These extracts are taken from "Pictures of the Past: The history of the Baptist Church, Bourton-on-the-water", by Thomas Brooks, published by Judd and Glass, New Bridge Street, London in 1861 (see Google scan). These extracts cover the career of Rev. Benjamin Beddome. Some of it is repeated from the earlier Memoir about Benjamin Beddome (1835).
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|Chapter II||1720-1748||Mr. Flower - Mr. Beddome - Early Life, Probation, Ordination - Bourton and Stowe United - Parsonage Built - Invitation to Bristol - Chapel Enlarged|
|Chapter III||1750-1751||Invitation to London - Second Application|
|Chapter IV||1751—1795||Increase and Decrease - New Chapel - Statistical Summary - Mr. Wilkins - Domestic Losses - Death of Mr. Beddome|
|Chapter V||Review of Mr. Beddome's Ministry - Preacher, Poet, and Pastor|
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We have spoken of the Church, we regret that we cannot speak as certainly of the ministry of the same period. The only name that has come down to us is that of Mr. Flower, and the only reference to him is connected with a list of subscriptions promised for his support. It reads as follows - "Whereas we hope the worthy Mr. Flower purposes to settle with us as pastor, we whose names are underwritten do voluntarily and willingly subscribe to pay yearly for the support of his ministry, viz." We know, from statements made subsequently, that the Church was destitute of a pastor for many years; and, in 1750, they testify that many of them could then remember the death of two or three pastors who were very eminent and valuable men. Thus much, and this is all, we know of the ministry of that age. But there was mercy in store for this people. They tell us that "notwithstanding their many cries to Almighty God, he was pleased to withhold direct answers of prayer, till at length he graciously raised up, eminently qualified, and unexpectedly sent, our dearly beloved and Rev. pastor, Mr. Beddome, to our assistance, and inclined him, after our many solicitations and calls, to became our pastor."
This eminent man (the Rev. Benjamin Beddome) was born at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, January 23. 1717-18. His father, the Rev. John Beddome, had purchased in that place a large house, which he fitted up partly for his own residence, and partly as a place of worship. When Benjamin Beddome was about seven years of age, his father removed to Bristol, where he became co-pastor with Mr. Beazely, of the Pithay church, in that city.
The son, after receiving a suitable education, was apprenticed to a Surgeon-apothecary in that city. Some twenty years of his life had passed away, when his heart was opened to attend to the things belonging to his peace. He thus records the event. "Mr. Ware, of Chesham, preached at the Pithay, Bristol, August 7. 1737, with which sermon I was, for the first, deeply impressed. Text, (Luke xv. 7.) 'Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.'" He heard the character of the penitent described, and it at once became his own. So intense were his feelings, that he selected the most retired part of the chapel to conceal his tears. He found much relief, we are told, in reading the Scriptures and in prayer; and soon the tears of penitence were dried up by the "Sun of Righteousness."
His own heart changed, he soon began to feel for the spiritual condition of others; and became desirous of devoting himself to the work of the ministry. With a view to this, at the close of his apprenticeship, he became a student in the Baptist College, Bristol, then superintended by the Rev. Bernard Foskett, who was formerly co-pastor with his father at Henley-in-Arden. Having pursued his studies for some time at Bristol, he removed to London, for the purpose of completing his education under the tuition of Mr. John Eamos, at the Independent Academy, in Tenter Alley, Moorfields. Strange to say, he had not at that time became a member of any Christian church. Soon after his removal to London, however, he joined the Baptist church in Little Prescot-street, Goodman's Fields, under the care of the Rev. Samuel Wilson, by whom he was baptized in September or October, 1739. His father appears to have been a wise and faithful counsellor. The following is an extract from a letter written by him to his son about this time. "I am pleased to hear you have given yourself to a Church of Christ; but more, in that I hope you first gave yourself up to the Lord to be his servant, and at his disposal. And now, I would have you remember, that when Christ was baptized he was soon tempted of the devil; and I believe many of his followers, in that, have been made conformable to their Head. So also may you, therefore, of all the evils you may find working in your heart, especially beware of spiritual pride and carnal security."
According to the custom of the Baptist churches, he was requested to preach before the Church, and did so, January 9, and February 28, 1740. The result was, that the Church called him to the work of the ministry. His father seems to have thought this rather premature, and wrote to his son as follows:-
"May 21, 1740.
"I am sorry Mr. Wilson is in such a hurry to call you to the ministry. It would have been time enough just before you came away; but supposing it must be so, I think you should not preach in public above once or twice, at most, at your own place, and nowhere else, except Mr. Stennett, or his people, ask you, and if the latter do it, you may serve them as oft as their necessities require. The Lord, I hope, will help you to make a solemn dedication of yourself to him, and enter on the work of the Lord with holy awe and trembling. I hope to get sundry friends in this place to beg assistance for you, and a blessing, on Thursday next."
Thus did he continually. How much may these paternal counsels and fervent prayers have contributed to the eminence and usefulness which marked the career of his beloved Benjamin! Nor were these faithful admonitions and wise counsels confined to what might be regarded as the weightier matters. He deemed nothing unimportant that stood related to the ministry, and might therefore either help or hinder its success.
It appears that Benjamin Beddome, like too many young preachers, fell into a hurried mode of delivery. The result was, that his voice, like a horse with the bit between his teeth, became unmanageable, while the effort of the preacher became painful to the hearer. His father became aware of it, as also of the fact that another evil habit was in process of formation, viz., that of making his sermons too long; and came down upon him with great force, in two loving letters. We take from them the following extracts:
"Bristol, May 17, 1742.
"My dear Benjamin,
"I wish from my heart I could prevail with you not to strain your voice so mnch in the delivery of your sermons; and if you would make them shorter, and less crowded with matter, it would be more acceptable and edifying to your hearers, and more safe and easy for yourself. Strive, then, to comply with this advice, which is given in great aifection, and, I think, with judgment. If you deliver the great truths of the gospel with calmness, and with a soft, mellow voice, they will drop as the gentle rain or dew. For the good of souls, then, and for your own good, be persuaded to strive after this."
"August 6, 1742.
"My dear Benjamin,
"I cannot but advise, and carefully press you, to strive with all your might to soften your voice, and shorten your sermons; for it would be better both for you and your hearers. I say this, not merely from myself, but from many of the most judicious I know. I lately heard a great man say, that if you could deliver the matter you produce in the same manner as Mr. Evans, you would be more popular and useful than ever you are likely to be if you retain your harsh mode of speaking. Mr. Grant, not four days ago, said the same things in other words; and I well know, that those of your people, who have the best sense, (i.e. common sense) have said to several, that if you would strain yourself less, and shorten your sermons, it would be better for all. What all say, give ear to. Of one discourse I beg you will make two, and so take care of your health and comfort. Let two hours be the longest time you spend in the pulpit at any place. This I leave as my special charge; and as I write with all the love and tenderness of a father, I hope you will consider these things."
Benjamin Beddome had probably read before he left home the fifth verse of the one-hundred-and-forty-first Psalm, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head ;" and thinking this an opportunity for exhibiting his acquiescence in the sentiment, he largely profited by the kindness of his father; he held his voice with a tighter rein, and applied the scissors to his sermons.
During the period we have now reviewed, Mr. Beddome had repeatedly visited Bourton-on-the-Water, His first visit was paid in the Spring of 1740, and many persons were added to the church during the three years following. During this time his ministerial labours seem to have been divided between Bourton and Warwick. In July, 1743, the church at Bourton invited him to become their pastor. He had now to choose between Bourton and Warwick. Upon this subject his father writes
"As to the continuance of your journeys between Bourton and Warwick, you are the best judge. If your strength will permit, and the people's desire remains strong, and there is a prospect of serving the interests of religion at both places, to my judgment, it may be best to continue some time longer; and if you pray fervently, and commit your way to the Lord, you will see the leadings of his providence. 'The meek will he teach his way.' Take notice of the feelings you are subject to, and the assistance you obtain at each place, and consider where the gospel is most needed and most likely to he received, for that place will yield most satisfaction to a gracious mind. We are not so much to consult our own ease and pleasure, as to honour Him who made us, and promote His interests."
Having received many very pressing invitations from the church at Bourton to become their pastor, he at length acceded to their request, and was ordained September 23, 1743. On that occasion, Mr. Foskett, of Bristol, gave the charge to the pastor, (from 1 Tim. iv. 12. " Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity,") and offered the ordination prayer. Dr. Joseph Stennett preached to the people, from Heb. xiii. 17; and other parts of the service were taken by Messrs Haydon, Cook, and Fuller, of Abingdon. His venerable father was not present on this interesting occasion, owing to his incapacity for travelling, but sent the following letter, expressing the feelings and desires of his heart:
"I should have been glad to have attended your ordination, but cannot. I never expect to travel so far on horseback more. I hope what you are about to take upon you, will be a stimulus to you, to walk more closely with God than ever, and make you more sincerely and simply concerned for the good of the souls of men. I desire, with my whole heart, that an unction of the Holy Spirit may be poured out upon you at the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery; and that your faith therein may be strong."
