Is a name which can scarcely fail to be familiar to every one who has taken the slightest interest in the history of Protestant Dissenters, as borne by a distinguished champion of their cause; to whom they owe one of the ablest and most satisfactory vindications, not only of their secession from the church of England, but of the grounds on which they disapprove of all civil establishments of religion, whatever may be their constitution, principles, or tenets.
His celebrated ‘Dissenting Gentleman's Letters’ have received, and continue to enjoy, a well-deserved popularity; and have, perhaps, done more than any other single work to promote just views of this subject, and to enable the Nonconformists of later times to give a reason for their separation, which might repel objections, satisfy their own minds, and maintain them steady in the public profession of their principles, notwithstanding the many temptations to fall away to a more fashionable religion.
But Mr. Towgood
has other and not less considerable claims on our respectful remembrance.
He knew how not only to assert but to exercise the privilege of enlightened impartial inquiry; and in his search after Christian truth he never forgot to cultivate Christian charity, and to make the principles he professed the means of forming and purifying the best affections of the heart.
These views and feelings he carried into all the relations
of life, and more especially displayed their influence in his active and conscientious discharge of the duties of the Christian
The subject of this memoir was born at Axminster
, in Devonshire
, December 17, 1700.
His grandfather, the Rev. Matthew Towgood
, was one of the venerable two thousand who witnessed a good confession on St. Bartholomew's-day, 1662.
His descendant thus concludes a brief memoir of him inserted in Palmer
's Nonconformist's Memorial,—‘I esteem it a greater honour to descend from one of these noble confessors than to have had a coronet or garter in the line of my ancestry.
I look forward with joy to the approaching happy day, when that glorious list of heroes will shine with distinguished honours, and mount up to thrones of power, while their titled and enribboned persecutors will sink into shame, and be glad to hide their faces in the deepest obscurity.’
After having gone through the usual preparatory studies in the academy at Taunton
, under the direction of the Rev. Messrs. James
, to whom the dissenters of that day, in the West
especially, were indebted for many of their most eminent and distinguished ministers, he was invited, in 1722, to settle with a congregation at Moreton
, in the county of Devon
In early life his habit appeared consumptive, and his friends anticipated that his mortal course would be but of short duration: but by a strict attention to diet and exercise, and the uniform regularity of his life, he so far strengthened his constitution as to be preserved in the enjoyment of health, and the means of usefulness, to a very advanced age.
At this period, the controversy of which we have already given some account in the memoir of Mr. Peirce
was but just brought to a close; and its unhappy effects in diffusing animosity and personal jealousy among many, who till then had not thought their differences on speculative points inconsistent with the maintenance of Christian brotherhood, were but too manifest; while the advantages which undoubtedly arose from it indirectly, in promoting a spirit of inquiry, and more just and rational views of religious liberty, were not as yet so fully developed.
The liberal principles, however, which appear to have guided his excellent instructors, and which may be fairly inferred not only from their writings and general reputation, but from the subsequent character and conduct of many of their most distinguished pupils, led Mr. Towgood
, from the first, to avoid the patrons of intolerant impositions; and though educated in what is called the orthodox faith, he held himself at liberty to examine and judge for himself, fully persuaded, at the same time, that a doctrine which was the subject of so much controversy, involving so much intricate and perplexed discussion, and on which so many wise and excellent men were arranged on both sides, was, at all events, not essential to salvation.
In this secluded situation he remained for about fifteen years, passed in the exemplary discharge of the pastoral duties; his uniform and even course unmarked by any memorable event, except his marriage to the daughter of James Hawker, Esq.
, of Luppit, in the county of Devon
By this lady he had four children, one of whom only
survived him. In 1737 he removed to Crediton, where he pursued the same useful plans for the improvement of his hearers which he had adopted in his original settlement—being ‘instant in season and out of season, exhorting with all longsuffering and doctrine.’
