Page images

of young men preparing for the ministerial office among the Baptists, he studied divinity, and some collateral subjects, principally under the guidance of his father, with occasional hints from his acute metaphysical friend, still residing in the same village. Having, in this interval, given satisfactory proofs of his piety, and of a strong predilection for the pastoral office, he was placed at the Bristol Institution, upon Dr. Ward's foundation, in October 1778, being then in his fifteenth year. He remained there until the autumn of 1781, when the president of the institution reported to the general meeting of subscribers and friends, that “two pupils, Messrs Stennett and “ Hall, had been continued upon Dr. Ward's exhibition, but

were now preparing to set out for Scotland, according to the “ Doctor's will."

The Bristol Academy, when Mr. Hall first joined it, was under the superintendence of the Rev. Hugh Evans, who was shortly afterwards succeeded by his son, Dr. Caleb Erans, both as president of the institution, and as pastor of the Baptist church in Broadmead. The Rev. James Newton, was the classical tutor. Under these able men he pursued his studies with great ardour and perseverance. He became an early riser; and it was remarked in consequence, that he was often ready to attend the tutor for the morning lessons, before some of his fellow-students had commenced their preparation.

His sentiments at this time respecting his theological tutor, and the importance of his studies in general, may be gathered from the subjoined extracts from two letters to his father, both written before July 1780.

“ Dr. Evans is a most amiable person in every respect : as a man, generous and open hearted ; as a christian, lively and spiritual ; as a preacher, pathetic and fervent; and, as a tutor, gentle, meek, and condescending I can truly say that he has, on all occasions, behaved to me with the tenderness and affection of a parent, whom I am bound by the most endearing ties to hold in everlasting honour and esteem.

“Through the goodness of God, of whom in all things I desire to be continually mindful, my pursuits of knowledge afford me increasing pleasure, and lay open fresh sources of improvement and entertainment. That branch of wisdom in which, above all others, I wish and crave your assistance is divinity, of all others the most interesting and important. It is the height of my ambition, that, in some happy period of my life, my lot may be cast near you, when I may

[ocr errors]

have the unspeakable pleasure of consulting, on different subjects, you, whose judgement I esteem not less than an oracle.

“We, poor, short-sighted creatures, are ready to apprehend that we know all things, before we know anything ; whereas it is a great part of knowledge to know that we know nothing. Could we behold the vast depths of unfathomed science, or glance into the dark recesses of hidden knowledge, we should be ready to tremble at the precipice, and cry out— Who is sufficient for these things ?'”

The system of instruction at Bristol, comprehended not merely the learned languages and the rudiments of science, but a specific course of preparation for the ministerial office, including the habit of public speaking. Essays and theses on appropriate topics, were written and delivered, under the direction of the tutors : religious exercises were carefully attended to; and the students were appointed, in turn, to speak or preach upon subjects selected by the president. Among the books first put into Mr. Hall's hands to prepare him for these exercises, was Gibbons's Rhetoric, which he read with the utmost avidity, and often mentioned in after life, as rekindling the emotion excited by Mr. Robins's preaching, improving his sensibility to the utility as well as beauty of fine writing, and creating an intense solicitude to acquire an elegant as well as a perspicuous style. He was, therefore, more active in this department of academical labour than many of his compeers. Usually, however, after his written compositions had answered the purpose for which they were prepared, he made no effort to preserve them; but either carelessly threw them aside, or distributed them among his associates, if they expressed any desire to possess them. Some of these early productions, therefore, have escaped the corrosions of time. The only one which I have been able to obtain is an essay on Ambition,” in which there is more of the tumultuary flourish of the orator, than he would ever have approved after he reached his twentieth year. Nor was it correct in sentiment. The sole species of excellence recommended to be pursued was superiority of intellect; all moral qualities, as well as actions directed to the promotion of human welfare, being entirely overlooked.

Indeed, there is reason to apprehend that at this period of his life, Mr. Hall, notwithstanding the correctness and excellence of his general principles, and the regularity of his devotional habits, had set too high an estimate on merely intellectual

attainments, and valued himself, not more perhaps than was natural to youth, yet too much, on the extent of his mental possessions. No wonder, then, that he should experience salutary mortification.

And thus it happened. He was appointed, agreeably to the arrangement already mentioned, to deliver an address in the vestry of Broadmead chapel, on 1 Tim. iv. 10. " Therefore, we both labour and suffer “ reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is “the Saviour of all men; specially of those that believe." After proceeding, for a short time, much to the gratification of his auditory, he suddenly paused, covered his face with his hands, exclaimed, “Oh! I have lost all my ideas," and sat down, his hands still hiding his face. The failure, however, painful as it was to his tutors, and humiliating to himself, was such as rather augmented than diminished their persuasion of what he could accomplish, if once he acquired self-possession. He was, therefore, appointed to speak again, on the same subject, at the same place, the ensuing week. This second attempt was accompanied by a second failure, still more painful to witness, and still more grievous to bear. He hastened from the vestry, and on retiring to his room, exclaimed, “If this does not humble “me, the devil must have me!" Such were the early efforts of him whose humility afterwards became as conspicuous as his talents, and who, for nearly half a century, excited universal attention and admiration by the splendour of his pulpit eloquence.

