« ForrigeFortsett »
nunciation of materialism, which, he often declared, he "buried in his father's grave."*
'Attentive to the voice of heavenly admonition, thus addressing him from various quarters, he entered upon his new duties with earnest desires that he might be able to "commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God." 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 to 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."' pp. 30, 31.
This individual, and three or four other men of influence, with about twenty of the poorer class, shortly afterwards withdrew from the congregation, and assembled for a few months on the Sunday evenings at a private house, where 'the then Rev. William 'Frend, fellow and tutor of Jesus College, an avowed Socinian, 'became their instructor.' But the conviction of their host for sedition, and the expulsion of their teacher from the University, soon dispersed this band of seceders, the dregs of poor Robinson's heretical ministry.
Mr. Hall's ministerial labours were beginning to be blessed with the happiest results, when, in an evil hour, as he himself regarded it, he complied with the urgent solicitations of his friends, in appearing before the public as a political writer. So far as the urgency of the occasion, the patriotism of the motive, and the usefulness of the result would warrant the temporary deviation from the immediate sphere of his duties, Mr. Hall's conduct in this instance lies open to no just reproach; but the inconveniences of political celebrity led him subsequently to recede, 'not
* He had always considered materialism, he tells his Bristol friends, as 'a mere metaphysical speculation,' and wished them so to consider it. But such mere metaphysical speculations, putting aside their unscriptural character, are almost sure either to wither and dry up the affections, or to be swept away by the first spring-tide of genuine emotion.
Vol. ix.—N.s. A A
'from his principles, but from the further advocacy of them in 'public.' He became convinced, to adopt his own words, 'that 'the Christian ministry is in danger of losing something of its 'energy and sanctity, by embarking in the stormy element of po'litical debate.' Having elsewhere noticed at length Mr. Hall's political writings *, we need only remark, that, from the year 1793, when the Apology for the Freedom of the Press first appeared, Mr. Hall remained silent for nearly eight years, when he electrified the public with his Sermon on Modern Infidelity; which was followed, in 1802, by his Reflections on War, and in iy03, by his Fast-Day Sermon on the Sentiments proper to the present Crisis. An interesting portrait of his character at this period of his ministry, has been supplied by a gentleman who had the most favourable opportunities, as well as the requisite discrimination, for forming a correct estimate.
'" I had but a slight acquaintance with Robert Hall from 1790 to 1793; from thence to the end of 1796,1 knew him intimately. At that period, his creed was imperfect, wanting on the personality of the Holy Spirit, and wavering between the terrors of Calvin, and the plausibilities of Baxter. His infirmities, which were increasing, he concealed with dexterity, opposed with vigour, and sustained with uncommon patience. In his ministerial situation, he was far from easy; and he was vehemently severe upon Robinson, for leaving his church a wilderness, and bequeathing his successor a bed of thorns.
'" 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. The memory of a man of seventy-three will not afford particulars; and the general impression can neither be obliterated nor expressed.
'" In his manners, he was a close imitator of Dk. Johnson t; 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 knew, as well as any man, what bad men were, and what good men should be; yet was often wrong in his judgement of individuals. From this deficiency in the knowledge of mankind, he sometimes trusted his false, and abused his true friends: when he perceived his error, he changed his conduct; but, I suspect, very seldom confessed his mistake.
'" He did not, then, read much: but was probably more hindered
* Eclect. Rev. Third Series. Vol. VII. p. 399, et seq.
t This will convey a false impression. Mr. Hall was extremely courteous; Johnson affected rudeness, and was unbearably insolent. Mr. Hall was vehement; Johnson was dogmatical. Diogenes and Plato were scarcely more dissimilar in character.
by pain than by indolence. A page, indeed, was to him more ser. viceable than a volume to many. Hints from reading or discourse, passing through his great mind, expanded into treatises and systems, until the adopted was lust in the begotten; so much so, that the whole appeared original. I am persuaded, however, that when I knew him, he had not by many degrees attained his meridian. I should regret my incapacity to do him justice, were I not persuaded that only the bud was exhibited to me, while the bloom and the fruit were reserved for those more deserving to be happy."' pp. 37, 38.
His present Biographer was first introduced to Mr. Hall's acquaintance in 1797; from which period, for many years, he was admitted to the privacy of his study, besides having frequent opportunities of enjoying his society in the company of his friends. Dr. Gregory has supplied an exceedingly distinct, graphic, and interesting description of Mr. Hall's character, habits, and pursuits at this stage of his career, with anecdotes of his conversational remarks, which will excite regret that more have not been preserved *. We can make room only for a few extracts.
'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.
'He persuaded the poorer members of his church to form little meetings, for reading, religious conversation, and prayer, going " from house to house." These were held once a fortnight, I think, in the summer time: once a week during the winter. He made it a point of official duty to attend them frequently; and regarded them, with the weekly meetings in the vestry, as the best thermometer for ascertaining the religious state of his people.
