appeared in our pages, that we readily pass over this part of the memoir. In composing for the press he was slow, and it might be thought fastidious; but his readers have no cause to regret his care, except that it lessened the quantity of his compositions.

We have already adverted to Mr. Hall's sermon on Modern Infidelity, published in 1800, which was followed two years after by his “ Reflections on War;" and the splendid series, as it may be considered, was concluded in 1803, by his “Sentiments proper to the present Crisis." It were impossible to add to the just eulogies which all these discourses called forth throughout the country, and needless at this late hour to point out their defects, some of which were glaring both in matter and manner, and not the least of which was the classical strain of elevated oratory which distinguished them. Mr. Pitt said, that the last ten pages of the discourse on "The Sentiments proper to the Crisis," were equal in eloquence to any passage of the same length in any author ancient or modern. But, with all our admiration for Robert Hall, we cannot altogether approve it, as the genuine eloquence of the Christian pulpit; it is splendid declamation; declamation, we admit, based on solid truth, and warmed by lofty patriotism ; but still not exactly what we expect from the lips of a minister of Christ : it is too much in the style of the Philippics, or the Cataline Orations, or of some passages in Edmund Burke; but it wants the simplicity, the sobriety, the meekness, the sacred unction which hefit the house of God. If we are fastidiously wrong in this opinion, our fastidiousness is at least on the safe side. Take, for instance, the splendid peroration of the discourse; in which he is addressing a company of volunteers, before whom the discourse was delivered :

“ Should you fall in this struggle, should the nation fall, you will have the satisfaction (the purest allotted to man) of having performed your part; your names will be enrolled with the most illustrious dead, while posterity, to the end of time, as often as they revolve the events of this period (and they will incessantly revolve them) will turn to you a reverential eye, while they mourn over the freedom which is entombed in your sepulchre. I cannot but imagine the virtuous heroes, legislators, and patriots, of every age and country, are bending from their elevated seats to witness this contest, as if they were incapable, till it be brought to a favourable issue, of enjoying their eternal repose. Enjoy that repose, illustrious immortals! Your mantle fell when you ascended ! and thousands inflamed with your spirit, and impatient to tread in your steps, are ready to swear by Him that sitteth upon the throne, and liveth for ever and ever, they will protect freedom in her last asylum, and never desert that cause which you sustained by your labours, and cemented with your blood. And Thou, sole Ruler among the children of men, to whom the shields of the earth belong, gird on thy sword, thou Most Mighty: go forth with our hosts to the day of battle ! Impart, in addition to their hereditary valour, that confidence of success which springs from thy presence,” &c. &c.

This is sublime, but it is heathenish. The placing the virtuous pagans in the mansions which our Saviour Christ went to prepare, and making them look down from their blessedness upon the Cambridge volunteers; and the exaggerated declamation about posterity never forgetting names which no man remembers at this moment; and the allusion to Elijah's mantle; and the irreverent introduction of the most solemn oath for oratorical effect; and making a prayer to God a vehicle of compliment to the hereditary valour of Britons; in short, the whole passage is any thing but Christian ; and Mr. Hall himself would, we believe, in his later years, have condemned this style as much as we do. We say this once for all, in regard to many of his eloquent passages. No man wrote more glowingly; no man reined-in his imagination less. Having reserved thus much for the rights of our conscience, we can afford to praise for the rest as highly as any of Mr. Hall's admirers, not excepting Sir James Mackintosh, who writes as follows of the admirable sermon on “ Modern Infidelity.”

From the enclosed letter, you will see the opinion which the Bishop of London (Dr. Porteus) has formed of your sermon, and you will observe that he does some justice to your merit. Mr. Archdeacon Eaton, to whom the letter was written, has allowed me to send it to you ; and I thought it might not be disagreeable to you to have it, as the opinion of a man, not indeed of very vigorous understanding, but an elegant writer, a man of taste and virtue, not to mention bis high station in the church.

“ I last night had a conversation about the sermon with a man of much greater talents, at a place where theological, or even literary discussions, are seldom heard. It was with Mr. Windham, at the Duchess of Gordon's rout. I asked him whether he had read it. He told me that he had, that he recommended it to every body; and, among others, on that very day, to the new Bishop of Bangor (Dr. Cleaver), who had dined with him. He said that he was exceedingly struck with the style, but still more with the matter. He particularly praised the passage on vanity as an admirable commentary on Mr. Burke's observations on vanity in bis character of Rousseau. He did not like it the worse, he said, for being taken from the source of all good, as he considered Mr. Burke's works to be. He thought, however, that you had carried your attack on vanity rather too far. He had recommended the sermon to Lord Grenville, who seemed sceptical about any thing good coming from the pastor of a Baptist congregation, especially at Cambridge.” p. 65.

