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of the gospel when the present race of ministers is no
But so much has the number of our societies increased within the last twenty years, that it would not have been possible to provide them with ministers educated with a iew to supply them; and many must have wanted instructors, had we not obtained useful auxiliaries from the Methodist and Calvinist connexions, who have fallen into Unitarian views and joined our ranks.
By another means we have been greatly assisted. Lay gentlemen, as the pride of Churchmen has called them, have in many places kindly undertaken to conduct our public worship; and so great have been the facilities they have obtained in this labour of love, from the numerous publications which have been recently sent into the world, that in many instances no want of a regular minister has been experienced, and societies have been upheld and have flourished under the generous care and zealous exertions of these unclerical men.
This is a circumstance that has ever afforded me the greatest pleasure. When we look back upon the early history of the church, and see that before the establishment of the celebrated college of Alexandria, the preachers of Christianity were for the most part unlearned men, that the Christian world at large was, in the second century, "reproached for its illiteracy," (see Robinson's Ecclesiastical History,) and that it was through the instrumentality of this very school, that the corruptions of Christianity crept in; when I read that it was the unlearned many in the church that long resisted the urgent pleas of the schoolmen to admit their mystical divinity, that they "loudly cried out for the monarchy," that they charged it home upon the philosophical Christians, "that they were for worshiping two and even three Gods, while theinselves acknowledged but oné God, the Father, the Monarch;" when I consider the extreme simplicity of the gospel as it appears in the evangelical history, and that it was this simple doctrine that the common people heard gladly, I am inclined to ask, Where, for the purpose of Christian teaching, is the necessity of school-learning ; and why may not a man of a good common understanding, if he possess a clearness and freedom of speech, stand up and exhort his brethren in the great truths of the gospel? And how unwise those societies must have been who, be
cause they could not maintain a regularly-bred minister, have suspended their worship, and suffered their meetinghouses to fall to decay or pass into the bands of other sects-a circumstance which we have seen taking place in many parts of England, but which, I trust, will not take place any more among that class of Christians to which we belong.
Great encouragement is held out to small societies to employ, for maintaining Unitarian worship, their own abilities, in those instances with which we are acquainted in different parts of the kingdom, of the Unitarian doctrine being in this manner first planted and afterwards cherished by lay preachers, (I use the term purely by way of expla nation, for I cordially embrace them as brothers,) until it has grown up into a numerous and respectable church; and still greater encouragement in those cases of individual exertion in which our lay friends have trained themselves to the business of public teaching, and rendered themselves so essentially useful in this good work, that it can scarcely be said a minister is wanting to assist them.
This neighbourhood furnishes a striking instance of the value of such services, and it affords me great pleasure in conveying to the pages of the Reformer the documents which will accompany these remarks, to record the grateful sentiments of the Unitarian Church at Devonport, two miles from this town, towards their intelligent and excellent friend Mr. Silvanus Gibbs, whose name has been often seen in the pages of the Repository and the Refor mer, and whose writings have shewn the Unitarian public how well he has merited the token of respect which his hearers have presented to him.
I shall not state the circumstances relative to the formation of the society at Devonport, formerly Dock, which are related in the subjoined papers, but shall add, that, impressed with a sense of the great obligation they lie under to Mr. Gibbs for his unwearied and truly acceptable ser vices, his hearers first thought of imitating the example of our friends at Framlingham and Teuderden, and presenting him with a useful piece of plate. To this, when mentioned to him, he objected, but yielded to the proposal afterwards made to procure for him a copy of Mr. Belsham's Translation and Exposition of the Epistles of Paul, which were directed to be bound in the handsomest man
ner possible in Russian leather. In order to accomplish this object, a subscription was set on foot among them, the amount of which being found much to exceed the sum required, it was determined to add to this excellent commentary, Kenrick's Exposition of the New Testament: thus furnishing their friend with two valuable sources of information, from which he may draw and supply them with sound critical rem emarks, the best moral lessons, the most instructive and edifying subjects of contemplation. for the disciple of Christ Jesus.
I shall only add my cordial testimony to that of my neighbours, an industrious society, whose dependence is entirely on their weekly gains, most of them being employed in the labours of the Dock-yard, of the value of the services of Mr. Gibbs so long enjoyed by them; how great a pleasure it affords me to know, that they have justly appreciated the value of those services and given proof of it, and the hope I entertain that other societies similarly circumstanced will not be regardless of the great obligations they lie under to men of activity and of talent, who, without the prospect of any temporal gain, exert themselves in this manner to maintain a drooping cause and keep alive the spark of divine truth. I. WORSLEY.
On Sunday afternoon last, the society assembled in the large room in which their meetings are held, when Mr. Nicholas Rundell addressed Mr. Gibbs as follows:
"MR. SILVANUS GIBBS,
"We are now assembled to present you with Mr. Kenrick's Exposition of the Historical Books of the New Testament, and " Mr. Belsham's Translation and Exposition of Paul's Epistles. These works are intended as a small token of our gratitude for your disinterested and very useful labours in this place, and as a testimony of the zeal and unwearied perseverance which you have manifested in disseminating what we believe to be the pure, unsophisticated doctrines of the Scriptures, and in uniformly enforcing their superior tendency to produce virtuous conduct; as without a corresponding practice the most clear and correct religious notions are of little worth.
More than six years have elapsed since a room was opened in this town for public worship on Unitarian Christian princiles; during which period we have happily enjoyed, what we hope ever to esteem an important and invaluable privilege, nainely, the means of socially worshiping the One God and Father, as the disciples of the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, which we could not have otherwise
done without violating conscience, and acting with duplicity in those concerns in which we ought to be most explicit, open and sincere.
"It is with heart-felt pleasure that we mutually congratulate each other in respect to the improvement which has taken place in the public mind; that the asperity of feeling with which we were formerly regarded, has in a great degree subsided; ane that the prejudices which gave rise to it are gradually receding before increasing candour and liberality.
"We rejoice in the success which has attended your exertions in promoting a belief in the proper unity and infinite benevolence of the Supreme Being, which necessarily tends to inspire unshaken confidence in Him as the Father and the Friend of all, to promote charitable feelings among ourselves, and the most unbounded love towards the great family of mankind.
May God, whose highest glory consists in the happiness of his creatures, continue to bless your labours; and, when time shall be no more, may he whom we acknowledge as our only Lord and Master, own you as his faithful servant, and welcome you to a participation in his joy!
'Accept, Sir, of our united thanks for your services, and we, unanimously, request your acceptance of the before-named books, which now lie on the table."
Mr. Gibbs's Answer.
"MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS,
This handsome present with which you have now honoured me, I most cordially and thankfully accept. It will ever be esteemed as a distinguished token of your friendship, and a public approbation of my humble labours in the sacred cause of religious truth and virtue.
Through the kindness of Mr. Worsley and Mr. Cooke, I have already perused these works, and can testify to their superior value. For the excellent authors, I have long entertained a high regard, particularly for the enlightened Translator and Expositor of Paul's Epistles, whose masterly pen has been so many years consecrated to the illustration and defence of unadulterated Christianity, and whose admirable writings have essentially contributed to emancipate the gospel from the corruptions which, for ages, have marred its simplicity, shrouded its loveliness, and rendered it a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.'
"In putting these volumes into my possession, it is not of course your intention that they should be preserved merely as an ornament to my library, how much soever that end may be answered by the elegance of the binding; but you have doubt lessly in view the influence which their invaluable contents ought to have on my mind and future exertions, when they shall have been attentively read and properly digested. Whether the result, in this respect, will be commensurate with your anticipa
tions, time only can determine; should you, however, in any wise, be disappointed, I trust the fault may be considered rather in the understanding than in the will.
"I assure you, my friends, that I stand in need of every assistance, as well as of your candour and forbearance. Though it has always been my opinion that an academical education is most essential to the Christian ministry, I never perceived the propriety and utility of it so clearly as I have done since my connexion with this society. It is my ardent wish to become better acquainted with the Scriptures, and with all necessary truth; but in consequence of the little leisure I enjoy, and the small portion of time that can be appropriated to theological pursuits, I must necessarily be content with a very circumscribed portion of knowledge. But such as I possess shall be cheerfully devoted to your service, in inculcating and diffusing correct sentiments concerning the being and perfection of God, the person, character, and offices of the Lord Jesus Christ, the nature of gospel salvation, and the beneficial influence and final triumphs of Christianity; which I am anxious to promote according to the best of my ability, as far as the circle of my influence extends. May a larger share of that love of truth and sacred ardour in diffusing it, which so strongly characterized the pious authors of these volumes, be implanted in my bosom; and may the good cause which we have so much at heart widely extend its boundaries, until the earth be filled with its glory, and there shall be only One Jehovah, and his name One!'
"As a Christian society, let us continue united. Let every individual be ardent and active in disseminating what he conceives to be the truth as it is in Jesus, by friendly conversation, by lending of books, and by any other honourable means. You have all witnessed the manner in which our peculiar doctrines have been misrepresented, and our motives calumniated by the over zealous advocates of popular creeds. This conduct was, in a great measure, the offspring of ignorance; but happily the spirit of our opponents is considerably meliorated, in consequence of their having become better acquainted with our principles, and the arguments by which they are supported; and I am persuaded that the purity and sanctity of our cause will be acknowledged in proportion as these are diffused. They solicit only a candid and impartial hearing.
"Those persons who have possessed courage enough tó venture into this place, though under the influence of very unfavourable impressions, if not of hostile feelings, have departed in a very different state of mind. Some indeed, who were formerly opponents, have become friends; and this I doubt not would be the case with many others who are deterred froin entering our place of worship lest the building should fall on their heads,' were they to divest themselves of prejudice and such absurd