In this year Mr. Towgood
made his first appearance as an author in support of that cause of religious liberty of which he became afterwards so able and effective an advocate, by the publication of a small pamphlet entitled ‘High-flown Episcopal and Priestly Pretensions examined, in a Dialogue between a Country Gentleman and a Country Vicar
;’ containing a judicious defence of the common rights of Christians and the sufficiency and excellence of the Scriptures.
In 174] he appeared before the public in a cause which to us, at this distance of time, and removed from the influence of party and temporary excitement, appears much more dubious.
The occasions are but rare when the Christian
minister can descend with grace and propriety into the arena of political contention; and still more so when the preacher of the gospel of peace can with consistency come forward as the advocate of war, labouring to blow up the coals of national animosity and vengeance, when his countrymen would otherwise be inclined to withdraw from the conflict.
Yet such appears to be the character and intention of a pamphlet which our author published at this time, under the title ‘Spanish Cruelty and Injustice a justifiable Plea for a vigorous War with Spain
, and a rational ground for hope of success.’
We believe it is now well understood that the tales of cruel outrages said to be
perpetrated by the Spaniards on our traders in the West Indies
, which were widely circulated at that period, and which wrought the nation up to such a pitch of frenzy as to drive the pacific administration of Sir Robert Walpole
most reluctantly into a war, were grossly and wilfully exaggerated for party purposes; and also that the trade which it was sought to protect at such an expense was not only altogether contraband, but utterly insignificant in its value.
But if the case had been different, it seems to us that the minister of religion had better leave to others the business of preaching up war, remembering who it was that said, ‘All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword.’
Shortly after this we find him coming forward, with great activity and success, on an occasion much more congenial with his character and office.
In the year 1743 a dreadful fire at Crediton deprived no fewer than four hundred and fifty families of their homes.
This awful event awakened all the benevolent sympathies of Mr. Towgood
, who exerted himself to the utmost to lessen the affliction.
His house and his purse were alike open for the relief of the sufferers.
It was one of those occasions on which mankind were made to agree; and he accordingly co-operated zealously with Mr. Stacey
, the clergyman of the parish, in the various measures which they undertook for soliciting subscriptions, and procuring other relief from a distance.
A sermon, which he preached on the Sunday after this terrible visitation, was published, and was of great service in attracting the attention and sympathy of the public in general
to the deplorable state of his suffering neighbours.
About this time he published a valuable tract on the sentiments suitable to a season of recovery from sickness.
It was designed as a present to such of his congregation as had lately been raised from dangerous disorders, and contained serious reflections, resolutions, and devout meditations, suitable to persons in these circumstances.
It passed through three editions in this country, besides a large impression in America
, under the direction of the author's friend and correspondent, Dr. Mayhew
, of Boston
, in New England.
In 1745, the year of the rebellion, our author again came forward in the character of a political divine; more excusably than before, because at that period it was scarcely possible not to connect the threatened restoration of the Stuart dynasty with the prevalence and, perhaps, even the reestablishment of Popery; notwithstanding the remarkable fact, that the great bulk of the Catholics of these kingdoms stood aloof from the conflict, while the most determined adherents (in theory at least) of the exiled family were a still numerous class of the clergy of the church of England.
Nevertheless there was good-reason to conclude, that whatever tended to impress the people at large with a dislike and jealousy of Popery would lead them to make more vigorous efforts to prevent the return to the throne of a family now devotedly attached to that system.
With this object, accordingly, Mr. Towgood
preached and published a sermon, containing ‘a summary of the errors, absurdities, and iniquities of Popery—
shewing its worship to be idolatrous, its doctrine corrupt, and its moral conduct entirely repugnant to the precepts of our Divine Master.’
About the same time he republished, with a similar view, the statements of Bishops Burnet and Lloyd, tending to prove that ‘the Pretender’ was not really the son of James II.
There are few, we believe, who are not now perfectly convinced that these statements were utterly groundless; and it is somewhat mortifying to think, that at this or at any period the great interests of civil and religious liberty could not be safely trusted to their own merits, but required to be bolstered up by giving renewed currency to a gross delusion.
