr. Brooksbank, from Holme, in Yorkshire, settled in Manchester, and in company with Mr. Boardman collected quite a handsome amount to help them, and frequently came to preach for them, and thus aided them not a little. They had been subscribing a penny per week for twelve years before they built their chapel.

When the new place of worship was opened, which would seat 300 persons, on the 24th of June, 1834, Mr. Brooksbank arranged for a course of lectures on the leading doctrines, to be delivered by himself and the present writer. He led off, and attended the second. He was delighted with the interest and attention that were excited, and good-humouredly insisted that there was no use for him to come any more, and the lectures must be completed without him; and so it was. At that time there was scarcely a house from Middleton to Blakeley, and returning alone, in the dark hours after ten, was a walk not the most agreeable part of the labour. The Society continued steadily to increase, and in due time built a very commodious schoolroom, which enabled them to exercise themselves as Sunday School teachers, and to keep, through the scholars, an intercourse with a large number of families, and to influence hundreds of young people of the working classes for good.

As soon as they were able, they commenced day schools on the Manchester system, and assisted by Conference. This was in 1859, and with able teachers the schools have been flourishing and most useful. There must, with these varied means of use, be a very large number of people in Middleton with whom New Church principles are more or less influential. With the present excellent, intelligent, and zealous minister, the Rev. W. Westall, the Church in Middleton will flourish more and more, and be a beacon for good to a wide district around.

Mr. Boardman continued with the Society until the year 1845, when he passed to his eternal home, esteemed and beloved by all who knew him, aged 81. His aged wife, who had been a help-meet both in natural and spiritual things, followed him in twenty-five days. The Rev. D. Howarth, in writing of him, says of Mr. Boardman: He performed the ministerial duty as leader of his little flock gratuitously for nearly forty years, with great benefit to the Society and credit to himself.

Mr. Boardman was also a zealous labourer during nine years in the Manchester Missionary Institution, from the commencement of its present plan of local operations; and for many years the missionaries who visited the Middleton Society were hospitably entertained under his roof and at his own expense.

In all his efforts as a teacher of the truths of doctrine, our friend was especially watchful to lead to the good of life by his own example.

From his first reception of the doctrines of the New Church, to the time of being incapacitated by infirmities common to advanced age, his life was one continued scene of actual usefulness in the service of God, and in promoting the eternal as well as temporal interests of his fellow-man. His practical motto was the Saviour's emphatic declaration, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them," and no doubt he has now begun to realise somewhat of the fulness of its promised never-ending blessedness.

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