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tion? The same remark may be applied to the popular choice of a minister. This, however, does not supersede the necessity, or set aside the wisdom on the part of a destitute church, of taking counsel from experienced men.
The attention of the church, after the death of Mr. Punfield, was dirrcted to Mr. Williams, of Oswestry, who had come to Birmingham to solicit contributions for a chapel then in the course of erection for him. After a probationary term of a few weeks, he received a cordial invitation to become their pastor, which he accepted, and entered upon his ministry January 1st, 1793. Of this eminent man a somewhat lengthened account will be here introduced.
Dr. Williams was born November 14, 1750, at Glanclyd, near Denbigh, on a farm which his ancestors had occupied near a century and a half. His religious character was early formed by the blessing of God upon
his own reflections, aided by some remarkable dreams, which considerably impressed his mind and awakened his conscience. Young Williams was sent to a school at Asaph, connected with the Established Church, and it was the desire of his father he should be brought up as a clergyman, to which, after a long and conscientious struggle against paternal predilections, his sense of filial duty yielded for awhile assent, and he was preparing for college, when, after witnessing some scenes connected with ordination, and hearing the sermons of some of the most eloquent Welsh Methodist preachers, he could no longer silence his conscience, which protested against the Church of England, and he was permitted by his reluctant father, who had persecuted him for his dissenting propensities, to enter the Nonconformist College at Abergavenny. After a course of study at this place of four years, he settled, in 1775, as the pastor of the Independent church at Ross. In this retired situation he devoted himself to study and piety, and his growth in grace kept pace with his advance in knowledge. In 1777 he removed to Oswestry, where his diary and letters prove him to have been a great reader, and a close and independent thinker. While here, his reputation as a theologian and a metaphysician commenced, and he was requested by Lady Glenorchy, through Mr. Scott, of Drayton, to take into his house, where he already kept a school, a few young men whom he might prepare for the work of the ministry ; to this he assented, and two were immediately placed under his tuition.
Whilst thus engaged, Mr. Williams was solicited to undertake the office of President of the College at Abergavenny, where he had received his own education. To this he was inclined; but some circumstances transpired which altered his purpose, and determined him to remain at Oswestry, where the number of his students was now increased. It was at Oswestry that his first original work of any magnitude was published, which consisted of a reply to Mr. Booth's "Pædobaptism examined," which had obtained no small celebrity. This treatise Mr. Williams undertook to answer, and thus plunged into all the depths of that still "vexed question,” and seemingly interminable controversy. After the publication of his two volumes on the baptismal controversy, his next literary work was his abridgment of the four folios of Dr. Owen's Exposition of the Hebrews.
Finding, as others have found, the labours of the pastorate, and the tutorship, too much for his health, he determined to accept an invitation he received from the church at Carr's-lane, to take the oversight of them in the Lord. At the time of his being requested to settle at Birmingham he was also solicited to succeed Dr. Addington as President of the College then situated at Mile End, London, which was afterwards removed to Honiton, and subsequently to Highbury. The reasons which led him to remove from Oswestry, led him to decline Mile End.
Mr. Williams introduced himself to his new charge in Birmingham, by delivering his admirable discourse, since published, on “ Glorying in the cross of Christ." It is a little remarkable that while, on Saturday evening, at a friend's house, he was preparing this sermon for re-delivery next morning, it having been already preached to his former congregation, his host delivered to him a newspaper, in which it was announced that the University of Edinburgh had spontaneously conferred upon him the diploma of Doctor of Divinity, as an acknowledgment alike of his general merits as a learned theologian, and the service he had rendered to the cause of Infant Baptism by his late treatise on that subject. It was a pleasing coincidence, certainly, that the knowledge of this academic honour, which to some is an object of such ambition to win, and of such delight to wear, should have come to him when contemplating the lustre of that object, in whose effulgence the brighest earthly distinctions“ have no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth.”
“This sermon, excellent in itself, and at all times adapted to edify the reader, was peculiarly appropriate,” says Mr. Gilbert, Dr. Williams's biographer, “ to Birmingham, the scene of Dr. Priestley's labours in the cause of Socinianism. The circumstance that such a man had been devoting talents of no common order to undermine the doctrines which Mr. W. considered as alone capable of supporting the Christian hope, would
of itself impress his mind with the importance of his new situation.
Though this town presented an extensive field, the church and congregation at Carr's-lane were in a depressed state, and considerable derangement had occurred in its affairs. Dissenters were objects of no small jealousy, and in the preceding years political and ecclesiastical rancour had created those disgraceful tumults which will ever continue a stain upon the history of that large and wealthy seat of manufacture. It may be regarded as a peculiar interference of Providence, that such a place, at such a time, should be favoured with the ministry of a man whose learning, piety, prudence, mildness, and zeal in the cause of truth, and ability to defend it, so eminently qualified him for the work assigned him.”
Under Dr. Williams's ministry and pastorate the congregation somewhat revived, and the church a little increased. He was a good pastor, and devoted himself much to the instruction of the young men.
Still as he was by no means a popular and effective speaker, his preaching did not attract many to hear him, and he had to complain of a want of success.
It is due to the memory of Dr. Williams to state, that although engaged in the investigation of some of the profoundest questions that ever engaged and perplexed the human understanding, such as the origin of evil, and the divine decrees, his heart was tenderly alive to the interests of the human race, and to the necessity of more active measures than had hitherto been carried on for promoting them. At a meeting of ministers held at Warwick, in June, 1793, he was requested to prepare a circular letter for the purpose of exciting the ministers and churches of the congregational denomination to more energetic efforts for the glory of God and the
good of mankind. by the spread of the Christian religion. With this request he complied, and a letter was published, which proposed the revival of religion in the churches at home, the more perfect evangelization of our own country, and the spread of the gospel abroad by sending well qualified missionaries to the heathen. To this letter may be traced up, in no small degree, the present noble organisation of the London Missionary Society, for Dr. Williams's appeal was followed the next year by a similar one from Dr. Bogue, in the Evangelical Magazine, and though the Society owed its existence proximately to the letters of that distinguished man, yet he was preceded in his efforts by Dr. Williams's letter, and in all probability had his mind directed to the subject by the resolutions and letter of the Warwickshire ministers.
Dr. Williams, after labouring in Birmingham for three years and a half, was invited to preside over the Yorkshire Independent College, originally situated at Heckmondwick, then removed to Northouram, and finally settled at Masbro', near Rotheram, six miles from Sheffleld. This invitation, together with a request to become the pastor of the church at Masbro', he felt it his duty to accept, the deep sorrow of the church at Carrislane, which duly appreciated the talents of this inestimable man.
In addition to the duties of the pastorate, and the weighty obligations connected with the chair of theology and general superintendence of the college, Dr. Williams continued to labour for the press. In connexion with Mr. Parsons, of Leeds, he brought ont a new and elegant edition of the works of Dr. Doddridge, to which he appended more than a hundred notes on various theological topics, and some of them of the most abstruse