Изображения страниц

Professions it is here unnecessary to repeat: the volumes of the Monthly Repository may now supply their place.

In conducting the Monthly Repository, the Editor feels assured that he is engaged in an useful and honourable work; the consciousness of this cheers him in the midst of his labours, and encourages him to proceed with renewed diligence. He is not careless of praise or insensible to blame; but the approbation of his own mind, is in all cases sufficient to content him.


The Monthly Repository is increasing gradually in sale, and the Editor hopes, also, in real value. Arrangements are making, by which it is expected that the succeeding volumes will be much improved. The Editor commends the work, with a full confidence in their approbation, to the friends of Reason, Inquiry, and Truth.

Hackney, Dec. 30, 1807.

[ocr errors]



Theology and General Literature.




No. XIII.]

[Vol. II.


R. (afterwards Dr.) James Foster, a native of Exeter, the son of a fuller in that city, and a Dissenter, and the grandson of a clergyman at Kettering, in Northamptonshire, was born Sept. 16, 1697. His father received his religious principles from an uncle, by whom he was educated. His mother left the character of being one of the best of women.

At the early age of five years, he was placed at the grammar-school in Exeter, under Mr. Thorpe, whose highest applause he secured by his rapid progress in classical learning. At this seminary he formed an intimacy with a school-fellow, afterwards Dr. Conybeare, whom he lived to see advanced to the See of Bristol.;

His academical studies were commenced and prosecuted under the Rev. Joseph Fallet, sen. in the same city,, who generously patronised his youthful genius, by admitting him gratis to an attendance on his lectures, till he had finished his stu dies-a favour for which Mr. Foster ever expressed his gratitude. Several who afterwards made a distinguished figure re ceived their academical learning under Mr. Hallet; as his own son, the Rev. Joseph Hallet, eminent as a scriptural critic, and the continuator of the great" Mr. Pierce's "Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles ;" the Rev. Zechariah Mudge, who afterwards conformed; and the celebrated Dr. Huxham*, of Plymouth.

Ilis superior natural abilities, quick apprehension, solid

* Dr. Huxham, the son of a butcher, was a native of Totness., He received His grammar-learning under Mr. Gilling, a respectable and liberal Dissenting minister at Newton-Abbot. In 1709 he became a pupil of Mr. Hallet, and went through the course of his seminary. He then studied a year and a half under Dr. Boerhave, at Leyden, where he applied to his medical pursuits with great dili gence, and made the best improvement of his advantages and abilities. When he had gone through the course of lectures there, he removed to Rheims, in France, to take his degree, because it could be obtained on cheaper terms there than Leyden.



judgment, happy memory, and free commanding elocution attracted the notice and admiration of Mr. Foster's tutor and fellow-students. His academical exercises expressed clearness in his conceptions, a talent for close and just reasoning, and modesty and integrity in the avowal of his sentiments. The candour of his spirit, the tenderness and benevolence of his mind, and his piety, were highly esteemed.

In 1718, when he was twenty years and a half old, he entered into public life, by beginning to preach; but circumstances soon constrained him to withdraw into a studious retirement. Mr. Hallet, jun. his tutor's son, had held a secret correspondence with Mr. Whiston, about the time when he was engaged in publishing his " Primitive Christianity;" the consequence of which was, that he began to waver in his belief of the received doctrine of the Trinity, and to incline to the Arian scheme. When the class to which he belonged came to be lectured on Pictel's chapter concerning the Trinity, Mr. Hallet, in confidence, communicated his ideas to a few of his fellow-students. About five or six of them entered into the same views, but conversed together on the subject with great secrecy and caution. The notion, however, by degrees got abroad amongst some of the citizens, who at first talked of more than they understood. The matter reached the ears of the ministers, who began to be alarmed: the danger of heresy was uppermost in their conversation, in their prayers and sermons* Suspicions fell particularly on the learned Mr. Pierce, one of the ministers at Exeter. An inquisition into his sentiments was set on foot. Some other respectable gentlemen, who sustained the character of ministers in the city and the neighbourhood, were implicated in the like suspicion. They were called upon, in order to remove the doubts entertained concerning their orthodoxy, not only to explain, in their own words, their sentiments on the doctrine of the Trinity; but they were also required to sign the first and second Articles of the Church of England, and the Answer in the Assembly's Catechisin on the subject, as tests of truth and orthodoxy. Thus Protestant Dissenters, forgetting their own principles, attempted to introduce other standards of faith than the Holy Scriptures.

