Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

cal course, employed himself as "assistant pastor" to Dr. Caleb Evans, of the Baptist chapel, Broadmead, Bristol, where his preaching excited unusual attention; and "many of the most distinguished persons in Bristol," we are informed, including " several clergymen," were his occasional auditors. We may be thought uncandid; but we have firmly made up our minds to the conviction, that a clergyman who wishes to act consistently, and to set a right example to those committed to his charge, should wholly abstain from indulging even the casual temptation, if he feels it one, to wander after a popular preacher, even were it for no other reason than that of not casting a stumbling block in the way of the weak-to say nothing of the strong-of his flock. The late Reverend Basil Woodd, a man of remarkably conciliating temper and catholic feelings, being told of the great popularity of Mr. Irving, when he first came to London, and that great numbers of clergymen had been attracted by curiosity to the Caledonian chapel, and being asked whether he intended to follow their example, replied, that many years since he had gone to hear some popular preacher of that day, but that he had been led to see the evil of what he had done, by the following incident. He was visiting a dying personwe believe a respectable tradesman-who expressed the most affectionate gratitude to him as having been the means, by the blessing of God, of leading him many years before to an earnest regard to his spiritual interests, and the salvation of his soul, which till then he had neglected. Mr. Woodd expressed surprise at the communication, never having to his knowledge seen the individual. The dying man's reply, so far as is recollected, was to the following effect: "No, sir; it is not likely that you should remember me, as I have not attended your ministry for many years; but I used occasionally to hear you preach, and what you said went to my heart; and I considered you a faithful and consistent minister of the church; but passing one week evening chapel, I saw you coming out of it; and it seemed to me such an inconsistency in a clergyman, that I was much perplexed and disheartened, and I never went to hear you again." Mr. Woodd added, that he never forgot the lesson; and that it led him more than ever to feel that, while it is the duty of a Christian to cherish the most candid spirit towards those who believe in the same Lord, and hope to meet in the same world of eternal blessedness; yet, that if a man conscientiously entertain a principle, whether of doctrine or church government, as being grounded in his opinion upon a scriptural sanction, he ought not practically to contravene it by his conduct, or to lead others to think that he views, as of little account, what he seriously believes to be important. We believe that in all churches it will be found, that the path of consistency is the path of duty; and, were there no other reason to induce a clergyman to refrain from any given act, than that his flock would reasonably think it inconsistent with his character and professions, this alone would be a sufficient argument. "If meat," even were it lawful meat, “make my weak brother to offend, I will eat no meat," said the Apostle, "while the world standeth.” Three months after quitting Aberdeen, at the early age of twenty-one, he was appointed classical tutor in the Bristol Baptist Academy. He was at this period altogether in a perilous situation for a young man: admired as a preacher; the life of every society into which he entered; full of wit, keen in satire, and very far from settled in his religious opinions on some most important topics of scriptural truth, his best friends trembled for his future course. In the private diaries of his senior brethren, Mr. Fuller and Dr. Ryland, occur such remarks as the following.

"Mr. Fuller writes. 1784, May 7. Heard Mr. Robert Hall, jun., from "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Felt very solemn in hearing some parts.

[ocr errors]

The Lord keep that young man!'

[ocr errors]

Again, 1785, June 14. Taken up with the company of Mr. Robert Hall, jun. ; CHRIST. OBsery. No. 374. P

feel much pain for him. The Lord, in mercy to him and his churches in this country, keep him in the path of truth and righteousness.'

·

"In like manner, Dr. Ryland. June 8, 1785. Robert Hall, jun. preached wonderfully from Rom. viii. 18, " For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us." I admire many things in this young man exceedingly, though there are others that make me fear for him. O that the Lord may keep him humble, and make him prudent!'" p. 18.

