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Accomplishment of it? I would not, therefore, where there is any opportunity of avoiding it, send a child to a Tory School, so much as to learn his A.B.C.” 12
And as most of the Free Schools had fallen into Tory hands, he advises that Dissenters should establish schools of their own.
He thinks that in some congregations the older men have been too unwilling to consult the wishes of the younger people in matters of indifference, such as “ an alteration in the common method of singing the Psalms" ; that ministers and “
managers ” have sometimes presumed too much on their official authority ; that the older ministers have not been considerate and kindly in their treatment of their younger brethren ; and that students who have just left the Academies should have received more generous attention from the Churches.13 Too much encouragement had been given to
strolling Scotch ministers,” who had come to England without trustworthy recommendations. “It is a foolish humour in some of our Societies, to be engaged by the Noise and Wheedle of these people. ... The Power of their KirkSessions, Presbyteries, etc., runs too much in their heads; and the general fire of their Tempers is too great, to fit them to deal with English constitutions, and to act upon Dissenting principles.” 44 Finally, in defending the practice of Occasional Conformity, many Dissenters, who claimed the value of moderation, had argued as if there were nothing of moment” in the differences between the Dissenters and the English Church, and a spurious moderation had sapped conviction.*
But he acknowledges that the real root of the evil lay deeper, and that there had been a real decline of religious earnestness. In a sermon preached on January 6, 1731-2, at Hare Court, Aldersgate Street, by Abraham Taylor, of Deptford, at a monthly meeting of ministers for “spending some time in prayer, on account of the great declensions in religion visible at the present day,'' 46 the loss of religious earnestness is attributed principally to the gradual departure of the Dissenters from the religious faith of their fathers. 47
42 Some Observations, 29-30.
The preacher is a true heir of the Puritan and Calvinistic tradition. He recalls the controversy concerning Justification which sprang up soon after the Toleration Act, and insists that this was the beginning of the evil. He traces the revolt during the early years of Queen Anne against one Calvinistic doctrine after another; and reminds his hearers, that even “the satisfaction of Christ was made nothing of, under pretence that He died to set ys an example of patience, meekness and charity.” “This was not done so much from the pulpit," he says, “ for it would not have been bore by the honest Christians, as in other ways ”; but in the pulpit instead of preaching to the people
the great doctrines of the gospel, and acquainting those who heard the word, on what foot, and by what aid, they must act in doing duty, a great deal of pains were taken to amuse them with mere moral babble, under the plausible name of practical preaching. They were told a great deal of the advantage of curbing their passions, of the present benefits of sobermindedness, of the rewardability of sincerity, let a man's opinions be what they would. As this way of preaching grew in use, Christ was very much left out, and some seemed to take pleasure, in being able to spin out an empty harangue, the length of an hour, without mentioning His name.'
Then, a little later, after the accession of George I., the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ was denied, and the Personality of the Holy Spirit. The evil was made worse by the “ unaccountable and rash conduct ” of some who did not profess to have renounced the doctrine of the Trinity, but who insisted that it was a matter of mere speculation,” and that“ Christ's divinity was not a matter about which good people should differ, and that the denial of it was not a fundamental error.' “Though great forbearance was pleaded for with respect to such as tried to rend the crown from Christ's Head, yet no fair quarter could be given to those who, in a manly and Christian way, declared and defended their faith, as to His supreme dignity and honour.” 49 And from this point some men had drifted into mere natural religion.
Abraham Taylor, while deploring with great solemnity the religious contrast between the Dissenters of 1732 and those of an earlier generation, does not set out in detail the differences 48 Taylor, Spiritual Declensions, iii. 26.
49 Ibid., 27, 28.
in their character and habits of life ; except that he says that when the declension began, even those“ who professed godliness, contented themselves with praying once a day ” ; 50 that prayers in the family wholly ceased, or were offered only once a week; and that
the professors of religion grew greatly remiss, as to attending on the public worship of God; it then grew fashionable to attend only once a day, and, on the least pretence in the world, not to attend at all, and that for several weeks together; and, at the same time, pride and luxury greatly increased."' 51
Watts is more specific.52 He is satisfied that “the great and general reason ” of the decline of Dissent is “the decay of vital religion in the hearts of men, and the little success which the ministrations of the Gospel have had of late in the conversion of sinners.' Nor is it among Dissenters alone that religion has declined ; it has declined in the whole kingdom. After giving much earnest and evangelical advice both to ministers and congregations, and insisting that Dissent is worthless unless Dissenters are distinguished for the vigour of their religious life, he recites some of the particulars in which the Dissenters of the preceding age had differed from most of their fellow countrymen. (1) They were conspicuous for their habitual reverence for the name of God. (2) They observed the Lord's Day with exceptional strictness. They were not satisfied with attending worship once a day; and they spent a great part of the rest of the day in religious thought, religious reading, and prayer. (3) They were accustomed to speak freely to each other on “themes of virtue and practical godliness." (4) They were unlike many of their neighbours“ in keeping more regular hours for the various duties to God and man, in abstaining from vain company and much wine, in preserving better order in families, in maintaining the daily worship of God there, by reading the Word and prayer with an uninterrupted constancy, and in training up
