We have elsewhere stated some of the occurrences which affected the religious character of Leeds before the year 1662. In that year the Rev. Christopher Nesse, M.A., was ejected from the parish church.*
Nesse was born at N. Cave (E. Riding), and educated at Cambridge. He was afterwards a most useful minister at Cottingham, near Hull. Thence he came to Leeds, as lecturer at the parish church. He remained here during the vicariate of Rev. William Styles till 1660, and subsequently during that of Dr. Lake, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, with whose High Church opinions Nesse by no means agreed. He was avowedly an Independent in principle, having joined the Congregational Church at Topcliffe in the year 1661; and the difference between his own teachings and that of Dr. Lake became very marked and notorious. The Duke of Buckingham attempted to flatter him into conformity after 1662, but Nesse was too high-minded to be thus cajoled. When the Five-mile Act was passed he retreated to Clayton, and afterwards preached for a time at Morley, though that place was within the prohibited distance. He then returned to his own house at Hunslet, where he instructed pupils and preached privately. Several Christian people, probably the adherents of his ministry, had long desired to form a Congregational church, but the perils of the times deterred them. At length, when the year 1672 afforded a respite from persecution, Nesse instigated them to form themselves into a religious society, and they agreed "to meet every Friday afternoon to 'try the spirits' of each other, intermixing the weekly meetings with days of humiliation, spending the time allotted in prayer, and answering soul cases, or questions from Scripture." *1
When this measure had been taken, information of it was conveyed to the two Independent congregations in the vicinity of the church; to Woodchurch, of which Mr. Nesse had become a member in 1661; and to Bradford-Dale (Kipping). These sent messengers to congratulate the Leeds Christians on the course they had taken, recognising at the same time their independent action. The deputation from Woodchurch consisted of Brethren Gledhill and Hargreave; that from Bradford-Dale, of George Wade. Mr. Nesse was chosen the first pastor. One of the first measures was to choose a suitable place for public worship. They fixed on a building in Water Lane, which bore the name of the Main Riding-house.' But when the persecution, which had been intermitted, was revived, Nesse became especially the object of attack. Seeing no probability of tranquillity, he removed to London in the year 1675, where he preached to a congregation in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street.*2 He was the author of several works, especially "The History and Mystery of the Old and New Testaments," in 4 vols., folio; "Divine Legacy bequeathed to all Mankind," 1700; "Complete and Compendious Church History," 1680; "A Christian's Walk and Work on Earth," 1678. Nesse was succeeded by-
The congregation now ceased to be identified with Evangelical Congregationalism, and the chapel, after sundry changes, is now used by the General Baptists, though, as Mr. Scales says," it is to all intents and purposes an Independent foundation, and belongs legitimately to that body."
- 1675. Rev. THOMAS WHITAKER. He was a native of Lancashire, and had preached there for some time when he received an invitation to Leeds. He found the congregation much divided, in consequence of the removal of their former pastor. But he overcame all difficulties, and remained pastor for thirty-four years. In the latter part of the reign of Charles II. he was imprisoned for Nonconformity in York Castle,*3 having Heywood, his intimate friend, for his fellow-sufferer. During this period of eighteen months, he regularly wrote out and sent to his flock the sermons he would otherwise have preached; and his people in return administered to his necessities.
- In 1691, after the passing of the Toleration Act, the congregation erected in Call Lane what was in those days described as "a stately chapel or meeting-house, with a turret on the leaded roof." Here Mr. Whitaker continued his ministry, esteemed and beloved by all, till his death in 1710. Some of his sermons, "On the Unclean Spirit," were afterwards published, with a preface by Rev. Thos. Bradbury (afterwards of London), who lived for some time under his roof, and occasionally preached for him.*4 In the same volume with Whitaker's sermons are two discourses preached by Bradbury to the congregation at Call Lane on the occasion of his death.
- Whitaker was succeeded by Rev. WM. MOULT, a pupil of Mr. Jollie, Attercliffe, afterwards settled in Derbyshire. He married a daughter of Crompton, of Doncaster, 1717. During his ministry, in 1715, the number of hearers is stated to have been 800. His influence among the Nonconformists of his neighbourhood appears to have been great. He died Sept. 15, 1727. "A very great loss," says Dickenson, of Northowram, "to that congregation and the Church of God."
- 1727. Rev. THOMAS WHITAKER, son to the first pastor. He is reported to have been a "serious, practical preacher;" but as he sedulously avoided all points of controversy at a time when some of the most essential doctrines of the Gospel were denied, his love for those doctrines may be regarded as questionable. A considerable number of his hearers were at least suspicious on the subject, and left him to attend the preaching of Mr. Edwards. Whitaker was minister at Call Lane during more than half -a century. In his latter years he was assisted by his son, Rev. Wm. Whitaker (Daventry Acy.), whose opinions probably resembled those of his father. He died (after preaching two sermons at Morley on sudden death) from the rupture of a blood-vessel, consigning the MS. of the sermons for publication to Rev. S. Palmer, of London, so that a copy might reach each of his people.