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churches, where the worship of God was constantly kept up; their children and families were duly instructed ; and themselves, when they came to trial, cheerfully suffered persecution for the integrity of their hearts, abhorring to contradict, by their practice, what they professed in principle, or, by any hypocritical compliance, to give the world reason to believe they had not dissented but upon a sincerely-examined and mere conscientious scruple.
Among these, both ministers and people, there was a joint concurrence in carrying on the work of religion: the first preached sound doctrine, without jingle or trifling; they studied what they delivered ; they preached their sermons, rather than read them in the pulpit ; they spoke from the heart to the heart, nothing like our cold declaiming way, entertained now as a mode, and read with a flourish, under the ridiculous notion of being methodical; but what they conceived by the assistance of the great Inspirer of his servants, the Holy Spirit, they delivered with a becoming gravity, a decent fervor, an affectionate zeal, and a ministerial authority, suited to the dignity of the office, and the majesty of the work; and as a testimony of this their practical works, left behind them, are a living specimen of what they performed among us : such are the large volumes of divinity remaining of Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Manton, Dr. Owen, Dr. Bates, Mr. Charnock, Mr. Pool, Mr. Clarkson, Mr. Baxter, Mr. Flavell, Mr. How, and others, too many to mention.
It will be a sad testimony of the declining state of the Dissenters in England, to examine the race of ministers that filled up the places of those gone before, but more especially the stock springing up to succeed those now employed, and to compare them with those gone off the stage. It is not the design of this work to make personal reflection, or invidious comparisons: as few as possible shall be pointed out. The ministers now serving you are too modest not to own the factthe young ones introducing, too ignorant to have their opinion valued, though they should oppose it; and that pride which leads them to think otherwise is the very ignorance and defect we complain of.
To avoid entering into the odious particulars more than is needful to make out what is alleged, it may be proper to examine the reason of the difference between the ministers of this age and the last ;
and if it
appears that the decay is a necessary consequence of the present management of affairs
among the Dissenters, and that it really can be no otherwise, there will be less need of dipping into characters.
Three things in the management of the Dissenters relating to their ministers, make it impossible they should come up to the pitch of the last age, and will make a farther decay infallibly the consequence, if they do not, in time, think of some method to correct the mistake; restrain the spreading of the mischief, and bring learning and preaching more into use among them than it seems to be at present. These are :
I. The manner of supplying the Dissenters with ministers.
If all these are altered from what they formerly were, and that so much as to make a decay of the ministry unavoidable, then there will want very little assistance to prove, that there is such a decay, or that this decay tends to the ruin of the Dissenting interest : the author of this, designing it only for the conviction of the parties concerned, in order to their speedy looking into it for amendment, and for recovery of the Dissenters' interest, before it be too late, avoids many enlargements and illustrations which he could bring, perhaps more to the advantage of the argument than to the people he is speaking to.
But in order to the plainness and brevity designed, and to come directly to the point, we desire you, the Dissenters in and about London especially, to examine seriously whether the following account of the supplies of ministers be matter of fact or no; if you find it is not, every honest man will be contented, and glad to see it contradicted and disapproved; and if it be, they will be much more glad to see you set heartily about some method to reform it, and to restore, if possible, a painful, learned, judicious, and pious ministry to the Dissenters, which alone can prevent the destruction of their interest, and the return of their posterity to the Church, from whence, we think, we had good reason to withdraw.
The supply of ministers is to be understood twofold: 1. By educating and bringing up youth to the work. And, 2. By calling, removing, or transplanting ministers already brought up from one place to another. The first respects the whole body of Dissenters in England; the second chiefly respects London, and the other capital cities or towns where the congregations are wealthy and large.
1. To begin with the education of ministers. It is true, and it is not laid as a blame upon the Dissenters, that they being a body of people under what we may call persecuted circumstances, tolerated, indeed, by the happy conjunction of circumstances in the government they live under, but under narrow contracted limits of the law, and a jealousy of their having rather too much than too little liberty, have not the encouragement of preferments, ecclesiastical honours, and advantages, or large stipends and benefices to raise their ministers to, and thereby to prompt them to hard and laborious study, and to the necessary qualifications that are requisite in this case. On the contrary, the utmost they have before them, when they set out, is a despised and ejected condition, to be mocked, contemned, and maltreated by the times, and to be sure never to rise higher than a mere parish priest. A minister of a private congregation lies under many disadvantages which the churchmen are free from; he frequently and generally lives an entire dependent upon the benevolence of his hearers, to whom he is, by that means, in a manner wholly subjected and liable always to their piques, disgusts, and cavils, whether reasonable or unreasonable ; nay, sometimes to their slanders and reproach, by which he is exposed to be blasted by their breath, and, if injured, has no remedy left him as a minister, nay, less than another man in many respects. This is attended with such consequences as these :
1. That few of those who have anything to give their children, or at least anything considerable, can entertain the thought of breeding them up to so despised a state as that of the ministry.
