Page images

of his people went on still increasing, till it arrived at a point beyond which it would have been idolatry. This extraordinary attachment must be ascribed partly to the impression produced by his public services, and partly to the gentleness and amenity of his private manners. It may be possible to find other preachers equally impressive, and other men equally amiable; but such a combination of the qualities calculated to give the ascendant to a public speaker, with those which inspire the tenderness of private friendship, is of

rare occurrence.

The leisure which the retired and tranquil tenour of his life secured, he employed in the perusal of the best authors in our language, which, by continually adding to his mental stores, imparted to his ministry an ample and endless variety. Although he almost invariably preached from notes composed in short-hand, his immediate preparations for the pulpit, there is reason to believe, were neither long nor laborious. His discourses were not the painful productions of a barren mind, straining itself to meet the exigencies of the moment; but, gathered from a rich and cultivated soil, they were a mere scantling of the abundance which was left behind. He considered every new accession to the stock of his ideas, every effort of reflection, as a preparation for the pulpit; and looked upon those who are necessitated to afford a portion of periodical instruction every week, without having accumulated mental stores, as in

By the inces

much the same situation with the Israelites who were doomed to produce their tale of bricks without straw. Preachers of this description may, indeed, amass a heap of glittering and misplaced ornaments, or "beat the air" with the flourishes of a tumid, unmeaning rhetoric; but the deficiency of real matter, of solid information, cannot fail, eventually, to consign them to contempt. Whether Mr. Toller was ever a severe student, or ever was engaged in a regular and systematic pursuit of the different branches of literature or of science, I cannot ascertain; but that he was much devoted to reading is matter of notoriety. sant accumulation of fresh materials, he became "a scribe well instructed in the mysteries of the kingdom of God," and, "like a wise householder," was enabled "to bring out of his treasure things new and old." The settlement of Mr. Fuller, the venerable secretary of the Baptist Mission, in the same place, by giving scope to a virtuous emulation, was probably equally beneficial to both parties. From the absence of competition, and the abundance of leisure attending a country retirement, the mental faculties are in danger of slumbering; the rust of sloth too often blunts their edge, and impairs their brightness; which nothing could be more fitted to counteract, than the presence of such a man as Mr. Fuller, distinguished for constitutional ardour and industry.

In the year 1793, he entered into the married state with Miss Elizabeth Gale, the eldest daughter

of Mr. William Gale, who then resided at Cranford, in the neighbourhood of Kettering. By this lady he had two children; John, who died in his infancy, and Thomas, who still survives him, and, under the most pleasing auspices, succeeds his father in the pastoral office. During the short period of this union, he appears to have enjoyed the highest degree of connubial felicity; but, not long after the birth of her second child, Mrs. Toller betrayed symptoms of consumption, and, after languishing a considerable time under the attack of that incurable malady, through the whole of which her ardent attachment to her husband, and profound submission to the will of God, were most conspicuous, she expired on the 15th of September, 1796.

It was about this period of his life that my acquaintance with him commenced. I had known him previously, and occasionally heard him; but it was at a season when I was not qualified to form a correct estimate of his talents. At the time referred to, we were engaged to preach a double lecture at Thrapstone, nine miles from Kettering; and never shall I forget the pleasure and surprise with which I listened to an expository discourse from 1 Peter ii. 1-3. The richness, the unction, the simple majesty, which pervaded his address, produced a sensation which I never felt before: it gave me a new view of the christian ministry. But the effect, powerful as it was, was not to be compared with that which I experienced a few


days after, on hearing him at the half-yearly association at Bedford. The text which he selected was peculiarly solemn and impressive: his discourse was founded on 2 Peter i. 12-15: Yea, I think it meet as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up, by putting you in remembrance: knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle; even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me," &c. The effect of this discourse on the audience was such as I have never witnessed before or since. It was undoubtedly very much aided by the peculiar circumstances of the speaker, who was judged to be far advanced in a decline, and who seemed to speak under a strong impression of its being the last time he should address his brethren on such an occasion. The aspect of the preacher, pale, emaciated, standing apparently on the verge of eternity, the simplicity and majesty of his sentiments, the sepulchral solemnity of a voice which seemed to issue from the shades, combined with the intrinsic dignity of the subject, perfectly quelled the audience with tenderness and terror, and produced such a scene of audible weeping as was perhaps never surpassed. All other emotions were absorbed in devotional feeling: it seemed to us as though we were permitted for a short space to look into eternity, and every sublunary object vanished before" the powers of the world to come." Yet there was no considerable exertion, no vehemence displayed by the speaker, no splendid imagery, no magnificent description: it was the

simple domination of truth, of truth indeed of infinite moment, borne in upon the heart by a mind intensely alive to its reality and grandeur. Criticism was disarmed; the hearer felt himself elevated to a region which it could not penetrate; all was powerless submission to the master-spirit of the scene. It will be always considered, by those who witnessed it, as affording as high a specimen as can be easily conceived of the power of a preacher over his audience, the habitual, or even frequent recurrence of which, would create an epoch in the religious history of the world.

During this interview, he was invited by the writer of these lines to pay a visit to his friends at Cambridge: with that invitation he shortly after complied. His health had long been much impaired, and serious apprehensions had been entertained, by others as well as by himself, of his being far advanced in a decline. By his excursion to Cambridge, however, in the course of which he met with the most flattering attentions from all quarters, his spirits were revived, his health improved, and from that time the symptoms of disease gradually subsided. During his visit, he afforded the people at Cambridge and its vicinity several opportunities of hearing him; and on no occasion was he heard without admiration and delight for, though no single discourse was equally impressive with that which was delivered at Bedford, he sustained, to the full, the high reputation

« PreviousContinue »