Our fathers were careful to state clearly, on such occasions, the engagement between the pastor and the church. In this case, a document was drawn up, adopted by the church, and signed by eighteen of its members, in behalf of the whole, on the 16th day of September, 1743. The following is a copy:
"We, the church of Christ meeting at Bourton-on-the-Water, Having solemnly called, and set apart, our beloved brother, Benjamin Beddome, to the office of teaching elder to us, do hereby declare, that we don't intend to bring him under any such special obligation to us; but that if the providence of God calls him elsewhere, or he upon valuable considerations, doth desire his release from us, we will give up our right in him, as if he had never stood in any such relation to us. In witness whereof we have put our hands, &c."
Well, it was something to know that they had not bored his ear through with an awl, and bound him to serve them for ever. It would be possible to get away.
Here it may be well to record the fact, that, shortly before the "fixing of their pastor, Benjamin Beddome," the church at Stowe had become one with the church at Bourton. The transaction is thus recorded:
"Copy of a paper signed by the members of Stowe church, March 19, 1742-3.
"Whereas we, whose names are underwritten, (being formerly members of the Church of Christ meeting at Stowe, commonly known by the name of Baptists,) having by a church act dissolved ourselves, and looking upon ourselves no longer as a distinct church, have also made application to the Church of Christ meeting at Bourton for communion and fellowship with the said church. We do hereby confirm that our application, and profess, that we no longer look upon ourselves as a distinct body; but as members of the said church at Bourton, in conjunction with which we desire to be fed with the sincere milk of the word, and attend upon those ordinances which were instituted as well for the glory of the Redeemer, as the comfort of our souls."
This document is signed by twenty-three persons, male and female, and is followed by articles of agreement between Bourton and Stowe churches:
"1. No longer to look upon themselves as two distinct and separate bodies, but as one church; and as members of that one church, reciprocally to watch over one another, pass church acts, exercise church discipline, &c.
"II. That the minister resident or preaching at Bourton, shall preach at Stowe in the afternoon one Lord's day in the month absolutely, and oftener, if providence order it so that the meeting at Bourton may be supplied at the same time.
"III. That as long as there may be any persons living about Stowe, who cannot comfortably sit down at Bourton and there partake of the ordinance of the Lord's supper, and are desirous to have that ordinance administered at Stowe; it shall be so administered by the pastor of the church at Bourton, at the most expedient seasons, three or four times a year.
"IV. That whenever there may be twenty or thirty members, living nearer Stowe than Bourton, having a prospect of being supplied with an orderly minister of the same perswasion, and desirous of re-embodying themselves; a liberty shall be granted them to renew and keep up a separate church state, as before this union.
"V. That if any persons formerly belonging to Stowe church, shall refuse to comply with this act of that church; and upon proper application, shall persist in their refusal, they shall be looked upon as withdrawing from the communion of the church, and their names expunged out of the list of members, unless they desire their dismission to any other church, which shall be granted them."
We are not surprised to find that this did not give perfect satisfaction. The Stowe people were certainly put upon very low diet. The result was that "after some time Stowe people complaining that one day in the month was not sufficient, and also proposing to raise something independent of Bourton, for the support of the ministry, if another opportunity might be granted them, it was agreed that they should be supplied twice a month. The minister not lessening his labours at Bourton on one of those days."
We must not forget that the "flock" of which Benjamin Beddome had taken "the oversight" was spread over a spacious field. The Church contained about 100 members. They resided at Bourton, Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter, Naunton, Barton, Hawling, Saperton, Clapton, Farmington, Great Rissington, Little Rissington, Burfbrd, Longborough, Dunnington, Swell, Stow, Broadwell, Icomb, Chipping Norton, and Hook Norton. The Church at Bourton was therefore composed of persons residing in twenty parishes - a fact often overlooked in the present day. We rejoice that it is not so now, our neighbours "have no such lengths to go, nor travel far abroad," because this mother-church sees her children rising all around.
When Mr. Beddome became pastor of the Church at Bourton he took up his residence at Lower Slaughter, in the house of Mr. Head, where he continued till September, 1749; but then, as he intended marrying, he removed to Bourton. A dwelling had been provided by his people some years before. "In 1741, the Church resolved to build a dwellinghouse for the use of their minister, there being no convenient one either to be let or sold in Bourton for that purpose." Every item in the cost is carefully recorded, down to "odd things, bread, cheese, beer, &c." The sum total was something more than three hundred and fifty pounds. This sum, with the exception of about forty pounds from a few of Mr. Beddome's personal friends, was raised by the Church and congregation. Mr. Beddome has recorded every subscription (taking great care to preserve the identity of each donor), from "Mr. John Beynolds sen., £45 0 0" to "Molly Hanks, the Mantuamaker 2s. 6d." and " Nanny Strange, Joseph's daughter, 2s."
While Mr. Beddome was thus preparing to be married and settled at Bourton, his father was seeking, with great perseverance to allure him to Bristol. Such was the estimate formed of the value of his labours, that he was warmly solicited to become copastor of the Pithay church, Bristol. On this subject his father addressed many letters to him, one of which will show how earnestly he pleaded with his son:
"October 28, 1748.
"My dear Benjamin,
"I wish from my heart, the Lord would incline you to come to this city. Here you would have a comfortable income, and a better people than you take them to be. They very much desire you, and are willing to make extraordinary efforts for your comfortable support. But my principal reasons, why I so much desire your removal are these:
(1.) It would save a large number of people from sinking.
(2.) My children would be all together.
(3.) It would be a great comfort to your poor mother to sit under your ministry.
(4.) You would have less labour, an honest, good-hearted man to be your partner, much good conversation for your improvement, and an abundant harvest of souls, as well as anywhere else."
"But none of these things moved him." Seven years before this he had recorded his "wish,":
|"My dwelling-place let Bourton be,|
There let me live, and live to thee,"
And he was "in one mind," and none could turn him. In the "wish" named above, he had also said:
|"Let the companion of my youth|
Be one of innocence and truth;
Let modest charms adorn her face,
And give her thy superior grace.
By heavenly art first make her thine,
Then make her willing to be mine."
These conditions appear to have been met in some measure, by Miss Elizabeth Boswell, to whom he was "joined in matrimony," December 21, 1749. She was the daughter of Mr. Richard Boswell, of Bourton, who was a deacon of the Church, and a most valuable man. Had this engagement anything to do with his determination to abide at Bourton? Did Miss Boswell strongly object to quitting the "Golden Valley" for the smoky city? When Mr. Beddome gave her that letter from his father, to read, and, with tears in his eyes, pointed out the reason No 3, involving the comfort of his "poor mother," did she smiling sweetly, say "For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother?" We cannot tell. It is not in evidence; but we cannot help thinking that the Church at Bourton was fortunate in having "specially retained" on their side Miss Boswell, instructed by her father. It was not a light thing, in a secluded village, to have secured for so many years the services of Benjamin Beddome.
And here we must not omit the fact, that prior to this event the chapel became too strait for the congregation, and being "very much decayed in several places, they resolved to pull down a great part of it, and enlarge and repair it." This was done at a cost of £118 15s. 6d. in the year 1748, costing more than the original chapel in 1701. It is pleasing also to perceive that this Church, favoured in the possession of an "able minister," was producing others who were destined to be the pastors of other churches. In 1750, the Rev. John Eyland, after repeated trials of his gifts, was dismissed to the Baptist church at Warwick, to become its pastor; and the Rev. Eichard Haines, to the Church at Bradford, Wiltshire, for the same office there. In addition to these, Mr. John Reynolds, jun., "having been under the care of Mr. Foskett of Bristol," for the increase of his learning, " almost two years, was permitted by the Church to exercise his gift occasionally, till they saw fit to give him a more full and solemn call."
Invitation to London - Second Application. (1750 - 1751.)
In the month of November, 1750, a second attempt was made to induce Mr. Beddome to leave Bourton. Mr. Wilson, his former pastor, had been removed by death, and Mr. Beddome was applied to to become his successor. The following is a copy of their letter:"
"The Church of Christ, in London, lately under the care of the Rev. and learned Mr. Samuel Wilson, deceased, send their salutations to the Rev. Mr. Beddome, pastor of the Church of Christ at Bourton-on-the-water, in the county of Gloucester.
"It is with great sorrow we mourn the loss of our beloved, laborious, and faithful pastor, and the present application is for your removal to London to succeed that excellent man. And this request we make with perfect unanimity, and the most strenuous importunity. The motives inducing us hereto we have stated in the remonstrance to the church accompanying this persuasive letter, and to which we beg leave to refer you, being well assured that those motives will have their due and proper weight. And if our ardent prayers in this case shall meet with success, we are ready to tender you the most unfeigned affection and esteem, with all the assistance and respect in our power.
