« PreviousContinue »
for his new society on Calvinistic principles. He adopted the rules and discipline common to other independent churches, and administered the ordinances after the
In the year 1759, not long after this society was organized, Mr. Robinson was invited to take charge of a Baptist congregation at Cambridge. He was already convinced, that adults only were the proper subjects of baptism, and he had himself been baptized by immersion. The Cambridge society was small, and the pecuniary circumstances of its members such, as to afford him no more than a very scanty support. When he commenced preaching in Cambridge he was twenty-three years of age, and two years afterwards he was ordained according to the usual mode of the dissenters. He had been married a little before to a young lady of Norwich.
Mr. Robinson's own account of his settlement, written at a later period of his life, will show his prospects to have been not the most flattering. In reference to this subject he observes; “ The settlement of Robinson seems rather a romantic, than rational undertaking, for this pastor was to be maintained. He had not received above ten guineas from his own family for some years ; he had no future prospect of receiving any; his grandfather had cut him off with a legacy of half a guin
He had received only a hundred pounds with his wife, and this he had diminished among the Methodists. He had never inquired what his congregation would allow him, nor had any body proposed any thing. They had paid him for the first half-year, three pounds twelve shillings and five pence; they had increased since, but not enough to maintain him frugally; there was no prospect of so poor a people supplying him long, especially should his family increase, which it was likely to do. Besides, the congregation, through the libertinism of many of its former members, had acquired a bad character. These would have been insurmountable difficul. ties to an older and wiser man; but he was a boy, and the love of his flock was a million to him. His settlement, therefore, on this article, should be no precedent for future settlements."
The situation here described could have few charms for a man who had set his heart on the things of this world, or whose fancy was quickened by the kindling visions of power and fame. But Robinson was not such a
He loved his profession, and every motive of self-aggrandizement was absorbed in the deeper and purer desire of witnessing the growth of piety, good order, and happiness among his people. His congregation grew larger, and the time came when his annual income was increased to more than ninety pounds. At first he lived at Fulbourn, five miles from the place of his sabbath duties, where he contracted an acquaintance with Mr. Graves, a gentleman of property and benevolence, from whom he received many substantial tokens of friendship.
He next removed to Hauxton, about the same distance from Cambridge, where he resided for several years, the tenant of an humble cottage, devoted assiduously to his professional labours, and providing for the support of a numerous family, and an aged mother. His disinterested ardour, his kindness to the poor, his love of doing good, and his unwearied activity in making himself useful, attracted to him the notice of all the respectable part of the community, and quickened the generosity of some worthy and opulent persons. On the sabbath he often preached three times, and during the week several times in the neighbouring villages. He was intimate with all the surrounding clergy among the dissenters, and had for his early companions Roland Hill and Charles de Coetlogon. His congregation increased so much, that a more commodious place of worship was found necessary, and the pastor was highly gratified with the promptness and unanimity with which it was erected.
In the midst of his professional labours he was a diligent student in theology and literature.
Free access to the libraries of the University of Cambridge, and conversation with the learned men residing there, enabled him to pursue his studies with advantage. He was an admirer of Saurin, and in 1770 translated and published two of his sermons. These were sent out as specimens,
which, if approved, he promised should be the forerunners of others.
The success of his project was quite equal to his expectation, and he afterwards translated at different times five volumes of sermons selected from Saurin. These have gone through several editions, and together with a sixth volume by Hunter, and a seventh by Sutcliffe, they constitute the works of Saurin, as they now appear in the English dress.
While residing in the cottage at Hauxton he also published his Arcana, or the Principles of the late Petitioners to Parliament for Relief in Matter of Subscription, in eight Letters to a Friend. These letters were adapt-, ed to the times, and attracted a lively attention. The dissenters were making all possible exertions to have the law repealed, which required from them subscription to the articles. Presbyterians and Baptists, orthodox and heterodox, united their forces to abolish a law, which operated with equal severity on them all, and which was in itself so flagrant an encroachment on justice, liberty, the rights of conscience, and the claims of humanity. All rallied under the same banner, and cried out with one voice against the oppression which weighed them down, till, after many unsuccessful struggles, their voice was heard, their petitions heeded, and dissenting ministers and schoolmasters were allowed the privilege of prosecuting their peaceful avocations with out violating their conscience by subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles, or subjecting themselves to a civil penalty by resisting so unholy a requisition. During this struggle for Christian freedom the above letters were written. Clothed in a language always sprightly, sometimes adorned with glowing imagery, sometimes rising with the majesty of argument, and at others pungent with satire, they were well calculated for popular effect. They enter largely into the chief points of the controversy, and bating some defects of style, and perhaps occasional faults of sentiment, it will be rare to find a more ingenious vindication of the rights and privileges of Christian liberty.
