Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

nothing to do with parish politics.-We read to-day Eachard's 'Causes of the Contempt of the Clergy.'

“ Feb. 25.-Anna read to us Mrs. Hughes's too affecting story of the Twin Brothers.'

“Sunday, April 22, I spent at my friend Benjamin Flower's at Harlow, on occasion of the melancholy event of the death of Mrs. Flower.* I walked down on Good Friday; the next day was the funeral. On Sunday morning, Mr. F. assembled a few friends in his parlour, and I spoke to them on the resurrection. In the afternoon we heard Mr. Severn preach the funeral discourse. Evening, I spoke again to about fifty persons, chiefly orthodox, in Mr. F.'s parlour, a continuance of the morning subject. The good Calvinists heard me with the greatest liberality, and several of them thanked me.

“ Wednesday, June 13.-Anniversary of Unitarian Fund. Dr. Carpenter preached. Great and good day! Mr. Rutt read the greater part of the Report for me.t But after dinner I spoke on the beneficial tendency of Unitarianism as a reason for promoting it, and on the penal statutes against us. I

Of this interesting lady, Mr. Aspland inserted a brief memoir in the Monthly Repository, V. 203-206. With considerable intellectual accomplishments, she united a remarkable degree of enthusiasm and fortitude. It is a romantic circumstance that Mr. Flower's imprisonment in the year 1799, by the House of Lords, for a breach of privilege in commenting on the political character of the Bishop of Llandaff, gained him this lady's hand. She had been an admiring reader of his political publications, and had suffered some persecution for her independence and spirit. When Mr. Flower was thrown into Newgate, she felt irresistibly called upon to visit him in his prison. The prisoner was naturally and deeply touched by this expression of personal sympathy growing out of congenial political sentiments, and had the happiness, on regaining his liberty, to make the lady his wife. She left at her death two daughters. One of them survives, and is the accomplished authoress of “ Vivia Perpetua,” and of various musical compositions.

+ Mr. Aspland had only just recovered from a severe attack of quinsey, a complaint by which he was repeatedly attacked.

On the back of a letter still in existence are preserved some hints of this address. " Why propagate Unitarianism? Because it is Christianity and we are Christians. Happy effects—benevolence contemplates them with joy. Case of a family mistaking the character and designs of a common parent, and on that account disunited and miserable. One fancies that as soon as he was born he was inoculated with disease; another, that spies and tempters have been placed around him; another, that he has no place in his father's testament, but is cut off for beggary. On the other side, one fancies that his father selected him as a favourite, and poured his heart's blood into his veins, giving him a kindly and a kindred nature; another, that fondest and most partial regards are fixed upon him, that he cannot alienate parental benevolence by disobedience, or increase it by obedience; another, that his name is in his father's will, and that for him a large and unequal portion of goods is destined. Thus the family is divided. One party looks on the other with a jealous eye-one abject, the other supercilious--and they cannot speak peaceably to each other. Now would it not be kindness to go to these children to rectify their errors, and set the unhappy part of them at ease with regard to their father's designs, and all at one with each other? This is the condition of the Unitarian amidst believers in the partiality, the injustice and the cruelty of the Heavenly Father.”-Of the proceedings at this anniversary Mr. A. penned an interesting account in the Monthly Repository. Mr. Frend, the eminent Algebraist and Actuary of the Rock Insurance Office, informed the company that he had been consulted by some of the leading Catholics to solve a curious problem, viz., How long, calculating from the divisions in the House of Parliament for several years past, it would be before the

“Sunday, June 17.-Charity sermon this morning at Gravel-Pit, by Dr. Carpenter, on. That the soul be without knowledge is not good.' The congregation large and the sermon much approved. Collection upwards of £35. I preached for Mr. Houghton, Princes Street, Westminster. In the evening, heard Mr. Grundy, of Nottingham, at Parliament Court, who preached a bold sermon against the Plenary Inspiration of the Scriptures, and delivered it well.

