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CHARACTER OF THE REV. ROBERT ROBINSON.
He was a wonderful example of a man rising to considerable eminence by his own exertions. His education was no other than that of a grammar school,” and his first serious turn was given to him by the preaching of Mr. Whitefield.t But he gradually devoted himself wholly to the work of the ministry among the Baptists, and in the discharge of the duties of it, especially in his labors among the lower ranks of people, he greatly distinguished himself. What you saw and heard of him here would give you no idea of what he had been. For, the disorder to which he had been more than a year subject, and which, it is said, was brought on by intense, and I may say intemperate application to study, had weakened his mind, as well as his body, and, as is always the case, much more than he was himself aware of; though he still retained a fluency of speech and a command of language, that few can boast. When he was in his prime, he used, without any art, or ostentation of oratory, perfectly to command the attention of his audience; and always speaking extempore, he could vary his style and address, according to his hearers, in a manner that was truly wonderful. His writings discover equal powers of imagination and of judgment. His Sermons, preached in the villages near Cambridge,[*] are remarkable for their plainness and propriety. But at the time that they were composed he had not acquired all the sentiments that he had before he died. What most of all distinguished Mr. Robinson was his earnest love of truth, and his laborious search after it. Educated in Calvinistic
* Mr. Robinson was educated under the Rev. Joseph Brett, at Scarning in Norfolk, where the late Mr. Norris, [who founded a Divinity Professorship at Cambridge, the present Lord High Chancellor, [Thurlow], and most of the gentlemen of that county, received the rudiments of learning. There Mr. Robinson was taught the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and he was a great favorite with his master on account of his “large capacity, uncommon genius, and refined taste,” which were the words his master used when speaking of him at twelve years of age. He added, that “ he expected great honor from him in future life.” This was when Mr. Robinson was intended for the church; and it does not appear that he was ever engaged in business. (P.) Advertisement. He was bound apprentice to “a hair-dresser in Crutched Friars ” in 1749; but his master appears to have given up his indentures some time before the expiration of the term. — Dyer's Mem. p. 11. See ibid. pp. 8–11. Brief Mem. pp. xill. - xv.
1 See Dyer's Mem. pp. 18–25. In Mon. Repos. VII. 678, 679, I mentioned my too short acquaintance with this extraordinary man, and described a curious record in my possesion. It is in a copy of Jennings's “Life of Cotton Mather.” At the beginning of the book is written Robert Robinson, 1754, prefixed to the verse Heb. vi. 12. The
account of his birth and parentage, and what he considered as his new birth, is thus written by himself at the end of the book:
“Robertus, Michaelis Mariaeque Robinson Filius.
Natus Swaffhami, Comitatu Norfolcia,
Que septem, absolutionem plenam gratuitamque
Per sanguinem pretiosam Jesu Christi
Et gloria, in secula seculorum. Amen.”
[* Republished in this country a few years since.]
principles, he was the greatest part of his life very zealous in the propagation of them. I myself remember hearing him many years ago explaining the Calvinistic doctrine of justification, to a crowded and very attentive audience in London. Mr. Lindsey's resignation of his living in the Church of England and his writings in defence of Unitarianism, exciting a good deal of attention, Mr. Robinson published a book entitled “A Plea for the Divinity of Christ,” one of the most plausible of the treatises on that side of the question, and the only one that Mr. Lindsey thought proper to reply to. For this work Mr. Robinson was very much caressed by the friends of the established Church; and on this account, I believe it was, that he had the offer of considerable preferment in the Church of England, which, however, with great magnanimity, he rejected.* Notwithstanding his long attachment to the doctrine of the Trinity, yet continuing to read and think on the subject, he came at length to change his opinion, and before he died he was one of the most zealous Unitarians.# The subject of the Divine Unity was generally uppermost in his mind, and he urged it not only in season,
but, as you would observe, even out of season. # # #
Mr. Robinson has long been distinguished as a writer; and his zeal as a Dissenter soon brought upon him the peculiar indignation of the friends of the Establishment. Upon every occasion of any thing being brought before Parliament in favor of the Dissenters, his Plan of Lectures on the Principles of Nonconformity (which I would take this opportunity of recommending to you) has never failed to be produced by our enemies, as an evidence of our hostile intentions with respect to the established Church. But it is no proof of the excellence of that establishment, that so acute an observer as Mr. Robinson, and who, I believe, had himself been a member of it, should come to think so ill of it. Severe as his censures are, I have no doubt of their being perfectly just; and in matters of religion, there is certainly no room for complaisance. Let every thing of this nature be most rigorously examined, and let it stand or fall by its own merit. I would particularly recommend to your imitation Mr. Robinson's exemplary conduct in the education that he gave to his numerous family, not only in religion, but in all branches of useful knowledge; by no means neglecting his daughters. To their understandings his good sense taught him to give the same cultivation as to those of his sons, that is, the highest of which they were capable. Getting over a vulgar and debasing prejudice (that women, being designed for domestic cares, should be taught nothing beyond them), and finding his daughters capable of it, he himself taught them the learned and the modern languages, and he got them instructed by others in mathematics and philosophy. Certainly, the minds of women are capable of the same improvement and the same furniture as those of men; and it is of importance that, when they have leisure, they should have the same resource in reading, and the same power of instructing the world by writing, that men have; and that, if they be mothers, they be capable of assisting in the instruction of their children; to which they have generally more opportunity to attend than the fathers. In all labors proper for his station, and for the public
* “Handsome proposals were readily made him, but were modestly, though firmly, rejected. On Dr. Ogden's addressing him, “Do the Dissenters know the worth of the man 2' Robinson replied, “The man knows the worth of the Dissenters.”—Dyer's Mem. pp. 198, 199.
f I have the happiness to think that this important change in Mr. Robinson's sentiments was in some measure occasioned by my own writings. For in the only letter that I ever received from him (which was in answer to one that I was desired to write, in order to invite him to preach our charity sermon) he says what, without mentioning his name, I have already quoted in the Preface to my Letters to Mr. Burn: “I am indebted to you for the little I know of rational, desensible Christianity. But for your friendly aid I fear I should have gone from enthusiasm to Deism ; but a faith founded upon evidence rests on a rock.”
Mr. Robinson was most abundant.* In this let us imitate him. Whatever our respective callings may be, let us, like him, faithfully and assiduously discharge the duties of them. Our Master is now absent, but he will in due time make his appearance. May we so conduct ourselves, as not to be ashamed before him at his coming. Warned, more especially, by the suddenness of the death of Mr. Robinson, and that of many others of which we are continually hearing, let us see that we be always ready; since at such an hour as we think not, the Son of Man may come.
* To recommend just notions of civil government, he published, in 1782, that Political Catechism which was honored by the public censures of Burke. To serve the cause of justice and humanity, he prepared the petition, from Cambridge, against the Slave Trade : one of the earliest presented to the House of Commons; and in 1788, he preached and published a Sermon, entitled “Slavery inconsistent with the Spirit of Christianity,” from Luke, iv. 18. The preacher happily remarks, that “a proclamation of liberty to captives meets the wishes of both sufferers and spectators, and grates only on the ears of a tyrant who makes slaves, and masters who hold them in servitude.”