committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER II.

Biographical Notices-Dr. John Gale-Dr. Gill-John Macgowan-Robert Robinson-Robert Hall, Sen.-John Ryland-The Stennetts-Benjamin Beddome-Samuel Pearce-Dr. Andrew Gifford.

 

Before we proceed to furnish information respecting the state of our body in other parts of the world, we will give a brief account of some of the principal ministers who flourished in England during this period.

DR. JOHN GALE was educated at the University of Leyden, where he obtained the degree of Doctor in Philosophy at the early age of nineteen. Proceeding thence to Amsterdam, he studied theology under Limborch, author of the History of the Inquisition, and other works. On his return to England, in 1705, he became assistant to Mr. Allen, then pastor of the Church in Barbican, London, and afterwards to his successor, Mr. Joseph Burroughs. He died in 1721, in the 41st year of his age.

Dr. Gale is best known by his answer to Dr. Wall, in a volume entitled, Reflections on Dr. Wall's History of Infant-Baptism. This is a standard work in the Baptist controversy. The author's various learning is advantageously employed, and in a very effective manner. Even those who differed from him acknowledged the great merit of his work. It is reprinted in the Oxford edition of Wall's History. This evinces remarkable fairness and impartiality.

We are sorry to be compelled to say that Dr. Gale's religious sentiments were lamentably defective on some points. He inculcated the morals of Christianity rather than its evangelical truths.

JOHN GILL was born at Kettering, Northamptonshire, November 23rd, 1697. He was educated in the Grammar-school of that town, but was taken from it at the age of eleven, in consequence of the unreasonable conduct of the master, who insisted on the attendance of the scholars at prayers in the parish church on week-day. To this, those of the parents who were Dissenters would not submit, and therefore removed their children from the school. Young Gill had made such extraordinary progress in Latin and Greek that his friends endeavored to procure assistance with a view to the prosecution of his studies at one of the Universities: but they were unsuccessful. This did not damp his ardor. Part of his time was necessarily spent in attendance on his father's business (he was engaged in the woolen trade); every minute of the remainder was employed in gathering knowledge. He improved himself in Latin and Greek; he studied logic, rhetoric, and natural and moral philosophy; he acquired a knowledge of the Hebrew, in which language "he took great delight;" he read a large number of Latin treatises on various subjects, but especially on theology. All this was accomplished by his own unaided exertions.

In 1716 he was baptized on the profession of faith, and immediately afterwards commenced preaching. His labors were very acceptable, and the church at Kettering would have gladly detained him among them; but that was not his destined sphere. In compliance with the request of the church at Horselydown, Southwark-over which the celebrated Benjamin Keach had formerly presided, who was succeeded by his son-in-law, Mr. Benjamin Stinton, then lately deceased,-he visited them, and, after preaching several months, was chosen pastor. His ordination took place March 22nd, 1720.

More than fifty years of unremitting toil succeeded that transaction. Mr. Gill's life was emphatically a laborious one. His duties as pastor were punctually and faithfully discharged. Besides attending to these, he constantly enlarged his acquaintance with all learning. He watched the movements of the enemies of truth, and held himself in readiness to repel assaults. His pen was never idle.

The great work of his life was the Commentary on the Scriptures. It was originally given to his people from the pulpit, in the form of expository discourses. He began with Solomon's Song, on which he preached one hundred and twenty-two sermons. The Exposition was published in 1728, in a folio volume. Three folios more were occupied with the New Testament, the third of which appeared in 1748. In that year the author received from Marischal College, Aberdeen, the degree of Doctor in Divinity. Special mention was made in the Diploma of Dr. Gill's proficiency in sacred literature, in the oriental languages, and in Jewish Antiquities. The Exposition on the Prophets, in two folios, was issued in 1757, 1758. The remaining volumes appeared in 1763, 1764, 1765, and 1766. Truly it was a gigantic undertaking!

The particular excellence of this work lies in its plain, strong sense, its perspicuous style, the care with which every sentence and almost every word is explained, and, especially, the light thrown upon many passages by extracts from Jewish authors. Dr. Gill was a profound Rabbinical scholar. He was familiar with the whole circle of Jewish literature. None could compete with him on this his own ground.

A judicious reader may derive much benefit from the use of Dr. Gill's Exposition. He will know how to supply the expositor's deficiencies, and will abstain from following him in his interpretation of allegorical passages. For the results of modern criticism he must repair, of course, to other sources. But this Exposition will ever be a mine which will repay the labors of the discreet explorer.