In the year 1791, Mr. Hall was invited to take charge of the Baptist flock at Cambridge; Mr. Robinson having died suddenly, just as his people were about to call upon him to resign his office on account of his connexion with Dr. Priestley, and his increasingly heretical opinions. This change was probably the more agreeable to Mr. Hall, as he was involved in a bitter dispute with his colleague, Dr. Evans, and had also given much pain to the congregation at Broadmead, by some extraordinary notions which he held, and by the general style of preaching which he had adopted. He confesses in a pastoral letter, in answer to their remonstrances, that he was a Materialist, "believing that the nature of man is simple and uniform; that the thinking powers and faculties are a result of a certain organization of matter; and that after death he ceases to be conscious until the resurrection." But this monstrous doctrine he never broached in the pulpit; and he explicitly states that he was a firm believer in the proper Divinity of Jesus Christ, his merits as the sole ground of acceptance with God, "without admitting works to have any share in the great business of justification," and in the necessity of Divine influence to regenerate and sanctify the mind of every man, in order to his becoming a real Christian. He was, however, he adds, “not a Calvinist ;" he did not maintain " the federal headship of Adam, or the imputation of sin to his posterity," or personal" election and reprobation." But whatever were his doctrines, his sermons were grievously deficient in the exhibition of those blessed truths which are immediately connected with the scheme of redemption; such as the infinite love and mercy of God; the benefits of the incarnation, humiliation, and sacrifice of his adorable Son; the privileges of the believer, and the sacred mysteries of the spiritual life.

Mr. Hall's system rendered him less distasteful to his Cambridge flock, the majority of whom had been lamentably perverted by Mr. Robinson, than if he had been what he afterwards became. But by the mercy of God both he and his people grew together in soundness of doctrine, and in devotion of heart and life.

"Their looseness of sentiment on many points, which even then he thought momentous, led him to enforce them frequently with the utmost energy: while his known freedom of opinion in other points, which they had also been led to canvass freely, preserved him from the odium of orthodoxy. Thinking themselves liberal and unshackled, they could not but congratulate one another that their new pastor, a man of splendid talents, was almost as liberal and unshackled as they were. Then again, their want of devotional seriousness, by the force of contrast, heightened his estimate of the value of true piety; and this produced an augmented earnestness and fidelity, which they first learnt to tolerate, and afterwards to admire. Thus, by the operation of an incessant action and re-action, continued for years, each party exerted a salutary influence on the other; and at length both church and pastor became so distinguished for piety, harmony, and affection, that they, who had known and lamented their former state, were compelled to exclaim, This hath God wrought."" pp. 29, 30.

Mr. Hall had just lost his father when he settled at Cambridge; and this affliction had greatly sobered his spirit, and improved his religious character. It had also led him to renounce his absurd notion of Materialism, which he says he buried in his father's grave. Hence we find him entering upon his labours with much solemnity, determining by Divine grace to commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. He had however much to contend with, as the following statement will shew.

"Feeling that to him was consigned the charge of transforming, with God's assistance, a cold and sterile soil into a fruitful field, he determined not to satisfy himself

with half measures, but proceeded to expose error, and defend what he regarded as essential truth. The first sermon, therefore, which he delivered at Cambridge, after he had assumed the office of pastor, was on the doctrine of the atonement, and its practical tendencies. Immediately after the conclusion of the service, one of the congregation, who had followed poor Mr. Robinson through all his changes of sentiment, went into the vestry, and said, 'Mr. Hall, this preaching won't do for us: it will only suit a congregation of old women.' 'Do you mean my sermon, sir, or the doctrine ?' "Your doctrine.' 'Why is it that the doctrine is fit only for old women? Because it may suit the musings of people tottering upon the brink of the grave, and who are eagerly seeking comfort.' Thank you, sir, for your concession. The doctrine will not suit people of any age, unless it be true; and if it be true, it is not fitted for old women alone, but is equally important at every age.'

