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History of religion in England from the opening of the Long Parliament to the end of the eighteenth century (Volume 6) online

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preacher. He was not a scholar, he could not be
called a learned divine, but as an original thinker
he had few equals. Of his numerous works many
are controversial ; one on Socinianism, another on
Universalism, a third on Deism ; some of his writings,
unfortunately, are in reply to obscure persons, or they
relate to subordinate points which retain now but little
interest. He fell into a controversy with a Scotch
divine named Maclean, Vv^ho contended that faith, as
an intellectual exercise, precedes, in the order of nature,
the production of moral obedience. Fuller maintained
that faith itself is a moral act, that it is the root of
Christian virtue, and that the turning-point of individual
salvation is found in the heart rather than the intellect.
But both ascribed Regeneration to the work of the
Holy Spirit, and therefore, though their debate was not
strictly speaking a piece of logomachy, it possessed
little practical importance. Each writer believed that
intellectual perceptions and moral dispositions entered
into the character of personal religion ; they merely
differed as to which is to be placed first. No doubt
underneath the question important interests are visible
to metaphysical eyes, and these were detected by
Fuller. With terrier-like tenacity he kept hold on
what he deemed the error of his opponent, and shook
it to death ; but the form in which the subject was dis-
cussed by these writers has now lost its edge and
interest. Much more was involved in another contro-
versy. Against High Calvinists Fuller waged incessant

* Abridged from " Life of Fuller," by Morris.


warfare, contending not only that the gospel is worthy
of all acceptation, but that men are, on moral grounds,
bound to believe and obey it ; that a sufficient pro-
vision has been made for their salvation, and that the
invitations of peace are to be universally offered ; at
the same time he believed that a Divine power wrought
on men, constraining them to yield up their souls to
God in a life of holy love. Fuller was one of that class
of theologians who are equally impressed by the facts
of God's gracious sovereignty, and of man's moral
obligation. In contemplating the one he could not
lose sight of the other. He saw that on neither of
these two principles, taken alone, can a system of
divinity be securely based ; it must cover both. He
did not think that he was shut up to the alternative,
on the one hand, of receiving the doctrine of Pre-
destination, and of renouncing the doctrine of Universal
Atonement ; or, on the other, of rejecting the first,
whilst embracing the second. In fact, he did not feel
himself bound to become a thorough follower of John
Calvin, or a thorough follower of James Arminius ; a
tendency wrought in Fuller, similar to that which had
appeared in John Howe and Richard Baxter. Without
the Platonic culture of the one, or the dialectic skill of
the other, he had much of the theological catholicity
and comprehensiveness of both ; but he wrought out
his results, not as the copyist of any one, but after a
fashion of his own. He belonged to the same school
of Evangelical divines as John Newton and Thomas
Scott, but was far more inventive in method and
distinct in conclusion than either of those good men.
For native force he stands first in the Evangelical
school of his day ; and perhaps no one had so much
influence as he upon Nonconformist theological


1760-1800.] IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE III. 375

opinions during more than the first quarter of the
present century.

If Andrew Fuller bears away the palm as a theo-
logian, to Robert Hall, as a preacher, it must certainly
be assigned. Educated not only at the Bristol
Academy but at the University of Aberdeen, where
he had Mackintosh for a fellow-student and com-
panion, he was — unlike Andrew Fuller — an eminently
learned and accomplished man. Born in 1764, he
lived till 1831, and traditionary descriptions of his
eloquence, and recollections of it lingering still amongst
a few who, when young, had the privilege of hearing
him, are sufficient to place him amongst the first pulpit
orators of the last, or any other age. The rapidity of
his utterance had the efifect of giving additional mo-
mentum to his exhortations and appeals ; and these
were sometimes so impassioned that, as if by an
electric shock, he moved his hearers till they started
to their feet, and bent forward in trembling expectancy
of what would follow. The perfect stillness of the
entire audience rendered the modulations of his voice,
not naturally powerful, all the more impressive, whether
his tones were pathetic or argumentative, denunciatory
or persuasive. It is said, however, that like many
other distinguished speakers, he was very far from
being always himself, that he could sink as well as
rise, and that there were occasions when listeners,
though favourably disposed, would be unable to form
any conception of the grandeur of his discourses at
other times. In the case of George Whitefield, as we
read his published sermons, we wonder at the impres-
sion he produced. His thunder and lightning could
not be represented in print. But Robert Hall's elo-
quence was of a different description ; and as we read