The reputation which these publications brought to their author caused his chapel to be thronged with auditors; among whom might be seen gentlemen who had taken a journey from London to Cambridge expressly for the purpose of hearing Mr. Hall preach, with several score members of the university, including some of the fellows and tutors. A meeting of heads of houses was in consequence held to prevent this irregularity; but the matter dropped, in consequence chiefly of the refusal of the master of Trinity College (Dr. Mansel, afterwards Bishop of Bristol) to concur in it. He said that " he admired and revered Mr. Hall, both for his talents and his genuine liberality; that his preaching was not that of a partisan, but of an enlightened minister of Christ; that if he were not the master of Trinity, he should often attend himself; and that even now he had experienced a severe struggle before he could make up his mind to relinquish so great a benefit.” He also endeavoured to persuade Mr. Hall, through a common friend, to conform to the Established Church, in which he would not long have wanted preferment; but Mr. Hall, much to the honour of his integrity, though

we regret his decision, declined the invitation. Dr. Gregory, in referring to this period of Mr. Hall's life, laments that he did not make the best use of his great powers for religious edification. He was impetuous in argument; his conversation in ordinary society was intellectual, brilliant, but not systematic in its bearing towards positive utility; a defect of no slight nature in a Christian minister, whose whole conversation ought to be decidedly of a religiously profitable character. Mr. Hall himself lamented his failing in this respect, remarking to Dr. Gregory, as he went home from a party, “Ah, sir, I have again contributed to the loss of an evening, as to every thing truly valuable; go home with me, that we may spend at least one hour in a manner which becomes us.” Men of intellectual and lively character have often uttered similar lamentations, and have felt deeply humbled, that in point of practical usefulness as ministers of Christ in the hours of social intercourse, they have been so much exceeded by persons of far inferior talents and less expanded minds, who with quiet persevering uniformity have been ever on the watch for occasions of introducing religious conversation. Many men, whose station required them to live auch in the eyes of others, have recorded how painfully they felt their deficiencies in this respect; and Archbishop Tillotson, though he was a man of guarded conversation, and not guilty of indiscreet sallies, says, in one of his secret short-hand notes, which some friend contrived to decipher after his death, " It is surely an uneasy thing to sit always in a frame, and to be perpetually on one's guard, not to be able to speak a careless word, or to use a negligent posture, without observation and censure."

We must not pass by Dr. Gregory's account of Mr. Hall's style preaching

“ The commencement of his sermons did not excite much expectation in strange except they were such as recollected how the mental agitation produced by diffider characterised the first sentences of some of the orators of antiquity. He began w hesitation, and often in a very low and feeble tone, coughing frequently, as thou he were oppressed by asthmatic obstructions. As he proceeded his manner beca easy, graceful, and at length highly impassioned; his voice also acquired more fle ibility, body, and sweetness, and in all his happier and more successful effor swelled into a stream of the most touching and impressive melody. The farth he advanced, the more spontaneous, natural, and free from labour, seemed the pr gression of thought. He announced the results of the most extensive reading, the most patient investigation, or of the profoundest thinking, with such unassumir simplicity, yet set them in such a position of obvious and lucid reality, that ti auditors wondered how things so simple and manifest should have escaped then Throughout his sermons he kept his subject thoroughly in view, and so incessant] brought forward new arguments, or new illustrations, to confirm or to explain it, tha with him amplification was almost invariably accumulative in its tendency. On thought was succeeded by another, and that by another, and another, each mor weighty than the preceding, each more calculated to deepen and render permanent th ultimate impression." p. 54.

“ From the commencement of his discourse an almost breathless silence prevailed deeply impressive and solemnizing from its singular intenseness. Not a sound was heard but that of the preacher's voice-scarcely an eye but was fixed upon bim_not a countenance that he did not watch, and read, and interpret, as he surveyed them again and again with his rapid, ever-excursive glance. As he advanced and increased in animation, five or six of the auditors would be seen to rise and lean forward over the front of their pews, still keeping their eyes upon him. Some new or striking sentiment or expression would, in a few minutes, cause others to rise in like manner : shortly afterwards still more, and so on, until long before the close of the sermon, it often happened that a considerable portion of the congregation were seen standing, every eye directed to the preacher, yet now and then for a moment glancing from one to another, thus transmitting and reciprocating thought and feeling :-—Mr. Hall himself, though manifestly absorbed in his subject, conscious of the whole, receiving new animation from what he thus witnessed, reflecting it back upon those who were already alive to the inspiration, until all that were susceptible of thought and emotion seemed wound up to the utmost limit of elevation on earth,—when he would close, and they reluctantly and slowly resume their seats.” p. 55.

