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with any adversary, atheist, papist, or dissenter, or in any sort to promote the honour of God, and carry on the great concerns of the Gospel, when so gross an ignorance in the fundamentals of religion has spread itself so much amongst those who ought to teach others, and yet need that one teach them the first principles of the oracles of God?” This description will, I trust, never be applicable to any who present themselves for ordination from this seminary; certainly, if they avail themselves of the means of religious instruction here afforded them, it never can.
The practice here alluded to by bishop Burnet, of requiring young clergymen who come to seek institution, to give proof that they have duly improved in the studies suited to their fession, and thus subjecting them to a second examination, is not, I believe, at present generally resorted to. If the person who applies has been appointed by the bishop himself, it might seem unnecessary or unseasonable to examine minutely into one qualification, where a conviction of a superior general fitness for the office has decided the preference. If he is presented by a different patron, it might seem invidious on the selection of a person already admitted into orders, (it is to be presumed,) on a sufficient examination of his attainments, and against whom no obvious and palpable objection lies, to resist his appointment to a particular benefice, on a ground apparently so indeterminate and difficult of proof as a deficiency in theological learning; particularly where mankind are so prone to impute unworthy motives, as they ever are, in cases connected with the distribution of pecuniary emoluments, and the exercise of two rival patronages. But the more difficult it is to ascertain, or even to inquire into the progress a young clergyman makes in theological studies after his ordination, the more necessary it becomes that he should be thoroughly well prepared before he receives it. And hence, my young friends, the prelates who are to be responsible for your admission into the church, are more strongly called on to examine your attainments in religious knowledge; and you will yourselves more distinctly see the propriety and the advantage of your availing yourselves of the arrangement now proposed, in order to attain and to prove you have attained such proficiency in sacred literature, as may qualify you for the ministry of the Divine word, in some degree corresponding to the awful importance of that high and holy office.
Another part of bishop Burnet's observation deserves peculiar attention, that in which he adverts to the difficulty we shall experience in resisting any adversaries, whether in defending truth, or exposing error, where gross ignorance spreads itself amongst the established clergy.
On this view of the subject, it may be useful to advert to the kind of instruction, which the most respectable part of the dissenting clergy receive, and the degree of attention which it is expected they should pay to it. With respect to this, it is a well-known fact, that many of the ministers, who in consequence of the Act of Conformity at the Restoration* swelled the ranks of the dissenters, were eminent for learning, and well qualified to undertake the business of education; and from the pecuniary losses which they sustained, were induced, some to open schools, and some to establish academies, in which they read lectures in different branches of science and theology. From this and other concurring circumstances, no inconsiderable share of learning was diffused, and has continued to subsist amongst the dissenting clergy. The course of lectures delivered by Dr. Doddridge, as a theological tutor, and which was afterwards adopted as a text-book in several academies, affords a striking instance of the great extent of reading, and variety of topics, which the candidates for the dissenting ministry were required to study. This work treats of almost every branch of pneumatology, ethics, and divinity; and though written in the most compressed form of mere propositions and heads of arguments, with their corollaries, and with references to the authors who have treated the several topics at large, it employed 230 lectures, and fills two large octavo volumes. Yet Dr. Doddridge expected his pupils should attend this course twice, † so as to digest and abridge the substance of each lecture, refer to the various authorities, and make any point of distinguished importance the subject of distinct discussion-a labour certainly exceeding any exertions, which the plan of examination now recommended to your attention, my young friends, would require. Greatly is it to be lamented, and the historians and panegyrists of the dissenters join in lamenting, that this and similar courses of studies proved, in many instances, by no means as useful and edifying a preparative for the sacred ministry, as they were extensive and laborious. It cannot be supposed, that all the theological tutors in the dissenting academies equalled, and certainly scarcely any could have exceeded Dr. Doddridge in serious piety and sincere good intention. Yet even his course of lectures appears liable to great objections, not merely because its topics are not arranged in the most lucid order, so as to proceed from what is plain, certain, and elementary, to what is consequential, difficult, or obscure; but because its entire character is too controversial and disputatious, to train the young students' minds to that caution and humility, that consciousness of the narrow limits of human investigation as to the spiritual world, and of the inability of human reason to fathom the deep counsels of God, which ought ever to attend our religious inquiries. Indeed the effects which resulted from this course of study clearly attest the hazard of pursuing religious inquiries without reference to any fixed principles of acknowledged truth, or any regulations of established authority; and confirm the observation of the historians of dissenterism, * “ that what are called (amongst them) moderate principles, tend to Arianism, f and thence to Socinianism, on the utmost verge of deism.”
* History of Dissenters by Bogue and Bennett, vol. iii. p. 301. + Vide Introduction to Lectures, Doddridge's works, vol. iv. p. 298. Edition 1803.
History of Dissenters, vol. iv. p. 270. Ibid. p. 262 and 273.
+ Under the immediate successor to Doddridge were trained Priestly and Belsham. And in less than 50 years after the death of Doddridge, most of the pupils (say the historians quoted before) “were found to be Socinians, it was therefore concluded, that the theological tutor could not be faithfully executing the will of the founder. The state of things, which was said to be worse than we could wish to believe, or should choose to publish, being reported to the trustees, they determined to strike at the root of the evil, by dissolving the academy.”
