Williams, Daniel

, an eminent divine among the dissenters, aud a munificent benefactor to their and other societies, both of the learned and charitable kind, was born about 1644, at Wrexham, in the county of Denbigh, in North Wales. No particulars are known of his parents, or of his early years, but it appears that he laboured under some disadvantages as to education, which, however, he surmounted by spirit and perseverance. He says of himself, that “from five years old, he had no employment, but his studies, and that by nineteen he was regularly admitted a preacher.” As this was among the nonconformists, it is probable that his parents or early connections lay among that society. As he entered on his ministry about 1663, when the exercise of it was in clanger of incurring the penalties of the law, he was induced to go to Ireland, and was there invited to be chaplain to the countess of Meath. Some time after he was called to be pastor to a congregation f dissenters assembling in Wood-street, Dublin, in which situation he continued for nearly twenty years, and was highly approved and useful. Here he married Ins first wife, a lady of family and fortune, which last, while it gave him a superior rank and consequence to many of his brethren, he contemplated only as the means of doing good.

During the troubles in Ireland, at the latter end of the reign of king James II. he found it necessary to return to London in 1687, and resided in London. Here he was of great use upon a very critical occasion. Some of the court agents at that time endeavoured to bring the dissenters in the city to address the king upon his dispensing with the penal laws. In a conference at one of their meetings | upon that occasion, in the presence of some of the agents, Mr. Williams declared, “That it was with him past doubt, that the severities of the former reign upon the protestant dissenters were, rather as they stood in the way ^arbitrary power, than for their religious dissent, So it were better for them to be reduced to their former hardships, than declare for measures destructive of the liberties of their country; and that for himself, before he would concur in such an address, which should be thought an approbation pf the dispensing power, he would choose to lay down his liberty at his majesty’s feet.” He pursued the argument with such clearness and strength, that all present rejected the motion, and the emissaries went away disappointed. There was a meeting at the same time of a considerable number of the city clergy, waiting the issue of their deliberation, who were greatly animated and encouraged by this resolution of the dissenting ministers. Very recent experience has shewn how much Mr. Williams differs in this matter from his descendants, many of whom have been the professed advocates fqr what is called catholic eman r cipation.

After the revolution, Mr. Williams was not only frer quentiy consulted by king William concerning Irish affairs, with which he was well acquainted, but often regarded at court on behalf of several who fled from Ireland, and were capable of doing service to government. He received great acknowledgments and thanks upon this account, when, in 1700, he went back to that country to visit his old friends, and to settle some affairs, relative to his estate in that kingdom. After preaching for some time occasionally in London, he became pastor of a numerous congregation at Hand-alley in Bishopsgate- street in 1688, and upon the death of the celebrated Richard Baxter in 1691, by whom Jhe was greatly esteemed, he ^succeeded him as one of those who preached the merchants’ -lecture, at Pinners’- hall, Broad-street. But it was not long before the frequent clashings in the discourses of these lecturers caused a division. Mr. Williams had preached warmly against some antinotnian tenets, which giving offence to many persons, a design was formed to exclude him from the lecture. Upon this he, with Dr. Bates, Mr. Howe, and Mr. Alsop, &c. retired and raised another lecture at Salter’s-hall on the same day and hour. This division was soon after increased by the publication of some of Dr. Crisp’s works, | (See Crisp) and a controversy took place as to the more or less of antinomianism in these works, which lasted for some years, and was attended with much intemperance and personal animosity. What is rather remarkable, the contending parties appealed to bishop Stillingfleet, and Dr. Jonathan Edwards of Oxford, who both approved of jivhat Mr. Williams had done. Mr. Williams’ s chief publication on the subject was entitled “Gospel Truth stated and vindicated,1691, 12mo. The controversy by his friends was called the antinonpian, but by Dr. Crisp’s advocates the neonomian controversy. Mr. Williams was not only reckoned a heretic, but attempts were even made to injure his moral character, which, however, were defeated by the unanimous testimony of all who knew him, or took he trouble to inquire into the ground of such accusations^ In his congregation, it is said, he lost no friend. $H