In the same year appeared Mr. White
Letters to a Gentleman dissenting from the Church of England, which gave rise to Mr. Towgood
's most important and memorable publication, which has for ever given his name an honourable connexion with the great cause of religious liberty—of free and unbiassed inquiry after religious truth.
The reply to Mr. White
, entitled ‘The Dissenting Gentleman's Letters,’ contains as complete and satisfactory a view as is any where to be met with, of the principles on which a separation from the Church of England may be fully justified on the part of those who conscientiously dissent from its doctrines, object to its constitution and discipline, and, above all, disapprove of its connexion
with and dependance on the state.
The controversial character of this work, which doubtless added materially to its popularity and extensive circulation, and, consequently, to its effect in the first instance, may perhaps, in some slight degree, diminish its interest at present; when the publication to which it is an answer has long ceased to attract any notice, and would, in fact, have been altogether forgotten, but for the refutation in which its title and some of its most remarkable passages are embodied.
It is, however, an excellent model of the controversial style, and well deserves to be studied in this point of view by every one who finds it necessary to engage in a personal contest of this kind, and is desirous, at the same time, that he does full justice to his cause and his argument, never to forget that he has also to sustain the characters of a scholar, a gentleman, and a christian.
The author is very successful in taking advantage of his opponent's mistakes and oversights, and yet does it not in such a manner as to lead to the suspicion that he is contending for victory rather than for truth,—that he is enabled by superior acuteness and dexterity to make the worse appear the better cause,—or that he owes his success not to the intrinsic force of his reasoning, but to the weakness and mismanagement of his assailant.
There is just enough of playful good-natured satire bestowed on the weak points of his adversary's case to give the work a sufficiency of that seasoning, without which a dry discussion of questions of this nature would, perhaps, scarcely be read; and yet in no instance does he condescend to such reflections as appear to be intended merely to give pain to any one,
however opposed in sentiment or profession.
Though it must be confessed that his style rises occasionally to the tone of well-merited indignation when he is forced to expose and comment in the only suitable terms on some remarkable examples of gross, and it is difficult not to say wilful, misrepresentation, still he never forgets the obvious and important rule, which so few public disputants have attended to as carefully as could be wished, to confine himself to the argument, and never to indulge in personal reflections, in order to blacken or depreciate the character of his opponent.
Passing over without notice the invidious remarks with which Mr. White
had filled his first letter on the lives of dissenters as compared with those of churchmen, which he justly regards as having nothing to do with the question, our author at once lays the foundation of his case in the unwarrantable pretension of the Church of England to decree rites and ceremonies, and to exercise authority in matters of faith; at the same time that she disclaims that infallibility which could alone render such a pretension plausible or consistent.
He maintains that the whole controversy may properly be considered as turning upon this single point; and shews that the assertion of such a claim involves a complete desertion of the only ground on which a separation from the Church of Rome can be successfully vindicated.
Accordingly, he shews that, whenever the partizan of the English church is called on to argue this matter with the Romanist, he finds it necessary immediately to desert his favourite ground of authority, and assume the position and
weapons of the dissenter.
the talk is of free inquiry and the right of private judgment; then the words of Chillingworth
are quoted, ‘The Bible
, and the Bible
only, is the religion of Protestants;’ a principle which, as our author justly observes, if followed out consistently to its practical results, would have driven Chillingworth
himself, and Hales
, and Middleton
, and many others who have resorted to it, to take up their lot with the dissenters.
The consequence is, that, as a controversialist, the churchman is continually placing himself in what may be called a ‘false position,’ between two fires: the Papist reminds him of the high and lordly tone with which he asserts church-authority in his argument with the Dissenter, who, in his turn, points out to him the inevitable conclusion from the true Protestant principle which he himself advances in his dispute with the Papist.
But the great difficulty in which the assertion of this claim on the part of the Church of England involves its supporters, is the question, Who constitute the church?
in whom is this authority vested?
A church is well defined in one of the Articles
, ‘a congregation of faithful men, assembled for the worship of God, and professing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ
;’ but it is evidently not in this sense that the term is here to be understood, for the bulk of the congregation have never been even consulted on the matter.
