By Nathan A. Finn
Robert Hall Sr. is hardly a household name among contemporary Baptists, but I think he ought to be. He played a critical role in pushing back against the hyper-Calvinism that deadened much of Particular Baptist life during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. He also significantly influenced a group of younger pastors who later succeeded him in fame and influence, including Andrew Fuller, John Ryland Jr., and William Carey.
One of Hall’s early biographers was J.W. Morris, who also wrote a biography of Fuller. Morris wrote a paragraph in his biography that I believe perfectly summarizes the life and influence of Robert Hall Sr.
With Hall originated the disposition to examine into the inordinate pretensions of Hypercalvinism [sic], which had long passed as the undoubted test of orthodoxy, particularly in the baptist [sic] connection, where [John] Gill and [John] Brine had been considered as the true conservators of the doctrines of grace. The rural pastor at Arnsby broke the spell, and awakening a spirit of enquiry, which gradually effected the revival of those primitive principles, which gave new life and energy to the ministry of his brethren, and prepared the way for the Mission to the East. He gathered around him all the talent that existed in the neighbourhood, gave an impulse and a direction to religious sentiment and feeling, and a distinguished eminence to that part of the denomination to which he more immediately belonged. Others moved in a wider sphere, and were engaged in more active services, but wisdom and prudence dwelt with him, and all their activities were stimulated and guided by his counsels.
See J.W. Morris, “Memoir of the Rev. Robert Hall, Arnsby, Leicestershire,” in The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Robert Hall, ed. J.W. Morris (London: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1828), p. 38.
I’m on a mission to re-acquaint contemporary Baptists with Robert Hall Sr. If you want to know more about him, check out the audio from my lecture “Robert Hall Sr.: Andrew Fuller’s Mentor,” which I delivered at the 2012 annual conference of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. If you want to read Hall’s most important writing, check out the new edition of Help to Zion’s Travellers (BorderStone, 2011), which I edited and for which I wrote an introductory essay. Help to Zion’s Travellers was an early broadside against hyper-Calvinism and a key document in helping to pave the way for the evangelical renewal of the Particular Baptists in the waning years of the eighteenth century.
Nathan A. Finn is associate professor of historical theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also an elder at First Baptist Church of Durham, NC and a senior fellow of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies.