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expository discourses, delivered once each fortnight; while he generally attended public worship at the church where Mr. Abercromby and Mr. Peters, both regarded as holding correct sentiments, were the alternate preachers. He had now lost his chosen companion, the sharpener of his faculties by animated yet friendly debate; and he sought for no substitute in society, but resolved to turn the deprivation into a benefit, by a more arduous application to his literary pursuits, and by cultivating habits of meditation. “I now," said he, in a letter to his father, “find retirement prodigiously sweet, “and here I am entirely uninterrupted and left to my own “thoughts.” In this disposition he commenced and concluded the session.
By the time Mr. Hall had thus completed his academical course, his mental powers, originally strong, had attained an extraordinary vigour; and, with the exception of the Hebrew language, of which he then knew nothing, he had become rich in literary, intellectual, and biblical acquisition. On resuming his labours at Broadmead, in conjunction with Dr. Evans, his preaching excited an unusual attention, the place of worship was often crowded to excess, and many of the most distinguished men in Bristol, including several clergymen, were among his occasional auditors.
This popularity not only continued, but increased, until he removed to another sphere of action. The brilliancy and force of his eloquence were universally acknowledged, while, in private life, his instructive and fascinating conversation drew equal admiration. Yet it ought not to be concealed (for I simply announce his own deliberate conviction, frequently expressed in after-life) that at this time he was very inadequately qualified for the duties of a minister of the gospel. He had, it is true, firmly embraced and cordially relied upon those fundamental truths which are comprehended in the declaration, “ He that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that “ He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him:" and he often expatiated, with much originality and beauty, upon the divine attributes, and constantly exhorted men to adhere closely to the path of duty; yet, not often from the higher, namely, the evangelical motives, to pure, and benevolent, and holy conduct. His knowledge of Christianity, as a system of restoration and reconciliation, was comparatively defective and
obscure; and he felt but little alive to those peculiarities of the new dispensation, upon which, in maturer life, he loved to dwell. In his preaching he dealt too much in generalities, or enlarged upon topics, which, though in a certain sense noble and inspiring, and thus calculated to elevate the mind, did not immediately flow from the great scheme of redemption, which it was his especial office to disclose. The extent of God's matchless love and mercy—the depth of the mystery of his designs—the inexhaustible treasury of his blessings and graces -the wonderful benefits flowing from the incarnation, humiliation, and sacrifice of the Son of God—the delightful privileges of the saints,—were themes to which he recurred far less frequently than in later days; and he persuaded himself that this was not very wrong, because his colleague, Dr. Evans, who had “ the care of the church,” adverted so incessantly to the doctrines of our Lord's divinity and atonement, of spiritual influence and regeneration, as to leave room for him to explore other regions of instruction and interest.
It is possible that Mr. Hall, from his habit of self-depreciation, may have a little overcharged this picture: yet the notes of several of his sermons, preached from 1785 to 1789, taken down by one of the congregation, and which are now in my possession, confirm, to a considerable extent, the existence of the serious defect, which he subsequently so much deplored.
Considering his early age, twenty-one, it was manifestly unfavourable to the correct developement of his character as a preacher, that in August 1785, only three months after his quitting Aberdeen, he was appointed classical tutor in the Bristol Academy, on the resignation of Mr. Newton. That additional appointment he held for more than five years, and discharged its duties with marked zeal and activity, and with commensurate success. At this period of his life he was celebrated as a satirist, and would overwhelm such of his associates as tempted him to the use of those formidable weapons, with wit and raillery, not always playful. Aware, however, that this propensity was calculated to render him unamiable, and to give permanent pain to others, (a result which the generosity of his disposition made him anxious to avoid,) he endeavoured to impose a restraint upon himself, by writing the Essay on the “Character of Cleander; "* in which he exposes, with just severity, that
. See Vol. III. p. 459.
species of sarcasm to which he believed himself most prone; and thus, by its publication, gave to others the opportunity, when he slid into this practice, of reproving him in his own language.
It seems to have been remarkably, and doubtless mercifully, overruled, that, during this period of Mr. Hall's history, though his more judicious and wise friends were often grieved by the free and daring speculations which he advanced in private, he never promulgated direct and positive error from the pulpit. And thus they who were filled with apprehension on account of sallies in conversation, would listen with delight to his public addresses. This will be evinced by a few extracts from the journals of two of his constant friends.
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.—The Lord keep that young man!”
Again, “1785, June 14. Taken up with the company of Mr. Robert Hall, jun. ; 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 !"
Again, “ June 15. Rode to Clipston to attend the ministers' meeting. R. Hall, jun. preached a glorious sermon, on the immutability of God, from James i. 17, "The father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.'