In addition to the Exposition, Dr. Gill published a Body of Divinity, in three quarto volumes, which, like the Exposition, was first preached to his congregation:-The Cause of God and Truth, being an examination of all the passages of Scripture usually adduced in the Arminian controversy; and Sermons and Tracts (including a learned Dissertation on the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language), in three volumes, 4to.

Dr. Gill's preaching was rather solid than attractive. He abstained from personal addresses to sinners, by inviting them to the Saviour, and satisfied himself with declaring their guilt and doom, and the necessity of a change of heart. It is not surprising that the congregation declined under such a ministry. His steady refusal to have an assistant or co-pastor operated also injuriously on the welfare of the Church.

He preached but once on the Lord's-day during the last two years of his life. Yet he laboured on in his study till within a fortnight of his death. A short time before that event he said to his nephew, the Rev. John Gill, of St. Alban's, "I depend wholly and alone upon the free, sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love of God, the firm and everlasting covenant of grace, and my interest in the Persons of the Trinity, for my whole salvation; and not upon any righteousness of my own, nor on anything in me, nor done by me under the influences of the Holy Spirit; not upon any services of mine, which I have been assisted to perform for the good of the Church; but upon my interest in the Persons of the Trinity, the free grace of God, and the blessings of grace streaming to me through the blood and righteousness of Christ, as the ground of my hope. These are no new things to me, but what I have been long acquainted with-what I can live and die by."1

Dr. Gill died October 14th, 1771, in the 74th year of his age, having been fifty-one years pastor of the church.

JOHN MACGOWAN, who was fifteen years pastor of the church in Devonshire-square, London, has acquired considerable celebrity among authors, by his Dialogues of Devils, in which he satirizes the follies, vices, and inconsistencies of men, especially of professing Christians, in a masterly manner. Some affect to be greatly shocked at the dramatic style of the work, and the language ascribed to the interlocutors in the Dialogues; but for our part, we cannot help thinking that there is a marvellous vein of naturalness in the supposed reports of the conferences of the diabolical preachers; and we are disposed to believe that the devil has more to do with much that occurs in human history than is commonly supposed. If the existence and operation of good and evil spirits were more thoroughly realized by Christians generally, it might be useful to them.

In another publication by Mr. Macgowan, entitled, The Shaver, or Priestcraft Defended; a Sermon occasioned by the Expulsion of Six Young Gentlemen from the University of Oxford, for Praying, Reading, and Expounding the Scriptures, he inflicted a well-merited rebuke on the University authorities, and held them up to ridicule for their anti-religious propensities, and the folly of their endeavour to stop the progress of the revival, to which, by God's blessing, even the Church of England has been largely indebted.

Mr. Macgowan died November 25th, 1780, in the fifty-fifth year of his age.

We wish that it were possible to give a pleasing and favorable portraiture of the celebrated ROBERT ROBINSON. Gifted with remarkable talents-of sprightly genius-vigorous in imagination-capable of writing in an easy, clear, and flowing style-and well-informed on all subjects-he might have rendered eminent service to the cause of truth, if truth had really obtained a lodgment in his heart.

Mr. Robinson professed to be converted under the ministry of Mr. Whitfield. He began to preach almost immediately after his baptism. He took charge of a small church at Cambridge, with which he continued all his life. As a preacher he was deservedly popular with all classes. The educated admired his discourses; the illiterate could understand them. As a writer, he attracted great attention. His Village Discourses are models of exquisite tact in the adaptation of style and manner to special circumstances. To his translation of Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon, he appended voluminous notes, curious and instructive, containing plans of sermons, illustrative of the advice given by the author, together with pertinent and pithy observations. His Tracts on Nonconformity were like "sharp arrows of the mighty with coals of juniper." His History of Baptism exhausts the subject; all writers on the controversy, on our side of the question, make use of the work. When he compiled his Ecclesiastical Researches he had renounced the doctrine of the Trinity and other truths connected with it. The effects of his change of sentiments appear in every part of the volume. There is a constant endeavour to write down the Orthodox, or Trinitarian party, while all excellence is ascribed to Arianism and other isms of a lower kind. But being a posthumous work, it is less open to criticism, as it did not receive a final revision from the author; we will only add, therefore, that the statements in the text should be always carefully compared with the authorities cited in the notes, and that the originals should be consulted, whenever practicable.

Mr. Robinson died at Birmingham, June 9th, 1790, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. He had preached in Dr. Priestley's meeting-house on the preceding Lord's-Day. "His discourse," said Dr. Priestley, "was unconnected and desultory, and his manner of treating the Trinity savored rather of burlesque than serious reasoning. He attacked orthodoxy more pointedly and sarcastically than I ever did in my life."2 On the following Tuesday morning he was found dead in his bed. What a difference between his beautiful hymn, "Mighty God, while angels bless Thee," &c., and that last sermon!