"In this important crisis we recommend you, Rev. Sir, to the God of heaven, and may you, after many years of increasing usefulness and service to the churches here, be able to face the great Searcher of hearts and say, 'Lord, thou deliverest unto me five talents; behold, I have gained besides them five talents more;' and then may you enter into the joy of your Lord. We are, desiring your favourable answer,
"Rev. Sir, your most affectionate servants,
"In the bonds of the Gospel,
[Signed by five Deacons and thirty Members.]
"Done in our Church-meeting, Nov. 11, 1750."
The Remonstrance referred to above:
"The church of Christ in London, lately under the pastoral care of the Bev. and learned Mr. Samuel Wilson, deceased, send their affectionate salutations to the church of Christ at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. B. Beddome,
"Beloved in the Lord,
"The death of Mr. Wilson will always be considered by you, as well as by us his beloved church, as a very great and general loss - a loss never sufficiently to be deplored. His removal is not from a place of lesser to one of more extensive and apparent usefulness. No! he is gone for ever from our world. And we are well assured that a zeal and concern such as you have for the honour of God, for the purity of his worship, and for the duration, prosperity, and increase of the churches embracing the same faith and order with us, will give an equal fervour to your prayers and ours, that the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls will be pleased to repair the loss and supply the place of our late most excellent pastor.
"The very few learned and popular ministers now among us, compared with the other two denominations, the declining state of several of our churches here, and the carelessness of many professors with respect to themselves and their families, beside other unpromising symptoms, give a most sorrowful prospect to every pious mind, especially if we consider the rising generation, and how much the prosperity of most, and the very existence of many, of our churches in the country depends upon the assistance, reputation, and influence of those in London. We could be much more explicit upon this subject was there occasion, but enough is said to awaken your attention and to afflict your tender sympathising hearts. And though we are sensible of your deserved affection and love for the Rev. Mr. Beddome, your learned and faithful pastor, and how severe the parting stroke would he, yet our present business is to press for his removal to London, with an earnestness suitable to the importance and necessity of the case.
"To ask a minister in the country to leave his church is a most disagreeable task to us, notwithstanding it has, in many instances, been practised with success among all the three denominations here. Nor would we think ourselves warranted in the present case was there now a minister, besides Mr. Beddome, fit and proper in all respects to succeed that eloquent preacher whose death is so justly lamented by all the churches. And we put the merit of this application upon the foot of mere necessity. And were we to wait and see what time would do, our auditory (the most popular amongst us here) would in all probability disperse; the consequence of which must be very dangerous, and may terminate in our total dissolution. This, in all appearance, will soon be the ease with the church late under the Rev. Mr. Dawks's care, though once a church of the greatestpopularity and reputation.
"These considerations, together with the ministerial abilities of one of your own members, will, we trust, have their due weight, when you approach the throne of grace. And we will be solicitors at the same throne, that the removal of your pastor to more important services in the Churches may, in case of such removal, be sanctified, and issue in your greater comfort, establishment and joy. We now submit our case to God, the great disposer of all persons and events, earnestly desiring your favourable sentiments with as much dispatch as the nature of the case will admit. We are &c,
"Done unanimously in Church Meeting, Nov. 11th, 1750."
The following is Mr. Beddome's answer to the letter addressed to him:
"To the Church of Christ in Goodman's Fields, London.
"Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
"The death of your late excellent pastor has filled me with the deepest distress and concern. And though I cannot but rejoice in his personal gain, being no doubt possessed of those glories which he so often and so eloquently displayed, yet I look upon the mournful church, and bleeding interest which he has left behind him, with that sympathy and concern which are due upon such an occasion. I am not, I cannot be a thoughtless and uncompassionate spectator of so moving and afflicting a scene. Besides, I have my share in your loss. You have been bereft of a pastor. I of a faithful instructor and affectionate friend; so that I may join with you in saying, 'My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.'
"The result of this loss is an unanimous call to me to supply his place. A call of the utmost importance to you, as your spiritual welfare is concerned in it, and of the greatest moment to me, as the reproaches of a guilty conscience, either in refusing or complying, are the worst companions I can have both in life and in death.
"As for your plea of absolute necessity - that it is necessary that you should have a minister, I readily own, and heartily pray that God will direct you in your choice. But that it is equally so that I should be the man, I shall never see till I gave a greater opinion of my own abilities, or a much meaner of those of my brethren. Other motives there are for my removal which are considerably weighty and strong. You call me from a Church comparatively mean and laden with debt, to one popular, flourishing, and wealthy. You call me from a country, where I seldom enjoy the advantages of hearing and conversing with my brethren in the ministry, to a city where there are the best of preachers, and those united together by the bonds both of interest and affection. You call me from a Church to which you gave me, to a Church that first received me and called me into the ministry, and for which I still retain the sincerest regard. You call me from a place of little influence, to one of much greater, where you imagine my labours may be more profitably bestowed, and my usefulness much enlarged, and I confess that these are things mostly of consideration.
"So numerous and so liberal a Church demands respect. Your great love to your former minister ought not to be forgotten. Your perfect unanimity in your present case ought not to be slighted, and however it may please God to dispose of me, you have given me such a testimony of your esteem and regard, as I trust I shall ever with the utmost gratitude remember. But then, on the other hand, I am forced to consider that I am solemnly ordained over a people who have in general treated me with the greatest affection, and many of whom have been the seals since I came amongst them - that they have for a long time before heen unsettled and divided, but are now, through divine mercy, harmonious and united - that my labours have been, and are still, in a measure, blest unto them, above a hundred having been added since my first coming amongst them, and four having proposed this month, in short, that their hearts seem as much engaged to me as ever, and they will do what they can to make my stay comfortable; and if 'tis otherwise 'tis not for want of a will but of a power. To which I may add, that I very much ascribe my recovery from a late dangerous illness to their affectionate care and unwearied supplications. I say, when I consider these things, I am in a great strait. I cry to God for direction, but what way I shall take, I know not.
"My present determination seems to be entirely to refer myself to the church's disposal. I have therefore laid your letter before tnem. I opened your pressing importunities with the utmost sincerity, at the same time desiring them both publicly and privately to entreat guidance from him who hath power over all spirits, and can turn them as the rivers of water are turned. I have also pressed them to avoid all prejudice and passion, and after a month's time taken to consult God and one another, to return you such an answer as shall appear most equitable and consistent with their duty.
"When I reflect upon my past services, and how I have been amongst them, in weakness and fear, and much trembling, I not only wonder at that degree of acceptance I have met, but think that a change in their ministry might probably cause a happy alteration in their circumstances. But then, for the same reason, I tremble at the thought of accepting a call to succeed such a man, and in such a place, where I am conscious much prudence, great courage, and superior abilities of every kind, are required. However, I would in this affair have no will of my own. I would throw myself wholly upon providence, and begging an interest in your warmest addresses at the throne of grace, refer you to the church's answer, which you may expect to receive at the before-mentioned time.
"I remain, your affectionate though unworthy brother in Gospel bonds,
The Church took a month, to consider the matter, sought the Lord both publicly and privately, and then came to an unanimous determination (nem. con.) to send them a negative answer. This answer was ordered to be drawn up by the brethren, John Reynolds, John Reynolds, Jun., and Richard Boswell. When read, it was approved, signed, and sent. It reads as follows:
"The Church of Christ at Bourton, to the Church lately under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Samuel Wilson deceased.
"Beloved in the Lord,
"We, having received your letter, cannot but sympathise with you on account of your great loss - a loss much to be deplored by every pious heart, and especially by you who have lost so valuable a pastor. We can assure you that we are greatly concerned at the death of the Rev. Mr. Wilson, and cannot but, with a concern for God's honour, his worship, &c, join with you in earnest prayers to the great Shepherd of Israel, that he would in his own due time supply the loss of so valuable a minister and pastor, though unknown to most of us. As to the representation you gave of the too general state of religion in London, we must condole with you; and, indeed, we find a like remissness in the country, which certainly affords a very dismal and gloomy prospect to every considerate mind.
