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NEW EVANGEMCATL MAGAOTNE,
MEMOIR OF THE REV. THOMAS ROBINSON.
Late Vicar of St. Mnry's, Leicester.
Thomas Robinson, the author of the well known "Scripture Characters," and other useful publications, was born at Wakefield, in Yorkshire, on the 29th of August 1748. His father was a respectable hosier in that town, though in circumstances not af. fluent. Desirous, however, of conferring upon his son, all the advantages of education which were "1 his power, he placed him, when at a proper age, in the Grammar school of that town, under the care and tuition of the Rev. Mr. Atkinson, where he continued him until he went to College. Young Robinson early evinced a fondness for learning, and was never pleased *>th himself unless he were at the head of the class. At the age of fourteen, his father took him from school with the design of training hun up to business; but the reluctance which he manifested towards
new employment, determined > father to send him back to school, where he prosecuted his studies for some time longer.
•He appears to have been con.
stitutionally of a gay and sprightly
jura, and at an early period of life
uncovered a strong attachment to
e reading of dramatic composi
caT.' particu!arly of the tragic
di I 'a an^ sometimes even inwitPi!- *"mse'f ln acting a part 1 '»s companions in theatrical
representations. His parents, bowever, probably directed in their judgment by the clergyman who had the care of his education, ultimately determined upon bringing him up to the church, and with a view to that, to confer on him an University education. When the time drew nigh, that he was to quit the place of his nativity, he one day met in the streets of Wakefield, a poor shoemaker, who asked him if he were not going to be a clergyman. Answering in the affirmative, the man replied," Then, Sir, I hope you will study your Bible, that you may be qualified for feeding Christ's flock with the bread of eternal life." A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. Mr. Robinson never forgat the shoemaker's hint, while he lived.
In October 1768, he became a student of Trinity college, Cambridge, and applied himself sedulously to the acquisition of knowledge, husbanding his moments with such parsimony, that every hour was filled up by his studies, among which he wisely introduced a portion of the Greek Testament daily, not merely as a critical but a devotional exercise. It' is indeed pretty certain that at this time his mind had taken a serious turn, whatever was the particular and efficient cause of it. His strict*
ness in the discharge of his religious duties; the faithfulness with which he always reproved what he conceived to be sinful; and the decided attachment that he manifested towards such of his fellowstudents as were of a pious cast, soon marked him out as a speckled bird among his fellow collegians, and drew upon him no small portion of their obloquy. "His holiness," and " the Pope" were among the number of opprobrious epi thets bestowed upon him at this time; but he wisely regarded them not;' he set his face as a flint against the scoffers of his day and could say with David, " if this be to be vile, I will be viler still."
On the 1st of October 1772, he was chosen Fellow of Trinity College, under peculiar circumstances of distinction; and soon after was presented to the curacies of Witcham and Wichford, situated about fourteen miles from Cambridge, which consequently became the scene of his first ministrations. No sooner had he entered upon his pulpit labours, than he excited great attention by his exertions, both in his own parishes and the surrounding neighbourhood. He laboured diligently, lifting up his voice like a trumpet (though not perfectly musical) and the sound was heard, and the alarm spread, through all the region round about. The places of worship were crowded, and his services were effectually blessed to many of his hearers. The favourite subjects of his ministry were, the fall of man—the mediation of Jesus Christ—salvation freely by grace—the necessity of divine influence to give the gospel its saving effect—and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, the genuine fruit of faith. Such a ministry at such a period could not fail of giving offence to many. The country rang with his fame, and the stir which he caused at Witcham by the discharge of his clerical
duties is said to have been astonishing, considering his boyish years. Numbers went over from Cambridge to hear him preach, and were surprised to witness a crowded audience hanging on his lips and listening with unusual attention to his doctrine.
Mr. Robinson continued at Witcham, however, only two years. He had occasionally introduced a Selection of Psalms and Hymns, a certain mark of Methodism! this was eagerly laid hold of by some of his parishoners who disliked bis doctrine, and they raised an opposition against him which is said to have hastened his departure from the people of his charge, whom he left with sincere regret. He visited them, however, occasionally during the remainder of his life; always remembered them with tender affection; and constantly testified that the days he spent among them were the happiest and most useful of his life.