ROBERT HALL, of Arnsby (the father of the celebrated Robert Hall), has been mentioned as the author of the valuable and useful book, Help to Zion's Travelers. He also wrote several of the Circular Letters of the Northamptonshire Association, which were, in fact, brief, treatises on doctrinal and practical subjects. Mr. Hall died March 13th, 1791.

JOHN COLLETT RYLAND, A.M., was, in some respects, an extraordinary man, though now reckoned among the forgotten ones. His Contemplations on Religious Subjects (in three volumes, 8vo.) were received by the public with considerable favour. His Address at the grave of Dr. Andrew Gifford, entitled, The First and Second Coming of Christ Contrasted, was a rare specimen of sublime eloquence. He was an enthusiast in education, and his influence over the young was peculiarly powerful. After a successful ministry at Northampton, where he laboured twenty-six years, he resigned his charge into the hands of his son (afterwards Dr: Ryland, of Bristol), and spent the remainder of his life at Enfield, in Middlesex. There he presided over a large and flourishing school, in which many were trained for, future usefulness. The late Dr. Newman, of Stepney Col?lege, was for some time his assistant. Mr. Ryland died July 24th, 1792.

The Baptist denomination is under deep obligations to the STENNETT family. EDWARD STENNETT Was some time pastor of the church at Pinner's Hall, London, where he was succeeded by his son Joseph, in the year 1690, who presided over the Church till his death, in 1713. Both were Sabbatarians. Distinguished among his brethren for the extent and variety of his literary acquirements, his earnest? ness of soul, his profound and practical wisdom, and his unswerving integrity, Mr. JOSEPH STENNETT was held in high esteem by all religious parties. If he would have con?formed to the Church of England, he might have attained an exalted position; but he was proof against temptation, though liberal offers were made him. His influence was known to be powerful, and strenuous efforts were employed by the Court, in the latter end of Queen Anne's reign, to gain him over to the Tory policy, in the hope that other Dissenters might be induced to follow him. Mr. Stennett understood the principles of freedom too well to be caught in such a trap. His firmness had a happy effect on others. Numerous treatises on religious subjects, and a considerable number of poetical compositions, were published by Mr. Stennett. A collected edition of his works was issued after his death. He is most advantageously known among Baptists by his Answer to Russen, a learned and elaborate work on baptism, to which succeeding writers have been much indebted.

His son and grandson were also "shining lights." Dr. JOSEPH STENNETT, who died February 7th, 1758, was upwards of twenty years pastor of the Church in Little Wild Street, London. He distinguished himself for loyalty and patriotism during the rebellion in 1745. He enjoyed the esteem of the King George II., and was on terms of friendship with some of the great ones of the day. Adverting to an interview with the then Bishop of London, Dr. Gibson, he said, in a letter to a friend, "I told his Lordship that I more than ever saw the usefulness of the Book of Common Prayer; for, considering how little the Scriptures are read by the common people, and how little the Gospel preached by the clergy, if it were not for what is said of Christ in the Prayer Book, multitudes would forget there was any such Person. He heartily joined in my observation, and told me he had lately heard a sermon by an eminent preacher, who seemed to labour to keep the name of Christ out of it. 'For my part,' added he, 'my time is now short, and therefore my charge to all my clergy is short too.' I say to all of them that come to me: 'See to it that you preach Jesus Christ; don't preach Seneca, nor Plato, but preach Jesus Christ.'"3

DR. SAMUEL STENNETT, son of the above, succeeded his Father at Little Wild Street, and held the pastorate till his death. He had been assistant-pastor for ten years previously. Few men have risen so high in general estimation. His learning-his discretion-his benevolence-his earnest zeal-his holy and uniformly consistent conduct, secured for him an amount and power of influence rarely enjoyed. His pulpit labours were highly appreciated; his writings were acceptable and much valued. Besides two treatises on the baptismal controversy, he published three volumes of discourses On Personal Religion, On Domestic Duties, and On the Parable of the Sower.

The celebrated John Howard honored Dr. Stennett with his friendship, and was accustomed to attend his ministry when he visited London. In a letter addressed to him from Smyrna, dated August 11, 1786, he says:-"With unabated pleasure I have attended your ministry; no man ever entered more into my religious sentiments, or more happily expressed them. It was some little disappointment when any one occupied your pulpit. Oh, sir, how many Sabbaths have I ardently longed to spend in Wild Street on those days I generally rest, or, if at sea, keep retired in my little cabin. It is you that preach, and I bless God I attend with renewed pleasure. God in Christ is my rock, the portion of my soul. I have little more to add-but accept my renewed thanks. I bless God for your ministry; I pray God reward you a thousand fold."4 Dr. Stennett died August 24th, 1795.