Again, “ 1786, June 13. Sent off a letter to Robert Hall, jun., which I wrote chiefly in answer to one of his some months ago, wherein he replied to mine concerning some disagreeable reports from Birmingham: added some new hints respecting another matter lately reported. O that God may keep that young man in the way
of truth and holiness." It hence appears, that Dr. Ryland, who was nearly twelve years older than Mr. Hall, and had known him from his childhood, did not rest satisfied with silent lamentations. This excellent man, fearing that his young friend was about to precipitate himself into a very dangerous course, sought by kind
but strong expostulation to rescue him from the peril; and thus addressed him.
“MY VERY DEAR FRIEND, “ The fullest consciousness that I have a right to call you so, as really feeling an earnest and tender concern for your welfare, and the recollection that you apparently allowed it when I last saw you, encourages me to write to you ; though I may as well tell you at once that I am going to write to you in the same strain of complaint and censure which I have been constrained to use before. And indeed my fears and grief were never excited to such a degree concerning you as they now are. I still hope, however, you have much love to God; and I trust so much conviction of
sincere friendship, that you will not say of me as one said of Micaiah, 'I hate him, for he is always saying evil of me. Indeed, the things that grieve me I shall industriously conceal from every body as long as I can; but I fear they will spread fast enough : for if you openly utter all your mind, there are not many who will mourn in secret over the report. .
“It gave me extreme uneasiness to hear, this week, of the general disgust you had given to your former friends at Birmingham, on your last visit. Verily I wish that neither you, nor I, nor others, may fight for the truth with infernal weapons. I would wish to feel in my inmost soul the tenderest pity for the most erroneous men in the world, and to shew all proper respect to men of science, and men who are regular in their outward conduct. Nor should I at all approve of violent or harsh language, or like to speak my opinion of the state of individuals. But at the same time I cannot but think, that the lusts of the mind may as effectually ruin a man as the lusts of the flesh.' And I must get a good way toward Socinianism myself before I have any strong hope that a Socinian, living and dying such, will see the kingdom of God. When the merciful Jesus declared, 'He that believeth shall be saved,' &c. I cannot believe that he meant simply, that he shall be saved who believes that Jesus was not an impostor, and who believes the Doctrine of the Resurrection. But these two articles are, I believe, the whole of Dr. Priestley's Christianity, and if once I were to think this Christianity enough to carry a man to heaven, I should not, I fear, be very strenuous in my endeavours to convince men of the danger of selfrighteousness, and the necessity of a reliance on the Atonement. Oh! my dear friend, can I conceive that your mind was deeply impressed with a sense of the divine purity and the justice of God's law, when you could utter so vain and vile a speech as this?" The Doctor then cites the language imputed to Mr. Hall.
It implied that if he were the Judge of all, he could not condemn Dr. Priestley. After animadverting strongly upon the phrase which he understood was actually employed, he proceeds thus:
“ It is, I am sure, not malevolence, but sincere love, that makes me jealous of you. May the Lord keep you! I wish you would look over afresh the Epistle to the Galatians, and examine whether your charity is as chaste as Paul's. I allude to a proverb you have doubtless heard— Charity is an angel, while she rejoiceth in the truth, a harlot when she rejoiceth in iniquity ;'--embracing those whom she should rather pity and weep over.
Study to enter into the very spirit of Paul's discourse, 1 Cor. i. 18—31, or Gal. ii. 15—21 ; and if this is consistent with supposing it would be unfair for God to punish any man for rejecting the Gospel, who understood chemistry and philosophy, why, then retain your favourable opinion of the safety of Socinians. “Receive this as a proof of the affection with which I am
“ Your faithful friend,
“J. RYLAND." Many high-spirited young men, we can readily imagine, would have treated such a letter as this with contempt; while others would have replied to it in a lofty tone of surprise and indignation. But Dr. Ryland's young friend, notwithstanding the errors into which his impetuosity had hurried him, had too much generosity to regard as insulting what he knew was dictated by affection; and therefore, anxious to shew that he could bear reproof, and be thankful for it, he promptly replied:
“MY DEAR FRIEND, “I have just received your letter, and think it of so much importance as to deserve an immediate answer. Accordingly, without the least delay, I have set myself to reply to it. I am exceedingly obliged to you for your friendly expostulation, because I know it is the effusion of a pious and benevolent heart that wishes me well. With respect to the conversation at Birmingham, to which you allude, I shall conceal nothing."
He then, at the same time that he denies the precise language that was imputed to him, states what he did really say ; and aims to justify the sentiment which he had maintained : disclaiming, however, any approximation to Socinian doctrine.
"You seem to suspect I am far gone in Socinianism; but, in this, my dear friend, give me leave to say, you are utterly mistaken. Since I first began to reflect, I do not recollect a time