New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
JOHN FINNIE, ESQ.,
of Bowdon, Near Manchester, The Successful Merchant, the Munificent Helper of Charitable Uses, Founder of the Society of Kensington, London
MR. FINNIE was one of those orderly, clearheaded, persevering young Scotchmen, that have made their countrymen admired and esteemed, and their country respected all over the world.
He was born in Kilmarnock, in 1790, and arrived in London when he was only seventeen years of age, a religious, thoughtful young man.
This was at the time the Rev. Joseph Proud, formerly a Baptist minister at Norwich, but subsequently an earnest and eloquent expounder of the truths of the New Church, was drawing large congregations at the chapel in York-street, St. James's Square, formerly the Chapel of the Spanish Embassy. He preached there from 1799 to 1812.
Young Finnie listened thoughtfully, hailed the clear and heavenly doctrines he heard set forth with such scriptural power and fervour, and resolved, if he succeeded in business, he would do his best to support those grand truths, and spread them in the world.
How different is such a reflective, thinking young man, from the heedless youth who runs about after silly or profligate pleasure, keeping late hours, spending his spare money with loose people—those earnings above expenses which if taken care of are the beginnings of thrift and of fortune. With random young men Sunday is the day of wild excitement, jauntings with senseless people, excess in eating and drinking, laying the foundations of disease, and discordant uproar; returning the young man to business on Monday weakened and dissipated, instead of rejoicing in health from the refreshment, peace, and strength, which come from a Sabbath well spent.
In the meditations and sound principles of the thoughtful young man are all the seeds of his future prosperity and happiness.
While giddy young fellows were flying about here and there in a brainless way, young Finnie was enquiring where the most valuable preacher could be found, and he was informed of Mr. Proud. He went and heard, and was convinced the truth was there. It came as new light from heaven. It said to him, "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord has arisen upon thee." He determined that he would regulate his life by these new truths, and both directly and indirectly they had no doubt much to do with his great success.
The credit of steady behaviour, and uprightness in word and deed, create confidence; and confidence doubles and quadruples a man's means of prosperity.
An elder brother of Mr. Finnie was already established in Rio Janeiro, and when John was twenty years of age he was invited to join him there.
He went, and showed so much ability and trustworthiness, that year after year he was more and more valued, and by his shrewdness, his competency, and his perseverance, he realized a large fortune; never forgetting to increase his spiritual riches at the same time, or the purpose he had formed some day to aid the spread of New Church truth amongst young and old.
He returned to England to enjoy what he had realized in a calm and useful old age.
Having been engaged in business in connection with the goods of Manchester, he chose to settle near that city, and fixed his home in a beautiful neighbourhood called Bowdon, about eight or nine miles out, well known to Manchester people.
In his quiet way he visited the New Church service at Peter-street, Manchester, then under the ministry of the Rev. John Henry Smithson, but Mr. Finnie was some time, during these occasional visits, before he made himself known to any one, or the interest he felt in the New Church.
The very respectable-looking aged gentleman coming at intervals was noticed; but the friends feared to intrude, and as he did not seem to invite attention, went without further notice away.
He had however rather handsome rich-looking gold spectacles; and it was noticed by some of the more observant, that when there was a collection, and the gold spectacles were there, the amount of the collection was always very respectable. At length he made himself known to Mr. Smithson, and an affectionate intercourse came to exist between them. After awhile, conversation arose respecting the uses in the Church that could be aided, and through Mr. Smithson, much for a time, was anonymously done.
Mr. Finnie had a strong wish that his native town, Kilmarnock, should hear the principles of the New Church, and he desired Mr. Smithson to go and deliver a course of lectures there, which was done by that respected gentleman, at Mr. Finnie's request.
During the delivery, Mr. Smithson was taken ill with a severe attack of carbuncle. He finished the lectures on March 22nd, 1864, and feeling severely ill, he hastened home to Manchester. Four days after, on the 26th of March, he breathed his last, to the great regret of Mr. Finnie, and a wide circle of friends.
At his funeral I was introduced to Mr. Finnie for the first time, and was gratified to notice his unassuming manner, although even then he had begun to do some of those striking acts of generosity which ultimately arose to such a gratifying extent.
He sent his first cheque to Mr. Gunton, the treasurer of the Conference, in 1862. It was for £2,000, and to aid the National Missionary Society. The name of the donor was not disclosed, I believe at his special request; it was not mentioned in the minute recording it. The year following he sent another cheque for £2,000 also. This was for the Pension Fund. He reflected that for a very considerable time the early labourers in the ministry would be scantily paid, and would be able to lay up little for old age or the comfort of their widows. The Pension Fund was to supply the necessity in this class of cases. In 1866, desiring to encourage pious young men to prepare for the ministry, he sent a cheque of £4,000, of which £2,000 was for the College, and £2,000 for the Students' and Ministers' Aid Fund; thus endeavouring to add to the number of those who spread abroad the tidings of the God of Love. In 1870 he gave another £1,000 to the National Missionary Institution.
In the early days of the Church not many of those interested in the writings of Swedenborg resided at the West end of London. Mr. Hindmarsh lived in Clerkenwell, near where Swedenborg had resided; and the friends generally in the City; hence the places of worship were erected in the North and central portions of the Metropolis.
Need therefore had at length been experienced for places of worship convenient for the inhabitants at the West End, and Mr. Finnie entered into this feeling and authorized three gentlemen, Mr. Pickstone, Mr. Gunton, and myself, to select a suitable site to build a church upon, or to purchase a church already erected, if one likely for the purpose could be found for sale. In either case HE WOULD PROVIDE THE FUNDS.