Neither does the clergyman, or even the whole body of clergy throughout the land, with the bishops and archbishops at their head, constitute the church in the sense here inquired after.
The authority is vested in the king and parliament, or rather in the
king, or the queen, as the case may be, without even the concurrence of the parliament.
There is nothing, for example, in the constitution of the church itself
, to prevent Queen Victoria, the sovereign of these realms at nineteen, from issuing a commission, if so disposed, not only without the consent of the clergy, but in opposition to their unanimous protest against it, to change the entire ecclesiastical establishment of this country.
It was the crown alone which originally established the present order of things, without asking for the concurrent authority, nay, in spite of the determined resistance, of the great body of the clergy; and whenever any alteration shall be thought desirable, the crown alone will be empowered to decide what it shall be, or in what way it shall be accomplished.
The church of England is a parliamentary
church, of which the sovereign is constituted the supreme head; and can alone decide, in the last resort, in matters spiritual or ecclesiastical.
Without his or her sanction, the decisions of its highest dignitaries are altogether null and void.
Who can wonder that the apparent absurdity of such a constitution should give the Catholic
a prodigious advantage in his controversy with the churchman?
This work soon acquired a very extensive circulation, which it still continues to enjoy, and was the means of introducing its author to the acquaintance of persons of great literary eminence, both in this country and America
Many letters of thanks were sent him for the service he had done to the cause of religious liberty; particularly by Dr. Chauncy
, of Boston
, in New England, who became his frequent correspondent, and under
whose direction three editions were printed in that country.
In the century, or nearly so, which has now elapsed, since its first publication, the relative position of the parties has been somewhat altered, particularly of late years, by the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts.
But the constitution of the establishment, its system of doctrines and discipline, its forms of worship, and its antichristian pretensions to authority in matters of faith, remain the same; and there is reason to apprehend that the prevalent spirit of its leaders is by no means changed for the better.
At all events, the ‘Dissenting Gentleman's Letters’ still continue, and, as far as we can judge, will long continue, a standard book in the controversy between the church and those who inherit the position and principles of the original Nonconformists, In some respects, it may, perhaps, be found that, by the experience since acquired, we have learnt to carry out its principles to a greater extent, and to remove some inconsistencies from their practical application.
But if so, it will not be the only instance on record, in which acute and ingenious men have ably advocated doctrines in advance of their age, and of which they were not themselves prepared to see and acknowledge all the results.
In 1748 Mr. Towgood
again appeared as a political writer, with an ‘Essay towards obtaining a true Idea of the Character and Reign of Charles I.’
This volume consists chiefly of a series of arranged extracts from the principal original historians of that period; selecting, frequently in preference, those who, from party bias or personal connexions, might be supposed, or were universally understood, to be prejudiced in favour of the royal
The evidence seems to be stated on both sides with fairness and impartiality; though certainly it is difficult for any statement of the oppressive tyranny, the despotic spirit, the utter absence of all regard to principle, consistency, of sincerity, which marked the first fifteen years of this unhappy reign, to go beyond that which is here quoted from the most friendly witnesses.
The work is drawn up with ability, and shews, what might be expected in a writer who took so warm an interest in discussions of this nature, an intimate acquaintance with the sources of original information relating to this period of English history.
It is observable, however, that the author appears to have two objects in view, which are barely consistent with each other;—the one, to shew that King Charles was in no way entitled to be venerated as a martyr, or worshiped as a saint; the other, to vindicate the Presbyterians from the charge of having had any hand in his ‘murder.’
To make out the first point, he presents a picture, unimpeachable either in its outlines or its darkest shades, of misgovernment in every possible form of tyranny, extortion, oppression, gross partiality, religious persecution, and an utter disregard of all principle and integrity, which seemed from the first to lead only, to one conclusion, and to render the final catastrophe all but inevitable.
Certainly, if the crown implies a trust reposed in him who wears it, if it not merely confers rights, but imposes duties, and if there can be such a thing as treason on the part of a monarch towards the people subjected to his rule, then had Charles rendered himself liable to its penalties; and unless there is one rule of equity
and justice applicable to crowned heads and another to the rest of mankind, the only considerations which could have saved him from his merited fate were simply those of a prudential nature.
