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REV. THOMAS BELSHAM,
Minister of Essex Street Chapel, London, Author of Exposition of the Epistles of St Paul, and of various practical and controversial works.
THE latest English journals, which have been received, announced the death of Mr Belsham, which, they inform us, took place in November last at Hamstead, near London,-in the 80th year of his age; and after more than six years of complicated bodily suffering. Though some weeks have elapsed since we have heard of this event, and his character has already been respectfully noticed,* we are desirous of exhibiting in the pages of this journal, with somewhat more distinctness, the claims of this venerable man to the respect and gratitude of our christian community. He may be honored as one, eminent by many virtues, and for his devotion of a long life to whatever he regarded as the interests of truth and piety, of human freedom and happiness.
Mr Belsham was a native of Bedfordshire, and the son of a Dissenting Minister, who, as we have heard from one of his pupils, was honorably known by his friends for his worth of character, for his classic literature, especially his skill in writing Latin poetry, and for the natural vigor of his intellect. His son early entered upon the profession of his choice, having pursued his theological studies in the academy at Daven
*See Christian Register, of January 23, 1830, from which some passages in this notice are repeated.
try, under Dr Ashworth; and was first settled in 1778, as minister of a society in Worcester. Here he enjoyed the privilege of the friendship of that excellent man, the Rev. Job Orton, for whose simplicity and integrity, devotedness and usefulness as a minister, he was accustomed to express his high respect.
From Worcester he was called to the superintendance of the Theological School, at Daventry, of which he had himself been a pupil. While here, in the faithful discharge of his duties as divinity tutor, his religious views, which were before decidedly Arian, and perhaps on some points mingled with a qualified form of Orthodoxy, gradually changed. He became a believer not only in the strict unity of the Godhead, but in the simple humanity of Jesus Christ; and with an openness and integrity, which distinguished his whole life, he relinquished a place, for which, as was thought, his new opinions had disqualified him.
The remainder of his long and industrious life was spent first at Hackney, where he was associated in the instruction of the Theological Seminary of that place, with Drs Price, Priestley, Rees, and other distinguished men; and where, as at Daventry, he conciliated the affection and respect of his pupils; and, lastly, at London, as successor to the venerable Lindsey, and to Dr Disney, in the ministry of Essex Street Chapel. In this relation, which we believe was a source of mutual happiness to himself and to his hearers, among whom, at different periods, were the Duke of Grafton, Percival North, Esq. and other distinguished men,
Mr Belsham was faithful and exemplary. In that part especially of the pastoral charge, so interesting and important, the instruction of the young, did he labor with assiduous and affectionate zeal. The writer of this brief notice was favored with the opportunity of attending some of his Lectures to the young of his flock, on the Evidences of Christianity;' and it was impossible not to remark his ability, fidelity, and tenderness in this work, which were well worthy of imitation by every young minister.
As a writer, scholar, and divine, Mr Belsham is known by numerous publications, theological and moral, biographical and political; more particularly, by his last work on the Epistles of St Paul. And whatever diversities of opinion may exist-many such there unquestionably will be-with regard to some of his speculations;―nay, however some even of those, who count it their honor, as did he, to be numbered with Liberal Christians and asserters of the strict unity and supremacy of the one God, even the Father,—may find cause to object either to the doctrine, expression, or sometimes to the spirit, more especially of his earlier productions, yet no one can withhold from him the praise, undeniably due to his learning and integrity; to his clearness of perception and freedom of investigation, to his ardent love of truth, to his faithfulness, intrepidity, and zeal, in maintaining it.
Mr Belsham was no stranger to the opposite trials of honor and reproach. Not only in England but to multitudes in America, also, his name has long been familiar.
And it has borne a large share of the obloquy, which misconception or prejudice, uncharitableness or honest zeal have never ceased from the days of Priestley, to pour upon the name of Unitarians. The characteristic honesty of Mr Belsham would never permit him to shrink from the most open avowal of all his sentiments; and his moral courage never failed to sustain him amidst the harshest censures. Nor is it surprising, however it may be lamented or condemned, that a controversialist, so ardent and bold, should have been the special object of dislike with the bigoted of every class; or that his learning and piety, and even his belief in Christianity, should have been brought into question by such writers as Dr Magee, and other like slavish advocates of creeds and establishments.
But by whatever weapons, either of ignorance or of bigotry, Mr Belsham may have been assailed; whatever honors may be conceded or denied to him, as a philosopher or a divine, he possessed, beyond all controversy, the far more enviable distinctions of true goodness. Few men have lived more faithful than was he to their convictions and principles. The strictest purity, unimpeachable integrity, kindness and benevolence in all the relations he sustained, were among his distinguishing virtues. He cherished the most filial views of the whole government and providence of God. His convictions upon this subject were the source to him of habitual cheerfulness. They were ever present to his mind, cheering his solitary hours; and the instructive and delightful subjects of his conversa
tion. He loved to exhibit them in their power to inspire habitual serenity and trust; as supplying the strongest incentives to virtue, and maintaining contentment and hope amidst the most painful vicissitudes of life. Of his devotional spirit, some of his practical discourses, particularly that on 'Resignation to the will of God, after the example of Jesus;' and a Charge, which he delivered at the ordination of a friend,* may be mentioned as just illustrations.
Mr Belsham was eminent also for his social virtues. His temper was truly benevolent; and he delighted to dwell upon the future prospects and happiness of mankind. His soul was the seat of the most expansive charity. He was always ready to the utmost of his ability to impart good. He was, more particularly, the considerate friend and wise counsellor of youth. And to students in theology, as well as to his younger brethren in the ministry, his friendship and his patronage, his advice—and, when needed, his purse-were freely bestowed. Though without a family of his own, he had also that qualification of a christian bishop, commended by an apostle,-being much given to hospitality. It was his delight to gather around him his friends and brethren; and while making them partakers of his own enjoyments, he failed not to mingle with them the charms of his conversation, and of his uniform urbanity.
*See a beautiful Extract from this charge in the Christian Disciple for 1820, Vol. 2, p. 205, adduced in refutation of an unp rincipled cajumny by Archbishop Magee, that Mr Belsham rejected the notion of prayer.