his luminous pages, we are not surprised to learn that
his hearers were carried away by the charm of his
utterances. Of his style it may be truly said, " that it
is one of the clearest and simplest ; the least encum-
bered with its own beauty of any which ever has been
written. It is light and lucid as a mirror, and its
mood highly wrought ; and sparkling embellishments
are like ornaments of crystal, which, even in their
brilliant inequalities of surface, give back to the eye
little pieces of the true imagery set before them." *
Language was with Robert Hall a magician's wand,
with which he could accomplish surprising transforma-
tions in the minds of attentive and sympathetic hearers.
Their thoughts, obedient to his touch, glowed for the
moment with an imagination like his own. When
the essence of his meditations or the substance of his
reasonings was not original, the words in which he
clothed them were such as to lend a fascination which
the same thoughts did not exercise at other times.
In many of his reported discourses there is little
originality as to the line of reasoning pursued ; but his
sermon on Infidelity, to mention no other, is surprising
throughout for the majesty of its ideas, as well as the
felicity of his diction. The publication of it produced
an unusual excitement in the most refined literary
circles, and Parr and Mackintosh vied with each other
in expressing their admiration. Perhaps the force of
Hall's intellect was nowhere so manifest as in con-
versation with his friends. In Cambridge, at Alderman
Ind's Club, as it was called, where the Baptist minister
mingled with men of different denominations, the
flashes of his wit, the dexterity of his arguments, and
the incisiveness of his axiomatic remarks, were such

* Hall's "■ Works," VI. " Memoirs," 132.

1760-1800.] IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE IIL 377

as to leave on the memory an indelible impression of
the versatility of his genius. But what concerns us
most is his eminent piety of heart, humility of mind,
and devotedness of purpose. He did not live to build
up fame, any more than to amass wealth. The end of
his existence, the one object of his will, was to preach
the gospel, and to gather souls into the Church of
Christ. And I have alluded to his power and his
culture as means which he employed to promote the
supreme design of his great endeavours.

Hall was an advocate for the practice of open
communion, thus walking in the steps of John Bunyan,
and other members of the same body. Some years
after the close of the last century he published a book
on the subject,* going into it very thoroughly, both on
grounds of Scripture, and on principles of Christian
reason and equity. This elicited a careful reply on
the part of another eminent Baptist minister, Joseph
Kinghorn, of Norwich, who permanently adhered to
the practice of strict communion. The controversy
lies beyond the chronological events of this history,
and is only noticed to indicate that the long-continued
difference on this question amongst the Baptists con-
tinued down to the close of the century ; and that an
advocate on the side of free communion was then rising
up to defend and encourage the broader view, so
effectively as to prepare for a widespread change in
that particular throughout the Baptist denomination
of this country.!

* " On Terms of Communion, with a Particular View to the
Case of the Baptists and Paedobaptists," pubhshed in 1 8 1 5. Hall's
"Works," II. 1-232.

t " Baptism a Term of Communion," by Joseph Kinghorn,
1816 ; Hall's "Reply to the Rev. J. Kinghorn," 1818 (" Works/'


Joseph Kinghorn was rising into influence at the
close of the century, through excellence of character, and
depth of learning, both critical and controversial ; and
he appears amongst' the early prominent and devoted
supporters of the Baptist Missionary Society. His
ministerial course in the East Anglian capital was one
of great success and high honour, and to the close of
life he preserved those habits of Puritan simplicity
which had marked the Nonconformists of earlier
generations. " His countenance and manner, his dress
and tall slender figure, were so striking as to make an
indelible impression on all who had once seen him.
It was indeed said of him by a young friend, using a
perhaps excusable hyperbole, ' If any one had told
me that Mr. Kinghorn had been one of the Apostles
I should have believed him.' " He was a bachelor to
the end of life, and his aged father and mother in
their latter days came to live near their son. They
were both of them remarkable specimens of the old
dissent ; and it may serve to illuminate this history of
religious life, if I introduce a couple of portraits, painted
by one who knew them both, — and from personal ac-
quaintance I can vouch for the truth of the likenesses.
" She wore an ample cloak of black satin, lined with
ermine ; and a white round cap, edged with lace, peeped
from under a round bonnet, also of black satin. Her
countenance, accent, and manner were full of kindness
and gentleness, and she w^on my heart at once. But
her partner struck me with much surprise, and with
something like awe. He was very tall, and sturdily
upright. His hat, with a round and very shallow
crown and broad upturned verge, rested on an ample

