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cast upon Unitarians were dipped in the poison of persecuting laws that were reputed to be dead: now that this source of acrimony and virulence is dried up, it may be hoped that our antagonists will meet us with more honourable weapons, remembering the apostolic maxim, that though a man strive, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
" For these reasons you do, I persuade myself, join with me in thanksgivings to Almighty God, our Help and our Shield, with whom alone is the guidance of the public mind and the control of the powers of this world, and who for benevolent purposes speaks peace to the nations, and commands the kings and judges of the earth to be wise and to be still, remembering that He is God. In wisdom, doubtless, he permitted our fathers to see the rod of persecution suspended over their heads, that thereby they might be excited to greater watchfulness, to a closer examination of the grounds of their faith and the motives of their profession, and to the cultivation of a habit of dependance solely on the Divine arm; but in great goodness has he removed the scourge, as if seeing that we have borne temptation well, and are prepared to enjoy liberty without the danger of licentiousness.
“ Amongst the strong reasons for our thankfulness to Almighty God, we cannot overlook our condition as members of a free and enlightened country, -a country fertile in the richest productions of the heart, in manly sentiment, in liberality, in generosity, in charity, in candour. Under the influence of these endowments of the public mind, we were safe even with positive laws against us. We thank our countrymen, next under God, for their fair and liberal interpretation of our profession and conduct : and we shall not love them the less, nor will they, I trust, entertain the less respect for us, because we henceforward enjoy as a right what was before a charity. The recovery of the right we owe to them, and we feel it a bounden duty to use it for general good. Our loyalty, our reverence of the genuine constitution of our country, was not, we presume to think, questionable, whilst we were in the letter of the law deprived of some of its essential benefits; it shall not, I may venture to promise, be doubtful, although there are a few great civil privileges still denied to us; but loyalty will, we hope, be ever with us a sincere desire of the improvement of our country in whatever is laudable and great, and tending to our own happiness and that of the rest of the world—a reverence of public authority for the sake of virtue, peace and freedom. Such is the only loyalty which a wise government will accept, or which enlightened citizens can proffer. We say from the heart, May our country prosper! May its power be perpetual!' But we should esteem it treason against human nature not to add, May its prosperity spring from its virtue! May its power never be parted from Justice and Mercy!
"On this day of congratulation and joy and triumph, it is scarcely possible not to look back with the mingled sentiments of painful sympathy and thankful admiration to our forefathers, who, by their labours and sufferings, upheld and adorned and sanctified our cause,-the cause, as we believe, of truth and righteousness. They sowed in tears, that we might reap with joy. They wrote and preached and prayed for a long series of years with little apparent success, and were sometimes in danger of their liberty and life, always assailed with reproach and calumny. Till within a short time, the Unitarian doctrine was confined to the books of the learned and the closets of the curious. We have lived to see the pure doctrine of the New Testament spread amongst a large mass of our countrymen: we have seen the poor opening their understandings to receive the religion of the fishermen of Galilee : we have seen unbelievers embracing the truth as it is in Jesus, and rejoicing in the words of truth and soberness : we have seen houses of prayer dedicated in every part of the empire to the Only True God, the Holy One of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: and we have, lastly, seen the Legislature of our country almost voluntarily stepping forward to acknowledge us as Christians, and to hold out to us, for the precarious shelter of public opinion, the substantial and durable protection of law. And seeing and feeling this, can we withhold the just tribute of admiration and applause to those great and good men, now no more, to whose characters and exertions we owe the prevalence of our opinions, and the estimation in which we are held by our country! Let us shew our esteem of the departed advocates of truth by imitating their example ; let us do, in the security of law, what they did in the face of danger; and as evil report did not terrify them from the duty of avowing an unpopular faith, let not good report seduce us from the fulfilment of our obligation to make known the truth, which requires only to be made known in order to gain general acceptance."