"It is much, indeed, to be desired that there were more learned and popular ministers in London, and the more so by reason of what the Churches in the country receive from thence. And as for us, though through the goodness of Providence, we have been able to subsist as yet without being burdensome, yet we heartily join with those who have met with relief, in acknowledging the generosity and charity of our friends in London who have afforded it. And we hope that the Lord as he raised up your late pastor, and settled him with you, so he will now also raise you up another, for the honour of his name and your abundant satisfaction, with out your being driven to such extremes as to deprive another Church of its pastor. And, although you are in your letter pressing for Mr. Beddome's removal hence to London, yet we apprehend the very arguments you make use of to enforce this (such as the Church's necessity, the fear of its dispersing, or perhaps of its total dissolution), would if impartially and duly considered, more strongly plead for his still abiding with us. And the more so from the considerations following. Our great love and esteem for this our learned and faithful pastor would make the parting stroke very severe and unsupportable, so that, if there were no other reason than this - this would restrain us from giving our assent to his removal. But when we reflect upon our past situation, that there has been a professing people in this parish, and the parts adjacent, for 150 years, formerly called Puritans, and since Baptists and Independents, in which time there has been the loss of divers ministers and pastors, and many of us now remember the death of two or three which were very eminent and valuable men. When we also consider, that before our present settlement, we were destitute for many years, and notwithstanding our many cries to Almighty God, he was pleased to withhold direct answers to prayers till at length he graciously raised up, eminently qualified, and unexpectedly sent, our dearly beloved and Rev. pastor, Mr. Beddome, to become our pastor. When we add to this, that his endeavours bave been wonderfully blest for the restoring decayed religion, the increasing our Church with members, and the raising up gifts for the help of other Churches, some of which are fixed as pastors. Nor can we help adding that God lately visited our pastor, and brought him down to the gates of the grave - hereby shewing us that this treasure was but in an earthen-vessel, when we, following our ancient course, cried unto God, and he graciously restored him again to health, and we hope to former usefulness, insomuch that several persons have lately proposed to the Church for communion, who were wrought upon under his ministry.
"On these accounts, we say, and others too tedious to mention, we cannot but look upon him as an answer to our prayers, both when first given and when again restored after his illness. And answers of prayer are sweet and valuable mercies: and shall we act a part so ungrateful to a gracious and bountiful God, so injurious to ourselves, our families, and to others round about us, as to give up this valuable mercy? Has God answered our prayers, and shall we let go the answer? This, we apprehend, would be very provoking to God. On these accounts we cannot consent to his removal, but must, till we see occasion to alter our minds, absolutely refuse it. Yet, though we cannot comply with your request, we have both publicly and privately remembered your case, and shall still continue to meet you at the throne of grace, to beg that God, the great Shepherd of Israel, and Bishop of Souls, would qualify and send you a minister and pastor after his own heart, to your abundant joy and satisfaction.
"We remain, your brethren in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel,
"Deacons: John Reynolds, sen., Joseph Strange, Richard Boswell, [And thirty-seven Male members.] "Signed at our Church-meeting, December 16, 1750, in the behalf, and by the consent of the whole Church."
Not content with this answer, the Church in London addressed a second letter to the Church at Bourton, of which the following is a copy:
"Beloved in the Lord,
"We are favoured with Mr. Beddome's letter of the 22nd of November, in answer to ours of the 11th of that month, sent to him, wherein he is pleased to state several motives or reasons, as well for, as against the removal we solicit; and then, with a proper caution, adds, 'when I consider these things I am in a great strait, I cry to God for direction, but what way I shall take I know not. My present determination seems to be entirely to refer myself to the church's disposal.'
"We have also your letter of the 16th of December, in answer to ours of the 11th of November, sent to you, and therein we are favoured with your particular reasons or objections against Mr. Beddome's leaving Bourton. And then you are pleased to say 'on these accounts we cannot consent to his removal, but must, till we see occasion to alter our minds, absolutely refuse it.' It is a maxim in the religious, as well as in the civil life, that the service of all is to be preferred to that of a part. No man ever said that the interest of one member is of equal importance with that of society in general.
"Having thus premised, we beg leave to assert that the great question in this case is, whether the prosperity of the churches in general of our faith and order, or that of the church at Bourton singly, is to be preferred. For in the present application, we have motives that extend much farther than our own personal advantage. We are well persuaded that Mr. Beddome, if settled in London, would be ornamental and serviceable in the common cause of religion in a far greater degree than his present retired situation can possibly admit. And we propose this removal with earnest hopes of seeing Mr. Beddome a celebrated minister of the New Testament of Jesus; giving proper weight and significancy to an interest too freely reproached by some among the Dissenters, as well as the National Church. And therefore the necessity of preserving an able and learned ministry here is apparent. In this view of the matter we hope you will see occasion to alter your minds, especially when it is considered (and we beg it may), that in all you have urged against Mr. Beddome's removal, the separate interest of Bourton and its neighbourhood is alone taken into the scale.
"We have put the merits of our case upon the head of mere necessity, and we still rest it there; because there is not (excuse the repetition) a minister besides Mr. Beddome fit and proper in all respects to supply the place, and repair the loss of Mr. Wilson, considered in his public character as an eminent servant of Christ, though unknown to most of you. And hereupon we say, Mr. Beddome's removal to London is necessary for the protection and advancement of the interest in general. Now, if the plea of necessity be made use of in favour of his continuance in the country, it can only respect the village of Bourton and its neighbourhood. If the argument of necessity was urged as between the church at Bourton and a single church in London, without regarding the general interest, even then Mr. Beddome's abilities would, as we apprehend, promise greater service here, than in a place of comparative obscurity. And the preference of the greater to the less, if applied to this case, carries with it a force and conviction not to be resisted.
"The general interest is strongly connected with the churches here, and the weight and influence of those churches will be more or less in proportion to their numbers, and the abilities of their ministers. If the people here, for want of a suitable ministry, are inclined to disperse, there are above forty other congregations in a very small compass ready to receive them. Now, is the case of Bourton the same with that of London in these respects? Who sees not the difference? You are pleased to acquaint us, that before your present settlement you were destitute for many years. But will it therefore be supposed, that a church in London can survive the same difficulties? Whence arises your fear of a dispersion or dissolution, upon Mr. Beddome's removal? Have you not now amongst yourselves a gentleman (John Reynolds, Junior) of very promising abilities in the ministry? Are not the generality of our ministers more suited to a country than a city life? Is there, can there possibly be, the same necessity for a learned and popular ministry in a country town as in London? And we beg leave to say, that your objection, proceeding from the love and esteem you have for Mr. Beddome, respects not the general interest, and operates by way of constraint upon his usefulness here.
"The lot is in the lap, but the disposal is of God. We, who see as through a glass, darkly, pretend not to say that Mr. Beddome's removal to London will, at all events, answer the great design we have in view. It is sufficient for us if the probability is on our side. And we have the most convincing evidence that it is so, because his labours, as you very well know, have been wonderfully blest for the restoring of decayed religion, the increasing of the Church with members, and the raising up gifts for the help of other churches, some of which are already fixed as pastors. And the continuance in life of so eminent a servant of Christ is a blessing of great account in the common cause. We doubt not that you look upon Mr. Beddome as an answer of your prayers, both when first given and when again restored after his illness: and answers of prayer for Zion's prosperity are sweet and valuable mercies. But think not, sirs, that a minister, richly adorned with gifts and graces, and remarkably qualified for extensive service, is one of those mercies that you can keep or we can take. If Mr. Beddome, upon a strict and unbiassed view of the whole case, after mature deliberation and fervent prayer, shall be of opinion that it is his duty to accept the present call, he will then for himself determine in our favour, nor will the reluctance on your part eventually stand in his way.
"The freedom with which we have treated this subject is suitable to its importance. We have done our duty, and are presenting incessant prayers to the God of Israel for your prosperity and for that of all the churches, as well as for ourselves. We thank you for your kind expressions to us, and to the interest in general. We desire the continuance of your prayers, and those of your beloved pastor. And we beg the favour of his final answer, with your sentiments upon the case as it now stands.
"We are, beloved in the Lord, (with great affection) your brethren in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel.
"Done, unanimously, in our Church Meeting, Feb. 3, 1750-1, and signed by us, by order of the whole church, and in their behalf:
"Thos. Moss, John Manypenny. John Hattersly, Thos. Coles, Timothy Edwards.
This second application called forth a reply from the Church at Bourton, drawn up by the same brethren as the former, and read, approved, and signed, on Lord's Day, Feb. 24th. At the same time the pastor read his answer to the said letter, for which being also in the negative, the church expressed their thankfulness. We give them both in extenso, the church's first, and then the pastor's:
"Beloved in the Lord,
"We received your letter of the third of February, wherein you are pleased to renew your solicitations for Mr. Beddome's removal from hence to London, and to advance some things as motives or reasons, in order to give weight to your application. Your case is indeed distressing; but we are sorry you should desire, much more endeavour, to deprive another church of its fixed pastor, in order to repair the distressing loss of your worthy minister deceased. Is your distress great because you are not settled, and shall that be a reason why you should involve others in the same distress and sorrow you now feel, in order to extricate yourselves? Suppose another church, more numerous than yours, being bereaved of its minister, had made application for your late dear and Rev. pastor, Mr. Wilson, how kindly would you have received such proposal, or how would you have treated such a solicitation? You are pleased to say, that 'it is a maxim in the religious, as well as civil life, that the service of all is to be preferred before that of a part.' And you proceed largely to apply this to the present case, and think that Mr. Beddome would be more extensively useful in London than in the country, with other things of the like nature. But, sirs, are not the abilities of ministers from God? And is it not from him, too, that their fruit is found? When they are useful, is it not God that makes them so? Has not Jesus his stars in his hand, and is it not from him they receive their brightness and lustre? And what if he appoint some to shine in dark corners of the world? Does not their light seem rather more to be needed there than where it has pleased him to fix a constellation? Indeed, you acknowledge that you don't pretend to say that Mr. Beddome's removal will at all events answer the great design you have in view, and that it is sufficient for you that the probability is on your side.