Interesting as is this account of Mr. Hall's style of preaching, we are much more pleased with what Dr. Gregory informs us respecting the character of his prayers.

His prayers were remarkable for their simplicity and their devotional feeling. No person could listen to them without being persuaded, that he who uttered them was really engaged in prayer, was holding communion with his God and Father in Christ Jesus. His tones and his countenance throughout these exercises were those of one most deeply imbued with a sense of his unworthiness, and throwing himself at the feet of the Great Eternal, conscious that he could present no claim for a single blessing, but the blood of atonement, yet animated by the cheering hope that the voice of that blood would prevail. The structure of these prayers never indicated any preconceived plan. They were the genuine effusions of a truly devotional spirit, animated by a vivid recollection of what in his own state, in that of the congregation, of the town and vicinity, needed most ardently to be laid before the Father of Mercies. Thus they were remarkably comprehensive, and furnished a far greater variety on the successive occasions of public worship, than those of any other minister whom I have ever known. The portions which were devoted to intercession, operated most happily in drawing the affections of his people towards himself; since they shewed how completely his Christian sympatby had prepared him to make their respective cases his own." p. 53.

We have already attended to the severe and almost constant agony which Mr. Hall experienced, and which proved after his death to be caused chiefly by large and sharp-pointed renal calculi. Doubtless this thorn in the flesh was known to his heavenly Instructor to be necessary for wise and merciful purposes ; yet, as if to shew how much severe discipline such a man needed to prevent his being exalted above measure, he was arrested in the meridian of his fame with that afflicting malady which most painfully shews how frail a possession is human intellect. This was in the year

1804 during his residence at Shelford, a village about five miles from Cambridge, whither he had retired for his health, being much exhausted in body and depressed in spirit by pain and want of sleep. He recovered in about two months, but had a return of his malady the next year, in consequence of which it was thought requisite that he should relinquish his pastoral office, and quit Cambridge and its neighbourhood altogether. It was with extreme reluctance that his flock accepted his resignation, after fifteen years of affectionate pastoral union; and they expressed their gratitude and attachment in every way in their power, and among others by purchasing for him a liberal life annuity.

Upon his second recovery Mr. Hall found a letter written to him from India by his old friend Sir James Mackintosh, then the Recorder of Bombay. It is a letter of warm friendehip and philosophical sentiment, but it painfully shows how little even a mind like that of the amiable and highly endowed writer understood the character of Christian piety. After stating the deep impression which had been left on his mind by his friend's brilliant fancy and acute intellect, though he confesses that in their youthful days at college he had failed to appreciate that “ extreme purity” of mind which had led his young companion to renounce the world and become “an inhabitant of regions where alone it is possible to be always active without impurity, and where the ardour of sensibility has unbounded scope amic'st the inexhaustible combinations of beauty and excellence;" he goes on to suggest in very delicate but significant terms, that this “extreme purity" had made him mad; veiling the statement, however, in such elegant eulogy that, if Mr. Hall had not been under a higher guidance than that of any earthly friend, he might too probably have wrought upon the hint, and thrown off his religion to get rid of his melancholy. We rejoice in believing, as we gather from Dr. Gregory's passing statement elsewhere, that Sir James before he died viewed this infinitely important subject with far other feelings : but a portion of his letter is worth quoting, besides its literary beauty, as an exhibition of the notions of too many men of philosophical mind in regard to the practical duty of "working out our salvation with fear and trembling,” of their latent belief that spiritual feelings are allied to insanity; and the dangerous methods which they are accustomed to suggest for throwing off morbid sensations, by avoiding that heavenly mindedness which they imagine to be connected with them. But it is now abundantly demonstrated that Mr. Hall's insanity was not the result of those “contemplations” which Sir James considered the cause of it; but of bodily pain and irritation, under which heavenly houghts, as in the kindred case of Cowper, were the best consolation. The letter is also of value for the sake of the concluding remarks, which shew that Sir James had a secret feeling, after all, that his friend was right and himself wrong; and our earnest trust is that by the mercy of God that feeling ripened into a principle which led him to die even such a one as his gifted friend. The following is Sir James's statement:

“ It is not given to us to preserve an exact medium. Nothing is so difficult as to decide how much ideal models ought to be combined with experience; how much of the future should be let into the present, in the progress of the human mind. To ennoble and purify, without raising us above the sphere of our usefulness; to qualify us for what we ought to seek, without unfitting us for that to which we must submit; are great and difficult problems, which can be but imperfectly solved.

