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Formation of the Birmingham Association, 1806.-Its regulations.
VIII. The Annual Meeting of the Association shall be held the last Wednesday in June ; when the Committee shall be chosen, the accounts presented, and the proceedings of the foregoing year reported.
IX. That, at all General and Committee Meetings, such member as shall be chosen for that purpose shall preside at the meeting,
X. The Committee shall meet the first Wednesday in the month, or oftener if needful.
5. The next instance of an associated effort in furtherance of the cause, appears to be that of Birmingham. It was formed in April 1806, “ chiefly through the active instrumentality of the Rev. Edward Burn, the diligent and highly respected Minister of St. Mary's in that town;" and who has subsequently acquired, by his zealous and efficient services, the merited distinction of an honorary Life Governor of the Parent Institution. The following is an extract from the printed Resolutions of the Birmingham Association:At a very respectable Meeting, held this day, to consider the best mode of promoting the great objects
of the British and Foreign Bible Society : GEORGE Simcox, Esq. in the Chair,
&c. &c. “ The following Resolutions were unanimously passed :
“ Resolved—That it is the opinion of this meeting, that an united effort be made, by the different denominations of Christians in this town, in aid of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
“ It appearing to this meeting, that the most eligible plan, for carrying this design into effect, will be by a personal application throughout the town :
“ Resolved—That the town be divided into the following twelve districts; and that the gentlemen, whose names are affixed thereto, be requested to solicit subscriptions and donations, and to report to the Committee the result at the Blue School, by twelve o'clock on Monday the 5th of May; in order to its being transmitted in time for the next annual report of the society."
(Then follows a list of the different districts, &c.] “ Resolved–That it be recommended to Ministers of the different de. nominations to adopt such measures, with their respective congregations, as may best conduce to a general co-operation for the attainment of this im. portant object.
“ ResolvedThat the gentlemen present, together with the clergy and acting magistrates of the town, be appointed a Committee to receive the report, and to transmit the amount of the several subscriptions and donations to Henry Thornton, Esq. M.P. Treasurer; and that five be competent to acte
“ Resolved—That the subscriptions and donations, so transmitted, be presented to the British and Foreign Bible Society, as the united contribution of the different denominations of Christians in the town of Birmingham ; accompanied by a list of the names of such subscribers who may be entitled to be supplied with books at the society's prices.”
6. Without detracting in the slightest degree from the merits of these institutions, it will readily be perceived that their constitution was defective in some essential particulars.
Bath-Glasgow-Greenock-defective constitutions of all these Societies.
That of the former approaches the design of a Bible Association, without the advantages derived from local interest and exertion; and that of the latter possesses the character of a temporary and occasional expedient, rather than that of a fixed and permanent society. Of these deficiencies, indeed, their respective conductors became sensible at a subsequent period :-those of the London Association having long since directed their energies and their experience into the more regular channels of the various Metropolitan Societies; and the Birmingham Association, while it retains its original designation, having adopted the more appropriate character of an Auxiliary Society. Both, however, have left the striking example of early co-operation and ardent zeal; and given the best evidence of the correctness of the motives by which they were governed, in availing themselves of the more matured system to extend their services and increase their usefulness.
7. In the autumn of 1806, an association, similar in design to that in London, was established at Bath: and in their report for 1808, the Committee of the Parent Society pointed out these institutions, with that of Birmingham, and one recently formed at Glasgow, " in the hope that they would become objects of imitation, wherever such a measure was practicable, throughout the island." In 1807, a society was formed at Greenock, for the professed purpose of “circulating the holy scriptures where they are most wanted, and of assisting other societies which have the same views."--This institution, in the year 1813, merged into the “Greenock and Port-Glasgow West Renfrewshire Bible Society;" and, on its dissolution, expressed, in a valedictory letter to the Parent Institution, its“ confident expectation, that, by this change, the same object would be carried forward on a scale greatly enlarged, and with a vigour and success proportioned to the number and influence of the persons engaged."