It might well have been made a question by those who had no doubt in their own minds of Charles's guilt in a moral point of view, whether, in the then state of parties and of popular prejudices in behalf of royalty, the interests of the nation would not be seriously endangered by pushing matters to this extremity.
On the other hand, it is not easy to see what alternative was left after what had passed, consistently with a proper regard to the general security of the people at large, and still more so of those who had been actively engaged on the popular side; knowing as they did from repeated experience, that no reliance was to be placed on the king's professions, or even on his most solemn engagements; which his whole conduct shewed that he was determined to observe only so long, and in such cases, as it appeared to be necessary or suitable to his own convenience.
But, whatever may be the merit or demerit of the proceedings which finally brought Charles to the block, Mr. Towgoodshews
plainly enough, that the Presbyterians are not more entitled to claim the one than they are liable to the other.
A large majority of both houses of parliament were in the first instance friendly to the established church; and, afterwards, the extreme measures which ended in the death of the king were urged forward by the independent party and the army, notwithstanding the most strenuous opposition of the Presbyterians both in and out of parliament.
fact, the only public body which had the courage at the last to protest against the trial and execution of the king, was the assembly of Presbyterian ministers in and about London
, whose conduct on this occasion, whatever we may think of its wisdom, certainly did great credit to their manly spirit and intrepidity.
For this and other reasons, their party, far from promoting the new order of things which was now sought to be introduced, did all they could to thwart it; insomuch that to them is in a great measure to be ascribed the final failure of this bold attempt at political renovation.
If this powerful body, instead of throwing their whole weight into the opposite scale, had given their cordial support to the able and enlightened statesmen who were then placed at the head of affairs, who shall say that they might not have succeeded in placing on a permanent basis the Commonwealth
It was to the same party that the nation was afterwards mainly indebted for the unconditional restoration of Charles II.; a step which that unprincipled monarch soon gave them abundant cause to repent of. So that whatever their other delinquencies may have been, nothing can be further from the truth than to lay the king's death to the charge of the Presbyterians, or to impute to them, as a party, a tendency to republicanism.2
In 1749, Mr. Towgood
was invited to become co-pastor with Mr. Lavington
, Mr. Walrond
, and his cousin Mr. Stephen Towgood
, to the two united congregations of dissenters at James
's Meeting and Bow Meeting, Exeter
The two former of his destined colleagues were the same who had taken such an active part against Mr. Peirce
and Mr. Hallet
thirty years before; but the very invitation of Mr. Micaiah Towgood
was in itself a proof that the spirit of the times, by a gradual and imperceptible progress, rather than by any sudden or violent transition, was considerably changed.
For though he had not come forward as a controversial writer on doctrinal points, yet it was well known that he had long ago abandoned the distinguishing tenets of the Calvinistic and Trinitarian theology.
His views on these subjects appear to have coincided for the most part with those of Mr. Peirce
and the leading Arians
of the early part of the last century; or, perhaps, in some particulars he deviated further than they did from the standard of what is called orthodoxy.
There can, however, be no doubt that at this period a large proportion of the congregation
with which he was about to be connected retained the religious principles of their forefathers; and therefore, in complying with their invitation, Mr. Towgood
entered on a station of great delicacy and difficulty.
It is always a nice line for a minister to draw in such cases between the contending claims of sincerity and benevolence; to study at the same time the things which make for peace, and those which he conscientiously believes to be most conducive to the edification of his hearers.
‘He never gave up (says his biographer, Mr. Manning
) what he thought an essential article of faith in order to please men; but by his justly acquired reputation as a writer, by diligent and affectionate assiduity in the various branches of the pastoral office, by the force of Christian meekness, condescension, and a readiness to do them all kinds of good offices, he conciliated their affection and esteem, and constrained them to forego their objections.
He considered and accommodated himself to the different tempers, prejudices, and infirmities of mankind, as far as a good conscience would allow, and imagined himself fully justified in this conduct by the behaviour of our blessed Lord
and his Apostles, and the prudential and pacific maxims of the New Testament.’