Robinson left Hauxton in 1773, and settled at Chesterton within two miles of Cambridge. This brought
him nearer to the centre of his parochial charge, and the facilities for his literary pursuits were multiplied by his proximity to the University. But his income was not yet adequate to support a family of nine children, and he was compelled to look around him for other sources of emolument. He turned his attention to agriculture. By rigid economy, personal inspection of his affairs, judicious investments, and a spirit of enterprise that never slumbered, he found himself in a few years a thriving farmer, and had the joy to feel, that by the blessing of Providence his numerous family was bea yond the grasp of want, and the caprice of fortune. Mr. Dyer thus speaks of his character as a farmer and economist. “It would be no less agreeable than instructive to survey his rural economy, and domestic arrangements in his new situation; the versatility of his genius was uncommon; and whether he was making a bargain, repairing a house, stocking a farm, giving directions to workmen, or assisting their labours, he was the same invariable man, displaying no less vigour in the execution of his plans, than ingenuity in their contrivance. The readiness with which he passed from literary pursuits to rural occupations, from rural occupations to domestic engagements, from domestic engagements to the forming of plans for dissenting ministers, to the settling of churches, to the solving of cases of conscience, to the removing of the difficulties of ignorant, or softening the asperities of quarrelsome brethren, was surprising. This is the language of one who lived near him, for many years, and saw him often.
His professional duties were numerous. taining to his own parish made but a part. He was invited to attend ordinations in all the counties around him; his judgment was respected and his advice sought in cases of differences between churches; he was the counsellor of his parishioners in their temporal as well as spiritual concerns; the watchful guardian of the unprotected and distressed; the patron and benevolent friend of the poor. These calls of duty did not relax his literary ardour. He went on with his translations of Saurin, printed now and then an occasional sermon
* Dyer's Life of Robinson, p. 98.
of his own, and, at the request of two or three eminent gentlemen, wrote a treatise on Affinities in Marriage, which was highly commended by jurists, as marked by an acute discrimination and force of argument.
About the year, 1776, Robinson published his plea for the Divinity of Christ. This topic was now much agitated by reason of the late resignation of Lindsey and Jebb for scruples of conscience concerning the trinity. Robinson's Plea is drawn up with ingenuity, in a popular style, and winning manner. But even this popular treatise did not please all parties. None withheld from the author the merit of ingenuity; some professed to admire the force and accuracy of his reasoning; while others were troubled with a kind of indefinable suspicion, that he had stopped short of the desired object. These latter seem to have been alarmed, that the author was so sparing of the fire and the rage of controversy. Robinson observes, in writing to a friend, 6 The temper of the Plea has procured me a deal of blame from the good folks, who inhabit the torrid zone.” These zealous partizans were not satisfied, that he should win the day, unless he carried war with flames and sword into the conquered enemy's camp.
Others, however, were of a different mind, and the author received a profusion of complementary letters from dignitaries in the established church. It was whispered, and more than once proclaimed aloud, as a thing to be lamented, that such a man should be a dissenter, and waste his days in strolling with a bewildered flock beyond the enclosures of the true faith. Gilded offers were made to him, if he would have the conscience to slide out of his errors, go up from the unseemly vale of poverty, and take his rest on the commanding eminence of church preferment. To these overtures he was deaf; from his principles he could not be moved. When Dr. Ogden said to him, in trying to unsettle his purpose, 66 Do the dissenters know the worth of the man?”, he replied, “ The man knows the worth of the dissenters." This reply he verified by his warm devotedness to their interests through life. He received many letters approving his work from persons not belonging to the