Two Calvinistic Methodist Chapels 1743-1811 the London Tabernacle and Spa Fields Chapel. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1975.
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Mr Wills declared his willingness to secede and his grounds for secession, being really a dissenter from principle, in proof of which he refused a living in the Church because he could not in conscience take the oath and subscribe the declaration required of those who accept of any preferment in the Church, namely that all and every part of the church service has his full assent and consent: there being several particulars in his judgment very objectionable—for instance in the baptismal office, where the minister gives God thanks that the baptised child is regenerated, etc. And in the burial service where he is obliged to express a sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection, be the character of the deceased what it may. Mr Wills said further he could not consent to be under canonical jurisdiction, which obliges every parochial minister to yield obedience to the bishop of his diocese, who might, and probably would, restrain him from that liberty he wishes to enjoy of preaching the gospel about the country.
Mr Oldham engaged to accompany Mr Wills, and Mr Sylvester promised to acquaint Mr Wills when the quarter sessions would end at Hicks Hall. (fn. 1)
In consequence of your Ladyship's last letter and Mr Wills's coming to town we had a special meeting of the whole committee last night together with Mr Wills, begun and ended with our united prayers that the great head of the Church would direct and bless us in the solemn and important business which we were convened to deliberate and consult upon. Mr Wills made us happy in giving us the most satisfactory proof that he can on solid grounds and for conscientious reasons secede from the Church; and still more happy that being assured in his own mind the cause of God is evidently carrying on in this chapel, and the persecuting spirit of our adversaries rendering secession the only security we can have from such continued opposition, he is quite willing to stand forth and alone to give up reputation and every other consideration whatever; since it appears that the glory of God and the support of his cause in this place require such a sacrifice at his hands. And we can assure your Ladyship that our hearts are with him unanimous: and, as far as we know the inclinations of the people, no minister that has ever preached at the chapel would be more if so acceptable. There does also appear to be a peculiar providence in his having been hitherto exempted from those spiritual court proceedings which have been commenced and too successfully carried on against others; as if he was reserved on purpose for us.
174. The result of our meeting was that Mr Oldham with Mr Wills would consult a gentleman learned in the law as to the proper and legal method of seceding, as well as the practicability of a clergyman taking such a step; and when the mode is clearly pointed out Mr Wills is determined to pursue. We all enjoin ourselves secrecy [f. 17v.] and hope the great business will be finished before it gets abroad.
I should have told your Ladyship Mr Wills preached an excellent and sweet evangelical sermon on Sunday morning from Micah 5, 2, (fn. 2) in which he comforted us by assuring us the Lord would never be at a loss for fit instruments to carry on his own work. He would raise up if needful 'seven shepherds and eight principal men'. (fn. 3) This naturally brings me to mention dear Mr Wollaston, one of the principal of our principal men, who is gone to glory. Will your Ladyship please to nominate a successor to fill up the vacancy? Perhaps you have thought on one who may be an help to us, a supporter to the cause of Christ and an ornament to the Christian profession. Such a coadjutor would be highly acceptable to us. We wrote Mr Beale to remit the remainder of their collection to Mr Oldham: in the next frank we send will return you his letter.
It is glorious news you tell us of the success of the gospel in Wales, Bath and Bristol. May it run, have free course and be glorified both in town and country! And that your Ladyship may see yet more glorious days of the son of man than ever you have seen is the prayer of, Honoured Madam,
All the committee except Mr Baker signed a requisition to the bishop of London to register the chapel as a dissenting meeting house: (fn. 4) and Mr Wills, having qualified himself at the quarter sessions at Hicks's Hall on Saturday the 12th, signed the same and the chapel was accordingly licenced the same day.
Mr Hodson being informed by Mr Wells of Vineyard Walk near the chapel of some very gross indecencies committed by Mr Morris Hughes, one of the committee, namely that at a chimney sweeper's, at Mr Mitchel the baker's, Mr Thorpe plumber, and Mr Field cabinet-maker, he had in a shameful manner exposed his person under pretence of being made free as he called it; which facts Mr Hughes had confessed to the said Mr Wells and Mr Watherill and for which he had been stigmatised by two publications in the General Advertiser, and threatened by Mr Wells to be taken before a magistrate—Mr Hodson hearing all this today, went in the evening to Mr Lyon and they together went to Mr Wills and sent for Mr Watherill, when it was agreed to desire Mr Hughes not to appear at the chapel tomorrow; and to summon a special meeting of the committee for Monday evening, at which Mr Hughes should be required to attend.
Mr Watherill related particularly the abovemention'd facts concerning Mr Hughes, and some others which seemed to border a little upon insanity, such as his playing at blindmans-buff with the boys in the neighbourhood, and making a barber's boy thrust his curling irons up his nostrils to make his nose bleed, etc., etc. [f. 18v.] Mr Hodson then read the paragraphs in the General Advertiser. Mr Hughes did not attend, having been advised to go out of town.
