Adding this biography in preparation of adding articles written by Mr. Hall to the website in the next few days or weeks.
“Mr. Hall, has like Bishop Taylor, the eloquence of an orator, the fancy of a poet, the acuteness of a schoolman, the profoundness of a philosopher, and the piety of a saint.”—Note to Dr. Parr’s “Spital [Hospital] Sermon.”
To a devout mind, the present aspect of Christendom presents a subject of sorrowful contemplation, when it is seen split into sects, and divided into parties, each frowning defiance on the other; instead of being united into one indivisible and harmonious society. And it has been asked with some asperity, whether there be not something essentially defective in Revelation, if men can draw so many conclusions from the same premises? But the question has assuredly been put without consideration. The defect is not in Revelation, because that is like its author, fall and perfect; it lies in man, who is unable to comprehend, at present, truth in all its purity and in all its force. There is, however, a time coming, when the veil will be removed from the understandings of all men, when they shall see eye to eye, and be all of one mind, perfect in knowledge, and panting after higher degrees of holiness. Until, however, that time shall arrive, it is no doubt one of the inscrutable arrangements of God, (who plans all things after the counsel of his will,) that differences should exist. It is the same in divine, as in human knowledge; truth is elicited by discussion, and the more the principles of men are sifted, the more likely are they to become wise; provided they seek after truth with a sincere desire to find it, and with a humble dependence upon the teachings of the Spirit of God. But such, alas! is the folly of man, and so prone is the mind to dogmatize, and not to inquire, that almost all the discussions which have hitherto divided the religious world, been have carried on, not, as it appears, for the purpose of elucidating truth, but to establish certain opinions. Men have formed creeds for themselves and then gone to the bible for proofs to support them; instead of appealing to the bible first, and making the word of God the rule of conduct, and the expounder of doctrine. Such proceedings remind us of the inconceivable stupidity of those whom the prophet stigmatizes, as forsaking the fountain of living waters, to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, which hold no water.
Robert Hall (2 May 1764 – 21 February 1831), the son of the Rev. Robert Hall, author of “A Help for Zion’s Travellers,” and several sermons, was born at Arnsby, in Leicestershire, where his father was a baptist minister. Early in life, the remarkable genius of Mr. Hall burst forth, so that at nine years of age, he had read through and comprehended those profound metaphysical treatises of president Edwards, on the Will, and Affections. At this early age, he was placed under the able tuition of Mr. Ryland, of Northampton, from whose care he was subsequently removed to the Bristol Institution, where his talents and attention to study, obtained the notice and particular regard of Dr. Evans the president. At seventeen years old, Mr. H. entered himself a student at King’s College, Aberdeen, where he again highly distinguished himself, by his diligent attention to study, and the ease with which he obtained the academical honours. Here he became acquainted with Sir James Mackintosh, and several other distinguished men, and was honoured by the confidence and esteem of Dr. Campbell, and the professors, whose lectures he attended.
It appears that he preached at various places, while at College, and always during the vacations. In his twentieth year he took his degree of master of arts, and shortly after became assistant to Dr. Evans, both in the academy, and in the ministry.
At this time, that awful affliction which deprived the church of his labours overtook him, and he was removed by his friends to Leicestershire; but, being sufficiently recovered, in the year 1791, he became the successor of the celebrated and erring Robert Robinson, at Cambridge. When Mr. Hall accepted the charge of this church, the state of religion was at a low ebb amongst the people—too many had imbibed the sentiments of their late pastor, and almost all possessed only the form of godliness. But soon after the settlement of Mr. Hall, genuine religion revived, the numbers of church members increased, and an ardent and growing attachment to the doctrines of vital godliness was evidenced amongst the people.