Leicester, which has since beta the scene of the labours of Carey and of Hall, was at that time, in an awful degree, destitute of the preaching of the gospel of salvation. What little religion existed among its inhabitants was to be found among the Baptists and Independents: the members of the establishment were given up to dissipation, or the indulgence of various lusts equally ruinous to the souls of men. The curacy of St. Martin's church falling vacant, it was offered to Mr. Robinson, who at first declined the offer on account of the very low state to which religion was reduced in the place. The remonstrances of a friend, however, overcame his scruples. "If the place were in this dissipated state," said his friend, "they had the more need of his services: Where should a man labour so soon, as where he is most wanted? Ease and con* venience might keep him back; but zeal and self-denial would urge him to go." He saw the force of this reasoning, and after some deliberation consented to undertake the curacy, but tinder a full conviction that he should be rejected ere three months were expired.
The instances that are upon record of the opposition which he met with from persons of note, are affecting enough; but they are so much a matter of course, and so naturally to be expected under similar circumstances, that they ought not to have excited surprise; nor should they now be mentioned "as though some strange thing had happened." Such is the nature of the gospel of divine grace, that when faithfully declared, if it do not humble it will harden—if it is not received in the love of it, the enmity of the human mind is sure to be roused against it. And so Mr. Robinson found the case to be in his new connection.
In the year 1738, Mr. Robinson was presented with the valuable Bring of St. Mary's, Leicester, which he obtained through the influence of the Earl of Dartmouth. This however was not a bed of roses to the new incumbent, who, if he found opponents at St. Martin's, here also met with persons who possessed still greater means of annoying him, and rendering his situation irksome. By prudence and perseverence, however, he, in process of time, surmounted many of the obstacles he had to encounter, and conciliated most of those who were opposed to him. His congregations at St. Mary's were very considerable, and they soon became serious and very attentive. When Mr. Robinson had been some time settled in his vicarage of St. Mary's, he commenced a course of Lectures on the History of the Patriarchs. Mr. De Coetlogan was at that time publishing a monthly Journal under the title of the "Theological
Miscellany," to which Mr. R. lent his aid, by furnishing a sketch of each Sermon, as soon as it was preached, and these were inserted under the title of "Scripture Characters." These discourses were very favourably received at home, and their appearance in print cave them encreasing celebrity. Some' of his friends urged it strongly upon him to collect them into a Volume, and to print a neat edition, assuring him of their general acceptance and usefulness. And while he hesitated to accede to the proposal, through fear of pecuniary loss, a few of them entered into an engagement to indemnify him, in consequence of which he consented to make the experiment. He tirst published a Single Volume in duodecimo, about the year 1785. When that was sold off he republished it, and added to it a second. When that impression was exhausted, he published the whole series in four vols. 12mo. Two or three editions more were published in the same size; and since that time the work has been handsomely reprinted in Octavo. The reception which it has met with, is abundant proof that the work is a favourite with the public. Its reputation is now firmly established, and there cannot remain a reasonable doubt of its continuing a standard book for ages and generations to come. The merits of the "Scripture Characters," are probably a" little over rated by the public; but in this there is not much to regret; and it: would be unjust to deny that the book has no merit. Dr. Fawcett, the author of the "Devotional Family Bible," has, in one of his small tracts, praised the "Scripture Characters," at a most extravagant rate, as we conceive, when he pronounces them the most finished System of Scripture Biography that was ever produced in any language. This is surely hyperbolical. The most that can*with truth be said of them is, that they furnish an agreeable species of "Light reading for leisure hours." Critical they were not intended to be; and there is nothing profound in the general observations. The reflections interspersed throughout the work, are such as would naturally strike the mind of almost any ordinary reader of the Bible; and there is this misfortune attending the whole, that the subject, passing through the hands of the preacher, and becoming incorporated with his common-place observations, unavoidably loses much of its native grandeur and divine simplicity as delivered to us by the pen of inspiration; and then in proportion as it is expanded, it necessarily becomes attenuated aud less impressive. Even Mr. Vaughan acknowledges that the work would have been more properly entitled "Scripture Histories" than Scripture Characters. In the year 1805, Mr. Robinson again appeared before the public as an author, in a work entitled "The Christian System." This publication, the substance of which had been previously delivered to his own congregation iu a course of Sermons, was intended to furnish a popular body of divinity, both doctriual and practical, and is comprised in three Octavo Volumes. The reception, however, which the work met with from the public, was not at aH calculated to Hatter the author's vanity. It was handled with, what Mr. "Robinson considered to be extreme severity, in the Christian Observer, insomuch that their review of it almost operated to the extent of a prohibition in regard to its sale—and the feelings of the author, as may be easily conceived, were not a little hurt on the occasion. The truth is, that if Mr. Robinson had not altogether mistaken his forte, he had never attempted a work of __tf»at nature. The subject is wholly ^*i|$ of tiie reach of a minister of
