James Battersby

The Life And Death Of James Battersby

Earthen Vessel 1900:

The Late Mr. James Battersby (Of Sheffield)

The Rev. James Battersby, of Sheffield, well known to many of our readers by his periodical visits to South London to conduct monthly services, entered into his reward on Saturday, December 9th, after a short illness.

A correspondent writes:—“He had celebrated his fiftieth anniversary two days before seizure with paralysis.”

The following, from a Sheffield daily paper, is an appreciation by “One Who Did Not Share His Views”:—

“Mr. Battersby was a Calvinist who believed in Calvin, and his belief was grounded on earnest study of the writings of that great Reformer. Calvin was not his only commentator. He admired and was equally familiar with the writings of the Calvinistic Puritans. He never much cared to go beyond them, and he derived his characteristic excellencies from these scholars and theologians of a by-gone age. The result, in his case, was extremely interesting, for he came to share the spirit of his authorities, and, so far from making him narrow-minded, it made him tolerant and wise. Calvin himself, as a commentator on Scripture, was head and shoulders above his followers and Mr. Battersby, drawing from the fountain head, gained thereby an intelligent mastery of the Scriptures, which enabled him to receive with sympathy the exegetical suggestions of later scholars. He was so thoroughly at home with Calvin’s writings that new critical views did not surprise him; he could often show that they had been forestalled by Calvin, or that Calvin had prepared the way for them. The ‘Higher Criticism’ had no terrors for him—he was willing to give it dispassionate consideration, and even when he thought its conclusions over-hasty he was always ready to allow their interest. At clerical meetings for the study of the Scriptures, Mr. Battersby was never an extremist, and it constantly happened that his practical conclusions agreed with those of men who had thought themselves opposed to him. Like Calvin, as a critic, he was broad-minded, and new light from any quarter always received from him a hearty welcome. In matters of ritual his views were inelastic. To the last he clung to the black gown and considered the surplice unfitted for the pulpit. But in this he had the courage of his opinions, and his opinions were such as deserved respect. For him the Bible, and the Bible only, contained the sum and substance of religion, and, whilst he was always ready to receive new light as to the meaning of the Bible, he held by such forms as accentuated its position, and would have nothing to do with modifications which might tend to oust it from the place he thought its due.

“In his parish, as the writer knows, Mr. Battersby was a diligent but un-obstrusive worker. He could sympathise with those who did not sympathise with him, and he often knew far more about them than they ever credited him with knowing. Well-intentioned meddlers would sometimes interpose, and bring to the knowledge of reluctant neighbours cases of ‘neglect’ which called for remedy. We have a vivid remembrance of one such case, in which the indignant but inexperienced curate of an adjacent parish was made the cat’s paw. To his surprise he found that Mr. Battersby was fully acquainted with his unlicensed ministrations, and a kindly explanation sufficed to show him that they were as needless as they were unwarranted.

“A more desirable friend and neighbour than Mr. Battersby it would have been hard to find. He would help you any way he could, and he thought none the worse of you because you differed from him. His place amongst Calvinists was unique. If we mistake not his London sermons—in which he took so great a pleasure—were largely supported by Calvinistic Nonconformists, who transferred to him their affection for James Wells. We may be wrong in this, but it was so reported, and undoubtedly his influence as a London preacher was very great, though for the most part, unsuspected by his friends in Sheffield. The honour of a prophet in his own country is always subject to a liberal discount, and Mr. Battersby did not vaunt his work in London, which he regarded rather as a recreation. Still, the sale of his sermons tells its story, and we think it will be found that they sold mostly among London supporters and admirers.

“In our opinion, Mr. Battersby was greater, both as a man and a preacher, than even his nearest friends suspected. He had not a university training, but, in his case—as very rarely happens—the deficiency had been turned into an advantage. He had studied Calvin and his school as few moderns have ever studied him, and the result was an unique presentment of Calvinism at its best and worthiest. He leaves, we think, no successor who can be compared with him in any way—but he leaves an example of high endeavour, allied to humility, which none should disregard.”

James Battersby (1823-1899) was a High-Calvinist Anglican preacher. He served as Vicar of St. James’, Sheffield and was a regular preacher among the Strict Baptist churches of London.