Some time after the death of his wife, he married in 1701, as his second, Jane, the widow of Mr. Francis Barkstead, and the daughter of one Guill, a French refugee; by her also he had a very considerable fortune, which he devoted to the purposes of liberality. Of his political sentiments, we Jearn only, that he was an enemy to the bill against occasional conformity, and a staunch friend to the union with Scotland. When on a visit to that country in 1709, he received a diploma for the degree of D. D. from the university of Edinburgh, and another from Glasgow, Qne of his biographers gives us the following account of his conduct on this occasion. “He was so far from seeking or expecting thjs honour, that he was greatly displeased with the occasion of it, and with great modesty he entreated Mr. Carstairs, the principal of the college at Edinburgh, to prevent it. But the dispatch was made before that desire of his could reach them. I have often heard Jiim express his dislike of the thing itself, and much more his distaste at the pfficious vanity of some who thought they had much obliged him when they moved for the procuring it; and this, not that he despised the honour of being a graduate in form in that profession in which he was now a truly reverend father; nor in the least, that he refused to receive any favours from the ministers of the church gf Scotland, for whom he preserved a very great esteem, and on many occasions gave signal testimonies of his respect; but he thought it savoured of an extraordinary franity? that the English presbyterians should accept a | nominal distinction, which the ministers of the church of Scotland declined for themselves, and did so lest it should break in upon that parity which they so severely maintained; which parity among the ministers of the gospel, the presbyterians in England acknowledged also to be agreeable to that scripture rule, ‘ Whosoever will be greatest among you let him be as the younger,’ Luke xxii. 26 and Matt, xxiii. 8, `Be ye not called Rabbi,‘ of which text a learned writer says, it should have been translated, `Be ye not called doctors’ and the Jewish writers and expositors of their law, are by some authors styled Jewish Rabbins, by others, and that more frequently, doctors, &c. &c.” Our readers need scarcely be told that this is another point on which Dr. Williams differs much from his successors, who are as ambitious of the honour of being called doctor, as he was to avoid it.

In the latter end of queen Anne’s reign, our author appears to have had extraordinary fears respecting the protestant succession, and that he corresponded very freely with the earl of Oxford upon that subject, who, however, discovering that he had been yet more free in his sentiments in another and more ’private correspondence, withdrew his friendship from him. Soon after, the accession of George I. dispelled his fears, and he was at the head of a body of the dissenting ministers, who addressed his majesty on that auspicious occasion.

Dr. Williams died, after a short illness, Jan. 26, 1715—16, in the seventy- third year of his age. He appears to have been a man of very considerable abilities, and having acquired an independent fortune, had great weight both as a member of the dissenting interest, and as a politician in general. As he had spent much of his life in benevolent actions, at his death he fully evinced, that they were the governing principles of his character. The bulk of his estate fie bequeathed to a great variety of chanties. Besides the settlement on his wife, and legacies to his relations and friends, he left donations for the education of youth in Dublin, and for an itinerant preacher to the native Irish; to the poor in Wood-street congregation, and to that in Hand-alley, where he had been successively preacher; to the French refugees; to the poor of Shoreditch parish, where he lived; to several ministers’ widows; to St. Thomas’s hospital; to the London workhouse; to several presbyterian | meetings in the country; to the college of Glasgow; to the society for the reformation of manners; to the society of Scotland for propagating Christian knowledge; to the society for New-England, to support two persons to preach to the Indians; to the maintaining of charity-schools in Wales, and the support of students; for the distribution of Bibles, and pious books among the poor, &c. He also ordered a convenient building to be purchased, or erected, for the reception of his own library, and the curious collection of Dr. Bates, which he purchased for that purpose, at the expence of between five and six hundred pounds. Accordingly, a considerable number of years after his death, a commodious building was erected by subscription among the opulent dissenters, in lledcross-street, Cripplegate, where the doctor’s books were deposited, and by subsequent additions, the collection has become a very considerable one. It is also a depository for paintings of nonconformist ministers, which are now very numerous; of manuscripts, and other matters of curiosity or utility. In this place, the dissenting ministers meet for transacting all business relating to the general body. Registers of births of the children of protestant dissenters are also kept here with accuracy, and have been, in the courts of law, allowed equal validity with parish registers. The librarian, who resides in the house, is usually a minister, chosen from among the English presbyterians, to which denomination the founder belonged. Dr. Williams’s publications, be^ sides his “Gospel Truth stated,” are chiefly sermons preached on occasion of ordinations, or funerals. These were published together in 1738, 2 vols. 8vo, with some account of his life. 1


Calamy. Gen. Dict. Memoirs of his Life, 1713, 8vo. Wilson’s Hist, of Dissenting Churches. The best account of the controversy relating to Dr. Crisp is in Nelson’s Life of bishop Bull, pp. 259—376,