The passing of the Trinity Bill was, we have seen, materially assisted by the Unitarian Fund Society.* The remainder of this Chapter will be devoted to a review of the proceedings of the Society, to which Mr. Aspland for a long series of years devoted much time and all the energies of his mind. From the foundation of the Society in 1806, to 1818, he was uninterruptedly the Secretary; and the careful minutes and the annual reports written by his hand, and preserved in the archives of the Unitarian Association, shew how assiduously he laboured in carrying out the objects of the Society. The ministers and laymen who assisted were amongst his warmest friends, and the executive of the Society was for many years chiefly supplied from the members of the Hackney congregation. It would be an act of injustice not to specify the very zealous services of Mr. John Christie, then an eminent London merchant, who was for a long period the Treasurer of the Fund.
In reviewing the success and the failures of the Society, it must be borne in mind that it entered upon a path wholly untrodden, and nearly all its first steps were in a great measure so many experiments. Hitherto there had been no general organization amongst the Unitarians of England, and no systematic Unitarian missions. The Unitarian Book Society had sent forth its silent missionaries ; but its publications had not found their way to the homes of the poor, but were for the most part confined to the middle classes. An unwillingness to interfere with this excellent Society prevented the promoters of the Unitarian Fund from making the publication of books and tracts a part of their original plan. Their objects were stated in the PREAMBLE, which was agreed to at a meeting of the Committee held at Mr. Rutt's, March 23, 1806:
“It has long been a subject of complaint among Unitarians, and a topic of reproach to their adversaries, that so few active measures have been taken to diffuse among the lower classes of the people the doctrines of Rational Religion. A knowledge of this, together with a conviction of the necessary connection between Truth and Righteousness, has prevailed upon a number of individuals, zealously concerned for the spread of Scriptural Christianity and the promotion of the happiness and improvement of the Poor, to institute a Society for the encouragement of Popular Preaching on Unitarian principles. The Society is not insensible of the laudable efforts that have been made to
The Rev. John Kentish, in his sermon preached on the anniversary of the Society, June 1, 1814, alluding to the cruel enactments against persons denying the Trinity, described “the repeal of them, since their previous anniversary meeting, as the honour of the age and reign," and congratulated the members that it “ had been effected in part through the instrumentality of their Society." See Sermon, p. 29.
instruct the public mind in the knowledge of pure Christianity by the distribution of books. Those efforts its members have witnessed with pleasure, and have as individuals assisted. They are persuaded, however, that addresses from the pulpit are more suited to the habits of the Poor than addresses, equally excellent, from the press, and that the encouragement of Unitarian worship is one of the best means, as it is the natural consequence, of disseminating the Unitarian doctrine,"
The first object to which the Committee directed their efforts, was to secure the co-operation of well-known Unitarians, in various parts of the country, as corresponding members. Honourable mention is made in the first Report of the services, in behalf of the Society, of Rev. John Holland, of Bolton, and Rev. Lant Carpenter, of Exeter. The information supplied by correspondents enabled the Committee to direct their labours to the promotion of Unitarianism in various parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Chapels long closed were re-opened, ministers in straitened circumstances were encouraged and enabled to continue their labours amongst the poor, new congregations were assisted, and, above all, itinerating missionaries were sent forth nearly to every part of the kingdom. The annual meetings of the Society were long objects of great and increasing attraction, and, by moulding and giving expression to public opinion amongst the Unitarians, by rousing sympathy and emulation, by diffusing information respecting the progress of Unitarianism throughout the world, were of great practical
In arranging and assisting in the conduct of the anniversary meetings, Mr. Aspland was singularly successful. The report — often a wearisome part of a public meeting-in his hands was always attractive and interesting. His natural and animated elocution, and the hopeful expression of his countenance, commanded the attention of his audience through statements often exceeding an hour in duration. In the discussions which not unfrequently ensued he generally took an active part, keeping or drawing back the attention of the meeting to whatever was important in the argument, conciliating by his temper and judgment friends whom the argument had a little warmed, and often, by a happy suggestion, guiding an apparently divided meeting to an unani. mous decision. The least agreeable part of a public meeting is, that it gives weak, ignorant and conceited persons, especially if they are gifted with a happy insensibility to signs of the impatience and distress of those around them, the opportunity of being very troublesome. To this inconvenience, meetings of Unitarians are particularly exposed by their habitual freedom and latitude of opinion and expression. When required, Mr. Aspland did not shrink from the painful duty of silencing an unqualified, a mischievous or a disorderly speaker, by a timely appeal, or, if necessary, by a pithy rebuke. In encounters of this kind he was aided by habitual presence of mind, self-command and a natural dig. nity of manner, against which little but self-important opponents found it vain to struggle. In private intercourse he was sometimes dogmatical, and in rebuking what he regarded as intentional impertinence, stern; but in public meetings there was little or nothing of this, and whatever little there was, was for the protection, and carried the concurrence, of the meeting at large. To himself, the anniversaries of the Unitarian Fund Society were most gratifying. They were, in fact,
No. of Guests.
