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variety in the discourses of the preacher. The church-yard, -with its gentle risings, and pensive memorials of affection, was a silent teacher, both of vigilance and love. And the -village spire, whose "silent finger points to heaven," has supplied the place of loftiest imaginings of celestial glory.
Obstacles of a far different kind long prevented the advancement of pulpit eloquence among the Protestant Dissenters. The ministers first ejected for non-conformity were men of rigid honesty and virtue,—but their intellectual sphere was little extended beyond that of their fellows. There cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that they sacrificed their worldly interest from any regard to the principles of free inquiry, which have since almost become axioms. They believed that their compliance with the requisitions of the monarch, would be offensive to God, and that in refusing to yield it they were doing his will; but they were prepared in their turn to assume the right of interpreting the Bible for others, and of condemning them for a more extended application of their example. Harassed, ridiculed, and afflicted, they naturally contracted an air of rigidity, and refused in their turn, with horror, an extensive sympathy with the world. The controversies in which the learned men among the Dissenters were long occupied, having respect, not to grand and universal principles, but to petty questions of ceremony and minor points of faith, tended yet farther to confine and depress their genius. Their families were not the less scenes of love, because they preserved parental authority in its state; but the austerity of their manner tended to repress the imaginative faculties of the young. If they indulged themselves in any relaxation of manner, it was not with flowing eloquence, but with the quaint conceit and grave jest that they garnished their conversation or their discourses. Their religion wore a dark and uncouth garb; but to this we are indebted, in no small degree, for its preservation through times of demoralizing luxury.
A great change has taken place, of late years, in the literature and eloquence of Protestant Dissenters. As they ceased to be objects of persecution or of scorn, they insensibly lost the austerity and exclusiveness of their character. They descended from their dusty retirements to share in the pursuits and innocent enjoyments of "this bright and breathing world." Their honest bigotries gave way at the warm touch of social intercourse with those from whom they dissented. Meanwhile, the exertions of Whitfield,—his glowing, passionate, and awful eloquence;—his daring and quenchless enthusiasm,—and the deep and extensive impression which he made throughout the kingdom, necessarily aroused those, who received his essential doctrines, into new zeal. The impulse thus given was happily refined by a taste for classical learning, and for the arts and embellishments of life, which was then gradually insinuating itself into their churches. Some of the new converts who forsook the establishment, not from repugnance to its constitution, but to its preachers, maintained, in the first eagerness of their faith, the barbarous notion that human knowledge was useless, and even dangerous, to the Christian minister. The absurdity of this position, however strikingly exemplified in the advantages gained by the enemies of those who acted on it, served only to increase the desire of the more enlightened and liberal among the non-conformists to emulate the church in the intellectual qualification of their preachers. They speedily enlarged the means of education among them for the sacred office, and encouraged those habits of study, which promote a refinement and delicacy of feeling in the minds which they enlighten. Mean while, their active participation in the noblest schemes of benevolence tended yet farther to expand their moral horizon. Youths were found among them prepared to sacrifice all the enjoyments of civilized life, and at the peril of their lives to traverse the remotest and the wildest regions, that they might diffuse that religion which is every where the parent of arts, charities, and peace. It is not the least benefit of their Missionary exertions, that they have given a romantic tinge to the feelings of men " in populous city pent," and engrossed with the petty and distracting cares of commerce. These form the true Evangelical chivalry, supplying to their promoters no small measure of that mental refinement and elevation, which the far less noble endeavours to recover the holy Sepulchre shed on Europe in the middle ages. It is not easy to estimate the advantages which spring from the extension of the imagination into the grandest regions of the earth, and from the excitement of sympathies for the condition of the most distant
and degraded of the species. The merchant, whose thoughts would else rarely travel beyond his desk and his fire-side, is thus busied with high musings on the progress of the Gospel in the deserts of Africa—skims with the lonely bark over tropical seas—and sends his wishes and his prayers over deserts which human footstep has rarely trodden. Missionary zeal thus diffused among the people, has necessarily operated yet more strongly on the minds of the ministers, who have leisure to indulge in these delicious dreamings which such a cause may sanction. These excellent men are now, for the most part, not only the instructors, but the ornaments of the circles in which they move. The time which they are able to give to literature is well employed for the benefit of their flocks. In the country, more especially, their gentle manners, their extended information, and thenpure and blameless lives, do incalculable good to the hearts of their ruder hearers, independent of their public services. Not only in the more solemn of their duties,—in admonishing the guilty, comforting the afflicted, and cheering the dying— do they bless those around them; but by their demeanour, usually dignified, yet cheerful, and their conversation decorous, yet lively; they raise incalculably the tone of social intercourse, and heighten the innocent enjoyment of their friends. Some of them are, at the present day, exhibiting no ordinary gifts and energies;—and to the most distinguished of these, we propose to direct the attention of our readers.