“ June 21.—The procession on Sir Francis Burdett's coming out of the Tower! A tiresome and mortifying day.*

“ Oct. 28.-Last Sunday at the Old Meeting. Preached from Joshua iv. 19–22, “The Association of Ideas with Places morally considered.' From this sermon, which, though hastily written, bears the impress of considerable previous meditation, it may be well to extract the closing paragraphs :

“ It has been a custom in all ages to place together the Temple and the Tomb-a custom growing out of a natural and useful association of ideas. The House of Prayer is not rendered melancholy by being surrounded with the remains of those that once came up to it to take sweet counsel and to unite their thanksgivings; on the contrary, it is hereby endeared to the feelings as well of piety as of friendship: while the house appointed for all living is in such a position divested of some of its terrors and enlivened as by the light of the sanctuary. When the angel sought to banish fear from the hearts of the faithful women that came early to our Lord's sepulchre, and to excite their best affections, he said, Come see the place where the Lord lay.

“I have been led to the subject of the association of moral ideas with places by the circumstance of our now worshiping for nearly the last time as a people in a building which has been for a long time eminently distinguished by the virtues and talents of a succession of its former ministers, and by the number, the light and the zeal of the multitude that have come up hither in company. How many ideas, some pleasant and some painful, must we ever connect with this humble edifice! Painful it is to reflect upon the friends, the fathers and the prophets who have finished their religious course—though the pain may almost be converted into pleasure when we again consider that they finished their course well, that they fought the good fight and kept the faith, and that henceforth there is laid up for them a crown of righteousness. Pleasant it is, on the other hand, to look back upon the wise and salutary instructions, the reasonable and purifying devotions with which these walls have in some distant seasons at least resounded; and to contemplate the influence which this place may have had upon the faith and practice of the neighbourhood and of à still more extended circle. In the review, it must give high satisfaction to

1

Catholic question would be carried ? In working the problem, he found the increase of toleration was 23 per cent. per annum, and that in twelve years the friends of toleration would be a majority. It did credit to Mr. Frend's acuteness that, in 1821, a Bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics was carried through the House of Commons by a majority of 19. Eight years' further agitation was necessary to complete the actual solution of the great problem.

* Sir F. Burdett had been sent to the Tower on a vote of the House of Commons that he had been guilty of a breach of privilege in writing and publishing, in Cobbett's Weekly Register, a libellous Letter to his Constituents. At the expiration of the session he was released, and instead of proceeding by Tower Hill, and placing himself in the procession of friends anxious to celebrate his release, he took a boat at the Tower stairs, went a little way down the river, and then, mounting his horse, rode to his country house.-Interested as Mr. Aspland at this time was in Sir F. Burdett, he saw reason, long before his secession from the popular ranks, to distrust the soundness and comprehensiveness of the principles of this once popular idol.

the older members of our society that they have long contributed to maintain a station where there has been a wise and holy and benevolent contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.

“But, endeared as this place is to many of you, I must congratulate you, my brethren, on the occasion of our removal from it. We do not, thanks to a good Providence, relinquish it because the sacred interests of Truth and Righteousness have failed in our hands; we do not depart divided and broken by dissensions and dispirited; we do not flee to avoid the rage of persecution. The God whom you serve has put it into your hearts to raise a more spacious and commodious edifice for his worship; and we are about to enter upon it under the most pleasing auspices. May we consecrate our new House of Prayer by carrying into it the spirit of love and a sound mind; may that place be equally distinguished with this (I do not say for the talents and virtues of its ministers, for that we cannot expect, but) for the zeal, the charity and the unanimity of its attendants; may we experience the fulfilment of the promise that in all places where God records his name, he will come into them and bless those that tread their floors; and may all that have assembled here, and all that shall assemble there, be raised up together in the resurrection of the just, to enter upon an inheritance which is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”