gatherings of his most intimate friends and fellow-workers from all parts of the kingdom; the sentiments uttered on those occasions were generally those which he most fondly cherished. His house and the houses of neighbouring friends were usually at Whitsuntide filled with country brethren and other guests. He had the high gratification of beholding the steady progress of the Society, and of welcoming, in successive years, as friends and allies several who in the outset stood aloof. The following is a list of the preachers before the Society, together with the numbers attending the annual dinner, and the name of the chairman.
Preacher. 1 1806..Nov.26.. Rev. J. Toulmin, D, D., Birmingham
.J. T. Rutt, Esq. . 2 1807.. Oct. 21.. Rev. R. Aspland
E. Johnston, Esq.
....100 3 1808 June 8.. Rev. J. Lyons, Hull..
.W. Frend, Esq.
.....150 4 1809.. May 24.. Rev. T. Rees, Newington Green..W. Sturch, Esq... ..190 5 1810. .June 13 . Rev. L. Carpenter, LL.D., Exeter. .J. Young, Esq. . 200 6 1811.. June 11.. Rev. J. Grundy, Manchester.. .J. Christie, Esq. .240 7 1812. . May 20. Rev. W. Severn, Hull.... .J. T. Rutt, Esq.
270 8 1813..June 9.. Rev. E. Butcher, Sidmouth W. Frend, Esq. ......300 9 1814. June 1.. Rev. J. Kentish, Birmingham .. E. Johnston, Esq. 300 10 1815..May 17.. Rev. T. Madge, Norwich .J. Young, Esq. 280 11 1816..June 5.. Rev. W. Broadbent, Warrington..W. Frend, Esq. .260 12 1817..May 28. .Rev. W.J. Fox, London .J. T. Rutt, Esq... 308 13 1818..May 13.. Rev. N. Philipps, D.D., Sheffield .J. Christie, Esq. 250 14 1819..June 2..Rev. J. Yates, Birmingham .... W. Frend, Esq. ... ..300 15 1820..May 25. .Rev. R. Scott, Portsmouth . Rev. R. Aspland......300 16 1821.. June 13..Rey. W. Hincks, Exeter... W. Smith, Esq., M.P...330 17 1822..May 19.. Rev.J. Morell, LL.D., Brighton.. W. Hammond, Esq. 18 1823..May 21.. Rev. H. Acton, Walthamstow ..J. T. Rutt, Esq. ..280 19 1824..June 9.. Rev.J. G. Robberds, Manchester.E. Taylor, Esq. 250 20 1825., May 25. .Rey. C. Berry, Leicester* W. Smith, Esq., M.P...300
In speaking of the results of the Unitarian Fund, the chief place must be assigned to the laborious and successful missions conducted by Richard Wright. Before the Society was organized, this excellent man, prompted by his earnest zeal to promote Christian truth, entered upon, though on a very small scale, the work of an Unitarian missionary. In early life he had embraced strict Calvinism. Following out his system, he felt for a short time all the painful influences of a religion of gloom and fear. He did not cease to be an inquirer, and soon saw reasons to modify his creed. Passing through the important stages of Arminianism and Sabellianism, he became, after years of thought and study of the Scriptures, a believer in the simple humanity of Christ and the paternal mercy of the Father. As soon as he was fully convinced that Unitarianism was the doctrine of the Gospel, he felt an ardent desire to communicate his views to others. He resented the assertion that Unitarianism neither was nor could be the religion of the common people, and resolved to make the experiment of preaching
* All these sermons were printed and published, except those of Mr. Aspland, Mr. Rees, Mr. Grundy and Mr. Severn. When, at the annual meeting of 1807, a resolution was unanimously passed that Mr. Aspland should be requested to print his sermon, he declined on two grounds—1, the annual publication of the Report made the printing of Sermons unneces
cessary; 2, it was necessary to prevent the publishing of the sermons from growing into precedent, and no opportunity would be so favourable for doing this as the present.