At this time it is probable that the bulk of the congregation were more orthodox than their minister.
In the course of thirty years, by Mr. Manning
's account, it would seem that a new generation had risen up, with whom it was nearly the reverse.3
The first change introduced by Mr. Towgood
's influence appears to have been in the mode of admission to the Lord
's supper; previous to which it had been customary to adopt a practice similar to that in use among the Independents, and to require a declaration of the candidate's faith and experience, more minute than, in his opinion, the Scriptures authorized: after this time, it was left to the ministers to ascertain by private conversation that the parties wishing to give this testimony of their faith in Christ
were influenced in so doing by right dispositions and views.
When they were satisfied on these points, they mentioned the name of the candidate one month previous to his admission.
It is evident that this last condition would soon pass into a mere form, and might, perhaps, be as well dispensed with.
Surely the desire of any individual to comply with the dying request of his Saviour, to observe this simple rite in remembrance of him, ought to be considered as in itself a prima facie
evidence that he does it from a proper motive, and ought to be received as such, unless there is some very good reason to the contrary; and it is not easy to understand what right any other parties have to throw difficulties in the way of his giving this proof of his discipleship, which are not opposed to his uniting in the other public institutions and services of religion.
At all events, every kind of inquisitorial examination into the private opinions and doctrinal views of individual Christians is an unwarrantable attempt to judge another's servant.
, all such pretensions appear from this time to have been abandoned; a circumstance which in the last public act of his life, in resigning
the pastoral charge, Mr. Towgood
mentions to their honour.
‘While our brethren of the establishment, and many of our dissenting churches, fence round their sacramental tables with terms and conditions and forms and rites which Christ
never prescribed, and reject us from his table, unless, besides what he enjoins, we submit also to some injunctions and requirements of their own, we think ourselves not treated with either the candour or the justice which our relation to them as fellow-servants, and to Christ
as our common Lord
, gives us a right to demand.
We remonstrate, and complain that our Christian liberty is invaded; that a dangerous and undue power is usurped in the church; its catholicism destroyed, and an unhappy breach made in the communion of saints.
Your churches, my brethren, to your honour be it mentioned, are founded on a more liberal, on the scriptural apostolic plan.
You lay your communion open to every sincere Christian
, to whatever denomination or party he belongs: whatever his peculiar notions or speculations may be as to doubtful and disputed matters, if you have reason to believe he is an honest and sincere, however mistaken man, you receive him, as you are commanded, “but not to doubtful disputations;” and give him this pledge of your affection and esteem, that you will consider and behave towards him as a fellow-servant and Christian brother.’4
Another indication of a change in the spirit of the times which occurred about this period, has
already been mentioned elsewhere.
In 1753, it being proposed in the Assembly to take into consideration the following question, ‘Whether the Assembly will recommend any candidates to ordination who refuse to declare their faith in the deity of the Son and the Holy Ghost
,’ it was debated whether the said question should be put and decided by a majority in the negative.
This determination is understood to have been mainly due to Mr. Towgood
He and Mr. Stephen Towgood
voted in the majority; his two other colleagues, of course, in the minority.
In 1756 a seasonable and spirited pamphlet appeared from our author's pen, under the title of ‘Serious and Free Thoughts on the present State of the Church
and Religion;’ occasioned by the Bishop
's charge to his clergy, wherein his lordship drew a melancholy picture of the times.
‘Hence,’ says Mr. Manning
, ‘our author took occasion, with a becoming freedom, to point out some of the causes of the prevalence of scepticism, which seemed not to have been so thoroughly and so seriously adverted to as their importance deserved.
The principal cause on which he insists is the general apprehension that the clergy are not themselves thoroughly persuaded of the truth and importance of the Christian
eligion; inasmuch as they solemnly subscribe to articles which they do not really believe, and declare their unfeigned assent and consent to forms in divine worship which they highly disapprove, perhaps heartily condemn.’5
In 1758 he published a sermon preached at
, on the Lord
's day after receiving the account of the taking of Cape Breton.