"But how will you prove that the probability is on your side ? Will you do it from the wonderful success that has usually attended ministers that have left those that God has given to their charge? We are satisfied, we need not point out to you particular instances, these being many and apparent, wherein the contrary has been the case, notwithstanding there have been many and raised expectations. This, indeed, you now leave out, with good reason, though we had some distant hint of it in your former letter. The argument you bring to shew, that the probability of greater usefulness is on your side, seems to be drawn from Mr. Beddome's success at Bourton. And you are pleased to say that this is a most convincing evidence that it is so. But how does this appear if not, as has been hinted, from the success which usually attends such removals. Indeed, if ministers are brought to leave those places which God has appointed them, what foundation is there to expect that their usefulness should be continued? Usefulness consists not barely in preaching to a very great auditory, but in honouring religion by serving God and our generation in that post in which he sets us.
"We hope, we desire carefully to observe the directions, and submit to the disposals of Providence, but we cannot see that Providence directs to this; viz., that we should give up our beloved minister and pastor, whom God has graciously given us, as we trust in answer to our prayers, and whom he has made remarkably useful amongst us. And as God does, we hope, continue his usefulness, we cannot but think that it is his will that he should still continue amongst us. You are pleased to say that the general interest is strongly connected with the interest in London, &c. But whilst we acknowledge with gratitude, the help our country friends receive from thence, we hope it will be also remembered, that if the churches in London rob those in the country of their ministers, they pull down with the one hand more, perhaps, than build up with the other. If the churches in the country must lose their ministers, whom God has fixed over them, and whom they dearly love, is not this the way to stir up animosities and divisions, which either may terminate in their dispersion, or reduce those to a state of dependence, who, as yet, are independent?
"You enquire whence arises our fear of a dispersion or a dissolution upon Mr. Beddome's removal, &c. But we beg leave to suggest that you might well ask yourselves whence your fear of the like arises. You cannot plead the want of supplies, because you have plenty and in general agreeable ones. And we have been credibly informed with sufficient evidence, that the dispersing of churches in London has been rather owing to a bad settlement than to the want of a minister.
"Upon the whole, not to be too tedious to you, we must declare, that we are so far from altering our minds with respect to Mr. Beddome's removal, that we must absolutely refuse it. Nor, upon a review of the whole case, can we think that this our refusal is inconsistent with a proper concern for the interest of religion in general, or that sincere love which we hope we bear towards you as a Church of Christ, and the desire we have of your happiness and welfare. We desire a continuance of an interest in your prayers at the throne of grace, and we hope we shall be enabled, with fervency and sincerity, to pray not only for the interest of Christ in general, but also that the God of Jacob, and the Shepherd of Israel, would settle a pastor over you to your joy and satisfaction.
"We are, Beloved in the Lord, your affectionate Brethren in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel,
"In behalf of the whole: John Reynolds, Joseph Strange, Richard Boswell, John Reynolds, Junr., John Wood, Jeremiah Cresser, Henry Collet, and others."
"Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
"Herewith you receive our Church's answer to your last, and I can assure you that I neither influenced them in their consultations about it, nor had any hand in drawing it up. I rather acted as your advocate, in making the best of your arguments, and setting them in the clearest and strongest light I thought they would bear. The Church, then, having after mature deliberation and fervent prayer, thought fit again to return you a negative answer, I cannot but acquiesce in it, and that for the following reasons: - I cannot think that a minister firmly settled with a people, and rendered useiul amongst them, can lawfully leave them without their consent, unless there be something on their side, - such as want of love, a wilful deficiency in their contributions, divisions, dissensions, or the like - to warrant such a removal. And herein I have the greatest writers on church government on my side; for though many have unwarrantably removed from their people, yet few, or none, have dared publicly to vindicate or defend such a practice. The judicious Dr Owen declares that such removals only are lawful, which are with the free consent of the churches concerned, and the advice of other churches or their elders with whom they walk in communion. And though he observes that in the early ages of Christianity, when some churches were increased in numbers, reputation, privileges, and wealth above others, it became an ordinary practice for the bishops to design and endeavour their own removal from a less unto a greater benefice; yet this was so severely interdicted in the Council of Nice, that they would not allow that a man might be a bishop or presbyter in any other place, but only in the church wherein he was originally ordained. And, therefore, decreed, that if any did so remove themselves, they should be sent home again, and there abide, or cease to be church officers.
"I have also had an opportunity, since my last, of consulting many of my friends in this part of the country, both ministers and others. And I have recieved letters from others at a remoter distance, and those persons of great judgment and distinguished piety, who, almost with one voice, declare it to be my duty to stay with my people, unless they will freely consent to my departure. To this I may add, that few such removals have really produced the advantages which have been expected. I shall only instance in the case of the Rev. Mr. Matthew Henry, whose memory is so precious in the churches of Christ. He left Chester where God made him eminently useful, to serve the church at Hackney. The consequence was, that the church at Chester has heen dwindling ever since, and Mr. Gardener's hearers are, if I am rightly informed, hardly so numerous as Mr. Henry's communicants were; and I never heard of any remarkable success that attended his ministry afterwards, though he continued very laborious therein to the last.
"If the prospect of greater usefulness is in itself a sufficient plea for the removal which you press, then it would be impossible for churches of a lower rank ever to be secure of the continuance of their pastors; nay, this principle would justify all the removals that ever had heen made, or, perhaps, ever may be made, for this has always heen professed to be the governing view, though, in some cases with what sincerity I will not take upon me to determine.
"To say no more under this head, I observe that the learned Dr. Gill, in his funeral sermon for your late excellent pastor, has entirely left out the prospect of greater usefulness, among the motives which he looks upon as sufficient to authorise the removal of a pastor from one place to another. With respect to Mr. Reynolds, whom you point out as a fit person to be my successor, he is certainly a very worthy man, and likely to be a very useful minister; and I know no person more fit to serve the people, were I to leave them; but he has been already called by two churches to take the pastoral care of them, and he declares that he would sooner settle with either of them than accept a call from Bourton. So that the church would be absolutely destitute, and might long continue so, were I to remove.
"Were I, therefore, in these circumstances to comply with your call, I greatly fear that such a compliance would neither be so comfortable to you nor me as at a distance you may apprehend. Certainly not to me, as I should act contrary to the dictates of my conscience, which, as I observed in my former letter, is either a very comfortable friend or a most dreadful enemy. I hope I have conducted the whole affair with some degree of uprightness and sincerity, and if my people would have consented to my removal (though I should have had much to sacrifice on account of the great affection I bear them) yet I should then have made no scruple of accepting your call. But, as they absolutely refuse it, the will of the Lord be done. I am determined that I will not violently rend myself from them, for I would rather honour God in a much lower station than that in which he hath placed me, than intrude myself into a higher without his direction.
"I would just observe, that though your invitation hath proved abortive with respect to yourselves, yet it hath proved otherwise with respect to us; in that it hath more firmly united our people together, and stirred them up to pay off a debt of near a hundred pounds, under which they have long and heavily groaned, in which they have happily succeeded. And now, my dear and honoured friends, suffer me to remind you of the words of the evangelical prophet, - 'He that believeth will not make haste.' Do but wait God's time. Your interest is his. Your prayers are gone up before the throne. Let them be continued; and I do not doubt but the Great Head of the Church will provide for you much better than you have yet attempted to do for yourselves. Nor can I think that a small delay (should that be the case) will be so dangerous as you seem to apprehend. You are furnished with acceptable supplies, and the generality of mankind are fond of something new. But suppose the worst, that your auditory should be reduced, Nay, that the church itself should be considerably diminished, God hath once raised you up from a very low estate, and He hath power and goodness sufiScient to do it again. 'Commit, then, your way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.'