Mr. Hall, though perhaps the most distinguished ornament of the Calvinistic* Dissenters, does not afford the best opportunity for criticism. His excellence does not consist in the predominance of one of his powers, but in the exquisite proportion and harmony of all. The richness, variety, and extent of his knowledge, are not so reriiarkable as his absolute mastery over it. He moves about in the loftiest sphere of contemplation, as though he were " native and endued to its element." He uses the finest classical allusions, the noblest images, and the most exquisite words, as though they
* We use this epithet merely as that which will most distinctively characterize the extensive class to which it is applied—well aware that there are shades of difference among them—and that many of them would decline to call themselves after any name but that of Christ.
were those which came first to his mind, and which formed his natural dialect. There is not the least appearance of straining after greatness in his most magnificent excursions, but he rises to the loftiest heights with a child-like ease. His style is one of the clearest and simplest—the least encumbered with its own beauty—of any which ever has been written. It is bright and lucid as a mirror, and its most highly-wrought and sparkling embellishments are like ornaments of crystal, which, even in their brilliant inequalities of surface, give back to the eye little pieces of true imagery set before them.
The works of this great preacher are, in the highest sense of the term, imaginative, as distinguished not only from the didactic, but from the fanciful. He possesses " the vision and the faculty divine," in as high a degree as any of our writers in prose. His noblest passages do but make truth visible in the form of beauty, and " clothe upon" abstract ideas, till they become palpable in exquisite shapes. The dullest writer would not convey the same meaning in so few words, as he has done in the most sublime of his illustrations. Imagination, when like his of the purest water, is so far from being improperly employed on divine subjects, that it only finds its real objects in the true and the eternal. This power it is which disdains the scattered elements of beauty, as they appear distinctly in an imperfect world, and strives by accumulation, and by rejecting the alloy cast on all things, to embody to the mind that ideal beauty which shall be realized hereafter. This, by shedding a consecrating light on all it touches, and "bringing them into one," anticipates the future harmony of creation. This already sees the "soul of goodness in things evil," which shall one day change the evil into its likeness. This already begins the triumph over the separating powers of death and time, and renders their victory doubtful, by making us feel the immortality of the affections. Such is the faculty which is employed by Mr. Hall to its noblest uses. There is no rhetorical flourish—no mere pomp of words— in his most eloquent discourses. With vast excursive power, indeed, he can range through all the glories of the Pagan world, and seizing those traits of beauty, which they derived from primeval revelation, restore them to the system of truth. But he is ever best when he is intensest—when he unveils the mighty foundations of the rock of ages—or makes the hearts of his hearers vibrate with a strange joy which they will recognise in more exalted stages of their being.
Mr. Hall has, unfortunately, committed but few of his discourses to the press. His Sermon on the tendencies of Modern Infidelity, is one of the noblest specimens of his genius. Nothing can be more fearfully sublime, than the picture which he gives of the desolate state, to which Atheism would reduce the world; or more beautiful and triumphant, than his vindication of the social affections. His Sermon on the Death of Princess Charlotte, contains a philosophical and eloquent development of the causes which make the sorrows of those who are encircled by the brighest appearances of happiness, peculiarly affecting; and gives an exquisite picture of the gentle victim adorned with sacrificial glories. His discourses on War—on the Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Ministry—and on the Work of the Holy Spirit —are of great and various excellence. But, as our limits will allow only a single extract, we prefer giving the close of a Sermon preached in the prospect of the invasion of England by Napoleon, in which he blends the finest remembrance of the antique world—the dearest associations of British patriotism—and the pure spirit of the Gospel—in a strain as noble as could have been poured out by Tyrtaeus.
"To form an adequate idea of the duties of this crisis, it will be necessary to raise your minds to a level with your station, to extend your views to a distant futurity and to consequences the most certain, though most remote. By a series of criminal enterprizes, by the successes of guilty ambition, the liberties of Europe have been gradually extinguished: the subjugation of Holland, Switzerland, and the free towns of Germany, has completed that catastrophe: and we are the only people in the eastern hemisphere who are in possession of equal laws, and a free constitution. Freedom, driven from every spot on the continent, has sought an asylum in a country which she always chose for her favourite abode: but she is pursued even here, and threatened with destruction. The inundation of lawless power, after covering the whole earth, threatens to follow us here; and we are most exactly, most critically placed in the only aperture where it can be successfully repelled, in the Thermopylae ol