On this sermon, to which we may to a certain extent apply the remarks already made on our author's pamphlet in support of the Spanish
war in 1741, there are some strictures in a judicious paper with the well-known signature N. L. T., in the Monthly Repository
, IX. 548.
The humour of making the church of Christ the scene of thanksgivings to the ‘God of Battles,’ and that not for protection from hostile invasion, or support in struggles against lawless oppression, for which some apology might be made, but for success in the pursuit of national aggrandizement and military glory
, seems to have been common in those times with many of whom better things might have been expected.
In the year 1760, an academical institution was set on foot at Exeter
for the education of young men destined for the Christian
ministry, as well as for the other learned professions and the various departments of commercial and active life.
It was placed under the care of respectable and learned tutors, particularly the excellent Mr. Merivale
, the friend and correspondent of Lardner
, who was at the head of the theological department, with the assistance of Mr. Towgood
, who undertook to deliver a lecture once a week on the critical study of the Scriptures; a province in which he had scope for the exertion of all his abilities, and an opportunity of opening to his pupils his ample stores of scriptural knowledge.
‘Those gentlemen,’ says his biographer, ‘who had the happiness to attend his lectures, will remember
with gratitude his affectionate and solicitous concern for their improvement and usefulness, and especially that they might be animated with the love of truth, and clearly comprehend the genuine principles of Christianity.
To promote these important purposes, he permitted, encouraged, and assisted them to think freely and impartially on every subject of natural and revealed religion which the study of the Scriptures would necessarily bring under their consideration.
He did not look upon it as his duty to keep up strictly at all times to the character of the didactic teacher.
His lectures were rather the open informations of a friend, than the dictates of a master.’6
This important office Mr. Towgood
continued to discharge till the year 1771, when the academy was discontinued in consequence of the lamented death of Mr. Merivale
In 1772, at the request of an assembly of ministers in Northamptonshire
, he published a judicious abridgment of his ‘Dissenting Gentleman's Letters,’ under the title of ‘A plain Answer to the Question, “Why are you a Dissenter?”
’ In this pamphlet the general argument is brought into a small compass, and as well and distinctly stated as the limits would allow.
But the abridgment is carried further than was necessary, and the argument stript too bare of the details and illustrations which imparted an interest to the original work.
Perhaps an acceptable service would be rendered by any one who would remodel the work on a larger scale, striking out
only what has a merely temporary and personal reference, and adapting the whole to the circumstances of the present times.
In 1777 he lost his colleague and relative, Mr. Stephen Towgood
, who was succeeded by Mr. James Manning
Though now so far advanced in life, he continued to take his share in the duties of the public congregation, till the infirmities of age disabled him from the more laborious part of his ministerial functions.
He finally resigned the pastoral office in 1782, after more than sixty years of service in the Christian church.
On this occasion, in addition to a substantial testimony of their respect and affection, the united congregations addressed to him a request that he would publish some of his discourses.
This request he declined; but, to gratify in some measure the wishes of his friends, he published a very interesting and impressive address to them ‘On the Grounds of Faith
in Jesus Christ
He first gives a concise but judicious statement of the evidence of the Christian
system, as derived from prophecy and miracles, from the gifts of the Spirit imparted to the apostles, from the success of their preaching and the stability of the Christian church, and from the present state of God's ancient people, so conformable to the predictions both of our Scriptures and their own. He then contemplates the glorious superstructure erected on this foundation; under which head he gives his own most matured and final views of the leading points of Christian doctrine, regarding God as in himself and essentially the compassionate Father of mankind, in whom dwells every conceivable perfection; who sent his only begotten
Son, the first-born of every creature, to enter into a solemn covenant with all sincere and humble penitents.
‘This most gracious covenant God, in infinite mercy, hath been pleased to ratify and confirm by the death, the resurrection, and the assumpton into glory of Jesus
, the mediator, his only begotten Son, who not only came from heaven to publish it to mankind, but died to attest the truth, and to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
As a reward of this his voluntary obedience unto death, he is exalted to supreme power over all created beings, both in heaven and earth; and is thus vested with full authority to carry all its kind designs into full execution.