The same writers inform us, “ that the same cause, the progress of Arianism, first diseased and then destroyed the academies of Taunton and Exeter; and it is admitted it has also dissolved that of Hoxton, which had furnished to the dissenters many valuable ministers.” The same historians quote the following remarkable testimony to the truth of the opinion which I had entertained of the tendency of such a course of lectures as Dr. Doddridge's, before I was apprised of its absolute effects, vol. iv. p. 269. Dr. Priestly says, “ In my time the academy was in a state peculiarly favourable to the serious pursuit of truth, as the students were about equally divided upon every question of much importance, such as liberty and necessity, the sleep of the soul, and all the articles of theological orthodoxy and heresy; in consequence of
These circumstances, my young friends, should teach you sobriety and humility in your researches; and should impress upon you the important advantages you derive from being placed under the superintending wisdom of academic regulations; which, while they encourage the activity, and reward the success of your studies, will direct their progress with judicious caution, and secure to them a salutary result.
But it is right you should also know, that while the present dissenters, (who adhere to what they understand to be the strictest evangelic doctrines,) admit that in general erudition their present course of education rarely qualifies their ministers to excel; yet in the studies peculiar to our clerical profession, they arrogate to themselves a decided superiority.
which all these topics were the subject of continual discussion. Our tutors also were of different opinions; Dr. Ashworth, the principal, taking the orthodox side of every question, and Mr. Clarke, the sub-tutor, that of heresy, though always with the greatest modesty. Both of our tutors being young, (at least as tutors,) and some of the senior students excelling more than they could
pretend to do in several branches of study, they indulged us in the greatest freedoms. The general plan of our studies, which may be seen in Dr. Doddridge's published lectures, was exceedingly favourable to free inquiry, as we were referred to authors on both sides of every question. In this situation I say reason led me to embrace what is generally called the heterodox side of almost every question. But notwithstanding this, and though Dr. Ashworth was earnestly desirous to make me as orthodox as possible, yet as my behaviour was unexceptionable, and as I generally took his part in some little things, by which he often drew upon himself the ill-will of many of the students, I was, upon the whole, a favourite with him.”
* « Theology,"say the historians of dissenterism, “may be pronounced the forte of dissenting students—to the lectures constantly given by the professors, they bring that experimental knowledge of the subject and preference for that study, which will be usually found in men introduced to the work in the manner already described (that is, who are not following a profession chosen for them by their parents, but have been induced by the influence of religion to change all their pursuits of life, in order to devote themselves to the ministry.) Aware also that they will be expected frequently to preach without notes, they feel the necessity of accumulating those stores of theological knowledge, which alone can enable them to fill the pulpit with pleasure to themselves and benefit to their audience.” One, who was himself educated at Oxford, which boasts of being the first University in the world, says of the students in Lady Huntingdon's College at Chesham, "I may speak as a witness of the fact, the first student in the preceding year was ten times a better biblical student than usually goes from our Universities, besides his theological acquirements, which,
compare with the run of students in our Universities, would be like comparing Dr. Parr to a school-boy.”.
We are assured in the same work, “ that in the dissenting seminaries the study of the Scriptures, either in their original tongues or in the form of systematic theology, the knowledge of the best divines or ecclesiastical historians, the art of preaching, or of spending time in the study to the greatest advantage, form the incessant objects of laborious attention.”
'History of Dissenters, vol. iv. p. 305.
2 Dr. Haweis, in the Evangelical Magazine for 1796, page 151, quoted in the History of Dissenters, vol. iv. p. 306, 307.
I omit noticing various improvements in the system of education for the dissenting ministry which are proposed and promised in the work alluded to. Let me hope I have said enough to rouse in your breasts, my young friends, a virtuous emulation not to be outstripped in diligent application to the studies becoming the sacred ministry, by those very confident competitors.
Another example of a somewhat similar nature may tend perhaps even more than the preceding, to excite you to such laudable emulation. We, I believe, too frequently consider the entire class of itinerant preachers amongst the Methodists, as comparatively at least uninformed. And it is true they have not the advantages of a learned education. It is therefore the more necessary to examine what knowledge they cultivate in order to supply the want of that advantage, and certainly with a success amongst the middling and lower classes, which proves the method they adopt is not inoperative. Now here it deserves particular notice, that their teachers undergo a long and strict probation, and an inquiry into their qualifications, before they are fully received as permanent preachers.*
I quote a writer, who, after having been many years a member and travelling preacher in this society, has composed its portraiture and panegyric. « Though Methodists,” says he, “ do not require that a man should understand Latin and Greek, they do require what infinitely more important, that he should understand the things of God, and that clearly, having a just conception of the analogy of faith and the whole plan of salvation ; and it is enjoined by rule, that every preacher should give attendance to reading and to meditation. No man can be admitted as a local preacher, except he be a man of good sense, who has a competent knowledge of the Scriptures in general, and the doctrines of the Gospel in particular, unless also he be able to speak in public with tolerable ease and readiness, and after a due examination be approved of by the local and travelling preachers in the circuit where he resides.” If the person thus employed in his own vicinage aspires to become a travelling preacher, the fruits of his labours as a local preacher are inquired into, and whether his talents are of that description as may make him generally useful.
“ All such inust attend the district meeting, and undergo an examination respecting their religious experience, knowledge, motives, sentiments, and their readiness to conform to the society's rules of discipline. After this, they are employed,” says the writer, “ four years more upon trial, before they are received into full connection. And if, at the end of that period, any serious doubts arise as to their piety, abilities, or probable usefulness, they will either be dismissed, or have the time of their probation prolonged.” It is greatly to be lamented, that this author is not satisfied with expounding the principles and defending the conduct of his own sect, or even bestowing on it the highest praises, but also judges it necessary, as it would seem, to heap upon the majority, or, as he himself expresses, “ vast numbers" of the established clergy, the severest censures, and speak of them in the most degrading and offensive terms--as generally “almost, but not altogether Christians.” In the capacity of preachers, “ dumb dogs," as “quoting scraps of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, which perhaps they do not under