"These are my present thoughts of the matter, which I hope you will receive with your usual candour. And as I would not forget you in my warmest addresses at the throne of grace, so let me entreat your reciprocal remembrance of
"Your affectionate Friend and Brother in Gospel bonds,"
Comparatively few ministers are ever called to pass through an ordeal as trying as the one disclosed in the above correspondence, and it may be safely affirmed, that none ever came out with more credit to themselves. By this circumstance, Mr. Beddome's uprightness, disinterestedness, and simplicity, are placed above suspicion. We are not surprised to hear that his people were provoked to love and good works. "Shame and confusion" would have be longed to them, had they failed to love him heartily. They strove, however, with fresh zeal to promote his comfort. And first of all, they determined to get out of debt. This debt was contracted partly by the building of the minister's house in 1741, partly by the enlargement of the chapel in 1748, and partly by "strengthening" the chapel in 1750. To the latter Mr. Beddome refers in the following extract:
"In 1750 an unfortunate circumstance happened, which increased the church's debt, for after we had repaired and enlarged the Meeting-house, the main beams of the galleries being poplar, and plastered in whilst they were too green, they rotted away as also many of the joice. So that there was a great danger of the galleries falling, nay, and of the roof too, which then bore upon the galleries. Upon this new beams and joice were provided, the galleries put a foot back, and their seats raised, and two upright pillars put to support the roof independently of the galleries. The charge of which was £25 6s. 8d."
But the church in Goodman's-fields had not quite forgotten Mr. Beddome. Nor did they regard their case as utterly hopeless. We give the subsequent facts in Mr. Beddome's own words as recorded in the Church-book:
"Dec, 15th. 1751. - Our pastor acquainted us that he had lately received a letter from some of the members of Mr. Wilson's church in London, giving him an account, that by reason of difference among the members of said church, about Messrs. Reynolds and Thomas, some being for one and some for the other; they were likely to be greatly distressed if not broken in pieces, and that both parties would unite in him if he could now consent to leave his people. That this being the only probable method of preventing a breach, they were forced again to have recourse to him. He also acquainted us that last Wednesday, upon desire, he gave Mr. Bull and Mr. Hattersly, the meeting at Burford, who renewed their solicitations, pressing his coming to London, not only from all the arguments before used, but from others taken from the present urgent necessity of their affairs. Our pastor, therefore, desired us to pray over and consider the matter till Wednesday, the 25th instant, when he would call a Church-meeting, and receive our answer, by which at present he intended to be guided."
"Dec, 25th. Returned for answer to said pastor, that we could not see the state of the London church to be so distressed as represented, and that if it was, we could not consent to cast ourselves into the same or greater distress in order to help them."
We have seen that when Mr. Beddome settled at Bourton, in 1743, the Church contained 100 members. In 1751 the number had risen to 180, as reported to the Association, meeting at Tewksbury in that year. The measure of prosperity vouchsafed to the church during the fourteen years following was very variable, as indicated by the letters to the Association. Three years elapsed during which not a single soul was added to the church, viz., 1752, 1753, and 1754. During this period fifteen were lost by death, and three by dismission, reducing their number to 162. Very trying to pastor and people was this period, but
"The Lord can clear the darkest skies,"
and with 1755 came the time of refreshing, twenty two persons were added by baptism. Among these were Mrs. Beddome, Mrs. Patience Kimber, of Burford, Mr. Kyte, of the Upper Mill, Mrs. Mary Kyte, and Elizabeth Wood, of the Folly Farm. In 1759 the church consisted of 160 members, less by two than in 1753. The period of depression which had now set in, continued until 1764, when twenty eight were added by baptism. Many had been lost by death, and the church now contained 183 members, just three more than in the year 1751, being a clear increase of three members in thirteen years.
During all this time, the congregations had been large and increasing. Seed-time and harvest are observable in the church as well as in the world. We must not condemn a man because he is not always reaping, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."
In the year l763 the church enlarged the burying ground, by the purchase of a piece of land for the sum of five pounds, and to increase the available space within the chapel, they "turned the gallery stairs without doors." Mr. John Collet gave the stones for walling in the new ground, and others gave the drawing. The cost of the whole, in money, was about thirty-eight pounds. Of this sum, William Snook, Esq., contributed ten pounds, and Mr. Beddome five pounds.
We have seen our fathers building a new chapel in 1701 [in chapter I, not in these extracts], erecting a house for their minister in 1741, "enlarging and repairing" the chapel in 1748, and strengthening the same in 1750. We must now notice a work which exceeds in magnitude either of the preceding. The following extract from the church-book, will set it clearly before us:
"Oct 10, 1764. We entered upon a subscription for enlarging and rebuilding our meeting house, in which Mr. Snook was the principal actor, and of which he was the most generous promoter. The old meeting-house, though altered and enlarged, was neither convenient nor sufficiently capacious, yet most were contented. However, through the indefatigable application of Mr. Snook, the new building was erected."
The dimensions of this new chapel were forty feet by thirty-five within the walls. The materials of the old chapel were made available as far as possible, or prudent, and exclusive of these, the cost of the new building was £473 14s. l0d. Toward this sum, £69 were received as "Benefactions from abroad." These were almost exclusively from London. Dr. Stennett procured and sent twenty guineas; George Baskerville, Esq., contributed ten guineas, and sent ten guineas more for a friend of his. Of the £404 raised by the church and congregation, Mr. Snook gave £128 7s., i.e., £100, and the pulpit, sounding-board, &c, which cost £28 7s. Mr. Beddome contributed £30, and the rest was raised by smaller subscriptions, ranging from £20 to 5s.
It must not be overlooked, however, that much work was given, as well as money. And but for this the cost of the building would have appeared to be much greater. "Mr. Snook employed his team and servants almost continually. Mr. Boswell sent his team twenty-four days; Dr. Paxford twentyfour days; Mr. Truby five days; Thomas Cresser one day; John Strange six days; Mr. Eadburn two days; Mr. Hurbert six days; Robert Taylor two days; Mr. Bosbery one day; William Wood two days; John Hurbert, labourer, gave a week's work, and John Phillips gave the same with self and horse."
The new chapel appears to have been opened in August, 1765. In that year the Association met at Bourton, and as the new chapel would not be ready at Whitsuntide it was agreed to defer the meeting to Wednesday, August 14th. In the letter to the Association on that occasion, the church says:
"'Tis with pleasure we think of seeing your faces once more in the flesh, and though the unfinished state of our place of worship, and the difficulty of providing suitable accommodation for you in a country village, are some damps to our joy, yet, hoping that your great Lord and Master will make up in spiritual delights what is wanting in outward convenience, we bid you heartily welcome."
Wednesday, August 14th, 1765, became a red letter day in the memory of the "Saints and faithful brethren" at Bourton. And the interest attaching to it, spread far and wide. There were but fourteen churches in the Association, but there was twice that number of ministers present. There were the Rev. Messrs Tommerson, of Cheshire; Sleep, of Eisborough; Wallin, of London; Stanger, of Towcester; Davis, of Fairford; Thomas, of Henley-in-Arden; Knight, of Warwick; Turner, of Birmingham; Ash, of Pershore; Jones, of Upton; George, of Wantage; Darby, of Witney; Overbury, of Tedbury; Francis, of Horsley; Ferriby, of Sodbury; Macgowan, of Bridgenorth; Butterworth, of Bengeworth; Skinner, of Alcester; Woodman, of Sutton; Carpenter, of Middleton Cheney; Hitchman, of Hilsley; Davis, of Campden; Caleb Evans, of Bristol; Butterworth, of Bromsgrove; Thomas, of Leominster; Heydon, of Tewksbury; Whitmore, of Hook Norton; besides Beddome, Reynolds, and Strange, of Bourton. This was no mean gathering for a country village, in an age when railways were unknown. And there was a large congregation of hearers, as well as a great company of preachers. Good Mr. Beddome says, that in addition to vehicles of all other kinds, "there were eleven or twelve post-chaises at our Association," clearly indicating that some had come from places not very near to Bourton.
The period of thirty years, from 1765 to 1795, is not destitute of interest, but, unhappily, the interest of those years is mostly of the mournful kind. The state of things in the country was gloomy and depressing. The price of bread was frightfully high, the result of war and deficient harvests. The poor were familiar with privation and suffering, the bare recital of which makes both our ears to tingle. The very cattle seem to have been visited with unusual disease. Year after year days were set apart for solemn prayer and fasting.
The fasting, indeed, was no new or novel thing to some who engaged in these services. Many such things were with them, and must have been still more, but for the alms given on these occasions. At Bourton chapel, there was invariably a collection for the poor on the solemn fast-day, and the proceeds were distributed principally in money, but some were supplied only with a shilling loaf. Auspicious day, that brought a shilling loaf at nightfall!
But there were "greater things than these," trials more fiery, sorrows more huge. "The ways of Zion mourned." Not that the congregation was "minished and brought low," but the church declined. Few, very few, were added during these years. During the period of thirty-one years, viz., from 1765 to 1795, both inclusive, there were sixteen years in which not a single soul was added to the church by baptism. It was so in the years 1765, 1766, 17G8, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, 1775, 1777, 1783, 1786, 1790, 1791, 1793, 1794, and 1795. It will be seen that there was one period of five years without a single baptism, viz., from 1768, to 1772.