The latter was the course deemed advisable, and the eligible church in Palace Gardens Terrace being advertised, was authorized by him to be purchased, and everything to be done to make it elegant and comfortable, as is usual for New Church worship, not forgetting a goodly organ.
A beautiful wood was provided for the pulpit and reading desk, the communion rail and book boards by Mr. Pickstone; but with that exception the entire expense of the whole purchase was defrayed by Mr. Finnie.
The cost of the building was somewhat over £5,000; the internal changes, organ, &c., came to £1,696; and the endowment, £5,000. The entire outlay amounted to £12,050, as will be seen from the circular tablet now placed in the church to commemorate this munificent act of charity and liberality.The inscription in the church reads thus:—
IS ERECTED TO THE MEMORY
JOHN FINNIE, ESQ.,
BOWDON LODGE, CHESHIRE,
DEPARTED THIS LIFE
AND WHO HAD
PURCHASED, RENOVATED AND ENDOWED
THIS CHURCH IN
BY THE MUNIFICENT GIFT OF
TO PROMOTE THE WORSHIP OF
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST,
THE ONLY GOD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH,
AND THE EXTENSION OF HIS
KINGDOM AMONGST MANKIND.
When we bear in mind, that he never saw this church, and never appeared ostentatiously in any proceedings in relation to it, we must be impressed by the extreme modesty of his character.
He trusted those who he believed were earnest that good might be done, and he found the means. The one great love of his Lord and Master animated him, and he sought no inferior motive. He let not his left hand know what his right hand was doing. Had he seen the result of his noble generosity at the present time he would no doubt have experienced internal delight, and gratitude to his Heavenly Father who had prospered the work of his hands. There is a cheering attendance in the commodious church at the morning and evening services.
Members to the number of 418 have been entered in the twelve years. There is a crowded Sunday-school, with a large singing-class admirably attended to; classes for working men and for studious young men; a mutual improvement society; with various works of benevolence for doing good in the neighbourhood. Indeed this Society is what every New Church Society ought to be, and will be, if it is truly genuine, praying and working for all around—A BLESSING IN THE MIDST OF THE LAND.
About the same period Mr. Finnie assisted several other Societies who were obtaining new places of worship. He gave £100 each to Nottingham, South London, Deptford, and Brightlingsea; while to the Cross Street Society (to enable them to finish their beautiful new church in Camden Road without debt) he sent two cheques of £1,000 each.
The sum total of these noble instances of modest benevolence amounted to £23,346. There was no ostentation, no self-righteousness, no claim of merit in this. It was Christian love doing its holy work.
He had a truly New Church feeling in relation to the good work which was being done by other religious bodies. He regarded their conscientious convictions with respect and deference, and, when they needed it, liberally helped them. This was especially the case as to the Church of England, in rebuilding the parish church of his district. His feeling was that the New Church was the church to unite the good Christian people of every name; and, by evincing charity, to strengthen and bring out charity as much as possible.
The generosity of Mr. Finnie was not confined to religious instances, his kindness in fostering a good object, or a good person to whom a little assistance would be valuable, was continually experienced, and the large number of kind remembrances of servants, old friends, and others, in his Will, was quite unusual, all attesting his affectionate, though not demonstrative, nature.
He did good in secret, and blushed to find it fame. He took great interest in the work of making our coasts more secure for our hardy seamen in stormy weather; and himself contributed a life-boat for the protection of his native Ayrshire. He longed to see the time when safe harbours would everywhere be in reach of our brave and toiling mariners when tempests threatened serious danger.
We have taken a survey of Mr. Finnie's outward life, and seen his calm and quiet diligence in doing good. We must, however, always remember that a man's doings are really the outbirth of his character, and that is chiefly built up and shown at home. Have you lived with him? is an important inquiry to be made, when anyone undertakes to give a genuine account of another.
Happily a very dear friend of my own, a relative of the family, who once resided three years with his uncle in his home, has given me a description, from which I am happy in being permitted to quote.
"He was remarkable for his punctuality. His home was regulated with the precision of a working chronometer. The day was divided into sections for work, constitutional walk, and enjoyment, which are now beautiful to recollect.
"He read prayers morning and evening, for the household and the servants. His reading was with a rich, sonorous voice, which impressed one with profound veneration, and showed how deeply conscious he was of the majesty, the sublime dignity and grandeur of the heavens and the earth, and of the Almighty and Adorable Maker. His self-command was admirable, and when he had read anything in Swedenborg which had much impressed him, or any collateral work with which he was greatly pleased (and he was a diligent reader), he would not expatiate much himself; but would hand the book and remark, 'Read that, you will find good in it.'"
Such was John Finnie, the steady, thoughtful Scotch laddie, who set out to do his duty and to make his fortune, the fine old Scottish gentleman, whom we delight to own as a New Church Worthy.
His parents were poor. When he was a boy he ran about bare-footed; but, no doubt, the mental faculties of the family were excellent, as is the case with a very large proportion of the Scotch working classes. One of his nephews became Member of Parliament for a division of Ayrshire; and another, the largest colliery pro prietor in the county. Such men can help themselves, and help others also.
How glorious a thing it would be for themselves and for the world, would young men generally cultivate their intellectual faculties diligently as young John Finnie did; embrace for their affections the sacred principles of modesty, uprightness, diligence, order, goodness, and perseverance, of which a true New Church life consists, and then character would follow, that would sanctify and bless the home, and faith would fortify them in temptations, and enable them cheerfully to adopt the sacred words, "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Mr. Finnie passed peacefully from earth, at Bowdon, where he had long resided, at the ripe age of 85, on the 20th of July, 1875.