Resolved, That Mr Morris Hughes, having been guilty of practices shamefully indecent, unbecoming a man, much more a Christian, and which are become of public notoriety, is a very unfit and improper person to continue a member of this committee, and that he be no longer a member.
4. That the secretary write to Lady Huntingdon, desiring her Ladyship's authority to erase Mr Morris Hughes's name out of the power of attorney given by her Ladyship to the committee, and her permission to chuse another committee man in his room.
We also make it our united and earnest request that you withdraw yourself entirely from this chapel: and we recommend it to you to retire to some considerable distance from the metropolis, and there spend the remainder of your days.
And oh! pray fervently to the God of all grace, that he may humble you deeply under a sense of that sin, which thus awfully cuts you off from a church of Christ on earth; and that he may give you power over every besetting sin for the future, so that you may not live and die deceiving yourself with a false hope, and at last be excluded eternally from the church of Christ in heaven.
Since dear Mr Wills has been settled over us and we have been relieved from outward persecution, the enemy of souls has tried a new and much more dangerous stratagem in order to undermine and, if possible, overthrow the blessed work of the Lord carrying on in Spafield chapel. It is impossible, our Lord tells us, but offences will come; but how will your Ladyship's heart be grieved to hear they come from one of your committee! and from no other than Mr Morris Hughes: who has fallen into shocking indecencies of conduct, not fit for your Ladyship's ear to hear the particulars of. Last night we had a special meeting on this occasion, at which Mr Wills was present, when it was unanimously resolved: that Mr Morris Hughes ought by no means to continue a member of your Ladyship's committee, and that therefore your Ladyship be requested to order his name to be erased out of the power of attorney, and to authorise us to chuse another for your Ladyship's approbation in his room. Mr Hughes was desired to attend at this meeting, but the facts wherewith he is charged, tho' not as we know of that malignity for which the city where Lot dwelt was infamous; yet are so odious and of such public notoriety that it was judged prudent for him to retire somewhere into the country. The [f. 20r.] adversaries know and the adversaries triumph.
181. The best cordial we have to offer your Ladyship after such melancholy news, and which is really a cordial, is that the great master of assemblies honours us with his presence and evidently blesses the labours of his faithful and dear servant Mr Wills, whose benevolent heart in tender compassion to poor lost immortals has turned the Tuesday night's society into a preaching night, and thrown open the doors to admit all persons indiscriminately, tickets or no tickets. Last Tuesday was the first of these jubilee nights, when a great number attended, and the text was 'Compel them to come in.' We hope multitudes will have reason to bless God to all eternity for this free gospel. And may the adorable redeemer shower down abundant blessings on your Ladyship; on the seminary of learning under your patronage, and on all the ministers stated and itinerant in your Ladyship's Connection.
More than a month ago my brethren of the committee desired me to acknowledge the receipt of your Ladyship's kind and affectionate letter, and to acquaint you that in pursuance of your Ladyship's direction we made choice of a brother to fill up Mr Morris Hughes's place in the committee. But I was taken with a fever the 28th September which prevented me executing my office of secretary, and of which I am not perfectly recovered yet. I beg therefore your Ladyship will not attribute this appearance of neglect to the committee as they desired me to write immediately after we had made our election, and I believe none but Mr Lyon knows that I have not wrote.
The person on whom our choice fell, after long and mature deliberation, and I humbly hope under the Lord's guidance, is Mr George Towers, a truly gracious man and of a benevolent public spirit, zealously attached to the cause of Christ in general and this chapel in particular, and ready on all occasions to promote it. Was your Ladyship acquainted with him I doubt not you would rejoice at the vacancy being thus filled up.
183. Concerning the affairs of the chapel I have no need to write your Ladyship, as dear Mr Wills has been so lately with you; only I beg leave to observe to your Ladyship that it seems to give general satisfaction to the people attending [f. 21r.] the chapel that his absence was not longer. We are happy under his lively ministry, and his dear heart delights in his blessed master's work, which I trust, by the large congregations we have, prospers in his hands. But your Ladyship knows Mr Wills is not of the most athletic constitution, and the Lord's day service of our chapel is very spending; we therefore are very desirous of having a person to read prayers, not doubting but while we are blest with Mr Wills for a pastor we shall be very well able to pay a reader a modest salary such as will be satisfactory for that service. We hope for your Ladyship's concurrence in this matter, which I can venture to assure you will be very acceptable to the congregation in general, and which I suppose was mentioned to your Ladyship by Mr Wills, the committee having desired him to tell your Ladyship how agreeable it would be.
