Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

scendants; and as the truth departed from the pulpit, its vital and practical influence disappeared from the people. The first nonconformists were Calvinists in sentiment; they zealously testified against the semi-pelagianism which had crept into the establishment; and with a fervour and laboriousness worthy of apostolic times, preached “Christ Jesus the Lord.” A more palatable creed was craved after by those of their successors, whom education merely had made dissenters; and it is remarkable, that those who departed from the faith, with searcely one exception, pursued the same track. Arminianism, which, under the powerful advocacy of the Wesleys, won its tens of thousands of converts, was the first step of congregational decline; the second stage was Arianism ; and the third and final lapse was into Socinianism. The consequences of this apostacy were soon apparent in empty meeting-houses, and wholly extinguished interests; the error carried the chill of death along the path it travelled; but happily it was confined to the Presbyterians and Baptists, and did not extend its ravages to the Independents. The latter body remained uninfected with the new theology, and though a spiritual lethargy had fastened upon some of the churches, there were many flourishing amid surrounding barrenness and decay. In the metropolis the number of places of worship belonging to the Presbyterians and Independents, amounted in 1695 to fiftyseven ; in 1730 there were fifty-eight, but many of these had been enlarged, so as to accommodate about four thousand additional hearers. It is estimated that the inhabitants of the city had increased one-sixth part during this period; so that in proportion to the population, the dissenters had positively retrograded.

The unsatisfactory state of the dissenting interest, elicited considerable inquiry as to the causes of its decline ; many mourned in secret over the melancholy fact; others attempted to point out the means of revival from the press. In the year 1730 Mr. Strickland Gough, a young minister who afterwards

нь

CHAPTER XIII.

1731–1736.

STATE OF DISSENTERS.

THE FIRST NONCONFORMISTS:-DECLENSION OF THEIR SUCCESSORS.

METROPOLITAN DISSENTERS.--THE “INQUIRY" BY STRICKLAND GOUGH.-DODDRIDGE'S“ FREE THOUGHTS."-STATE OF NORTHAMP. TONSHIRE.-THE “HUMBLE ATTEMPT» TOWARDS REVIVAL.-CONTROVERSY BETWEEN WHITE AND TOWGOOD.- THE “ STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF HUMAN REASON." -“PAILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS.” REMARKS OF DR. JOHNSON.-DEATH OF MISS ABNEY.-VISITED BY DODDRIDGE.-HOPKINS'S BENEFACTION.-MR.COWARD.-BURY-STREET LECTURE :-NEAL'S PREFACE:-SERMON ON BAPTISM.-NORFOLK CON. TROVERSY.-LETTER FROM DR. GIBBONS.-COWARD'S ACADEMY.« RELIQUIÆ JUVENILES."-TAE “REDEEMER AND SANCTIFIER."-CONNEXION WITH THE “GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE.»-CORRESPONDENCE.

We have now advanced midway into what may be called the second age of nonconformity. Seventy years had elapsed since its founders began to assert its principles, and to suffer for its sake. The cause they espoused in their day widely extended itself; the bush which the flame could not consume covered the land with its offshoots; and whatever remained of the piety of the first reformers, was found in the bosom of their churches. But religion did not flourish among them under a tolerant government with the same vigour, as when “ troubled on every side" by the executives of despotic power. The unfavourable change which commenced soon after the “ fathers fell asleep,” has been already noticed; their doctri. nal views were, in many instances, abandoned by their de

scendants; and as the truth departed from the pulpit, its vital and practical influence disappeared from the people. The first nonconformists were Calvinists in sentiment; they zealously testified against the semi-pelagianism which had crept into the establishment; and with a fervour and laboriousness worthy of apostolic times, preached “ Christ Jesus the Lord.” A more palatable creed was craved after by those of their successors, whom education merely had made dissenters; and it is remarkable, that those who departed from the faith, with scarcely one exception, pursued the same track. Arminianism, which, under the powerful advocacy of the Wesleys, won its tens of thousands of converts, was the first step of congregational decline; the second stage was Arianism ; and the third and final lapse was into Socinianism. The consequences of this apostacy were soon apparent in empty meeting-houses, and wholly extinguished interests; the error carried the chill of death along the path it travelled; but happily it was confined to the Presbyterians and Baptists, and did not extend its ravages to the Independents. The latter body remained uninfected with the new theology, and though a spiritual lethargy had fastened upon some of the churches, there were many flourishing amid surrounding barrenness and decay. In the metropolis the number of places of worship belonging to the Presbyterians and Independents, amouuted in 1695 to fiftyseven; in 1730 there were fifty-eight, but many of these had been enlarged, so as to accommodate about four thousand additional hearers. It is estimated that the inhabitants of the city had increased one-sixth part during this period; so that in proportion to the population, the dissenters had positively retrograded.