It was here that Mr. Hall commenced as author, and his first step was a bold one, proving his independence of spirit and his unconquerable aversion to slavish doctrines of any kind. That astounding event, the French revolution, had agitated all parties in England, and great was the contention, and fierce was the spirit which prevailed. Mr. John Clayton, the late minister of the Weigh House, fearing that the interests of religion were likely to be endangered by the violence of politics, published a sermon, recommending the Dissenters to abstain altogether from political discussions: this sermon contained nothing new, but much that was objectionable, for the doctrines of passive obedience, and non-resistance were unreservedly inculcated. This roused the indignation of Mr. Hall, and, in a reply, alike distinguished for the purity and eloquence of its style, he vindicated the right of the Dissenters to rise, in political discussion, by shewing that Christianity was consistent with the love of freedom.
The profound argument, and solidity of principle, which characterized this work, were never attempted to be shaken by any reply, and Mr. Hall, encouraged by the success which had attended his efforts, afterwards expanded the pamphlet into a small volume, and published it under the title of “An Apology for the Freedom of the Press.”—This ran rapidly through six editions, and did much good in removing from the Dissenters, that obloquy which had been cast upon them, as a body, for the intemperate conduct of one or two of their members. The work was highly spoken of, by the reviews, and extorted admiration even from its enemies.
During this time, the Revolution in France, which had opened with such fair prospects for that nation, and with such magnificent promises of good to others, had taken a disastrous and fatal change. The sun of freedom had scarcely risen ere it set in blood. Scenes the most portentous, and events the most appalling, were daily occurring. The absence of all religion in the church of Rome, at the time the revolution burst upon its bigoted, licentious, and infidel priests, and the prevalence of a philosophy, deadly and cheerless in its nature, added to the natural ferocity of men a tenfold vigour.—They accordingly desecrated the altar, overturned the throne, broke through the social compact, violated all the decencies and charities of life, dishonoured themselves by lusts too gross even to name—and slaughtered all who opposed their wishes. In short, they gave themselves up to all manner of wickedness; and, to crown their depravity, denied the existence of God, and wrote upon the tomb, that death was an eternal sleep!
It was not, however, to be expected that all these things could pass in France without, in some degree, affecting us. Accordingly, we find that the licentious principles and unhallowed doctrines of the French infidels reached England, and were eagerly embraced, not only by the higher classes of society, but by almost all the literary men of the time. To counteract the pernicious tendency, arising from the diffusion of such speculations, Mr. Hall preached and published his sermon on “The Influence of Modern Infidelity on Society.” This sermon instantly procured him the approbation of the wise and good of all parties, and it’s amazing popularity, no doubt, had all the effect its excellent author desired. Its power may be conceived, when it is said, that it drew down upon Mr. Hall repeated and virulent attacks, from men who had embraced the speculative opinions of Voltaire and others. Amongst more insignificant persons, Anthony Robinson, and the celebrated Godwin, both apostates, from the religion which Mr. Hall so triumphantly defended, may be named as those who attempted, but miserably failed, to answer Mr. Hall’s sermon.
In 1803, appeared the sermon, preached on the fast day at Bristol; and, shortly after its publication, Mr. Hall was again afflicted and obliged to suspend all public duty. In this lamentable state he continued some time, but under judicious treatment, his mind gradually regained its great powers, and he was invited to become the pastor of the Baptist Church at Leicester, which, after some deliberation, he accepted. At that time, genuine religion was almost extinct amongst the members, who were poor, and but few in number. The chapel would only contain about three hundred people, and it was then seldom filled, but almost immediately after Mr. Hall’s settlement, the number of members became greater, and the congregation so much increased, that it was found necessary three times to enlarge the chapel; so that now it will seat upwards of one thousand one hundred persons. Here, for upwards of twenty-five years, Mr. Hall continued to labour affectionately—loved by his flock, esteemed and honoured by the people of Leicester, and revered by the clergy and dissenting ministers in the neighborhood. In particular he became intimately acquainted with the late venerable Mr. Robinson, the vicar of St. Mary’s, and this friendship was only dissolved by his death, when Mr. Hall pronounced one of the finest and most eloquent eulogiums on his character, which the English language presents.