“Sunday, Nov. 4.-Opening of the New Gravel-Pit Meeting. My Selection of Hymns used for the first time to-day; though, as the congregation were not all supplied with books, the hymns were printed off in a little pamphlet. I read out of the new Bible which, before the service, Mr. Knight, our Treasurer, had very gallantly laid upon the cushion, in face of the congregation, but which, alas ! I found prostrate on the floor on my entrance into the pulpit—a sad omen, as the 'orthodox' would say. The cushion and Bible were a present from the ladies. The sermon was a vindication of the worship of One God, from Rom. xv. 5, 6.* The day was very unfavourable, dull and rainy-roads bad;

* This spirited and very striking sermon was printed at the request of the Gravel-Pit congregation, and has been long out of print. Its object was to shew the true purpose of a Christian society, to explain the apostolic view of pure worship, and to vindicate the practice of Unitarians as worshipers of one God in one person. Towards the close of the discourse, the preacher very skilfully availed himself of the circumstance of their meeting on the anniversary of the Revolution of 1688, to allude to the singular legal position then occupied by the Unitarians :

“On this day 122 years back, appeared off the British shores the deliverer of our fathers from Popery and arbitrary power. One of his first acts on the Throne to which he was called by the suffrages of the people, was the grant of Toleration to Protestant Dissenters. But it must not be suppressed, that from the benefit of the Toleration Act such as oppose the doctrine of the Trinity are expressly excepted, and left to feel the weight of all the precedent heavy statutes against Nonconformity. We only, of all who separate from the Established Church, are unprotected by the law. But, blessed be God! he has not left us defenceless, but has shielded us by the large and growing liberal sentiments of the times, and by the tolerant disposition of the successive Monarchs of the Hanover family. If I may speak without indelicacy of the present Sovereign, whose domestic calamities almost forbid an allusion to him at the present moment, I would remark, and with gratitude and respect, that during his long and eventful reign he has uniformly acted upon the resolution, said to have been taken up and avowed by him in early life, that he would suffer no persecution for conscience' sake. I am not, as you well_know, accustomed to practise adulation towards the great; my praise of the Prince on the Throne is drawn out by my subject; it has certainly the merit of being sincere; and in addition to it I will state my firm belief, that whatever sentence history may pass upon the character

VOL. IV.

3 G

[ocr errors]

but the place was quite full. Persons of all denominations. The singing had been long practised beforehand, and was quite delightful. The place turns out quite favourable for the voice.

“ Tuesday, Nov. 6.—This day was held the congregational dinner of Gravel-Pit, to celebrate the opening of the New Meeting. One hundred and one or two dined at the London Tavern; Mr. Christie was chairman. Mr. entered his protest against the principle of the New Meeting deeds, but declared he should oppose no longer; and as a proof of reconcilement, gave twenty guineas more towards the new buildinga good ending. Mr. Belsham's health was given and received with great ardour. He made a very good speech in reply. The greatest unanimity prevailed.

“ Friday, Nov. 9.-Mrs. sent for me to a servant of hers, who is in a dreadfully low way, and has been more than once on the point of destroying herself. I saw that she laboured under the weight of guilt, and brought her to confess that she had been seduced and debauched by a young man, and had taken abortive medicines. She could not believe that she could live, or that God would forgive her. I stayed with her two hours, read the Scriptures to her, and prayed by her ; I left her somewhat relieved and comforted.

• What an illustration is this poor creature's case of the scriptural truth, that'she that liveth in pleasure is dead whilst she liveth !

“Sunday, Nov. 11.-Sacrament to-day, on account of the opening being the first Sunday. A good many of the poor, whom I hope to see frequently. The unhappy young woman was twice at meeting. I lamented that there was little in the morning sermon that could reach her case, though I rejoiced that in the afternoon there might be something in the sermon for her, the subject being · The Comforts of Religion. In the evening, I went to Parliament Court to hear my friend Benjamin Flower on the Day of Judgment. A good plain sermon and a good audience.