The letters to the Association during this period were most mournful; year after year hope was expressed, until "hope deferred made the heart sick." In 1786 the Association met at Alcester, and Mr. Beddome, for the church, wrote as follows:
"Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ,
"Our harps still hang upon the willows, for though God once smiled on us, and we sensibly experienced his quickening and comforting presence, he now frowns, and we mournfully complain with the Prophet, 'Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself.' In the years 1763 and 1764 we had thirty members added to our community, and thirteen in the year 1766, [Reported to the Association in 1767] but since that we have been upon the decline. So that from 170 we are diminished to about 100 members, none being added, but two removed during the past year. We have once and again mentioned our flattering prospects; but the prisoners, though, we trust, prisoners of hope, don't manifest an inclination to go forth and shew themselves. Notwithstanding this, which is indeed matter of lamentation (and we hope you will sympathize with us, and spread our case before the Lord), yet we have reason to be thankful that our auditory keeps up surprisingly."
During the whole period of thirty-one years, fifty three persons were added to the church by baptism, six were received by letter from other churches, 105 were removed by death, twelve were dismissed to other churches, and two were excluded for immorality.
The result was, that in the year 1795 the church consisted of 123 members: just sixty less than in the year 1764.
In the year 1777, when Mr. Beddome had attained his sixtieth year, it became necessary to procure for him some assistance in his ministerial labours; and the church, at his suggestion, obtained an assistant, or co-pastor, in the Rev. William Wilkins, of Cirencester. This gentleman had studied sometime in the Bristol Academy, and afterward completed his education in Scotland. He entered upon his stated services at Bourton, August 3, 1777, and from that time to Midsummer, 1792, the labours and emoluments of the pastorate were equally divided between him and Mr. Beddome. A plurality of ministers is not always the most conducive to the comfort of the parties most deeply interested. It is, therefore, pleasing to find that for the most part, the pastors in this case laboured together with cordiality and comfort. After Mr. Wilkins, an assistant was found in Mr. Reed. During the period now under review, the church had been deprived of two valuable deacons - Mr. Boswell and Mr. Joseph Strange, and on the sixth of April, 1781, four other brethren were called to that office, viz: William Palmer, James Ashwin, Thomas Cresser, and Edward Reynolds.
If we turn from the church to the domestic circle, we shall find that in addition to that which came upon him daily, in the care of the church, Mr. Beddome was called to endure a great fight of afflictions in his family. In 1757 he was bereaved of his father, and thus lost "an excellent counsellor and a constant friend;" that, however, was an event not unlooked for. In 1765 he was severely tried by the death of his son, John, in his fifteenth year. This loss was, happily, greatly mitigated by the calmness and good hope that attended his early death. But the year 1778 opened with one of the severest afflictions he ever had to endure, in the loss of his son Benjamin, who died of a putrid fever, after a few day's illness, at Edinburgh, January 4th, of that year,in the twenty-fifth year of his age. He had been trained to the medical profession, and very early rose to eminence in his studies. He made himself master of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages, before he went from Bourton to London, and afterwards acquired a competent knowledge of the French and Italian. He was admitted a member of the Medical Society of Edinburgh before the usual time, and took his doctor's degree at Leyden, September 13th, 1777. It is said his inaugural thesis was much admired, as displaying great ingenuity and extensive research. It was on "The Varieties of the Human Species, and the Causes of them." If high endowments, smiling prospects, and numerous and endeared connexions could protect from the shafts of death, he had not died. On the very day his son died (though he had not heard even of his illness), Mr. Beddome preached from Psalm xxxi. 15, "My times are in thy hand; " and, as his custom was for many years to compose a hymn, and give it out to he sung after sermon, he composed for this service and gave out one singularly suited, not only to the sermon, but to his own situation, though he knew it not. This hymn has since hecome precious to many who never knew its history. We give it a place here for its intrinsic value, as well as its interesting associations:
"My times of sorrow and of joy,
"If thou should'st take them all away,
"Nor would I drop a murmuring word
"What is the world with all its store?
"Here perfect bliss can ne'er be found,
After the mournful intelligence had arrived, Mr Beddome, recording these singular and painful events, says, "Alas, how much easier it is to preach than to practise! I will complain to God, but not of God. This is undoubtedly the most afflicting loss I have ever sustained in my family. Heavenly Father! let me see the smiles of thy countenance, while I feelthe smart of thy rod. 'Thou destroyest the hope of man.'"
Six more years had run their round, and he was bereaved of his beloved wife. For thirty-four years she had been the sharer of his sorrow and his joy. Mrs. Beddome died, January 21st, 1784, of a fever, then prevalent in the village. She appears to have been a woman of eminent piety, and amiable disposition; while her patience under suffering excited the admiration of all. Generally beloved while living, her death was deeply lamented. Just completing his sixty seventh year, this must have been a severe trial to the bereaved husband. But before the year had closed, "the clouds returned after the rain." His son, Foskett, fell into the Thames near Deptford, and was drowned, in the twenty-sixth year of his age. He also had been educated for the medical profession. We can readily imagine that he had, during a period of forty years, witnessed the departure of many of his earliest friends at Bourton. Among these none were missed more than the late William Snook, Esq. The very ground of his fixing upon Bourton as his dwelling-place, as he assured Mr. Beddome, was the very great regard he had for him as a friend and a minister. He appears to have been a liberal supporter of the cause of Christ, both at Bourton and in many other places.
In the year 1789 the Association met at Evesham. Mr. Beddome preached on that occasion, the seventeenth time in forty six years. This was the last Association service in which he engaged; and the estimation in which he was held by his brethren, may be inferred from the fact, that he had preached before the Association as many times as the rules allowed.
In 1792 he visited his children and friends in London, where he preached with undiminished acceptance. Infirmities were increasing upon him, still his ministrations were lively and attractive. To preach the word was to him a labour of love. Possessing ample means, he did not continue in the office that he might "eat a piece of bread," but, always liberal, during the last six years of his life he expended all he received from his people on charitable purposes. It was his earnest desire that he might not be long laid aside from his beloved employ, and this was granted; for having for some time been carried to and from the chapel, where he preached sitting, he was confined to the house only one Lord's Day, and was composing a hymn for public worship only an hour before his death. Of this he had actually written the following lines:
"God of my life, and of my choice,
"Thou openedst Jonah's prison doors,
In the immediate prospect of this event, he was calm and resigned, in full assurance of hope. Among his last words were these - "Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?" - "In my father's house are many mansions." Thus he fell asleep in Jesus, September 3rd, 1795, in the 79th year of his age, fifty-five years from the commencement of his ministry at Bourton, and fifty-two years from the period of his ordination. A funeral sermon was preached by his old friend, the Rev. Benjamin
Francis, of Horsley, from Philippians i. 21. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
"We know not to give flattering titles to men," but we are bound to say, that the individual whose life we have now traced to its close was no ordinary man. He was highly respected, and, on the whole, eminently useful. In the Midland Association his influence was great, and most usefully employed. He had the happiness of seeing several members of the church at Bourton enter the Christian ministry, and honourably discharge its onerous duties. The Rev. John Ryland, sen., A.M., was settled at Warwick (in 1750). The Rev. Richard Haines at Bradford, Wilts (1750). The Rev. John Reynolds, AM., in Cripplegate, London (1766). The Rev. Nathaniel Rawlins at Trowbridge (1766). The Rev. Richard Strange at or near Stratton, Wilts (1752), and the Rev. Alexander Payne (place and date uncertain).
Although Mr. Beddome was an indefatigable writer he published but little - his Catechism, in 1752, which he employed at Bourton among adults as well as children, and which was recommended by the Association to other churches, in 1754, and the Circular Letter of 1765, were the only things he thus gave the world. Nevertheless, his fame had passed beyond the Atlantic. So that, in 1770, the Senatus Academicus of Providence College (now Hope University), Rhode Island, conferred on him the title of A.M., as a token of their esteem for his talent and learning.
Since he departed this life he has become more widely known through the publication of several volumes of sermons published from his manuscripts. These have been very highly prized both by episcopalian and nonconformist christians. One volume had reached the sixth edition in the year 1824, and another the fifth in 1831, while in 1835 a much larger volume was published, containing sixty seven sermons. Admired for their evangelical sentiments and practical tendency, they are scarcely less pleasing in the simplicity and clearness of their style. And yet, we must not forget, that the author had not dreamed that they would be given to the public through the press. They were mere channels dug for his thoughts to flow in, skeletons to be clothed with flesh and receive the breath of life as spoken from the pulpit. In the pulpit he is said to have been emphatically at home. And in some sort he was always there, the pulpit was "in all his thoughts." The goal of one duty was the starting point of the next. We are told that he generally selected on the sabbath evening the topics for the discourses of the next.