BENJAMIN BEDDOME, A.M., who ministered to the Church at Bourton-on-the-Water more than fifty-four years, was one of those whose "memory is blessed." We are indebted to him for many excellent hymns, in the use of which the churches praise God, and will probably continue to praise Him for ages yet to come. He was accustomed for a long time to compose a hymn to be sung after his sermon on the Lord's-day morning. These were afterwards collected into a volume. It is somewhat remarkable, that having preached on Lord's-day, January 4th, 1778, from Psalm 31:15-"My times are in Thy hand,"-and read at the close of the discourse that most appropriate hymn, "My times of sorrow and of joy," &c., he received intelligence next morning of the sudden death of his son, a young physician of great promise. God had graciously prepared him for the stroke by the spiritual exercises connected with the sermon and hymn.

Mr. Beddome died September 3rd, 1797, in the seventy-fifth year of his age. Three volumes of his sermons were published after his death, and extensively circulated.

SAMUEL PEARCE, pastor of the church in Cannon Street, Birmingham, died October 10th, 1799: He was greatly beloved by his brethren, and justly so; for his character was an embodiment of Christian loveliness. Born at Ply?mouth, July 20th, 1766-converted at the age of sixteen-?called to the ministry by the Church in 1786-he studied at Bristol College, under Dr. Caleb Evans, and was ordained at Birmingham in 1790. His ministry in that town was eminently successful, because it was evangelical to the core, and because it was recommended and supplemented by his seraphic and consistent piety. Three hundred and thirty-five persons were added to the church during his pastorate.

Mr. Pearce was extremely desirous of joining Dr. Carey in missionary labours, but yielded to the advice of his friends and brethren, who judged that he could not be spared from England. They were compelled to give him up, however, for the Lord summoned him to the palace above.

During a protracted and painful illness, he exemplified Christian character in some of its sublimest aspects. "Of all the ways of dying," he observed, a short time before his departure, "that which I most dreaded was by a consump?tion (in which it is now highly probable my disorder will issue). But, O, my dear Lord, if by this death I can most glorify Thee, I prefer it to all others, and thank Thee that, by this means, Thou art hastening my fuller enjoyment of Thee in a purer world." Surely, that was heroism!

"We have seen men," said Mr. Fuller, "rise high in contemplation, who have abounded but little in action. We have seen zeal mingled with bitterness, and candor degenerate into indifference; experimental religion mixed with a large portion of enthusiasm, and what is called rational religion void of everything that interests the heart of man. We have seen splendid talents tarnished with insufferable pride; seriousness with melancholy; cheer?fulness with levity; and great attainments in religion with uncharitable censoriousness towards men of low degree; but we have not seen these things in our brother Pearce."5

DR. ANDREW GIFFORD, whose father and grandfather had been pastors of the Pithay Church, Bristol, presided over the church in Eagle Street, London, nearly fifty years. His ministry was remarkably successful. He was a thoroughly learned man, and possessed excellent taste and judgment in regard to coins, manuscripts, and other relics of antiquity. In 1757 he was appointed Assistant Librarian to the British Museum, which situation he held till his death. The following anecdote is worthy of preservation. "Some gentlemen were inspecting the Museum under the Doctor's guidance, amongst whom was a profane youth, who hardly uttered a sentence without taking the name of the Lord in vain. The Doctor, who had kept his eye upon him, was at length asked by him, 'Whether they had not a very ancient manuscript of the Bible there?' On coming to it, the Doctor asked the youth if he could read it? Being answered in the affirmative, the Doctor wished him to read a paragraph which he pointed out. It was, 'Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' The irreverent youth read and blushed; the countenances of his companions seemed to acknowledge the justness of the reproof, and the polite and Christian manner in which it was administered."6

Dr. Gifford died July 19th, 1784, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, and was buried in Bunhill Fields, at an early hour in the morning, in compliance with his own wish, "to testify his faith in the resurrection of Christ, who arose early on the first day of the week, and likewise his hope of the resurrection morning at the last day."

 


1 Rippon's Memoir of Dr. Gill, p. 134.
2 Dyer's Memoir of Robinson, p. 397.
3 Ivimey, iii, p. 581.
4 Baptist Magazine, 1843, p. 142.
5 Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Pearce, M.A.
6 Funeral Sermon, by Dr. Rippon, p. 41.

 
 
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