« VorigeDoorgaan »
quently the principal of Rotherham College, Yorkshire, after Dr. Williams's death, and now the venerable Dr. Bennet, pastor of the church in Falcon-square, London. On his declining the invitation, he recommended to their consideration the present pastor, whom he had been the means of introducing to the ministry, and who was then a student at the College of Gosport, under the presidency of Dr. Bogue.* My first visit to Birmingham was in August, 1804, when I was just turned nineteen years
age. An invitation was given to me before I left the town, to come as soon as my studies were completed, and settle with the people as their future pastor. A rather hazardous step on the part of the congregation, to give an invitation to so young a man,
and one of some temerity in him, to accept it; and one which, though by God's great mercy it has turned out better than could have been expected, other churches sbould be very cautious in imitating.
At the time of my first visit to Birmingham, the Baptist meeting-house in Cannon-street was being rebuilt, and the congregation was accommodated on two parts of the Sabbath with the use of the one in Carroslane; they had it early in the morning and in the evening, and we occupied it the intermediate times. On the return of the young preacher to Gosport, it was proposed that the two congregations should unite, and Mr. Morgan, the Baptist minister, should preach to them. This was an accommodation to both, the one having no place, and the other no minister : and it was the more agreeable, as Mr. Morgan's preaching was very acceptable to the congregation in Carr's-lane chapel. When I had completed my course of education, and came to reside in the scene of my future labours, the meeting-house in Cannon-street was still unfinished, and it was agreed upon between the two pastors and their flocks, that till our Baptist friends could occupy their own sanctuary, the two congregations should still continue one, and Mr. Morgan and myself alternately preach to them. As the church in Cannon-street held, and many of the members still hold, what are called "strict communion" principles, they could not unite with us in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, to which we should have had no objection, and we therefore separately observed that ordinance. It must strike us that it presents a rather strong prima facie objection against the strict communion principles, that after uniting in all the other exercises of public worship, enjoying all the other means and ordinances of Christian fellowship, and exhibiting to the world so beautiful an instance and illustration of the union and communion of believers, we should break up at the end of the sermon, from the
* To avoid circumlocution, I speak in the first person in what relates to myself.
and refuse to go to the table of the Lord together. It does not look as if it could be right, and it seems as if no argument, however specious and subtle, could prove it to be so.
This association between the two congregations lasted ten months, and was uninterrupted and unembittered by any thing whatever, either between the pastors or their flocks.
My ordination to the pastoral office took place May 8th, 1806, when Drs. Bogue and Williams, and Messrs. Jay, Bennet, Moody of Warwick, Steele of Kidderminster, and many others took part. It was a solemn and delightful day. The church had gone through much trouble, but now seemed to see brighter and happier days approaching. The old men wept for joy—the young ones rejoiced in hope.
The sun of prosperity, however, rose slowly and somewhat cloudily upon us.
The first seven years of our history were so discouraging, as regarded the increase of the congregation, that at the end of that term I had serious thoughts of removing to another sphere. During this period the school rooms, now occupied by our girls' daily school and by the infant school, were erected. Soon after this followed a considerable alteration and great improvement of the chapel, at an expense, including the amount laid out upon the school rooms, of about two thousand pounds. This latter work was done in 1812, and during its accomplishment we worshipped in the Old Meeting-house, which was obligingly granted to us two parts of the day. At the time of our return to Carr’s-lane, after an absence of several months, a very considerable increase of the congregation took place, so that every sitting in the chapel was taken, and even the table-pew was let.
There being still a demand for accommodation which could not be met by any vacant pews at our disposal, the congregation determined on Christmas-day, 1818, to take down the old chapel, and to erect a new one on its site. The former place would accommodate about eight hundred persons, and it was resolved that its successor should seat two thousand. Nearly four thoạsand pounds were subscribed at the meeting towards the new erection, which was completed the next year, and opened in August, 1819, when the late Dr. Fletcher, of London, preached in the morning, and Dr. Bennet in the evening. The collection after these sermons amounted to six hundred pounds. The building cost about eleven thousand pounds, so that notwithstanding the extraordi. nary liberality of the people, they were encumbered with a heavy debt of upwards of six thousand pounds.
The next erection, at an expense of about four hundred
pounds, was an organ. In the early days of nonconformity, and especially of puritanism, this appendage to public worship was classed, as it still is by some, with stone crosses, square caps, white surplices, and other symbols of Popery. A great change, in this respect, has of late years come over dissenting principles, or at any rate over our taste. I can remember the time when I did not know of scarcely a congregation in all our body that poured forth the praises of God to the majestic swell of an organ; and now organs are so multiplied, that almost all congregations seem eager to obtain this help to devotion. Let them be contemplated only in this latter view, as a help and not a substitute ; as a guide to lead the singing, and not a power to silence and suppress it: as a means to excite appropriate emotion, and not a species of mere tasteful entertainment: and let them be under the controul of the pastor, and not of the organist—and then they may be an advantage, and not an injury to our worship. When the pastor in this case was asked, as every pastor ought to be, whether he would consent to the introduction of an organ, he instantly replied, “ Yes, upon one condition—that he is master of the instrument and the organist.” It was at once conceded, and we have never had any dispute on that ground. The instrument has been used, not to exhibit its own capacity or the skill of the performer, but to lead the devotion of the congregation. There is one advantage in the use of an organ, and it is not an inconsiderable one—it renders the congregation independent of that most sensitive, and in many cases most troublesome and unmanageable of all classes of functionaries-a choir. Singing seats, as they are called, are more commonly the scenes of discord, than any other parts of the chapel : and it is indeed revolting to every pious feeling to see sometimes what characters, and to hear what music, are found in these high places of the sanctuary. I now speak from observation, but not from experience. The organ originally built in our chapel having been found to be a very indifferent one, both as to the mechanism and the tone, it was resolved by the trustees to have a new one, and the present admirable instrument, built by Hill, was erected and opened for use on Christmas-day, 1848. · The last effort of the congregation in the way of building in Carr’s-lane, was the erection of the new school rooms and lecture room, for which we are somewhat indebted to Sir James Graham's ill-timed attempt to set up a scheme of national education. These rooms cost us, including the purchase of houses for a site, not much less than three thousand pounds.
An event, interesting at any raté to myself, may be here introduced. When I had completed the fortieth year of my ministry, I preached a commemorative sermon, in which I took a retrospective survey, not only of the events of my own pastorate, but of the history of the church from its foundation, which I printed under the title of “GRATEFUL RECOLLECTIONS.” On this a meeting of the congregation was called, unknown to myself, to consider what notice should be taken of the sermon and of the circumstances which had given occasion to it. On similar occasions it is usual to get up a soireé, to have speeches of congratulation delivered, and to present a service of plate to the minister, more or less costly, according to the wealth of the congregation; and I do not see any thing wrong in such a mode of a congregation's testifying their affectionate respect and gratitude to a man who had devoted his life, talents, and labours for the promotion of their spiritual welfare. My friends, however, conceived of a project which they