We have before observed, that for many years he composed a hymn to be sung after each sermon. These, if collected, would fill several volumes. A selection was made from them, and published for the use of the Baptist denomination, in 1818. This volume contains 830 hymns, and is supplied with a valuable "Index of Scriptures," as well as a general index of subjects. These verses will be ever new,
"And sung by numbers yet unborn,|
On many a coming sabbath morn;" [Ransford]
for our "New Selection" (as well as "Rippon's," and many others used by various denominations), is enriched by many a spiritual song having attached to it the name "Beddome." The hymn-book of which we have spoken was ushered into the world by a recommendatory preface by the late Rev. Robert Hall, in which he says:
"Far be it from me to indulge the presumptuous idea of adding to the merited reputation of Mr. Beddome by my feeble suffrage. But having had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with that eminent man, and cherished a high esteem for his memory, I am induced to comply the more cheerfully with the wishes of the Editor, by prefixing a few words to the present publication. Mr. Beddome was on many accounts an extraordinary person. His mind was cast in an original mould. Favoured with the advantages of a learned education, he continued to the last to cultivate an acquaintance with the best writers of antiquity, to which he was indebted for the chaste, terse, and nervous diction which distinguished his compositions both in prose and verse. Though he spent the principal part of a long life in a village retirement, he was eminent for his colloquial powers, in which he displayed the urbanity of the gentleman, and the erudition of the scholar, combined with a more copious vein of Attic salt than any person it has been my lot to know.
"As a preacher, he was universally admired for the piety and unction of his sentiments, the felicity of his arrangement, and the purity, force, and simplicity of his language; all which were recommended by a delivery perfectly natural and graceful. As a religious poet, his excellence has long been known and acknowledged in dissenting congregations, in consequence of several admirable compositions, inserted in some popular compilations. This, however, is the first time the public have been presented with a volume of devotional poetry of his own production. The variety of the subjects treated of - the poetical beauty and elevation of some - the simple pathos of others, and the piety and justness of thought which pervade all the compositions in the succeeding volume, will, we trust, be deemed a valuable accession to the treasures of sacred poetry, equally adapted to the closet and to the sanctuary."
As a pastor Mr. Beddome seems to have been no less excellent than as a preacher. He evidently felt that
"Tis not a cause of small import,|
The pastor's care demands."
In this capacity he evinced great assiduity, tender care, and faithful affection. And the church upheld him in the exercise of a scriptural discipline. Very instructive are the records touching this matter. Fifty years would witness many and various scenes and circumstances to wound the pastor's heart. But discipline was exercised with a beautiful combination of gentleness and firmness. Take the following specimen of suaviter in modo, fortiter in re:
"March 8, 1761. - Took notice of the conduct of our sister Hetty Reynolds, who has absented herself from the house of God for several months, and agreed to let her know, that unless she gave satisfactory reasons for her conduct this day month, we shall proceed against her as directed by the divine word."
Accordingly, Mr. Beddome sent her the following letter:
"March 8, 1761. - Sister Reynolds - The Church over which I am pastor, have this day come to a resolution, that if you do not appear before them this day month, to give an account of your irregular conduct in absenting yourself for so many months from the house and table of the Lord, they shall then take your case into consideration, and proceed as they shall think most for the honour of religion. That you may be convinced of your sin in the neglect of God's worship, and breaches of his Sabbath, is the desire, and shall be the prayer of
"Your grieved pastor, Benjamin Beddome."
"April 4, 1761. - Sister Hetty Reynolds appeared and behaved with a great deal of confidence, and without the least appearance of remorse or sorrow. She pretended to have been offended and injured by some of the Church, and said that she had already, in part, and should conform to the Establishment. After talking very solemnly to her, with which she seemed not at all affected, she was desired to withdraw, and upon her return was told, that having wilfully absented herself for months together, from God's Word and ordinances, and discovering no repentance, but purposing to persist in the same course, she had, in effect, cut herself off from the society, and, therefore we no longer looked upon her as a member thereof - though we should continue to pray for, and whenever the Lord should graciously open her heart, and effectually convince her of her error, there was a door into the Church as well as out of it. Then Mr. Beddome prayed for her, but neither one thing nor another seemed to impress her mind."
Take another instance, with, a somewhat better issue:
"Feb. 3. 175 1. - Brother John Adams, having absented himself from the Lord's-table, and also from public worship, for sometime past. It being also publicly known, that he had frequented ale-houses - mis-spent his time, and acted very imprudently in courting a young girl - the affair was brought before the Church, when our minister certified that he had sent to the said John Adams, and by other methods endeavoured to come to the speech of him, but in vain. It was, therefore, ordered that our brother Richard Edgerton do in the name of the Church accuse him of idleness, tippling, sabbath breaking, and great imprudence in the management of his secular concerns; and tell him that next Lord's day we shall proceed definitively against him, when his presence is required."
"Feb. 10, 1751. - John Adams appeared, and the charges against him were renewed, to which he answered, that as for idleness, it was a thing that he abhorred, and had never be fore been accused of; but that he had been unable to work by reason of a rheumatic pain in his arms. As for tippling, he said that while unable to work, he had frequented the public houses more than formerly, but had sometimes had nothing there but a pint of small beer. With respect to Sabbath breaking, he endeavoured to excuse his absence from public worship by alleging illness, a visit to see his friends round about Chedworth, &c. But it appearing that he was not at Chedworth-meeting, when in that country, and that one Lord's day, when he went up to Stowe, seemingly to attend the service there, he spent the time in an ale-house, instead of at the meeting; as also that he absented himself from Bourton-meeting another Sabbath, of which he could give little or no account, the Church apprehended his excuses to be insufficient. With respect to his imprudent courtship, he said he humbly apprehended, it was not a matter cognizable by the church. He being desired to retire, the Church considered his case.
"As to the first charge, they apprehended his excuse might be sufficient, as to the second they were doubtful, as to the third and fourth, they were of opinion that he deserved censure; but as he behaved modestly and submissively before the Church, and confessed with seeming concern, that it had not been with him of late "as in months past," and that he hoped and wished for a revival - the Church unanimously agreed not immediately to exclude him, but to desire him to withdraw from special ordinances till they can he satisfied to re-admit him to the re-enjoyment of them."
Whatever else may appear in these cases, they clearly shew us that the church looked with tender concern upon the honour of religion, and would not suffer open sin to rest on any member unreproved. They felt that they were a jury who should "well and truly try, and true deliverance make between" their sovereign Lord and Lawgiver and their fallen friends. And they did it, and so doing maintained the honour of the Saviour's name, and strengthened their pastor's hands. Many instances might be given of the happy issue, but we forbear.
We must not, however, suppose that Mr. Beddome was surrounded by none but sympathizing friends in the church and congregation. There were those who dared to oppose and openly withstand him. Before we pass from the period of his ministry, we must give one other "picture" - not of any common occurrence, but of a scene which has no parallel in the history of this church, and we fancy, not in that of many others, at least in modern times.
"Feb. 25th, 1764. - At the desire of one or two friends Mr. Beddome preached from Rev. i. 10. "I was in the spirit on the Lord's-day " He meddled with the change of the Sabbath as little as he could to do justice to his text. He did not assert that the Christian Sabbath was intended, but only said that it was generally supposed to be so, assigning some reasons for it. When he had done, before singing, Jonathan Hitchman, of Notgrove, stood up in the face of the whole congregation and opposed him. He asked several questions, and made some objections, to which Mr. Beddome answered; but finding there was no likelihood of being an end, he at length told him that his conduct was both indecent and illegal - and that it was no wonder that he, who had so little regard to the Lord himself, as to deny his divinity, and set aside his righteousness, should have as little regard to his day. He replied, he knew no other righteousness of Christ than obedience to his gospel - to which Mr. Beddome answered, that Christ's righteousness was not our obedience to the gospel, but his own obedience to the law. And so the dispute ended."
Great excitement must have been occasioned by this incident. Strange tales would no doubt be told of the scene at the chapel. Had we looked in on that day we might have seen "the village in an uproar." Now all have passed away, let us hope that Jonathan Hitchman did not retain his mistaken views of the righteousness of Christ. Some years after, Mr. Beddome recording the death of Mrs. Hitchman says " She was a good woman, a savoury Christian, and not at all tainted with her husband's views."
* * *
Mr. Wilkins's connection with the church terminated at Midsummer, 1792. This was his own act, of which he gave the church notice in December, 1791. "My reasons," said he, "no one needs to ask who reflects, nor shall I give them any farther; 'tis not without reluctance I have come to this decision." We will not, therefore, enquire into the causes of uneasiness, for if we did, we should get no answer.
* * *
On the 1st of October, 1812, the Rev. William Wilkins was suddenly removed by death. He died at Bourton in the sixtieth year of his age, having been a minister of the gospel nearly 40 years. After the close of his ministry at Bourton, he preached for some years at Cirencester, and during the last few years of his life, had regularly supplied Stowe and Naunton.
Jonathan Hitchman, who caused the row in church on Feb. 25th, 1764, may have been a Seventh Day Baptist.
© Jo Edkins 2015 - Return to Beddome index