Robert Hall

1764-1831. English Baptist minister. Born in Arnesby, Leicestershire, where his father was a Baptist pastor, he was a precocious boy, writing hymns before he was nine and preaching his first sermon at eleven. He was educated at the famous Nonconformist academy run by John Ryland, baptized in 1778, studied at the Baptist Academy, and graduated in 1785 from Aberdeen University. Hall began his ministry as an assistant in Bristol and very quickly established a reputation as an eloquent preacher and a shrewd apologist for Christianity. Theologically he moved his position from an early Calvinism to a basically Arminian system. He was deeply interested in the rapid progress of scientific research and was friendly with Joseph Priestley, the leading Unitarian. In 1791 he moved to Cambridge, where he succeeded Robert Robinson in the pastorate, and continued to cultivate his scientific acquaintances. A period of ill health included two periods of mental breakdown, and at this time, like many others, he sought alleviation in drugs. Then during a period of prescribed rest he had a profound religious experience which he himself described as his “conversion,” and in 1807 moved to become minister of Harvey Lane Baptist Church, Leicester, where his ministry was wide and influential.

Like many evangelicals of the time, Nonconformist and Anglican, he took a close interest in social need. He published a pamphlet appealing for help for a fund to provide relief for the distressed stocking-makers of Leicester during periods of unemployment: the germ of the trade union movement could be seen in this development. In 1825 he returned to Broadmead Baptist Church, Bristol. His influence on the Baptist denomination, particularly in moving it away from the at-times sterile Calvinism of the eighteenth century, left its permanent mark. His Works, extending to six volumes, were published with a biography by O.G. Gregory a year after his death.