'Proceeding thus, it was not surprising that he conciliated the affections of his friends, and secured the veneration of the pious; that he extended around him a growing conviction of his excellency, and carried on many in the stream of his mental and moral power.
• In him, all was at the utmost remove from gloom or moroseness. Even the raillery in which he indulged, shewed his good-nature, and was exceedingly playful; and, notwithstanding the avowed and lamented impetuosity in argument to which he was prone, nothing, so far as I ever saw, but conceit, engrafted upon stupidity, provoked his impatience, and called forth a severity which he scarcely knew how to restrain. With regard to disposition, the predominant features were kindness and cheerfulness. He never deliberately gave pain ty any
* The only one we could wish omitted, occurs in the note at p. 42.
one, except in those few extreme cases, where there appeared a moral necessity of " rebuking sharply" for the good of the offender. 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." pp. 40, 41.
'When I first became known to Mr. Hall, he had recently determined to revise and extend his knowledge in every department, •• to re-arrange the whole furniture of his mind, and the economy of his habits," and to become a thorough student. He proposed devoting six hours a day to reading; but these, unless his friends sought after him, were often extended to eight or nine. He thought himself especially defective in a tasteful and critical acquaintance with the Greek poets ; and said, he should " once more begin at the beginning." He set to work, therefore, upon the best treatises on the Greek metres then extant. He next read the Iliad and Odyssey twice over, critically; proceeded with equal care through nearly all the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides; and thence extended his classical reading in all directions. To the Latin and Greek poets, orators, historians, and philosophers, he devoted a part of every day for three or four yean. He studied them as a scholar, but he studied them also as a moralist and a philosopher; so that, while he appreciated their peculiarities and beauties with his wonted taste, and carefully improved his style of writing and his tone of thinking, by the best models which they present, he suffered them not to deteriorate the accuracy of his judgement in comparing their value with that of the moderns. Perhaps, however, this assertion should be a little qualified: for not only at the period of which I atn now speaking, but, in great measure, through life, while he spoke of the Greek and Latin poetry, in accordance with the sentiments and feelings of every competent classical scholar, he, with very few exceptions, unduly depreciated the poetry of the present times.
'Much as he delighted in classical literature, he was by no means inclined, nor could he have reconciled it with his notions of duty, to circumscribe his reading within its limits. The early Christian fathers, the fathers of the Reformation, the theological writers, both puritan and episcopalian, of the seventeenth century, the most valuable authors on all similar topics down to the present time, including the most esteemed French preachers, were all perused with his characteristic avidity: what was most valuable in them became fixed in his unusually retentive memory; and numerous marginal and other references in the most valuable of his books, prove at once the minuteness and closeness of his attention, and his desire to direct his memory to the substances of thought, and not unnecessarily to load it with mere apparatus.
'Like many other men of letters, Mr. Hall, at this period, found the advantage of passing from one subject to another at short intervals, generally of about two hours: thus casting off the mental fatigue that one subject had occasioned, by directing his attention to another, and thereby preserving the intellect in a state of elastic energy from the beginning to the end of the time devoted daily to study.
'Not long after he had entered upon this steady course of reading, he commenced the study of Hebrew, under Mr. Lyons, who then taught that language in the University. He soon became a thorough proficient in it; and, finding it greatly to increase his knowledge of the Old Testament, as well as of its relation to the New, and considerably to improve and enlarge the power of Scripture interpretation, he, from thence to the close of life, suffered scarcely a day to pass without reading a portion of the Old Testament in the original. This practice flowed naturally from one of his principles of action, namely, to go to the fountain-head for information, rather than to derive it from the streams; and from the continued application of that principle, it was found, that his habit of reading originals often impaired the accuracy of his quotation of passages from our authorised version, having, in fact, become more familiar with the Hebrew and Greek texts than with any translation. This, which was often conjectured by some of his hearers at Cambridge, was amply confirmed by the subsequent observation of his intimate and much esteemed friend Mr. Ryley, at Leicester.'
pp. 43, 44.
'Mr. Hall did not permit his sedulous cultivation of the mind to draw him aside from the cultivation of the heart. The evidences were, indeed, very strong, that his preparation for ministerial duty was devotional as well as intellectual. Thus, his public services, by a striking gradation, for months and years, evinced an obvious growth, in mental power, in literary acquisition, and in the seriousness, affection, and ardour of a man of piety. His usefulness and his popularity increased; the church and congregation became considerably augmented; and in 17"B, it was found necessary to enlarge the place of worship, to accommodate about two hundred more persons.
'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 judgement." He " never before felt his mind so calm and happy." The impression was not only salutary, hut 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 the spirit 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,