11.233); "A Defence of 'Baptism a Term of Communion,'''
1820, by J. Kinghorn.

1760-1800.] IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE IIL 379

white full-bottomed wig. His upper dress was of dark
blue, the coat of great length and amplitude, with
copious sleeves, large buttons, and wide flapped pockets.
His nether dress was of black velvet, buckled at the
knee, with dark grey stockings, terminated by square-
toed substantial shoes and large square buckles. His
countenance was remarkably robust and even rubicund,
with keen grey eyes and shaggy brows expressive of
shrewdness and great determination." * He was a
Baptist minister, like his son, — but unlike him in this
respect, that he was a self-taught man, reading the
Greek and Hebrew Scriptures with great ease and
acumen, and so far a type of a large class of Noncon-
formist ministers in those days.

In concluding the chapter relative to the Baptists,
I would remark that weekly meetings for extempore
prayer have been for many years an established usage
amongst Evangelical Dissenters, but how they originated
is a point at present undetermined. Occasional prayer-
meetings can be traced back to Puritan times, but the
earliest precisely dated instance of their weekly occur-
rence, that I have met with, is recorded by one who
has paid much attention to the subject. " The bell of
St. Mary's Church, Reading, ringing at six o'clock
every week-day morning to invite workmen to prayer,
suggested to some good Baptists in the town the idea
of starting an early prayer-meeting on the Lord's day.
They began December 20, 1772." This was followed
by a prayer-meeting every Wednesday evening.
Weekly prayer-meetings wxre not common, it would
appear, till towards the close of the last century, yet
one is thus mentioned of earlier date in general terms :
" Considerably more than a hundred years ago," says

* Wilkin's " Memoirs of Kinghorn," 4.


a Baptist pastor,* " reference is made to a weekly
meeting for prayer in a document belonging to the
Church in Old King Street, Bristol. Absentees are to
be fined sixpence for every occasion of absence." To
the Baptists, it would seem, there belongs the further
honour of establishing monthly prayer-meetings, which
during the present century have been so extensively
adopted with respect to Foreign Missions. f

* Rev. F. Bosworth.

t These particulars are supplied in the Circular Letter of the
Baptist Association for Kent and Sussex, 1880. This interesting
letter is written by the Rev. J. Aldis, of Canterbury.

It may be added here, that through the great awakening in
America, " a monthly concert of prayer for the conversion of the
world," commenced in 1774 amongst the Congregational Churches
of New England. (Dr. Dexter's " Congregationalism of the Last
Three Hundred Years," 503.)



Quakers, in the middle of the eighteenth century
described their " convictions " much after the same
manner as did their predecessors in the seventeenth.

The words of Christ, " / am the Truth " constituted
the sheet anchor of their distinctive faith. This " /
rt?;^" — to use their own characteristic phraseology — " the
essential, everlasting, saving truth, is that of which
they were convinced, and in which they believed.
Convinced of Him by His own immediate, self-evident
operation upon their minds ; convinced that this was
the Spirit of Truth of whom it was said, when He
came. He should convince the world of sin, of righteous-
ness, and of judgment. And being brought to this
Rock and sure Foundation of living Faith, they became
convinced that as the Holy God is an omnipresent
Spirit, so in Spirit and in Truth must He be acceptably
worshipped ; that as He is in Himself infinite and
incomprehensible, dwelling in the Light which no man
can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can
see ; so through this Spirit of Truth, this Holy Me-
diator, access only could be had, and true worship
performed, to the Father of spirits. They were con-
vinced that as He is perfectly holy, so, except they
were made in degree holy, their prayers could never
ascend with acceptance as the incense of saints, before