the established church; and we might venture to affirm that there is not one single minister, high or low, belonging to the national establishment adequate to the vast undertaking, unless he make it a mere compilation from the works of others. It is an achievement which, independent of natural or acquired talents, demands a profound acquaintance with the sacred writings—the result of an enlightened mind, and of a careful and diligent study of the economy of Redemption in all its multifarious bearings. But to expect this from a minister of the national establishment, is about as wise as it would be to expect to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles. There are doubtless many truly excellent men among the clergy of the church of England—men who know and love the saving truth, and whose delight it is to point sinners to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of tb* world :—and in so far as they exhibit Jesus Christ and his finished work as the alone foundation of hope to perishing sinners, we have ground to expect the blessing of God upon their labours, and the genuine spirit of Christianity will always lead us to rejoice in seeing such characters raised up, and ia wishing them " God speed." Bat let the writings or preachings of the very ablest among them be compared with the productions of such men as Dr. Owen, or Charnock, or Manton, or Bates, and it will soon be seen, that, in comparison of these men, our modern divines of the Episcopal church, have none of them advanced a step beyond the A B C of Christianity. It was a striking observation, said to have been made by ourvenerable and beloved monarch, when, speaking of the divines of ancient times, he remarked," There were giants in the earth in those days!" We should be happy to see a generation of them revived
in ours, whatever denomination of Christians they might be found amongst.
The subject of faith, occupies several Essays in Mr. .Robinson's "Christian System," but it is very pertinently remarked by his able and friendly biographer (Mr. Vaughan) that his idea of it is neither simple nor philosophically correct "He confounds it" says Mr. Vaughan, "with reliance, which is the fruit or effect of the principle," instead of restricting it to a simple crediting of the divine testimony, or " a realising view of things not manifest lo the senses." In this incorrect view of the subject of faith, it would be well if Mr. R. had stood single and alone; but unhappily it is an error far too prevalent among the teachers of Christianity both within and without the pale of the church of England.
"Illiacos intra mures peccatur et extra." Mr. Robinson was not very liberal-minded towards the nonconforming part of the community. Mr. Vaughan has recorded a most pointed and cutting rebuke which he gave to several dissenting ministers whom he had invited to breakfast with him at his own house, on the morning of the day on which a meeting was held at Leicester to draw up a petition against the Corporation and Test Acts (in the year 1788) telling them that "they ought to be ashamed of their meeting—that their application manifested an ungrateful and an highly worldly spirit—that they wanted money aid power, not the means of serving God more acceptably, or °« preaching his gospel more extensively." This was sufficiently indicative of the high-churchman, certainly; but, whether true or »»lse of them, we may be allowed to say that, it would have come ■with an infinitely better grace ffoa one who was himself placed
under the ban. of exclusion-, than from the, lips of him who was lolling on his bed of roses! And here we cannot help remarking, that the Eeangelieal part of the ministers of the established church, have generally surpassed, on the score of hostility to the dissenters, every other class of them that isto be found. Exceptions, no doubt, there are; and we are happy to rank in this honourable few, Mr. Robinson's liberal and enlightened biographer (Mr. Vaughan) whose Memoir of his friend, justly reflects a lustre on his own character and talents, while it entitles him to our gratitude and respect. We have heard it said of Mr. Robinson, that, to such an extravagant pitch did he carry hisdeference to his Alma Mater, that he was accustomed virtually to issue bis edict against any of his congregation entering a dissenting; place of worship—and has even gone so far as to tell them, that were their lot east, on a Lord's day, in any town, in which the gospel was not preached in the national chureh and yet was preached among the dissenters— still it would be their duty to attend the worship of the establishment! Now this evidently betrays a judgment warped by the spirit of party, and it deserves the severest reprehension, forasmuch as it is obviously exalting human institutions, above the truth of God— a conduct highly presumptuous, daring, and profane in any worm of the earth.
Mr. Robinson was engaged to preach the Church Missionary Sermon, in London, for the year 1809, which he did at the lateMr. Romaine's church, St. Ann's, Blackfriars. The place was large and crowded with hearers, which necessarily called forth exertions on the part of the preacher, to which he was scarcely competent; and from that period his health began to decline. And though