[ocr errors]

"This individual, and three or four other men of influence, with about twenty from the poorer classes, shortly afterwards withdrew from the congregation, and met together on the Sunday evenings at a private house. The then Rev. William Frend, fellow and tutor of Jesus College, an avowed Socinian, became their religious instructor. This separate assembly, however, did not continue many months; for the person at whose house they met, was, ere long, taken up and tried for sedition, and convicted; and the proceedings against Mr. Frend, on account of his pamphlet entitled Peace and Union,' which for so long a time kept the University of Cambridge in a state of great agitation, and which ended in his expulsion from it, drew away his attention from the little band of seceders." pp. 30, 31.

His ministerial labours at this interesting period of his life were beginning to be blessed with the most happy results, when unhappily the French Revolution of 1789 drove him, and many of his flock and neighbours, to take a zealous part in political contentions, to the serious decay, we fear, of a devotional spirit, and the lovely graces of the Christian character. We have seen a similar result in many circles during the last two or three years; so much so, that we do not wonder that some good men have tried at once to escape from the evil, by deciding that Christians have nothing to do with politics; a notion correct and scriptural, if by politics be meant mere party strifes: but quite erroneous, if the word be employed to express the important affairs of states and empires; in which every Chris. tian ought to feel a lively interest, especially in regard to the moral and religious bearings of public questions. The result in Mr. Hall's case was, that he was induced to publish his work on the freedom of the press; the popularity of which drew him out of the sphere of his duties, introduced him to the society of men whose character and conduct he could not approve, and led him bitterly to feel how much the Christian ministry is in danger of losing, by embarking upon the stormy element of political debate. His eulogy on Dr. Priestley led him to be suspected of Socinianism; which caused him to exclaim in his own strong but not most commendable style, "If that were ever the case, I should deserve to be tied to the tail of the great red dragon, and whipped round the nethermost hell to all eternity."

We find the following notices of his habits and manners at this period. "In argument he was impetuous, and sometimes overbearing; but if he lost his temper he was deeply humbled, and would often acknowledge himself to blame. On one of these occasions, when a discussion had become warm, and he had evinced unusual agitation, he suddenly closed the debate, quitted his seat, and, retiring to a remote part of the room, was overheard by a lady who was just entering, to ejaculate with deep feeling, Lamb of God! Lamb of God! calm my perturbed spirit!'

[ocr errors]

"Mr. Hall's personal habits, not only at the time of which I am now speaking, but in a certain degree through life, though not precisely those of an absent man, were those of one whose mental occupations kept his thoughts at a distance from various matters of ordinary observance, and made him regardless of a thousand things which most persons never forget. Thus on his return from an evening visit, if not watched, he would take a wrong hat or great coat ;-if not sought after by some of the congregation, he would mistake the proper evening of a week-day service, having in such cases been so absorbed in study, as to lose a day in his reckoning;-for the same reason, he often mistook the day or the hour of an appointment;when on any of his journeys to London he engaged to take up the letters of his friends, it was not unusual, after his return, to find them all in his portmanteau, or in his great-coat

pocket. These, or similar instances of forgetfulness, occurred daily; but, exciting the attention of his affectionate and watchful friends, they seldom exposed him to serious inconvenience.

"None of these peculiarities sprung from an affectation of singularity; they simply marked an inattention to things of minor importance. Nor was there united with them a regardlessness of the proprieties of society, a disdain of such civilities and attentions as were usual in the classes with whom he most associated. He had never aimed to acquire a facility in the manners and habits of genteel life; but he had a native ease and grace, which was obviously distinguishable from any acquired habit. It was a grace that could neither be bought nor borrowed; on all proper occasions heightened by the dignity which naturally comported with his character and office: and uniformly blended with that genuine simplicity which often accompanies intellectual greatness, and is always, if I mistake not, an attribute of moral greatness."

"His religious conversation in company was not frequent, and for the most part doctrinal; but, in private, his experimental communications were in beauty, elevation, and compass, beyond all I ever heard." "In his manners he was a close imitator of Dr. Johnson; fond of tea-table talk, and of the society of cultivated females, who had the taste to lend him an ear, and the ability requisite to make attention a favour. He has confessed to me the taking thirty cups of tea in an afternoon, and told me his method was to visit four families and drink seven or eight cups at each."