the throne of glory. And although the command and
declaration to Abram is plainly exhibited in Scripture,
viz., I am the Almighty God ; walk before Me, and be
thou perfect ; it seemed to them an impossible attain-
ment, till opened by Him who hath the key of David.
They then saw, that perfection arose from the relation
Abram stood in to an Almighty Creator; and were
convinced that this call extended to the seed of Abram
through all generations. And being convinced of the
purity, so they were of the peaceableness of this gospel
dispensation. They not only read but felt it breathe
peace on earth and good-will to men ; that there was
to be no hurting nor destroying in all God's holy
mountains." * This was a kind of spiritual manifesto,
issued in the year 1760, "by the people called
Quakers." Every denomination has its own type
of excellence. Such was the standard set forth by
Friends ; but it is not to be supposed, that in this,
any more than in other instances of ecclesiastical
history, the actual always corresponded with the ideal.
There can be no doubt, however, that in a good deal
of Quaker life the principles inculcated by George Fox
received a fair practical expression. Reticent as were
his followers in some respects upon what is mysterious
in spiritual experience, they carefully preserved brief
biographical records of deceased members who had
been preachers amongst them, — " testimonies," as they
were termed, " concerning ministers of the gospel, with
some of their last expressions and exhortations." The
quarterly meetings in the provinces sent up to the
yearly meetings in the metropolis written accounts of
this nature, " to promote and encourage the practice

* Preface to " A Collection of Testimonies concerning several
Ministers of the Gospel." London, 1760.


of virtue, and of that obedience and self-denial which
the gospel of Christ requires of His servants." Some
of these documents were published, and examples of
them, in their original form, supply interesting illustra-
tions of that cast of sentiment and conduct which,
from the beginning, marked off this peculiar people
from other sections of the Christian world. One of
these worthies being by trade a tailor, " soon after his
convincement could not comply with the making of
such needless and superfluous fashions in apparel as
were then used by his customers, and thereupon gave
over the chiefest part of his trade, and betook himself
to other business in order to get a livelihood ; wherein
Providence was favourably pleased to bless his labours
with success, so that although he never had a great
deal as to the things of this world, yet he had a com-
petency sufficient to support him, and to carry him
through the same with satisfaction and comfort."

A Yorkshire female member, in the twenty-second
year of her age, had "a part in the ministry committed
to her which became a very close concern upon her,
being such a cross that she said she had rather have
parted with her natural life, but could find no peace
without answering the Lord's requirings ; and therefore
she resolved, through His Divine assistance, to be
obedient unto Him, though all sorts of people might
hiss at her." The testimony respecting John Gurney
— a famous Norwich Quaker, whose father had suffered
much for conscience' sake — brings him before us in the
middle of the century as a pillar of strength, and an
ornament of beauty, to the large and prosperous com-
munity of friends in the old East Anglian city. "About
the twenty-second year of his age, his mouth was
opened in the assemblies of his friends as a minister.


much to their edification and comfort ; and, as he
advanced in years, that excellent gift was more plenti-
fully bestowed upon him, being an eloquent man, and
mighty in the Scriptures ; his ministry having often
the demonstration of the Spirit and power of life at-
tending it, being delivered with much plainness, and
so suitably adapted as generally reached the meanest
capacities, and answered to the witness of God in the
auditors ; which made him very acceptable to many,
who for the most part delighted to sit under the same,
and sought for opportunities so to do : Though it may
be said, he endeavoured rather to be hid, than to
appear to gratify the curious, or only to satisfy their
itching ears, being careful in attending to the immediate
pressures on his own mind before he entered there-
upon ; and often gave way to others, though perhaps
inferior to himself in many respects, which made
service more available, and better accepted." "The
first day, two weeks before his last illness, he was at
our meeting in the forenoon, when he appeared in a
lively Testimony amongst us : He pressed us to con-
sider, How our time passed away ! and to examine
How far our minds had been religiously disposed since
our meeting together. Some of us, he said, seemed
to be at the top of the mountain, where it pleased God
sometimes to remove the clouds, and give us a clear
prospect into the promised land, though we were not
yet quite arrived so as to take possession thereof. It
was a melting time, and an opportunity that will leave
a lasting remembrance on the minds of many. He
drank large draughts of affliction in this life ; yet he
bore them with great patience and resignation to the
Divine hand which permitted them. He saw clearly
they must soon finish him, as to this world ; and as