During his residence at Leicester, Mr. Hall published his Sermons on the Discouragements and Supports of the Christian Ministry—the Advantage of Knowledge to the lower classes.—On the death of the Princess Charlotte,—On the Holy Spirit, and all his works on Open Communion, besides several Reviews, and a new edition of his Apology.
In the year 1825, Dr. Ryland, the president of the Bristol Academy, and pastor of Broadmead Meeting, died, and Mr. Hall was unanimously chosen to succeed him in both offices. This he, for some time, declined, but at last a sense of duty to the entire connection, prevailed over private feeling, and after a struggle between pastor and people, honourable to both, Mr. H. removed, in March 1826, to Bristol, where, as in every other place where he resided, religion began to revive. This congregation is now on the increase.
It now remains for us to consider Mr. Hall both as a preacher and a writer. In the former character there is very little to remark upon. His appearance in the pulpit is good, his face is plain, but his forehead denotes great reasoning and imaginative powers. His voice is thin, and at times tremulous, and seems incapable of conveying the deep emotions of his heart. His action is very appropriate and chaste. He is powerful in prayer, his great talents, his accurate acquaintance with scripture, his knowledge of the wants of man, his clear views and deep conviction of the truth of the gospel, enable him to approach the footstool of Jehovah with meekness and confidence; with sorrow for sin, mingled with hallowed emotions of holy joy at the abounding mercies of God as displayed in the person, offices, and merits of Christ, as the redeemer of mankind.
His manner is peculiarly earnest and solemn, and tends much to impress on his hearers the preacher’s belief in the great truths upon which he dilates, while the energy with which he delivers his most splendid discourses chains down the attention of all. It appears to us impossible for the most careless and indifferent mind to remain inattentive while Mr. Hall is preaching, for although he uses no arts to gain attention, yet the exquisite variety of his language, the delicate and beautiful gleams of imagery with which his most ordinary sermons abound, are pleasing to the taste, and tend much to recommend religion to those who would revolt from its truths if presented in any other garb.
The predominant features in Mr. Hall’s printed sermons is the great imaginative power which they display;—everything seems steeped in the exhaustless beauties of his wonderful mind ; all that orators have conceived of natural or artificial beauty, or poets imagined of force, grace, and power, are there combined, and in so easy a manner as to prove that the loftiest themes, the most exquisite language, the choicest images, are those with which Mr. Hall is most familiar.
But what proves his wonderful mastery over his varied and extensive knowledge, is the clearness and simplicity of his, style, which is so forcible as to present every idea visibly to the reader, so elegant as not to be improved; abounding with imagery, classical allusions, and felicitous turns of expression, and yet the least unencumbered with its own beauty of any which has ever been written. It possesses all the idiomatic grace of Addison, the terseness of Swift, and the strength of Johnson, without the feebleness of the one, the vulgarity of the other, or the ponderosity of the third. What Johnson said of Addison’s style, may be more properly applied to Mr. Hall’s, ” Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.”
An eminent critic of the present day, speaking of one of Mr. Hall’s sermons, says, “The diction displays an unlimited command and an exquisite choice of language; a vocabulary formed on the basis of Addison’s, but admitting whatever is classical in the richer literature of the present age, and omitting everything that is low or pedantic. The copious use of scriptural language, so eminently appropriate to theological writings, bestows upon the style of this writer an awful sanctity. The uncouthness and vulgarity of some religious authors, who are driven to employ the very words and phrases of scripture, from an ignorance of other words and phrases, and an incapacity to conceive and express a revealed truth in any form but that of the authorized version of the Bible, has co-operated with an irreligious spirit, to bring this important resource of theological eloquence into great disrepute. The skilful manner in s which it is employed by Mr. Hall, may restore its credit. Quotations and allusions, when borrowed from profane literature, are much admired. There is nothing, we think, to render them less admirable when borrowed from holy writ. If properly selected, they possess the same merit of appositeness in one case as in the other; they may be at least equal in rhetorical beauty; and the character of holiness and mystery which is peculiar to them, at once fills the imagination, and warms the heart. The same purity of taste, which appears in Mr. Hall’s choice of words, is equally apparent in the forms of expression into which they are combined. The turn of his phrases is gracefully idiomatic, disdaining the harsh and usurped authority of those grammarians, who would condemn our best writers at the tribunal of analogy, and compel us to surrender the freedom to which we have a prescriptive and immemorial claim, for the sake of an ostentatious dignity of precision.