“ Dec. 11.—The Londoners are becoming bankrupt.* The ice is broken, and flaws and cracks are spreading on every side, and the greater part of the mercantile men will, I fear, be under the water. This is the effect of war, the sin of which Providence is visiting upon the heads of its chief promoters."

The calamitous nature of the times told unfavourably upon the pecuniary condition of the Gravel-Pit congregation, which found itself embarrassed with a debt of £1500 above the estimated cost of their undertaking. But before the close of the year, the congregational prospects a little brightened, nearly one-half of the deficiency having been raised. Nor had Mr. Aspland been quite free from other anxieties, growing out of the opening of the New Meeting. In anticipation of of the present reign, there will be at least this one feature of it which posterity will contemplate in the most pleasing colours; they will look with warm approbation on the page where it shall be recorded that every subject of the present government was protected in his religious profession, even though put by the letter of the law without the pale of Toleration.” The preacher added his anticipation (happily soon to be fulfilled) of the repeal of the statutes against Unitarians, " which the legislature would shudder to re-enact, and which no magistrate would consent to put in force.”

* The Gazette of Nov. 9 contained the names of 54 bankrupts.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

this event, he had, with a large amount of labour, been preparing during the greater part of the year his Selection of Hymns. There were but few collections then in being that were not more or less orthodox in their complexion. He desired to form a volume of devotional poetry that should be strictly Unitarian in its spirit, yet should not be deficient in the warmth and fervency which are the proper attributes of sacred song. In order to enrich it with hymns not previously known or in use, he looked carefully through the English Poets, and sought in various quarters original contributions. One principle was adopted by him, the neglect of which in other collections sometimes offends: he did not think himself at liberty to alter what he used further than by omission and transposition. He observed that “he did not feel himself competent to improve the poetry which he had selected, and he could not allow himself to debase it."

When the volume was completed, the author was somewhat disheartened by the scruples of some of the members of the congregation about its use, possibly on account of his admission of “ some hymns which glow with very fervent feeling towards the Saviour, and which, to an unpoetic mind, might seem to approach too near the character of worship.” The introduction of these hymns he thus vindicated in the Preface:

“In the hymns on the divine mission, the spotless character and the high exaltation of Jesus, will be found some glowing expressions, of the correctness of which there may be a doubt. They have not been adopted, however, from inadvertence, but after mature deliberation. Gratitude and honour are eminently due to the author and finisher of our faith ; and to bow the knee to him, to celebrate his excellencies, to acknowledge his authority, and to anticipate his second coming and his society in heaven, is, according to scriptural language and apostolic usage, to glorify God the Father. Some of the strongest expressions on the subject of Christ's honours which will be here met with, are derived from the New Testament; and that they may be appropriated to the use of Christians of the present day, was evidently the opinion of the greatest advocate of Unitarianism in modern times, Dr. Priestley, from whose Collection hymn 359, on Looking to Jesus, has been taken, in which there is an adoption of one of the boldest figures in the book of the Revelation. We are too scrupulous in our public

exercises,' says an elegant writer, with some of whose compositions the present volume is enriched, * and too studious of accuracy. From an over-anxious fear of admitting any expression that is not strictly proper, we are apt to reject warm and pathetic imagery, and, in short, every thing that strikes upon the heart and the senses. creeds let us be guarded ; let us there weigh every syllable; but in compositions addressed to the heart, let us give freer scope to the language of the affections and the overflowing of a warm and generous disposition.”

Great' as his disappointment would have been, had the volume not been adopted by those for whose use it had been prepared, and acutely as, with his ardent temperament, he felt these crosses, he put aside personal considerations in an absorbing anxiety for the peace and welfare of his flock, and addressed the Committee in these considerate and conciliatory terms:

To Richard Knight, Esq., Treasurer of the Gravel-Pit Congregation. “My dear Sir,—I apprehend that there is a division in the opinions of the congregation with regard to the merits of the Selection ; and if you and the

* Mrs. Barbauld. Thoughts on the Devotional Taste. Miscellaneous Pieces, pp. 233, 235.

In our

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »