Baptist Ministers in the 18th Century: ruminations on a picture

(Click on photo to enlarge)

This is quite a well-known picture that depicts many of the luminaries of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth- century English Baptist community. Recently, Cody McNutt, a PhD student at SBTS, pointed out to me the central place held by Robert Hall, Jr (1764-1831) in this picture. Cody is doing a much-needed thesis on Hall and that is why his attention was drawn to Hall's place in the picture.

The seated figures in the front row--(from l. to r.) William Carey, Joseph Kinghorn, John Ryland, Jr., Andrew Fuller, and John Foster--were all remarkable figures, but the creator of this portrait seems to have wanted to highlight Hall. He is standing in a posture that surely bespeaks the preacher with a Bible in his right hand. And if the Baptists of that era were about anything it was preaching. As a means of grace, it was second to none as a way of communicating God's will and presence. All of the men in the picture were preachers (except for Foster, who tried to preach but failed miserably in it--his forte was the written essay), why highlight Hall in this regard? Does it reveal the conviction that Hall represents the cream of Baptist preaching? There is no doubt, for many of that era, Hall was the greatest of a great generation of preachers.

Kinghorn also has a book, probably a Bible, but by having him seated it seems he has been depicted in a more prayerful, meditative pose. This depiction of Kinghorn is dependent on the A. Robertson painting of Kinghorn (1813). This painting was popularized through an engraving by the engraver W. Bond. And upon close inspection, Dan Taylor (directly behind Hall and the only bewigged figure in the picture--also one of only two General Baptists, the other is J.G. Pike, on Taylor's left) is also holding a book--probably a Bible? But one has to look very closely to see it. He is definitely overshadowed by Hall.

This is a fascinating picture and a tremendous window into Baptist thinking of that day. Thinking about Hall's place in this picture has sparked further thoughts about the figures in this picture, which I hope to share later.