Our student spent the first summer vacation after his entering the Bristol institution, under the paternal roof at Arnsby ; and, in the course of that residence at home, accompanied his father to some public religious service at Clipstone, a village in Northamptonshire. Mr. Hall, senior, and Mr. Beddome of Bourton, well known by his Hymns, and his truly valuable Sermons*, were both engaged to preach. But, the latter, being much struck with the appearance, and some of the remarks, of the son of his friend, was exceedingly anxious that he should preach in the evening, and proposed to relinquish his own engagement, rather than be disappointed. To this injudicious proposal, after resisting every importunity for some time, he at length yielded; and entered the pulpit to address an auditory of ministers, many of whom he had been accustomed

* See Vol. IV. p. 438–440.


from his infancy to regard with the utmost reverence.

He selected for his text, 1 John i. 5, “ God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all;" and, it is affirmed, treated this mysterious and awful subject with such metaphysical acumen,

and drew from it such an impressive application, as excited the deepest interest.

On the arrival of the summer vacation, in 1780, he again visited Arnsby; and during the period he then remained at home, his father became fully satisfied that his piety was genuine, as well as that his qualifications for the office of a preacher were of a high order. He therefore expressed to many of his friends his desire that he should be “set apart to the sacred work.” Solicitous not to be led aside from a correct judgement by the partiality of a father, he resolved that the church over which he was pastor, should judge of his son's fitness, and recognise their conviction by a solemn act. The members of the church, after cautious and deliberate inquiry, ratified the decision of the anxious parent, and earnestly and unanimously requested “that Robert Hall, Jun. might be set "apart to public employ.”

“Accordingly,” as the following extract from the Churchbook' testifies, on the 13th of August, 1780,"he was ex“amined by his father before the church, respecting his incli“nation, motives, and end, in reference to the ministry, and “ was likewise desired to make a declaration of his religious “sentiments. All which being done to the entire satisfaction “of the church,* they therefore set him apart by lifting up “their right hands, and by solemn prayer.

[ocr errors]


As the words church, deacon, &c. when used by congregational dissenters, whether baptist, or pædobaptist, are employed in senses differing from what are current among episcopalians, I annex this brief note to prevent misconception.

Among the orthodox dissenters of the class just specified, a distinction is always made between a church and a congregation. A congregation includes the whole of an assembly collected in one place for worship, and may therefore comprehend not merely real christians, but nominal christians, and, it may be, unbelievers, who, from various motives, often attend public worship. The church is constituted of that portion of these, who, after cautious investigation, are believed, in the exercise of judgement and charity, to be real christians. It is regarded as the duty of such to unite themselves in fellowship with a church, and conform to its rules; and the admission is by the suffrage of the members of the respective ekurch; its connected congregation having no voice in this matter. A christian church is regarded as a voluntary society, into which the members are incorporated under the authority of Christ, whose laws they engage to obey, for the important purposes of promoting the mutual improvement of those who compose “ His father then delivered a discourse to him, from 2 Tim. “ii. 1. Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Being thus sent forth, he preached in the " afternoon from 2 Thess. i. 7, 8. The Lord Jesus shall be

revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming "fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that

obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.—May the “Lord bless him, and grant him great success !"

It is worthy of observation that, on this solemn occasion, as well as when he preached at Clipstone, Mr. Hall selected texts of the class most calculated to elicit those peculiar powers for which he was through life distinguished.

In little more than a year after Mr. Hall had been thus publicly designated a preacher of the gospel, having pursued his studies at Bristol with great assiduity and corresponding success, he was, as already hinted, appointed to King's College, Aberdeen, on Dr. Ward's foundation. In his journey thither, he was accompanied by Mr. Joseph Stennett, the son of the late Rev. Dr. Stennett, and another student, Mr. John Pownall, still living. The two former of these had letters to the venerable Dr. Erskine of Edinburgh ; and he again supplied them with introductions to two eminent individuals at Aberdeen. This appears from a letter sent by the doctor, 2d Nov. 1781, to Mr. Ryland of Northampton ; from which, as it exhibits his view of the state of things at Aberdeen, at that period, I present a brief extract.

it, by an orderly discharge of religious duties, and of bringing others to the knowledge of the truth. Every such church of Christ is considered as an independent society, having a right to enjoy its own sentiments, to choose its own officers, maintain its own discipline, admit members, or expel them on persisting in conduct unworthy of the christian profession; without being controlled or called to an account by any others whatever.

Such a church, as a christian community, observes the Sacrament, or “Communion of the body and blood of Christ,” at stated seasons; the members of other churches being admissible, with the consent of the members present, on any specific occasion.

The officers of such a church consist of bishops or presbyters (i.e. pastors), and deacons. The latter are not, as in the church of England, and among other episcopalians, an order of the clergy, but are laymen. They are chosen from among the members of the church, and their business is “to sce that the table of the Lord, the table of the poor, and the table of the minister, be supplied." They attend to the secular concerns of the church, as a body, and to all that relates to the convenience of the society, in reference to their public meeting. In many societies, too, they assist the pastor in his general superintendence.

« PreviousContinue »