With respect to inferior concerns I have only to tell your Ladyship that we have painted the outside of the chapel and house; that is the windows, doors, railing, etc.; judging it necessary for the preservation of the wood and ironwork. And may our adorable Immanuel beautify the inside with his divine presence in his ordinances continually! With our united prayers for your Ladyship and requesting to be remembered in yours, we remain, Honoured Madam,
Joel Abram Knight (fn. 5)
The business began with singing the 1st and last verses of the 112th hymn. (fn. 6)
Revd Mr Taylor opened the business of the day, in which was introduced an exhortation to the candidates for the ministry, considered as shepherds, ambassadors and watchmen. He concluded with reading the 16 first verses of the 33d chapter of Ezekiel.
Revd Mr Wills in a full, clear and explicit manner justified the steps which had been taken by himself and Mr Taylor in the act of secession, and very ably vindicated the present mode of ordination, and their right and authority, according to the scriptures, to ordain. And then called [f. 22r.] upon each student, according to seniority, to declare something of his christian experience, and to give his reasons for wishing to take upon himself the office and work of the ministry; which was respectively complied with.
Mr Beaufoy then spoke of his experience, and the work of grace which had passed upon his soul, also of his call to the ministry, and his choice of Lady Huntingdon's Connection preferably to any other, because of the liberty it gives to preach the gospel more extensively, which was his heart's desire. After which were sung the 2d and 3d verses of the 128th hymn.
Mr Cannon now very feelingly delivered an account of his conversion, towards which afflictions were made very instrumental, and declared his call to the ministry constrained him to quit his secular occupation and go to Lady Huntingdon's college; and though he had been educated a bigotted churchman some parts of the service for baptism and the burial of the dead had induced him to change his sentiments and leave the church. The two last verses of the 76th hymn were sung.
Mr Johnson next got up and gave evident marks of his having had a work of grace upon his heart and a real call to the ministerial office, and then the congregation joined in the last verse of the 129th hymn.
186. [f. 22v.] Mr Green spake of his deep experiences and the uncommon buffetings of Satan, also of God's leadings and dealings, very affectingly and with great precision. He had some awakenings at six years old, but afterwards became an Arminian, and was even suffered to fall into Deism: and it was through much distress of soul he was at last brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The 2 first verses of the 229th hymn were sung.
Mr Knight was the junior student of the six, and he briefly declared his conversion and that his appointment to the ministerial office was unsought for on his part, tho' for some years he had a perswasion that he should some time or other preach the gospel.
When this part of the business was closed with part of the 177th hymn, Mr Wills, before he proceeded to ordination, again spoke and gave fresh scriptural proofs of the ministers' authority for taking upon them the office of bishops or presbyters.
The ordination prayer by Mr Wills next succeeded. Then the imposition of hands by both ministers. After which Mr Wills gave an excellent charge to the newly ordained ministers from 1 Tim. 4, 16 (fn. 7) and the whole solemnity was concluded with a short prayer and the 287th hymn about 2 o'clock. A sermon was intended, but omitted on account of the late hour —but the Lord's supper was administered. (fn. 8)
We were happy to receive a letter of your Ladyship's writing, approving and confirming our choice of Mr Towers as one of the committee, whose respectful acknowledgment of the honour done him I am now to transmit to your Ladyship.
Yesterday we had an ordination at the chapel; and a high day it was; a most blessed and glorious day; only your Ladyship's presence was wanting to make it compleat. The service began about 9 o'clock in the morning, and continued till 2, after which we had the communion, which lasted till near 3, but had it been twice as long we should have been happy, very happy in it, if these mortal frames of ours could have held out. O how transporting must the worship, how delightful the service of saints in heaven be, where we shall have spiritual bodies (if I may so speak) that shall never tire! To hear the 6 candidates for the ministry relate to a vast congregation what the Lord has done for their souls, and how by various means and in different ways they were all brought to the same central point, namely, to trust in the crucified Jesus, and depend solely on his blood and righteousness, was animating, precious and comfortable beyond description. And then, having themselves tasted that the Lord is gracious, how desirous they were to proclaim his salvation to their fellow-sinners! The Lord make every [f. 23v.] one of them instruments in his hands for the spreading of the gospel and the conversion of many that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, wherever his providence called them, whether statedly or itinerating.
188. The whole service was conducted with the greatest regularity and solemnity, and I trust the Lord was with us of a truth. Dear Mr Wills, I am persuaded, had much of his divine master's presence. He nobly and clearly vindicated his own and Mr Taylor's conduct, not only in their secession, but also in this ordination! And the charge he gave the young ministers after the imposition of hands tho' concise was nervous, full, taking in the main branches of a minister's duty, and cautioning them against the principal temptations they are liable to in the sacred and important office they have taken upon them. In short, my Lady, you would have thought Mr Wills was quite familiar with ordinations, he performed the part of a bishop so excellently well. O I wish you had but been with us!