But these sufferings of the Mediator we are always to consider not as the primary and moving cause of God's being propitious to us, and willing to be reconciled, but as the manner only, or medium, in which he was pleased to shew himself propitious.
Antecedent to the death of Christ
, he was gracious and merciful and ready to forgive.
‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,’ &c. But for infinitely wise reasons, fully known to himself, but some of which we clearly see, he chose to dispense his pardons only by the hands, and as a reward of the meritorious sufferings, of one of the human race; that, as by man came death, so by man should also come the resurrection of the dead.’7
From this extract, and the general strain of this discourse, it will appear that his views of the atonement differed only by a slight shade from those which most Unitarians would readily assent
to. As for the doctrine of original sin, it is scarcely necessary to say, that he utterly rejected it, as absurd in itself, degrading to the human nature, and injurious to the divine.
He believed in the personality of the Holy Spirit
; but represents him as a subordinate agent acting under the direction of Christ
, by whom he is sent as the Comforter or Advocate, strengthening, inspiring, and directing his disciples in the great work which was given them to do. After a glowing and animated sketch of the blessings and privileges derived from the Gospel dispensation, he affectionately exhorts to a diligent use of all the means of grace, and especially the commemorative service of the Supper; his views of the nature and design of which he states more at large, and concludes the whole with a short but earnest and impressive appeal, which cannot be read without emotion, and must have gone to the hearts of those who for so many years had profited by his labours and instructions.
This little work, the parting gift of an aged pastor to his flock, is a production of no ordinary merit and value.
When we consider his advanced age, and the circumstances under which it was written, it must leave on the reader a most favourable impression of the mind and heart,—of the talent, the amiable dispositions, and pious sentiments of the author; and its very excellence increases our regret that it should be almost the only specimen which is left to us of the practical and devotional compositions of this highly gifted man. The publications by which he is chiefly known to the world, though many of them highly valuable and excellent in themselves, yet, from
their argumentative and even controversial character, do not give a complete or adequate picture of his mind, nor do they present that view of it which is both most interesting in itself and likely to be most edifying and instructive.
After the period of his retirement from public duty, Mr. Towgood
lived nine years in an honoured and happy old age; cheered by the consciousness of a long life well-spent in the service of God and of Christ
, and in doing good to mankind, and by assured hopes and animating prospects of the future.
The infirmities of so protracted an age did not press so heavily upon him as to prevent him from taking an undiminished interest in the society of his friends, in the course of public events, and especially in the progress of religious truth, and the earnest though sometimes too vehement discussions which were sure ultimately to promote it.
But all his serious thoughts had rest in heaven.
On the 20th of February 1791, he had a paralytic seizure, from which, however, he in some measure recovered, so as to retain the full exercise of his mental faculties, though with a gradually increasing bodily weakness; which he bore with a uniform placid cheerfulness, by which, as he had taught his friends in the active scenes of life how to live, he now taught them how to die. At length, on the 1st of February 1792, in his ninety-second year, he peacefully expired, leaving no good man his enemy, and attended to his grave by the affectionate recollection of all who had derived pleasure and benefit from contemplate ing in him eminent talents rightly employed in
the most excellent and honourable service, and a lengthened pilgrimage, visibly leading to eternal rest.
's only son, Matthew Towgood
, died a few months before his father, in the 60th year of his age. This gentleman was originally bred to his father's profession; and was for seven years minister at Bridgwater.
He then quitted the ministry to enter into trade, and subsequently became an eminent banker in London
‘He was a gentleman,’ says Mr. Manning
, ‘of distinguished public spirit and ardour of mind, and zealously engaged in various undertakings in which the advantage and honour of the Protestant Dissenters
The honoured name continues to be worthily sustained by his descendants.
The life of Mr.
T., by his colleague and successor Mr. Manning
, from which the materials of the preceding memoir have been chiefly derived, is an interesting piece of biography, worthy of the author and of the subject.