« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
• people, of the nature and importance of this “subject.” On which it was unanimously re“solved that the Moderator propose his plan. Mr. R. then proposed “ to make a general divi“sion of each of our congregations into three "parts :—the first is the church, and they are sup“ posed to understand the matter, or at least to “ have free access to the pastor for information. “ The second, of children, to be catechised in “the first principles of religion; and the third, of " catechumens to consist of young persons, and “particularly of those who desired admission to “ church fellowship; that to these the pastor “ should, for the space of about two hours, in one “evening in a fortnight. during the winter half “ year, give a lecture on the subject of noncon“ formity, in the manner of Mr. Palmer's cate“chism; one lecture on the history, and another “ on the principles of the nonconformists, in some “such manner as the professors in an university “ give lectures to their pupils. He expatiated on
the advantages of this plan, and wished some “ one of the ministers would draw up an analysis “ of a course of such lectures for the use of the as“sociated churches, on all which he begged the " advice of this Assembly.” After fully discussing the above plan, it was resolved,-" That the plan “is eligible and may be useful; and that the mo“ derator (Mr. Robinson) is desired to draw up
"such an analysis and lay it before the associa“tion next year.”
The circular letter* consisting of remarks on the nature and importance of religious principle, and excellent practical exhortacions, was then read and the business concluded. · The plan recommended by Mr. Robinson of dividing dissenting congregations into different classes for the purpose of religious instruction, appears to be somewhat similar to that successfully pursued by Dr. Priestley at Birmingham, and at Hackney.t Were such a plan more generally adopted by dissenting ministers, it would be far superior to that which chiefly consists in attending to one class only, and in teaching the Assenbly's Catechism, which, however it may serve for its neat, concise definitions of the doctrines of high Calvinisin, is by no means suited to the capacities of youth; and is commonly learned without interest, if not with disgust, and soon forgotten. Instruction adapted to different ages and capacities, might be productive of the happiest effects; in improving the minds, settling the principles, and preserving the morals of our dissenting youth, who too frequently when they arrive at years of maturity, and are no longer under the
* Vol. IV. p. 192. + Seem Memoirs of Dr. Priestley, P. 98, 119, 123, 124. Likewise the Doctor's sermon on acceptance of the pastoral office at Hackney, in the preface to which is a detailed ac count of his system of catechising.
eye of their superiors, relinquish at once the principles of nonconformity, and the practice of piety.
Although it does not appear that Mr. Robinson's “ Plan of Lectures,” was produced at the next association, it was printed early in the year 1778: but as it was designed “ merely for the use of a “ few associated churches, it was not then pub“ lished.” The association which met at Harlow in June, read, approved, and recommended it to their sister churches. This recommendation was: mentioned by Mr. Burke some years afterwards in the house of commons, in a debate on the Test Act. That corrupt, narrow-minded, bigotted, inflammatory, but eloquent statesman and pensioner, whose writings on the subject of the French revolution, have done inconceivable mischief, took this opportunity of misrepresenting the “ Plan”, calumniating the author, and also of reviling the whole body of dissenters, on account of the approbation of a small association of baptist ministers, which he ignorantly and pompously termed the Harlow Synod. His attacks were with great justice and spirit repelled by that uniform and warm friend to unbounded religious toleration, CHARLES James Fox. In the house of lords the work was respectfully mentioned, by one of the best and most honest statesmen of the day, the late Marquis of Lansdowne, The book became much admired, and much abused. Four editions were called for in rapid succession. Dr. Sturges, prebendary of Winchester, &c. made some
animadversions on it in letters addressed to the Lord Bishop of London, but in which he rather confirmed than refuted Mr. Robinson's positions. Whilst he was lavish in his panegyrics on church officers, he acknowledged the necessity of a reformation in the church. The grand points, religious liberty, the unchristian nature of civil establishments of religion, were most prudently left untouched. Dr. Edmund Keene, bishop of Ely, in a charge to the clergy of his diocese, made some strictures on the “Plan,” but at the same time respectfully mentioned the author's writings in general, and spoke in such handsome terms of the serious manner in which the dissenting ministers performed their devotions, while he reproved the careless manner of those of the established church, that Mr. Curtis, the dissenting minister at Linton, who went to the visitation dinner, thanked the bishop for the compliments paid the dissenters; on which the bishop drank his health, and Mr. Curtis gave the bishop's in return, Several of the clergy, together with a swarm of ignoramuses slandered our author in sermons and pamphlets, all of which, by him unnoticed, were hurried down the stream of oblivion. Justice however demands the acknowledgement, that there were serious, well disposed persons, who thought some of the assertions of the author unguarded, and the language too strong. Amongst this number may I venture to include myself. Conversing with him on the subject, I stated some passages which I thought objectionable. After explaining those passages, he in his impressive manner, taking me. by the hand, thus addressed me :-“ Friend Flow“er, I give you full credit for the purity of your “ motives; but you are a young man; when you “are as well acquainted with ecclesiastical history " and ecclesiastics as I am, you will think I have “ been merciful.” I need scarcely inform the readear, that the prediction of our author proved to be not very wide of the truth.
- To the fifth edition of this work, the author prefixed a preface written in his happiest style, in which he, to the impartial and candid, satisfactorily explains those passages which had been lia. ble to misrepresentation. In this preface the natural advantages, and constitutional privileges of a Briton are delineated with equal truth and beauty. The editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica had they read this edition, would scarcely have dared to expose themselves by the remark“The plan of lectures on the principles of non“ conformity, is a piece of the most unjust and “ illiberal abuse that we have ever seen, and « would have disgraced the most high-flying pu. “ritan of the last century;"* although such a remark is only one instance amongst many of the strong prejudice, gross partiality, and arrogant criticism that blemish that otherwise respectable work; the authors of which whilst misrepresent
* Vol. I. Article ROBINSON.