And now I must tell your Ladyship this committee and the congregation in general part with Mr Wills very reluctantly. We don't wonder your Ladyship and the congregation at Bath and Bristol are exceeding desirous of him, but you must give us leave to request, and to hope, you will not detain him but a few weeks: mean time may the Lord abundantly bless his labour wherever he goes.
189. Mr Knight read prayers yesterday evening for the [f. 24r.] first time. He makes a very respectable appearance in the desk and reads agreeably. And the school, I trust, will flourish under his care, The present number of children is 25 girls and 35 boys, which are quite as many as one master and one mistress can manage, till some of them get a little forward. Mr Wills has not acquainted me what to put down against your Ladyship's name as an annual subscription. Will you please to inform me when he returns?
We unite our fervent prayers to the great head of the church, that he may pour out his spirit from on high on your Ladyship's seminary of learning, that many may come out from thence who shall be burning and shining lights, and may your Ladyship's valuable life be long extended, as a blessing to our British Zion, and to rejoice in her prosperity! Amen.
Mr Daniel Gray (fn. 9) was privately ordained by Mr Wills and Mr Knight in the chapel as minister to a congregation at Kendal in Westmorland. Present Messrs Watherill, Lyon, Dupont and Hughes of the committee, and a few other persons.
Mrs Lowes and Mrs Moore, two mistresses of boarding schools who attend the chapel with their schools, having long solicited the committee to accomodate them with each a convenient pew, and we finding it impossible to oblige them both without the Countess of Huntingdon should consent to give up the pew designed for her attendants, next to her own closet; resolved that the secretary write to her Ladyship about it.
When your Ladyship first engaged Spa-field chapel it was not foreseen that we should have 2 or 3 boarding schools that would want accomodation for a number of young females, and consequently no provision was made for such an event, but I have to inform your Ladyship, and I do it with pleasure and satisfaction, that we have for a considerable time past had two schools attending the chapel, and a third has lately made a beginning, but we are very much in want of a convenient place to seat the children and yet desirous of retaining them under the word, hoping the Lord may make serious impressions on some of their young minds. Mrs Lowe's school has hitherto sat on the kneeling benches in the pulpit pew, and Mrs Moore's on a bench in the area passage, both places inconvenient to them and incommodious to the people. [f.25r.] They have much importuned us to accomodate them better and we have no way of doing it unless your Ladyship will consent to give up that square pew adjoining your Ladyship's closet, which with some alteration will be capable of receiving one of the schools, and we have a contrivance near it for the other. If your Ladyship approves of this, we beg the favour of a line as soon as convenient, and should you favour us with a visit, we will take care your domestics shall be properly seated.
194. Blessed be God, we have large and attentive congregations, and dear Mr Wills is much helped in his divine master's work. He preaches sweetly and powerfully. Mr Gray was ordained last Wednesday morning. We rejoice to hear of the work of the Lord in the north. May it increase and spread far and wide all over the kingdom, yea all over the world! And may our dear Lord, with whom is the residue of the spirit, raise up and send out from your Ladyship's college many zealous and faithful labourers in his cause, such as shall indeed turn the world upside down!
I have nothing to inform your Ladyship of relative to the affairs of the chapel. I trust we shall pay off the remaining £100 to Messrs Mackenzie and Maberly before Christmas. We desire, as far as our little sphere extends, to be found faithful in the matters intrusted to us, and we rejoice in the temporal and spiritual prosperity of this little hill of Zion. Uniting our prayers for your Ladyship and all your Connection, we remain, Honoured Madam!
The Countess of Huntingdon being come to town for a few days, and desiring to see the accounts of the chapel, the secretary accompanied by Messrs Lyon, Watherill, Dupont, Astle and Towers waited on her Ladyship this evening at the chapel-house with the books and an account extracted therefrom made up to the present time, with which her Ladyship was extremely well satisfied, and testified her approbation both by word and inwriting.
196. It was proposed and agreed (Mr Wills being also present) that in consideration of the great hardships the ministers and students in her Ladyship's Connection frequently undergo in preaching the gospel amongst poor people who cannot afford a maintenance, that it might be a great encouragement to them in the work of the Lord if a fund was raised for the purpose of augmenting the incomes of those who have not a sufficient allowance. To be called the augmentation fund; to be raised and supported by an annual sermon for a collection in all her Ladyship's chapels. Agreed to put this plan in execution as soon as convenient.
Her Ladyship expressed a great desire, in which we all concurred, that the three London committees, namely Spafields, the Mulberry Gardens and Rotherhithe, should have a meeting together in order to an acquaintance with each other and such brotherly and friendly intercourse and correspondence as might be serviceable not only to their respective churches, but to the cause of Christ in general.