2. That of those that are brought up to it, if any great estate or honour befalls them, either by descent or accident, they soon grow weary of the contemptible employment, and lay by their books.
3. That if any temptation of advancement offers them, they are the sooner brought off to comply and change their party. Though it is not to be doubted but that want of a foundation in principle, and a stock of learning to support it, has been a greater occasion of a defection than the temptation of money, of which by itself.
To descend, then, to the manner of bringing up our young ministers among the Dissenters : it is evident that at this time, and for some years past, the ministers of the Dissenters are, generally speaking, bred up upon charity. This charity is, either when any particular person or congregation has taken up a youth some way or other related to them, (and generally for the sake of their parent,) and has been at the charge of their education; or by what they call the fund.* This fund is a certain sum of money, partly collected, either annually or quarterly, at the meeting-house doors, prompted by the earnest
* The Presbyterian Fund Board is intended. Dr. Daniel Williams is said, in “Memoirs” of his life and eminent conduct, attributed to De Foe's pen, to have been, “concerned very much, as a director of the public cash of the Dissenters, which they call by way of distinction THE FUND; and to this was annexed three trusts : 1. That of placing ministers, in the country, in proper and vacant places, and adding small appointments for them, in aid of such stipends as the place might afford, that they might live easy and comfortably; and as he said, might apply themselves to study, and to the execution of their office with composure, and might improve themselves for the public service; and it is observable of such young men, so planted by his care, and encouraged by his direction, some as great men as any the Dissenters have in view, are now risen up; such as Mr. James Pierce, of Exeter, Mr. — and others. 2. As to the academies and schools of the Dissenters, if I may not say they have been regulated by him, yet I may say they have been directed by him to such measures as, if they had been strictly adhered to by the masters, or submitted to by the pupils, it is reasonable to believe that the enemies of the Dissenters had not had room to insult and expose those little seminaries as they have done.”—pp. 34, 35. When this Fund was first instituted, we know not. Mr. Samuel Wesley, afterwards rector of Epworth, appears to have been assisted from such a source in 1678. Bogue and Bennett state, (vol. iii. p. 349,) that £2000 were contributed by the Presbyterian congregations in London for this object. In 1730, the collection at Salters' Hall amounted to €280.
exhortation of the ministers, and partly obtained by gifts of welldisposed persons, some by yearly allowance in their lives, and others by legacies at their death.
There is not the least design to object here against the faithful disposition of the money so collected, or the care of the ministers to whom it is generally entrusted in applying it. The schools that have been erected, the methods taken for instructing youth, the learning they get there, are no part of the complaints here made ; the masters, no question, do their best to train up and instruct the youth committed to them; all the complaints I have met with of that kind, seem to me either very trivial or ill proved, and very well answered by Mr. Samuel Palmer, (though since he has changed his note,) in his reply to Mr. Samuel Westly's Letter and Defence.*
But the thing is impossible in its own nature, the disadvantages of private academies, being without public libraries, without polite conversation, without suited authority, without classes to check and examine one another, and, above all, without time given to finish the youth in the studies they apply to, are unavoidable. The education to be had
* The Rev. Samuel Wesley, rector of Epworth, and father of John and Charles, the founders of Methodism, was the son of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., the ejected vicar of Winterbourne Whitchurch, and was born at Preston in Dorsetshire, in which village his father was in seclusion, in consequence of the operation of the Five-mile Act. (Beaľs Biographical Notices of Bartholomew and John Wesley.) The father dying at Preston while Samuel was yet at school, he was devoted by his mother to the ministry amongst Nonconformists, and came to London at her expense; "and was," as he says, “ disposed of by them at one Mr. V.'s (Veal's) of Stepney, who then kept a private academy, having the sum of £30 per annum settled upon me, while I was there, by way of an exhibition, which was raised, with much more, by collections and subscriptions at a certain dissenting congregation. I had £10 per annum more allowed me, which wherever gathered I knew not; but 'twas disposed of by Dr. O. (query, Owen,) whom I waited