" It is certain the child may be too manly, not only for his present enjoyments, but for his future prospects. Perhaps, my good friend, you have fallen into this error of superior natures. From this error has, I think, arisen that calamity with which it has pleased Providence to visit you, which, to a mind less fortified' by reason and religion, I should not dare to mention, but which I really consider in you as little more than the indignant struggles of a pure mind with the low realities which surround it,-the fervent aspirations after regions more congenial to it,—and a mq


mentary blindness, produced by the fixed contemplation of objects too bright for human vision. I may say, in this case, in a far grander sense than that in which the words were originally spoken by our great poet,

And yet The light which led astray was light from heaven.' “On your return to us, you must surely have found consolation in the only terrestrial produce which is pure and truly exquisite; in the affections and attachments you have inspired, which you were most worthy to inspire, and which no human pollution can rob of their heavenly nature. If I were to prosecute the reflections, and indulge the feelings, which at this moment fill my mind, I should soon venture to doubt, whether, for a calamity derived from such a source, and attended with such consolations, I should so far yield to the views and opinions of men, as to seek to condole with you. But I check myself, and I exhort you, my most worthy friend, to check your best propensities, for the sake of attaining their object

. You cannot live for men without living with them. Serve God then by the active service of men. Contemplate more the good you can do than the evil you can only lament. Allow yourself to see the loveliness of virtue amidst all its imperfections; and employ your moral imagination, not so much by bringing it into contrast with the model of ideal perfection, as in gently blending some of the fainter colours of the latter with the brighter bues of real experienced excellence; thus heightening their beauty, instead of broadening the shade which must surround us till we awaken from this dream in other spheres of existence.

“ My babits of life have not been favourable to this train of meditation. I have been too busy or too trifling. My nature perhaps would bave been better consulted if I had been placed in a quieter station, where speculation might have been my business, and visions of the fair and good my chief recreation. When I approach you, I feel a powerful attraction towards this which seems the natural destiny of my mind; but habit opposes obstacles, and duty calls me off, and reason frowns on him wbo wastes that reflection on a destiny independent of him, which he ought to reserve for actions of which he is the master.

In another letter I may write to you on miscellaneous subjects ; at present I cannot bring my mind to speak of them.” pp. 76—78.

These painful visitations were of great service to Mr. Hall's religious character; for long after his spirits had recovered their wonted tone, he was accustomed to say that whatever might have been the correctness of his doctrine or life in former years, it was not till after the first of these afflicting seizures that " he underwent a thorough transformation of character, a complete renewal of his heart and affections." But be this as it may, it is certain that from this period he became more decidedly devoted to the service of God; and his conversation and preaching were henceforth characterised by a more scriptural, spiritual, and edifying strain of thought and elevation of feeling. Of this we have a most affecting illustration in a document which has been found among his private papers since his death, and which he entitles, “ An Act of solemn Dedication of myself to God.” Such written covenants have been strongly recommended by many eminent Christians; while they have been objected to by others, both as being a snare to the conscience, and also as unnecessary, since they are implied in the stipulations of baptism, and also in the mental act of self-dedication to

But without discussing the general question, we can truly say that among all the papers of this kind which we have read in religious biographies and diaries, we never perused one more affecting and more characterised by scriptural doctrine and deep humility than that which we are about to transcribe :

An Act of solemn Dedication of myself to God. “O LORD, thou that searchest the heart and triest the reins of the children of men, be thou the witness of what I am now about, in the strength of thy grace, to attempt. that grace I humbly and earnestly implore, to give validity and effect to that act of solemn engagement of myself to thy service, on which I am about to enter. * Thou knowest my foolishness, and my sins are none of them hid from thee.' . I was born in sin, and in iniquity did my mother conceive me.' I am an apostate, guilty branch of an apostate guilty root, and my life has been a series of rebellions and transgressions, in which I have walked according to the course of this world; according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of

« VorigeDoorgaan »