The unsatisfactory state of the dissenting interest, elicited considerable inquiry as to the causes of its decline ; many mourned in secret over the melancholy fact; others attempted to point out the means of revival from the

press. 1730 Mr. Strickland Gough, a young minister who afterwards

u h

In the year

conformed, published a pamphlet, entitled “ An Inquiry into the Causes of the Decay,” &c.; but unevangelical himself in his views, he overlooks the true source of the evil, and contends for an external reformation, without touching the seat of the disease. An anonymous author appeared in answer to Mr. Gough in a small treatise, entitled “ Free thoughts on the most probable means of reviving the dissenting interest, occasioned by a late inquiry into the causes of the decay”-afterwards ascertained to be the first production of Doddridge's pen. His intelligent mind and evangelical spirit at once perceived the reason why religion drooped in the localities Mr. Gough pointed out — the apathy of the ministry in some instances, and their lamentable theological errors in others; and he expresses his conviction, that nothing but the plain, experimental, and affectionate proclamation of the doctrines of the gospel, can preserve a congregation from decay, or revive it in decline. It was only, however, in particular districts, that decreased numbers and diminished spirituality appeared: of one of the midland counties, Northamptonshire, Doddridge testifies, “I know that in many of the congregations the number of dissenters is greatly increased within these twenty years; and the interest continues so to flourish, that I am confident some of our honest people, who converse only in their own neighbourhood, will be surprised to hear of an inquiry into the causes of its decay.” It was chiefly in London and in the West of England that Arianism found an entrance: but as the irruption of a tempest is often narrow in its span, while it is lengthened in its course; so was it with the inroad of heresy, and numerous and flourishing communities existed on either hand of its line of desolation.

The Independent churches could boast a goodly number of faithful ministers, who laboured zealously for the advancement of true religion, witnessed with painful anxiety the signs of deterioration, and applied themselves from the pulpit and the press, to strengthen the things that were ready to

die.” The excellent Mr. Some of Harborough published a sermon with this design in 1730; and in March, in the following year, Dr. Watts sent forth his “Humble Attempt towards the revival of practical religion among Christians.” This treatise is divided into two parts: an address to ministers, founded on Col. iv. 17, “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received;" and an address to the people, from Matt. v. 57, “What do ye more than others.” The former part was drawn up for the ordination of Mr. John Oakes, over the church at Cheshunt, November 12, 1729; but being prevented by illness from attending, he was requested to publish what he had intended to deliver : the latter part is the substance of several sermons preached at Bury Street. This publication obtained an unexpected notoriety, as it originated an able controversy upon the principles of nonconformity. In exhorting the dissenting body to increased purity of life and more active exertion, Dr. Watts assumed the fact, that they were favoured with superior advantages, for the cultivation of personal religion, than the members of the establishment that they were not so much in danger of substituting the outward forms of religion for the power - that they were freed from the inventions of men and the imposition of human ceremonies in divine worship -- that they were not confined to a perpetual repetition of set forms of prayer -- that they had the choice of their own ministers -- that the communion of their churches was kept more pure and free from the admission of scandalous and unworthy members - and from these considerations he argues their obligation to improvement in proportion to their privileges. Though the writer had no design whatever to provoke a controversy ; though his aim was rather to expose the failings of his own denomination, than those of the dominant hierarchy ; yet, as the positions which he assumed involved all the main points at issue between the dissenters and the establishment, it was hardly to be expected that they would be suffered to pass current

« FöregåendeFortsätt »