"He did not, then, read much; but was probably more hindered by pain than by indolence. A page, indeed, was to him more serviceable than a volume to many. Hints from reading or discourse, passing through his great mind, expanded into treatises and systems, until the adopted was lost in the begotten; so much so, that the whole appeared original." pp. 36-38.

Dr. Gregory who became intimately acquainted with him in 1797, adds many other particulars respecting his habits and feelings; as for example: "When I first saw Mr. Hall, I was struck with his well-proportioned athletic figure, the unassuming dignity of his deportment, the winning frankness which marked all that he uttered, and the peculiarities of the most speaking countenance I ever contemplated, animated by eyes radiating with the brilliancy imparted to them by benevolence, wit, and intellectual energy. When he spoke, except in the most ordinary chit-chat, to which, however, he seldom descended, he seemed not merely to communicate his words, but himself: and I then first learnt the difference between one who feels while he is speaking, and whose communicative features tell you that he does, and one who after he has spoken long and with apparent earnestness, still does not feel." p. 39.

"For some years, he made it a rule to pay a pastoral visit to every member of his church, once each quarter. He did the same, also, with regard to such of his ordinary hearers as he thought willing to receive him as a minister of religion. These were not calls, but visits, and usually paid on evenings, that he might meet the whole assembled family. Among the lower classes, to make them quite at their ease, he would sit down with them at supper; and, that this might involve them in no extra expense, he took care they should all know that he preferred a bason of milk." p. 40. "His kindness to children, to servants, to the indigent, nay, to animals, was uniformly manifest. And such was his prevailing cheerfulness that he seemed to move and breathe in an atmosphere of hilarity, which, indeed, his countenance always indicated, except when the pain in his back affected his spirits, and caused his imagination to dwell upon the evils of Cambridgeshire scenery.

"This was, in his case, far from a hypothetical grievance. It seriously diminished his happiness at Cambridge, and, at length, was the main cause of his quitting it. In one of my early interviews with him, before I had been a month at that place, he said to me What do you think of Cambridge, sir?' It is a very interesting place.' Yes, the place where Bacon, and Barrow, and Newton studied, and where Jeremy Taylor was born, cannot but be interesting. But that is not what I mean; what do you say to the scenery, sir?' Some of the public buildings are very striking, and the college walks very pleasing; but-' and there I hesitated: he immediately added -but there is nothing else to be said. What do you think of the surrounding country, sir? Does not it strike you as very insipid?' 'No, not precisely so.' Aye, aye: I had forgotten; you come from a flat country; yet you must love hills; there are no hills here.' I replied, Yes, there are; there are Madingley hill, and the Castle hill, and Gogmagog hill. This amused him exceedingly,—and he said, 'Why, as to Madingley, there is something in that; it reminds you of the Cottons, and the Cottonian Library; but that is not because Madingley is a high hill, but because Sir Robert Cotton was a great man; and even he was not born there. Then, as to your second example, do you know that the Castle hill is the place of the public executions? that is no very pleasant association, sir; and as to your last example, Gogmagog hill is five miles off, and many who go there are puzzled to say whether it is natural or artificial. 'Tis a dismally flat country, sir; dismally flat.