it to them on as large a scale as he possibly could, in a plain and popular style. * With these views he became, without patronage or help, an Unitarian missionary, visiting parts of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Sussex and Yorkshire. For these services he was, immediately after its establishment, elected an honorary member of the Unitarian Fund Society. His subsequent engagement as its missionary is thus described by himself in his (MS.) autobiography:
“On the formation of the Unitarian Fund Society, I was invited to engage as one of its missionaries, which I did, and have acted in connection with it from its commencement. This opened to me new and extensive scenes of usefulness, and brought me into connection with the general body of Unitarians throughout Great Britain. For several years I acted only as an occasional missionary, devoting at first about one-third, and afterwards nearly half my time to the objects of the Fund, and at the same time continued in my office as pastor of the church at Wisbeach ; at length, finding it inconvenient to act both as a missionary and the pastor of a particular congregation, and being applied to by the Committee to act as a perpetual missionary, I resigned my office and income in Wisbeach, and have since that time been employed in missionary labours eight or nine months in the year, and three or four of the winter months I devote to study and writing, performing during that time, now and then a short journey, and preaching occasionally in the town where I reside.”
Mr. Wright was admirably qualified for his work as an Unitarian missionary. He had a very clear mind and a strong understanding. Without any pretensions to grace or ornament, his style was simple and his elocution earnest. His knowledge of the Scriptures, and of the doctrines of the different religious sects, was extensive and accurate. To this he added knowledge of human nature, the result of his own close observation of men of all ranks of society. Few men surpassed him in the power of wielding a close but unartificial logic. He devoted a large portion of his leisure to writing down his thoughtsa habit which no doubt assisted him in correctness of reasoning and the power of compressing his style. Though small in stature, he possessed great muscular strength, and could without difficulty walk thirty or forty miles a day. He would frequently preach in the evening, after walking twenty or even thirty miles. He was habitually self-denying and economical, and he was rewarded for his temperance by equal and cheerful spirits. His only luxury was tobacco. The use of this he often turned to good account, seating himself quietly in the parlour of a way-side inn, or, if permission was given him, by the kitchen fire of the farmer, or in the one room of the cottager; and, listening to the conversation of those around him, he embraced any opportunity that arose of turning the conversation into a religious channel. His various infor. mation and obliging manners, especially his habit of being pleased with whatever was offered him in a kindly spirit, however humble it might be, made him a welcome guest wherever he went. He was systematic in all his arrangements, and punctual in the fulfilment of an engagement. Above all, he was deeply interested in his work as a missionary. He fulfilled it faithfully, never allowing the gratification of curiosity or offered pleasure to turn him aside from his prescribed path. Though
* See “A Review of the Missionary Life and Labours of Richard Wright," Chap. i.