“There is one other particular in which the style of this writer is perhaps superior to any other,—the construction of his periods, or that which corresponds in prose, to what in poetry is called the versification. In this, as in former discourses, Mr. Hall appears to have employed every elegant and harmonious form which the language admits; always gratifying, often ravishing the ear, but never cloying it;—in the midst of his richest combinations, or his simplest strains, perfectly easy and unaffected,— varying his style with every shade of his sentiment, and converting what is usually but a mechanical vehicle into an expressive and imitative music.”
As an orator, we know of no one either in the present, or at any former period, who surpasses Mr. Hall. He possesses within himself, all the genuine elements which constitute an eloquent and impassioned speaker. In imagination he is equal to Burke, and his reasoning powers place him on a level with Fox, while he excels both, in the purity and energy of his style. We are not acquainted with any oration in the whole range of literature, which is at all equal to his sermon, “On the Present Crisis.” The whole discourse abounds with the most just and patriotic sentiments imbued with Christianity. The peroration is as sublime, and as heart stirring, as any of the strains of Tyrteus.
The discourse on the Influence of Modern Infidelity is a masterpiece of reasoning, the preacher has laid bare the sources of unbelief and traced the workings of infidelity, in all its ramifications upon society, and in so doing he has presented a picture, which appalls the heart, and makes it turn with disgust from the wickedness of its species.
That on the Horrors of War, is, as a composition, not to be excelled, the author brings before the mind’s eye, scenes terrible in their nature, and proves that of all the curses which God can inflict upon man, the greatest scourge is war. It would be well for every Christian to study attentively this discourse, until he had his convictions of the unlawfulness of war, so strongly fixed in his mind as to induce him to act upon the mild and benevolent principles of his religion.
Our limits will not allow us to enumerate all Mr. Hall’s Discourses. We cannot however pass over, unnoticed, his Sermon on the death of the Princess Charlotte; this we consider to be the finest of all his Sermons, when taken as a whole. It enters into a philosophical investigation of the causes of our sorrow; ascertains why we feel more sympathy for suffering greatness than for ordinary cases; shows the instability and vanity of all earthly things, in a most powerful and affecting manner ; directs the hearer to the rock of salvation; and improves the melancholy event, by enforcing upon the reader’s attention his own mortality. The sentiments of the public fully accord with ours as to its merits, for it rapidly passed through fourteen large editions, and is still read with intense pleasure, as a most beautiful and striking composition. Besides the publications we have noticed, Mr. Hall has written several works on the term of Communion; and we rejoice to see that his truly Christian sentiments are very largely diffused. All his opponents have been unable to maintain their ground against him, and, with one exception, (that of the venerable Mr. Kinghorn) have proved that their cause is desperate indeed, when they resort to such unsociable arguments, and mix them up with personal abuse.
Mr. Hall has also contributed several articles to the Eclectic Review, two of these will be long remembered for the powerful effect they produced at the time of their appearance. We allude to the examination of the paper entitled “Zeal without Innovation,” and the “Life of Lindsay,” by Belsham. In both these Reviews Mr. Hall proved his devoted attachment to the truth of the gospel, and evidenced controversial powers of a high order. We should think that neither the author of “Zeal without Innovation,” or Mr. Belsham, would ever again wish to encounter so formidable an adversary.
Source: The Christian Recorder: A Religious and Literary Journal, Issues 1-25; Published 1829