The Rev. Nathaniel Heywood, brother of Oliver, was, during some time before his removal to Ormskirk, the devout and useful incumbent of Illingworth Church, and was useful in all the surrounding neighbourhood. But the Nonconformist congregation at Mixenden began in the labours of Rev. M. Smith, M.A. This laborious man was born in York in 1650, introduced to the ministry by Rev. Ralph Ward, and was afterwards a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. His first settlement was at Kipping. Extending his ministry to the neighbouring parts, he began, to preach at Mixenden on week-days, at the house of John Hanson. The congregation gradually increased and began to demand Sunday services, and Smith, during some time, divided his labours between Kipping and Mixenden; much to the dissatisfaction of the former congregation. He was not, however, yet ordained. On James II.'s declaration for liberty of conscience, it was resolved to hold an ordination at Heywood's house, Smith being one of the several candidates. The people at Thornton, however, made objections; claiming that Smith's ordination should be in the midst of his flock. The service was consequently postponed. Smith was afterwards ordained alone at the house of John Berry, Shuckden Head, midway between Thornton and Mixenden. Ultimately, after much contention, Smith relinquished his charge at Thornton, though he did not cease to be a frequent preacher there; and he settled at Mixenden, where he possessed property, preaching alternately at Mixenden and Warley.
In a memoir (written by his son) prefixed to a volume of his posthumous sermons, it is stated : "The civil government had made it unlawful for Nonconformists to hold any public assemblies, which obliged them to fly here and there for safety, preaching frequently in the night, and undergoing many hardships. Yet he weathered all difficulties and quickly gathered a flourishing congregation. He was frequent in prayer; he had the strongest affection, and a most ardent desire to do good, which fired him with an uncommon zeal and an unwearied application to industry in his blessed work. He was not afraid to reprove wickedness sharply in whomsoever he saw it, and dealt faithfully with souls. He took spirit and life with him into the duties of God's worship. The Lord's Day was his delight. He prevented the morning watch, and in the cold and darkness of winter he forsook his bed many hours before day to celebrate the praises of God. He was willing to spend and be spent for the good of souls.
" He found a people as rude and uncultivated as the soil they inhabited.
" Many never went to any place of Divine worship, the few Dissenters from the establishment were rigid Antinomians, and he at first had only one man to encourage his preaching." (M. Smith was married to a daughter of Lieutenant Sharp, of Horton, cousin to Rev. T. Sharp, of Leeds. His wife's grandfather had been concerned in several engagements on the Royal side, in one of which he was wounded in the head. After the death of Charles I., he would never suffer his beard to be shaved.)
The character of this exemplary man has suffered much from the representation of Joseph Lister, who, being a deacon at Kipping, may be well supposed to have imbibed the prejudices of the people around him. They were doubtless vexed at having lost so able a minister, though the style of Smith's preaching seems to have been too little doctrinal for their perfect satisfaction. Smith's sentiments were, indeed, inclining to Baxterianism,*1 and he probably cared more to preach practice than theology. "Practical godliness," he says in a letter, "is our principal concern." He describes himself as being "neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, but one that treats in medid va."
Smith suffered much from persecution at Mixenden, as at Thornton; he preached at uncertain hours, often in the night; but though soldiers were frequently sent to apprehend him, he always escaped. Sometimes, for greater security, he and his people met in the sequestered ravine, called "Binns'-hole."
The first chapel appears to have been erected about the period of the Toleration Act. This building was afterwards converted into cottages, and is yet standing, known by the name of "The Old Chapel."
The second meeting-house was erected in 1717 at Moor End (site of present chapel), on Smith's own estate, and, it is believed, at his sole expense. It is distant a half-mile from the former, and being in the direction of Warley, is conjectured to have been so placed more for the convenience of the minister (who preached at both places) than for that of his flock.
Smith educated several students for the ministry, who aided him in his frequent and apostolical labours. (Among others Accepted Lister.) After his death, a wholesale destruction of his papers took place, they being profusely sold to shopkeepers and others.
We have elsewhere referred to Smith's "Treatise on the True Nature of Imputed Righteousness," which awakened not a little clamour at the time of its appearance. Mr. Joshua Wilson speaks of Smith's work, and says, "It appears that the plan of doctrine he endeavours to establish is the same with that of Mr. Howe, Baxter, &c."
In this opinion Mr. Scales seems to have concurred, for he is stated to have said in a conversation with Mr. Preston, that "instead of branding Mr. Smith's memory with heterodoxy, he believed him to be more orthodox than Oliver Heywood himself." It may admit, however, of doubt whether Smith fully held Evangelical doctrine, though he was a most popular, animated and eloquent preacher. His departure, however, if any, could not have been very wide, as the doctrine of Atonement is clearly set forth in his writings. If he erred, it was not upon that point. Mr. Preston says, in reference to his published sermons, "He speaks much of repentance and of a new life, but he says nothing of a new heart."
In the latter part of his life, when age and infirmities had gathered over him, Smith was assisted by his son, who left Warley to be near him.
In 1732, Nathaniel Skelton gave 201. yearly for the benefit of the "preaching minister."
Smith died 1736, having been minister fifty years. He bore his last affliction with much patience, and his dying scene was peculiarly touching and edifying.
He was a recipient for many years of the fund administered by Mr. Stretton. In a letter to Thoresby, he describes himself as receiving from his two congregations 105. per day (i e. Sunday). He had also to per annum from Lord Wharton, through Heywood.