60 Taylor, Spiritual Declensions, iii. 29. 61 Ibid., 29, 30.
See also another sermon on the same subject, and on the same lines, in A Defence of some Important Doctrines of the Gospel. Lime Street Lectures, ii. 373-411.
52 An Humble Attempt towards the Revival of Practical Religion among Christians. Works, iv. v.
53 Works, iv. 585.
their children and their servants to the knowledge and fear of God, and in the faith of Jesus Christ, with utmost solicitude and holy watchfulness. (5) They were remarkable for their frugality and industry; bankruptcy occasioned by extravagance or indolence would have led to immediate excommunication; and among Dissenters the excluded man" would have borne a long and heavy load of infamy." (6) "It was a constant and known mark of a Protestant Dissenter that he avoid those amusements which border so near upon vice and irreligion that sometimes it is hard to separate them.54
(1) The avoidance of profane language is, he trusts, still a habit of Dissenters; but in all the other particulars that he enumerates he evidently fears that they have declined from the nobler life of their fathers. (2) He implies—what Abraham Taylor definitely asserts-that many of them are satisfied with attending worship only once on Sunday, and that they spend the rest of the day in unnecessary business, in long dinners, in conversation that has nothing to do with the great memories of the day or its great hopes, and that private religious thought and worship on Sunday are generally neglected.55 (3) He evidently thinks that Dissenters are “ as shy
as their neighbours in talking about religion ; that “ loose and profane talk, and the most notorious crime of scandal,” have taken the place of that devout conversation which at once expressed and sustained the religious life of their fathers.56 (4) He asks whether they have not abandoned the regular and disciplined life which was once common among them; whether they do not turn day into night, and night
He suggests that partly as the result of this want of order, family prayer is irregular, even where it is not altogether neglected. Dissenters, so Dr. Watts feared, might be found indulging in “ public drinking” till eleven or twelve o'clock at night, and were sometimes greatly the worse for their drinking. He also fears that the religious training of children and servants has become uncommon.57 (5) He charges Dissenters with thinking as lightly of bankruptcy as their neighbours. They neglect their business, and are too eager for pleasure. Their houses are too large ; their servants too numerous; their style of living too extravagant. In
64 Works, v. 48-58.
65 Ibid., v. 49.
their haste to be rich they make heavy ventures which their own capital will not cover, and the people who trust them are ruined. The sober, modest, thrifty habits of their fathers are fast disappearing 58 (6) Finally, it is no longer a characteristic of Dissenters that they abstain from the amusements which were once supposed to be wholly inconsistent with a devout life. Some Dissenters still abstained from them; but some Churchmen also abstained from them. There was a time when every man that regarded with conscientious disapproval the government and worship of the Church would have regarded with equal disapproval“ many of our midnight assemblies, midnight balls, lewd and profane comedies, masquerades, public gaming-tables, and deep play.” 59 The refusal to conform to certain practices of the Church and the refusal to conform to certain practices of the “ world ” went together. In Watts's time they went together no longer.
The Congregationalists had not departed as far from the doctrine and the practice of the earlier Nonconformists as the Presbyterians, and at the very time of the publication of the Enquiry into the Causes of the Decay of the Dissenting Interest, they were attempting to recover something of their old seriousness and earnestness. A few devout laymen met every week at the house of a friend who lived in Sweeting's Alley, near the Exchange. They were loyal to the theology of John Owen and the other leaders of Congregationalism under the Commonwealth and Charles II. They wished to revive the deep and fervent religious life and the austere morality which had been associated with that theology. They accordingly formed themselves into a society; and as the house in which they met had the sign of the King's Head, they called their new society “The King's Head Society.” 60 It is said that they established the Lime Street Lecture. The lectures, which were published in two volumes, were ranked among the ablest defences of Calvinism. Among the Lecturers
58 Works, v. 55.
69 Ibid., v. 55. 60 They afterwards met at a tavern in the Poultry, which also had the sign of the King's Head. Waddington, iii. (1700-1800), 263–264.