they did greatly wean him from it, so they did abun-
dantly Increase his faith in the dealings and goodness
of God, by which, we doubt not, they were sanctified
unto him ; and though they were permitted to end his
days in this world, yet, we doubt not, they did work
for him, through Divine assistance, a more exceeding
and joyful inheritance in the world to come." *

It is a curious fact, that in connection with their
extreme spirituality and contempt for worldly things,
the Society of Friends maintained two principles of a
counter description : the one was what is called birth-
right membersJiip ; the other, that of the miiuitest
legislation touching the common ajfairs of life. George
Fox, the founder, had insisted upon the idea that the
Church is made up of " living members," that is, of
" a spiritual household, of which Christ is the Head ; "
and Robert Barclay, the apologist, in a tone of dis-
approval had remarked, that when Christianity ceased
to be a ground of reproach, men became Christians "by
birth and education, and not by conversion and re-
novation of spirit." From this principle there was a
departure in 1737, when a sort of Quaker poor-law was
passed, and the community resolved to save its indigent
members from pauperism. A spirit of comprehensive
sympathy appeared, when Friends decided that wives
and children should be deemed members of the monthly
meeting to which their husbands and fathers belonged,
not only whilst those husbands lived, but after they
were dead. Then the desolate widow and her offspring
were bequeathed as a legacy of love to the Society
with which the supporter and guardian of her life had
been identified. Very beautiful ! But they seem not
to have discerned that this implied adoption of the

' " Collection of Testimonies," 7, 21, 134, 138.
VOL. VI. 2 c


rule, that membership was a natural inheritance — that
it descended from parents by birthright — could not
fail, in the end, to incorporate within their select com-
munity a number of persons destitute of those religious
convictions which formed the very strength and life
of Quaker fellowship. Friends had been Friends by
virtue of professed " convincement," as it was quaintly
termed ; now they could be regarded as such, by virtue
of the law of descent. They have been blamed for
what they did on this occasion ; no doubt they departed
from the original basis of their communion, but if they
were blind, it may be pleaded that charity, even tender-
kindness towards widows and orphans, bandaged their

The minute legislation of Quakers respecting the
commonest affairs can hardly be called a departure
from early principles, because from the beginning they
had regarded minor peculiarities as so many outworks
against invasions of worldliness, so many advanced
defences round the citadel of their spiritual life. No-
thing seems to have been beneath their notice. From
the cradle to the grave they provided for the conduct
of their members. The time children were to be kept
at school, the books they were to read, how they were
to be apprenticed, and rules for marriage, were specified
with much minuteness. No feasting or gaiety was
allowed at weddings ; bridesmaids were not to be led
out of meeting by groomsmen ; and the use of a coach
on one marriage occasion led to grave remark. Nor
did funerals, any more than weddings, escape legislative
control. As ornaments on cradles were to be dispensed
with, and mothers were to suckle their children, so
burials were to be conducted with the utmost simplicity;
coffins were " to be made plain, without covering of


cloth, or needless plates." Even floor-cloth in houses
was forbidden ; also *' the fashionable using of tea," the
taking of snuff, and the smoking of tobacco. Curiously
enough, they anticipated modern legislation in refer-
ence to killing salmon or trout in the breeding season ;
for at a monthly meeting they said, this violates " the
decree, or command of God, in the beginning, when
He blessed them, and commanded them to increase
and multiply."

Dress attracted great attention. George Fox had
launched his thunderbolts against the costume prevalent

Online LibraryJohn StoughtonHistory of religion in England from the opening of the Long Parliament to the end of the eighteenth century (Volume 6) → online text (page 28 of 37)