Mr. Foster, from his first coming to the academy, had expressed a disdain of all human authority in matters of religious opinion, faith, and practice. A furious controversy, to which the preceding circumstances gave birth, broke out and spread through the West. Mr. Foster, though his ministerial labours

MS. Letters of Mr. Fox, a gentleman of Plymouth, and a student under Mr, Faller, who was educated for the ministry.

had met with great acceptance about the country, and he was in high esteem with many, but with none more than with Mr. Pierce, soon felt the spirit of the times: he had embraced the obnoxious opinions, and the clamour ran high against him. In deference to the judgment and advice of some friends, he removed from the county of Devon, and accepted an invitation to Milbourn Port, in Somersetshire. He continued in this situation for a short time, till it was made uneasy to him by some of his hearers who had caught the infection. Driven away by their misguided and unhallowed zeal for orthodoxy, he found a friendly asylum and a calin retreat at the house of the Rev. Nicholas Billingsley, at Ashwick, under the Mendip Hills. Here he formed an intimacy with the Rev. Mr. Stog don, another young minister, who sought peace and the liberty of inquiry under the hospitable and friendly roof of their liberalminded protector. In this retreat, Mr. Foster pursued his stu dies with close application, and preached to two poor plain congregations, which he served with great cheerfulness, though both together, the one at Colesford, the other at Wookey, near Wells, did not raise him more than the yearly salary of 151. "His chief view," said a worthy divine who knew him well," was to maintain his own integrity, and promote the honour of his great Lord; bearing difficulties with a rational firmness and calm submission to the Divine will." verty, it has been justly observed, ought to be considered as in the highest degree honourable; for it was solely the effect of his upright aduerence to what he regarded as the cause of religious truth.

From Ashwick he removed to Trowbridge, and officiated with a Presbyterian congregation in that town, which did not ordinarily consist of more than 20 or 30 persons. Here his finances were so low, that he had an intention to quit the ministry, and to learn the trade of a glover, from Mr. Norman, a respectable person in that line, with whom he boarded. But other prospects opened before him: "for, while he resided. in that connection, he was convinced," says Dr. Fleming, " by reading Dr. Gale, that baptism by immersion was most proper; or, as Mr. Bulkley states it, "being convinced that there was in the New Testament no foundation for the baptism of infants, but that the adult only were the proper subjects of that ordinance, he declared against the one and in favour of the other, and was himself baptized in London." Though this change in his sentiments made no difference between him and his people, yet his expectations of worldly advantages were brought by it

The British Biography, V. x. 236.

nto a still narrower compass. This was a consideration that never appears to have had weight with him to relax the vigour of his mind in the search after truth, nor in any degree to pervert the principle of integrity in acting up to his convictions. It was not long before the steps which threatened to cast a darker cloud over his prospects, eventually opened his way to a more public and advantageous situation. Divine Providence raised him up a friend in Robert Houlton, Esq. who took him into his house as his chaplain, and treated him with kindness and respect. In the year 1724, on the death of the learned Dr. Gale, he received an invitation to succeed him at Barbican, in London, and, on the first of July, was ordained co-pastor with the Rev. Joseph Burroughs. In this situation, his pulpit-talents became known. A Physician, of rank and eminence, held in great esteem in the city, happened to pass by the place of worship in which Mr. Foster was preaching, and, standing up for shelter from a shower of rain, was so chained by a few sentences which caught his car, that he went in and staid out the service. The report of this gentle man, who upon all occasions used to speak of him with emphatical esteem as a preacher, gave him the first eclat, and threw him on the wings of fame. To this may be imputed the institution of a Lord's-day Evening Lecture, in 1728, which he carried on at the Old Jewry, for above twenty years, in the winter-season, with great popularity and applause, to a crowded auditory of every rank, station, and quality; "wits, freethinkers, numbers of clergy-who, whilst they gratified their curiosity, had their prepossessions shaken, and their prejudices loosened. Of the usefulness and success of these lectures he had a large number of written testimonies, from unknown as well as known persons. The flowers of oratory," says Dr, Fleming, "here grew upon the plant of divine truth and reason, from which his audience might gather fruit of the highest mental taste and moral complexion."

They who hold the sentiments concerning baptism which Mr. Foster embraced, it is well known, have generally (especially at that period), from a desire to adhere to the original order of the Christian institutions, in which baptism preceded the Lord's Supper, limited their communion to those who agree with them in sentiment, that immersion, on a profes sion of faith, was the only and true Christian baptism, and the initiatory ordinance of the Christian church. It was irre gular, in their opinion, for any to sit down at the Lord's Table, who had not first entered by the proper door into his church. Mr. Foster's views were different: he was an advocate for mixed communion, leaving others at full liberty to act

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »