In 1781, Robert Hall Sr. published his bestselling treatise Help to Zion’s Travellers. The book was revised from a 1779 sermon that Hall preached before the Northamptonshire Baptist Association. Help to Zion’s Travellers was one of the first broadsides against hyper-Calvinism written by a Particular Baptist. Along with Abraham Booth’s The Reign of Grace and Andrew Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, Help to Zion’s Travellers was a key literary influence in popularizing evangelical sentiments among British Calvinistic Baptists during the latter decades of the “long” eighteenth century (1689–1815).
In 2011, I edited a new edition of Help to Zion’s Travellers for BorderStone Press. One of the items included in the front matter is John Ryland Jr.’s preface to the 1807 edition of the book. Hall had a significant influence upon Ryland and his contemporaries, including the more famous Andrew Fuller and William Carey. The preface summarizes many of the concerns that Ryland and other evangelical Calvinists raised against errors such as hyper-Calvinism, antinomianism, and Arminianism. You can find the preface on pages xlvii–liii of the updated edition of Help to Zion’s Travellers.
Preface to the Second London Edition
TWENTY-EIGHT years have elapsed since that Sermon was delivered, in my father’s pulpit, at Northampton, before the Baptist Association, which Mr. Hall afterwards enlarged into the following Treatise. As I then united with many others in earnestly soliciting its publication, so I have since repeatedly perused it with much satisfaction, When, therefore, the publisher of the present edition applied to me for a recommendatory preface, I felt no hesitation but what arose from the early impressions of veneration for one of the wisest and best of men, to whom I was habituated to look up with such respect, as made this office feel to me assuming and arrogant. But when I reflect that he has been removed from our world for more than sixteen years, (and verily I miss no man more!) and consider that, since his decease, many have joined our churches, who never had opportunity duly to appreciate his worth; it seems not to be taking too much upon me, to testify in what high estimation he was justly held by those who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Strong natural powers, ardent piety, deep exercises of mind, a series of singular and sanctified trials, with a special unction from the Holy One, rendered him a man of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.
Deeply convinced of human guilt and depravity, and very zealous for the honor of sovereign grace; but no less concerned for internal holiness and practical religion; he was careful to walk in the midst of the paths of judgment, and to beware of turning aside to the right hand or the left.
He called no man upon earth master, in respect of his religious sentiments, but he took a peculiar delight in the writing of President EDWARDS; and two Sermons by Mr. Smalley, (which I borrowed of our venerable friend Mr. Newton, of Olney, and after transcribing them, lent them to Mr. Hall,) contributed much to strengthen his conviction, that the moral impotence of sinners is no more an excuse for their slighting the call of the gospel, than it is for their violating the commands of the law. As the greatest disinclination to regard Divine authority cannot release a rational creature from an obligation to obey God’s precepts; so the utter aversion of a sinner to regard the kindness of God our Saviour, cannot release him from an obligation thankfully to comply with his invitations.
At the same time, Mr. Hall remained as strenuous an advocate as ever for the necessity and efficacy of divine influence, to induce sinners or saints to comply cordially with their indispensable duty; and he was more abundantly confirmed in a belief of the sovereign freeness of grace, by reflecting that the inexcusable perverseness of the human heart, which renders the agency of the divine Spirit so necessary, must at the same time evince that we are utterly unworthy of his gracious interposition. The greater our reluctance is to come unto God, in the way which he has prescribed for our return, the more undeserving are we of being drawn unto him by his Holy Spirit.
But this excellent man remarked, that if the invitations of the gospel are not indefinite, or addressed to sinners considered simply as needy and guilty, there can be no foundation for the first act of faith; the sinner can have no warrant for his application to Christ, unless he could know his election, or prove his regeneration, before he committed his soul to him. Hence, as he once observed in a letter to a friend, they who would restrict the call of the gospel, “ought in reason to point out how unbelievers may know their election or regeneration in order to warrant their first application to Christ; or how the assurance of personal interest in Christ may be obtained, before persons come to him. The first acts of faith must be unwarrantable and presumptuous, if there be no previous call or invitation. We allow a change of heart must precede faith, but unknown renovation cannot be the ground of the sinner’s first encouragement to apply to the Saviour; or that on which his right to confide in him is founded, because it is unknown. And to suppose any knowledge of regeneration or a change of heart, in order to a reliance on Jesus, is the same as supposing an assurance of possessing the spirit and grace of God, while an unbeliever; or that a man must know he is really safe, before he flees from danger.”
This little volume, however, is far from being confined to a subject on which Mr. Hall, in his latter years, thought differently from the opinion he had embraced at his first setting out in the ministry. It contains an able vindication of the genuine doctrines of grace, from the objections of Socinians, Sabellians, Arminians, and Antinomians. At its first publication, it was much approved by many pious, judicious, and learned men, of different denominations; and here that excellent man, who is now laboring in India, with such indefatigable zeal for the salvation of the heathen, first found his own system of divinity. Raised from the greatest obscurity, Mr. Carey had but little access to books, at his first setting out in religion; and perplexed between the statements of the Arminians, and the crude representations of Calvinism, by persons bordering closely on Antinomianism, he searched the Scriptures attentively for himself, endeavoring to find out the narrow way, between extremes which seemed irreconcilable to the honor of divine government, and the glory of divine grace: and this was the first summary of evangelical truth, which appeared to him fully to accord with the sacred standard.
On one particular which many readers might expect Mr. Hall to have noticed, he has hardly touched, viz. the denial of the law of God as a rule of conduct to believers. This sentiment he ever considered as so gross a piece of Antinomianism, that he did not suppose any man could embrace it, whose conscience was not seared as with a hot iron. The eminent divines, who verged to an extreme respecting the obligation of sinners to repent and believe the gospel, would have reprobated this doctrine, as tending to the greatest licentiousness. Dr. Gill, Mr. Brine, Mr. Toplady, &c., utterly condemned so vile a sentiment. But within the last twenty years how many who exclaimed against Mr. Hall and his brethren, for embracing new sentiments respecting the duty of sinners, have readily departed from their former guides, and embraced new notions respecting the duty of believers!
To me it appears a most marvelous instance of the deceitfulness of sin, if any man can think himself a friend to evangelical religion, who by sinking unbelievers below all obligation, and raising believers above all obligation, almost annihilates both duty and sin, and so leaves no room for the exercise of either pardoning mercy or sanctifying grace. The apostolic axiom, “where there is no law there is no transgression,” justly leads us to conclude, that they who are below or above law have no guilt, and need no Saviour; there is no room to show the riches of his grace, or the efficacy of his blood, in the pardon of those who never deserved punishment. If the command be exceedingly narrow, our sins must be very few, and the pardon of them a small matter. And if the effectual influence of the Spirit be supposed to be the source, rule, and measure of Obligation, no one can have reason to mourn for sin; since he always does as much as he was powerfully inclined to do, and by this supposition it was not his duty to do any more. Thus sinless perfection is easily attained, though in the backward way; not by coming up to the standard of rectitude, but by bringing it down to our level. Most comfortable doctrine to a carnal heart!
May God bless the reprinting of this excellent work, to lead many more fully into the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, is the earnest prayer of
The reader’s cordial friend,
And servant, for Christ’s sake,