upon a while after, with many thanks for the favour, and was received Fery civilly by him, encouraged in the prosecution of my studies, and advised to have a particular regard to critical learning.” Mr. Veal's academy being suppressed by the magistrates after Wesley had resided there two years, he was received by Mr. Morton in his academy at Newington, where he also remained two years longer, and then left the Nonconformists, when they were suffering from the same spirit of persecution which bad driven his own father and grandfather from their livings, and entered as a servitor of Exeter College, Oxford, August, 1683. After twenty years had elapsed, and he was in possession of church preferment, he wrote “ A Letter from a Country Divine to his Friend in London, concerning the Education of the Dissenters in their Private Academies in several parts of this nation, humbly offered to the consideration of the Grand Committee of Parliament for Religion,” 4to. 1703. This epistle, as Mr. Wesley subsequently declared, was printed and inscribed with the title without his consent or knowledge. It called forth a reply, entitled “A Defence of the Dissenters' Education; in answer to Mr. W—y's disingenuous and unchristian reflections upon them.” This was published anonymously, but was afterwards owned by his antagonist, Mr. Palmer. To this Mr. Wesley published a quarto pamphlet, entitled “ A Defence of a Letter concerning the Education of Dissenters in their Private Academies ; with
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there, is on these and several other such as can by no means answer the end, or ever bring mankind up to the pitch of greatness that the former age was arrived to: here and there one, a youth blessed with an extraordinary genius, strong parts, and great application, may outstrip others; and these, under all the discouragements and difficulties above, may rise to a pitch beyond the common rate, but, like David's secondrate worthies, they may be great ; howbeit, they do not come up to the rate of the first.
Here, by the way, is to be noted the ignorance and blindness of the Dissenters' enemies, in their exclaiming against their schools and academies, and endeavouring to pull them down; whereas, if they would pull the Dissenters down, their only way to do it is to let their academies stand; but to pull their academies down is only the way to force them to send their youth to fitter places. This is evident in the first years after the expulsion of ministers, before the private academies were erected, and when their ministers were generally educated abroad, from whence they came much better finished than they do now from our private academies ;* and this makes the present set of ministers, that are also wearing off the stage, deserve this character, that though they do not come up to the first number of worthies, of whom mention is made, yet they go far beyond any that we see like to come after them.
a more full and satisfactory account of the same, and of their morals and behaviour towards the Church of England; being an Answer to the Defence of the Dissenters' Education. By Samuel Wesley.” 1704. To this appeared a reply, entitled “ A Vindication of the learning, loyalty, morals, and most Christian behaviour of the Dissenters towards the Church of England; in answer to Mr. Wesley's Defence of his letter concerning the Dissenters' Education in their private academies; and to Mr. Sacheverell's injurious reflections upon them. By Samuel Palmer.” 4to. 1705. To this Mr. Wesley published, in 1707, a quarto pamphlet in 155 pages, entitled “A Reply to Mr. Palmer's Vindication,” &c. We suppose that Mr. Palmer did not reply to this : for, strange to say, this gentleman, as De Foe intimates, within a year or two after the foregoing publication, thought fit to resign his pastoral charge at Union-street, Southwark, and to take orders in the Church of England, and was inducted to the living of Maldon, Essex. This unaccountable conduct saved the Independents from the dishonour of his immoralities : for Mr. Walter Wilson states, but we know not on what authority, that “Mr. Palmer grew lax in his morals, until his conduct bēcaine scandalous.” (History of Dissenting Churches, vol. iv. p. 197.)
* The advantages of visiting the continental universities, with a view to the prose. cution of study were acknowledged by many of the leading Nonconformist ministers. Mr. John Howe having resided at Utrecht for some time, with his nephews, George and John Hughes, recommended his young friend, Edmund Calamy, to cross the sea and carry on his studies there. Mr. John Shower and Mr. Nathaniel Taylor, who had also studied in Holland, recommended the same course. In that city, Robert Bragge, Thomas Reynolds, Thomas Collins, and John Nisbet, were Calamy's fellow-students; and they all afterwards distinguished themselves as scholars and pastors. (Calamy's Life of Howe, p. 127. Calamy's Historical Account of his own Life, vol. i. pp. 142-145.)