- 1736. Rev. JOHN SMITH, son of the preceding, who had been previously minister at Warley. He remained at Mixenden seventeen years, after which, he removed to Chapel Lane, Bradford (1753). He died in 1678, and was buried at Mixenden. He gradually verged into Arianism in his later years.
- 1753. Rev. JAMES RITCHIE, M.D., from Alton. Arianism was still the doctrine of the pulpit, and the congregation became very small. Ritchie published "A Criticism on the Modern Notion of Sacrifice," in answer to Dr. Taylor and others. (This work was well spoken of by Dr. Magee.) He also prepared for the press an elaborate treatise "On the Peculiar Doctrines of Revelation and the Jewish Sacrifices," which his widow published by subscription after his death (1763). He resided at Shawbooth, and did much good as a physician.
- One of Ritchie's elders was Benjamin Patchett. He published in 1759 "A short Inquiry into the proper Qualification of Gospel Ministers : with some Directions how we, who are hearers, may know whether the Doctrines our Ministers deliver from the pulpit are according to God's mind and will, or not." This man was in the habit of calling out to the minister in the pulpit when anything displeased him. He was much respected and feared.
- 1764. Rev. THOMAS EVANS, from Denbigh. He is reported to have been an Unitarian. He was probably an Arian. After fifteen years' ministry he died, at the age of 65, May 25, 1779. He kept a school in the Old Hall. He was on the Hewley list, 1774.
- " To Mixenden belongs the honour of originating one of the first Sunday-schools in England, and perhaps the very first in the parish of Halifax. And this school was probably commenced during Mr. Evans's pastorate, some years prior to the first school established by the celebrated Robert Raikes. Mr. Raikes's first school was not commenced till 1781; the one at Mixenden was begun several years before that time, and it is not at all unlikely but that many schools of a similar kind were held in different parts of the county before Raikes gave notoriety to them as a public journalist. An old MS. in possession of the writer states : "That one Abram Burns was a Sabbath-day teacher, and was paid a trifle for his labour," and that "Benjamin Patchett, yeoman, assisted as a free teacher." Dr. Watts's Catechisms and the Assembly's Catechism' were used in the school; and between the services on the Sabbath Mr. Evans frequently collected the children together in the aisles of the chapel to impart scriptural instruction to them, and examine in the catechisms."*2
- 1780. Rev. DAVID GRONOW (Unitarian). He remained only two years. He was a Welshman. He seems, from his entries in the church registers, to have only imperfectly understood and written the English language.
- In 1780 a house and land were given by G. Stansfeld, Esq., Sowerby, for a minister's house and a school-room.
- 1783. Rev. DANIEL JONES. He spent eight years at Mixenden, with little credit to his ministry. "The disadvantage of reading sermons was seen in his case. One Sabbath morning he left the chapel while the people were singing, telling the precentor to continue doing so till he returned, while he ran nearly half a mile to Sandyfore to fetch his forgotten sermon, and as the house was shut up, the family all being at the chapel, he put a little boy in at a small window behind the house, telling him he would find the missing sermon on his desk."*3 Mr. J. left Mixenden, March 1791.
- 1791. Rev. JAMES RATTRAY, from Scotland. He was a zealous Calvinist, little to the satisfaction of his hearers. He is said to have been "starved out." He removed to Sheffield, 1793.
- 1793. Rev. JOHN BATES, from Stainland. He had been formerly a General Baptist, and afterwards a local Wesleyan preacher. He seems to have had no definite ecclesiastical opinions. He was on the Hewley List, 1795. He left in 1796 for Northowram.
- 1797. Rev. DAVID HOWARD. He had been a local Wesleyan preacher at Ripponden. He was never ordained, but exchanged with Mr. Harrison, of Allerton, on communion-days. He engaged in business, but was unsuccessful. Some of the hearers wished Mr. Bates to return. After a contest for the pulpit, Mr. Bates became a second time the pastor, and Mr. Howard settled at Wortley, 1802.
- 1802. Rev. JOHN BATES (the second time). He kept a school in Halifax. Published notes on the Bible, and some abridgment of Baxter's works. He remained thirteen years, till his death, April 23, 1815, aet. 63.
- During his pastorate the chapel was rebuilt, 1810.
- 1816. Rev. ABRAHAM CLARKSON (Idle Acy.). A part of the congregation desired to have the services of Mr. J. O. Bates, son of the preceding minister, and a separation took place, the seceders joining the Wesleyans. Mr. Clarkson organized a church, but the division rendered his stay uncomfortable, and he left, before being ordained, Sept., 1817, for Bingley.
- 1819. Rev. WILLIAM GIBSON, from Idle Academy. After accepting the invitation from Mixenden, he stayed, with strange indifference, some months at Sutton, near Thirsk. He at length took the pulpit, and was ordained. But differences arose, and after a time he left for Whitworth (1821).
- 1823. Rev. JOHN PRESTON, from
- Idle Academy. During his ministry (1836) the chapel was rebuilt on a larger scale. Mr. P. removed to Warley, in 1841, and died 1853.
- 1842. Rev. ISAAC BRIERLEY (Pickering Acy.). The grave yard was now enlarged, and the debts on the chapel and school-room removed.
- In the Bi-centenary year the chapel was beautified. Mr. B. removed to Great Ayton 1864,
- The pulpit is now vacant.
* Aided by the Rev. B. Dale, M. A.
*1 Smith says, in a letter (to Thoresby), "Election is God's purpose, now revealed in His Word, of saving every sinner, through Christ, who repents, believes, and obeys."
*2 Rev. J. Brierley, "Cong. Register," 1863, p. 553.
*3 Cong. Register for West Riding," 1863.