This is a continuation of the Joseph Fielding Legacy story detailing his remarkable impact on the missionary work in England. Find the earlier articles in the series here.
In our last article we discovered three Fielding tombstones in Colmworth, England graveyard. This article looks at the fourth tomb of the Reverend Timothy Richard Matthews – the minister who welcomed our early missionaries and almost became a member of the Church.
The main side of Matthews’ tomb is engraved with the following life summary:
“The Rev. Timothy Richard Matthews, B.A. For 25 years a Minister of the Gospel, Twelve of which Curate of this Church. Born July 26th 1795. Died September 4th 1845. He was an eminent Minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. By his unwearied labours and self-denying love a multitude of believers was added to the Church. Like his divine Master he went about doing good. He sought to proclaim to every creature whom he could reach the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God. Not only in the Chapel which his affectionate people built. But in the open streets of Bedford in numerous villages of the county, and in many other villages and towns of England he preached Salvation to perishing sinners by the blood of the Lamb.”
One of his unique ministry techniques was to summon his flock to church with a bugle. Local historians refer to him as “a very tall man, an imposing figure.” His congregation paid tribute to him on the reverse side the tomb.
“As a husband and a father he was inexpressibly dear to his family by his meek and gentle virtues. These made him an example to the believers amongst whom he ministered. He died from exhaustion and sickness brought on by his labours…”
The Fielding Connection
On one end of the tomb we discover the Fielding connection as it pays tribute to his wife Ann Matthews (15 April 1799 to 16 Nov 1884) who was sibling to Joseph, Mary and Mercy Fielding. Ann and Timothy were married in this Colmworth church on 12 January 1821.
His was a constant quest for truth, and he has been referred to as “a great evangelist”, “a controversial figure”, “The most unconventional figure of the time…a law unto himself” and, the local Vicar claims, “he was troubled, constantly searching for God’s will”
These local references to him being “troubled” and a “controversial figure” are probably referring to the events which led to him almost becoming a Mormon!
On the 30th July 1837 the first British baptisms took place in Preston – all from Reverend James Fielding’s congregation. Two days later two of the missionaries travelled 190 miles south to Bedford to see if a similar introduction and conversion could be initiated with Reverend Matthews and his congregation. Reverend Matthews’ initial acceptance and sudden rejection was summarised in an 1841 missionary tract printed by Mormon missionary George J. Adams in Bedford. The following account was signed by Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde and Willard Richards (Mar 24, 1841. Preston).
The tract provides some great details of the event.
“Elders (John) Goodson and (Willard) Richards arrived in Bedford on the 2nd of August 1837, and having letters of introduction to the Rev. Timothy R. Matthews, from Brother Joseph Fielding, (Mrs Matthews’ brother) they immediately waited on Mr. Matthews, who expressed great joy at their arrival, and manifested his sincerity by walking arm in arm with the elders through the streets of Bedford, calling on the members of his church , and inviting them to attend the lecture of the elders, at his chapel vestry that evening. Mr. Matthews had previously been apprised of the Saints in America, through the medium of the Rev. James, Fielding, of Preston, and the letters from America before referred to.”
“In the evening his church assembled in the vestry, and Elders Goodson and Richards continued to lecture and testify of the work of God, on that and the three following evenings in the same place, with the entire approbation of Mr. Matthews, who, at the close of the lectures, publicly bore testimony to the truths advanced, and called upon this people to know why they did not come forward for baptism; while they in return, wished to know why he did not set them the example.”
Heber C. Kimball records elsewhere that “Forty of his members went forward and were baptized.” (Whitney, p.148). The Adams pamphlet continued:
“After this, Mr. Matthews engaged another house in the neighbourhood for the elders to preach in, under the pretence that some of the proprietors of the chapel might not be pleased with the elders occupying the vestry, and Mr. Matthews continued to attend the preaching of the elders, and also spent a great share of time, from day to day, in conversation with them.”
“Mr. Matthews told the elders that he had received two ordinations, one from Bishop West, whom he had proved to be an impostor; and another from the Church of England, which he acknowledged to be descended from the Church of Rome, and he further acknowledged that he had no authority from God for administering in the ordinances of God’s house.”
“On the 10th, Mrs Braddock and four others were baptized by Elder Goodson. Soon after this, Mr. Joseph Saville, member of Mr. Matthews’ church, being very desirous of receiving baptism at the same time with Mr. Matthews, waited on him at his house in company with Elders G. and R., and Mr Matthews and Mr. Saville mutually agreed to meet the elders on the bank of the river Ouse, at a specified hour in the afternoon, and attend to the ordinance of baptism.”
“At the hour appointed, Mr. Saville met the elders at the place previously designated by Mr. Matthews; but as he did not make his appearance, after waiting for him an hour, Mr. Saville was baptized, when the elders repaired to Mr. Matthews’ to learn the cause of his not fulfilling his engagement, and were informed by Mr. Matthews’ family that he had gone out into the country to preach.”
“In a day to two it was currently reported that Mr. Matthews had baptized himself, and this rumour was afterwards confirmed by Mrs. Matthews, who stated to Elder Kimball, at Preston, that Mr. Matthews had baptized himself, reasoning upon this principle within himself, “If I have authority to administer this sacrament to my people, why not have authority to baptize myself,” and all this after Mr. Matthews had acknowledged to Elders Goodson and Richards that he had not authority to administer in the ordinances of God’s house…”
A revised version of the words of King Agrippa to Paul seem rather apt here – “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Mormon.” Matthews loved some of the restored gospel principles, but he could not embrace it all. This rejection was not a submissive one. He became an active opponent.
“Thus has Mr. Matthews been running from Bedford to Liverpool; from Liverpool to Northampton; from Northampton, and other places, crying aloud in public and private, that the Latter Day Saints and their doctrines came from hell. At the same time he has been preaching the same doctrines, and he is administering in the same ordinances…”
In the tract’s preface George Adams reinforced this last observation:
“He began to abuse and slander the Latter Day Saints in public, by saying that their record came from hell, and the angel that had appeared to them was the devil transformed into an angel of light.”
However, the doctrine of full immersion baptism became part of Matthews’ new theology and he baptised 430 between 1837 and 1842 including infants. (Baptist, p.328)
Once again Joseph Fielding’s hopes of family members accepting the restored gospel were unfulfilled. Even though the Matthews family did not join they provided a receptive and well prepared audience for our missionary Elders. The Reverend’s links in Bedford, Liverpool, Preston and London opened new doors for them to preach, but that is a story for another time.
Over the past two decades Peter Fagg has taken thousands of visitors to British Church history sites. He has recently created a tour app for those who want to self-guide themselves to these historic sites www.obelisktours.co.uk and is currently immersed in creating a Memorial Garden next to the Preston Temple to pay respect to thousands of British Pioneers. Visit www.hartwoodpioneerwall.co.uk