[ocr errors]

Ely is

twelve miles distant, but the road from Cambridge thither scarcely deviates twelve inches from the same level; and that's not very interesting. Before I came to Cambridge, I had read in the prize poems, and in some other works of fancy, of the banks of the Cam,' of 'the sweetly flowing stream,' and so on; but when I arrived here, I was sadly disappointed. When I first saw the river as I passed over King's College Bridge, I could not help exclaiming, Why, the stream is standing still to see people drown themselves! and that I am sorry to say is a permanent feeling with me.' I questioned the correctness of this impression, but he immediately rejoined, Shocking place for the spirits, sir; I wish you may not find it so; it must be the very focus of suicides. Were you ever at Bristol, sir? there is scenery, scenery worth looking upon, and worth thinking of: and so there is even at Aberdeen, with all its surrounding barrenness. The trees on the banks of the Don, are as fine as those on the banks of the Cam; and the river is alive, sir; it falls over precipices, and foams and dashes, so as to invigorate and inspire those who witness it. The Don is a river, sir, and the Severn is a river; but not even a poet would so designate the Cam unless by an obvious figure he termed it the sleeping river." pp. 41-43.

"His love of sincerity in words and actions was constantly apparent. Once, while he was spending an evening at the house of a friend, a lady who was there on a visit, retired, that her little girl, of four years old, might go to bed. She returned in about half an hour, and said to a lady near her-She is gone to sleep. I put on my nightcap, and lay down by her, and she soon dropped off.' Mr. Hall, who overheard this, said-Excuse me, madam: do you wish your child to grow up a liar?' 'Oh dear no, sir; I should be shocked at such a thing.' Then bear with me while I say, you must never act a lie before her: children are very quick observers, and soon learn that that which assumes to be what it is not, is a lie, whether acted or spoken.' This was uttered with a kindness which precluded offence, yet with a seriousness that could not be forgotten." p. 49.

6

"In one of my early interviews with Mr. Hall, I used the word felicity three or four times in rather quick succession. He asked- Why do you say felicity, sir? Happiness is a better word, more musical and genuine English, coming from the Saxon. Not more musical, I think, sir.' Yes, more musical, and so are words derived from the Saxon generally. Listen, sir: My heart is smitten, and withered like grass;'-there's plaintive music. Listen again, sir: Under the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice; '-there's cheerful music.' 'Yes, but rejoice is French.' •True, but all the rest is Saxon, and rejoice is almost out of tune with the other words. Listen again: Thou hast delivered my eyes from tears, my soul from death, and my feet from falling: all Saxon, sir, except delivered. I could think of the word tear, sir, till I wept. Then again, for another noble specimen, and almost all good old Saxon-English: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'" p. 50.

Mr. Hall continued to be a diligent student, and this not only in divinity, but in natural science, mathematics, metaphysics, the classics, and whatever he thought was calculated to enlarge his mind and fit him for usefulness as a preacher. But it was in far higher matters that he was seen to make the most rapid advances. The following was one of the steps in his spiritual progress:

"Early in the year 1799, a severe fever, which brought him, in his own apprehension, and that of his friends, to the brink of the grave, gave him an opportunity of experiencing the support yielded by the doctrines of the cross in the near views of death and judgment. He never before felt his mind so calm and happy.' The impression was not only salutary, but abiding; and it again prompted him to the investigation of one or two points, with regard to which he had long felt himself floating in uncertainty. Although he had for some years steadily and earnestly enforced the necessity of Divine influence in the transformation of character, and in perseverance in a course of consistent, holy, obedience, yet he spoke of it as 'the influence of God,' and never in express terms, as the influence of the Holy Spirit.' The reason was, that though he fully believed the necessity of spiritual agency in commencing and continuing the spiritual life, he doubted the doctrine of the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit. But about this time he was struck with the fact that, whenever in private prayer he was in the most deeply devotional frame, most overwhelmed with the sense that he was nothing, and God was all in all,' he always felt himself inclined to adopt a Trinitarian doxology. This circumstance, occurring frequently, and more frequently meditated upon in a tone of honest and anxious inquiry, issued at length in a persuasion that the Holy Spirit is really and truly God, and not an emanation. It was not, however, until 1800, that he publicly included the personality of the Holy Spirit, in his statements on the doctrine of spiritual influence.” p. 52.

Of Mr. Hall's pulpit eloquence and his habits as a preacher, so much has

« PoprzedniaDalej »