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REV. ROBERT HALL, A. M.
The subject of this memoir is the son of the Rev. Robert Hall, one of the most excellent and esteemed ministers of the communion, known by the name of Particular Baptists, to distinguish them, as the appellative imports, from another class denominated General Baptists. These distinctions, it is said, are peculiar to the English Baptists, and are founded on different views of the doctrines of grace.
The elder Mr. Hall was for many years pastor of a church at Arnsby, in the county of Leicester, and a leading man in the Northamptonshire Association ; being venerated by all who knew him for his piety and wisdom. He published a popular book, entitled, "Help to Zion's Travellers." The introductory preface to a late edition of this work, from the pen of his distinguished son, forms a part of the present compilation.
The subject of this biographical sketch was born at Arnsby, August, 1764. His father enjoyed the high satisfaction of witnessing, in the dawning mind of his son, indications of the most exalted genius. At the age of nine, as his father relates, he perfectly comprehended the reasoning in the profoundly argumentative treatises of Jonathan Edwards; an author, it may be added, for whom Mr. Hall has continued to cherish the highest regard, and concerning whom he is represented by a respectable journalist as saying, 'He is the prince of American divines, and never had his superior in any country.' This high eulogium is of more value, as proceeding from one who was never guilty of cherishing a blind admiration of public characters, as he has fully proved by controverting the tenets of Dr. Edwards on the proper nature of virtue.
In 1773, he was placed in the academy of the late eccentric, but learned and pious Rev. Dr. John Ryland, of Northampton. From thence he was removed to the institution established at Bristol for
the education of young men destined to the ministry among the Particular Baptists. Dr. Caleb Evans, who at that time presided over the academy, and officiated as pastor of the congregation in Broadmead, was a man of extensive learning, fervent piety, captivating eloquence, and of the most liberal sentiments. Between the instructor and the pupil there immediately commenced a mutual attachment, which continued to increase, till it became evident that the latter was already marked as the intended successor of the principal, both in the church and the school.
At the age of seventeen, Mr. Hall proceeded to King's College, Aberdeen, where he formed an intimacy with his fellowstudent, Mr. (now Sir James) Mackintosh, who, though one year younger than himself, and intended for the medical profession, was at this early period distinguished for his progress in classical and general literature. The most beautiful and eloquent letter from this renowned civilian to Mr. Hall, (for which the reader is referred to a subsequent page,) written in late years, and under peculiarly affecting circumstances, presents this early and continued intimacy, as well as the personal character of each party, in the most favorable aspect. During the residence of Mr. Hall at Aberdeen, a period of nearly four years, he constantly attended the lectures of the learned Dr. George Campbell, professor of theology and ecclesiastical history at the Marischal College. At intervals however, and especially in the vacations, he exercised his talents in preaching, as we learn from the following entry in the diary of his friend, Rev. Andrew Fuller, under date of May, 1784 :“ Heard Mr. Robert Hall, junior, froin this text: 'He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.' Felt very solemn on hearing some parts," &c.
About this time he took the degree of Master of Arts, soon after which he became colleague with Dr. Evans in the ministry, at Bristol, and adjunct instructor in the academy. At this place he was exceedingly followed and admired. The church where he officiated was crowded to excess, and among his admiring hearers were to be seen learned divines, and even dignitaries, of the Established Church. But in the midst of this popularity a dark cloud arose, which spread a gloom over the congregation, and threatened to deprive the Christian world of one of its brightest ornaments. It pleased Providence to visit Mr. Hall with a calamity, which (to adopt the language of his sympathizing friend) to a mind less fortified by reason and religion, all would dread to mention. Symptoms of a disordered intellect, which had occasionally appeared as the effect of that constitutional disease, which has rendered all his life one of extreme suffering, assumed at last such an alarming character, that it was deemed imprudent for the patient to take part in public duty. The malady increased, and Mr. Hall being now deemed irrecoverable, was taken home to his friends in Leicestershire. Under judicious treatment, and by slow degrees, however, the light of reason
returned, and at length his noble mind regained its perfect liberty and former power.
About this time Dr. Evans died; but the trustees and congregation at Bristol had already made their election in favor of the young. er Mr. Ryland, who continued with them till his death. Meanwhile Mr. Hall received a cordial invitation from the Baptist society at Cambridge, which had been under the pastoral care of Rev. Robert Robinson, till that singular man fell from one error to another, and ended his wanderings and his life together under the roof of Dr. Priestley, who, though he hailed his disciple with joy, wondered at being outdone by him in extravagance.
Mr. Hall accepted the call of the congregation at Cambridge in 1791, and the consequences were soon visible in the revival of a society which had been for some time in a sad state of torpidity. The fundamental truths of the gospel were stated in language equally clear and elegant; the precepts of this heavenly code were enforced with commanding eloquence; and the various obliga. tions of men were set forth and explained in a manner that could not possibly be eluded or misunderstood.
When Mr. Hall fixed his residence here, the wonderful change that had taken place in France excited general attention, and even the religious world did not escape being agitated by the discordant spirit which that mighty revolution produced. The measures of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley, in particular, alarmed the friends of government; and the conduct of the latter had the effect of rousing the feelings of the populace at Birmingham into outrage, and acts of violence of the most disgraceful nature. At this juncture, Mr. C******, a highly popular minister among the Calvinistic Independents in London, printed a sermon, recommending to Dissenters in general an entire forbearance from all political associations and discussions. Mr. Hall, conceiving that such counsel tended to the introduction of slavish principles, and the degradation of the religious society to which he belonged, deemed it his duty to enter a protest against the adoption of a rule that was at once repugnant to the fundamental rights of mankind, and in no respect warranted either by the written code, or the example of the founders of our common faith. With a view, therefore, to prevent the progress of the debasing maxims that had been speciously propounded, from one of the leading pulpits in the metropolis, Mr. Hall published a powerful pamphlet, entitled, “ Christianity consistent with a Love of Freedom ;" to which, it is apprehended, no reply was ever attempted. The argumentative reasoning of this tract was afterwards expanded by the author, and arranged in a more formal manner, under the title of " An Apology for the Freedom of the Press."
This publication, which appeared in the beginning of 1794, contains six sections on the following subjects : 1. The Right of Public Discussion; 2. Associations ; 3. Reform of Parliament; 4. Theories and Rights of Man ; 5. Dissenters; 6. Causes of the Present Discontents. Of the Apology, it was observed at the time, by some of the