8. Such were the several Associations that contributed in a collective form to the funds of the British and Foreign Bible Society, during the first five years of its existence: but it was reserved for the town of Reading to give, to Great Britain and the world, the primary example of a regular “ AUXILIARY BIBLE Society.” This memorable event is introduced by the Rev. John Owen, in language which the author gladly adopts, while it affords him the opportunity of expressing his feelings of sincere and grateful attachment to many estimable friends.
First regular Auxiliary Society formed at Reading, 1809.-Its regulations.
“ The Rev. Dr. Valpy, of Reading, whose erudition and philanthropy have conferred no ordinary reputation on that town, which has for so many years been the seat of his scholastic labours, had distinguished his attachment to the British and Foreign Bible Society, by preaching on its behalf, both at Wallingford and Wrington, and by other unequivocal testimonies of a concern for its welfare. Through the persevering exertions of this gentleman, and others who participated in his sentiments and feelings, a Public Meeting was convened in the Town Hall at Reading, under the sanction of the Mayor, on the 28th of March 1809; when an Auxiliary Bible Society' was established for the town and vicinity of Reading, on the prin. ciples and regulations of the Parent Society,' and with the professed design of contributing to its laudable undertaking.'
The following Resolutions were adopted at the establishment of this society, which very soon obtained the patronage of the Bishop of Salisbury, who cheerfully became its president : “ At a respectable Meeting of the Inhabitants of the Town and Neigh
bourhood of Reading, on Tuesday the 28th of March, to take into consideration the propriety of establishing a Society in aid of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London, it was unanimously RESOLVED,— I. That the present Meeting do highly approve the plan and objects of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London.
II. That an Auxiliary Society be formed in this town and neighbourhood, to contribute to that laudable undertaking.
III. That this Society adopt, as far as possible, the rules and regulations of the Parent Society.
IV. That a Committee be formed to carry these resolutions into immediate execution, consisting of
(Here follow the names of sixteen gentlemen.] V. That Dr. Valpy and Mr. Monck be appointed secretaries, and Mr. Tanner, treasurer, to the society.
9. Scarcely had the Reading Society been established, when a similar institution was formed at Nottingham, under the designation of “the Bible Society of Nottingham and its Vicinity." This important occurrence took place on the 30th of March 1809; and the regulations were adopted with a cordial unanimity which confers the highest honour on that populous and public-spirited town. The constitution of this society exhibited a still nearer approach towards the system subsequently matured, especially in providing, one-half of the amount of the funds of the society should be subscribed to the British and Foreign Bible Society;" and “ that the remainder should be appropriated to discharge the expenses of the society, and to purchase Bibles and Testaments of the British and Foreign Bible Society, to be distributed for the benefit of the town and neighbourhood.” It was also resolved, that an annual meeting of the society
• Owen's History, Vol. I. p. 406.
Rapid Increase of Auxiliary Societies in 1809-10.
should be held : nor ought it to be forgotten, that, in selecting a clergyman, a dissenting minister, and a layman, as joint secretaries, the Nottingham Society displayed an example of union and conciliation which has been followed throughout the nation, with incalculable advantage in every point of view.
10. The sacred flame, thus kindled, spread with unexampled rapidity. The year ending in May 1810, was characterized by the establishment of ten Auxiliary Societies in England, and three in Scotland,* which are thus enumerated, in the Sixth Report of the Parent Institution:1. “ Newcastle upon Tyne and its 8. “ Sheffield and its vicinity." vicinity."
9. Hull." %. Penryn and Falmouth.”
10. Bristol.” Leeds."
Edinburgh.” 4. “ Manchester and Salford.”
East Lothian." 5. Devon and Exeter."
The Scottish Bible Society, 6. Leicester.”
formed by the Ministers of the 7. Kendal and its vicinity."
Presbytery of Edinburgh." In examining the rules of these societies, a gradual improvement is perceptible: and this is peculiarly evident in reference to those adopted at Newcastle, Leeds, and Kendal; which respectively provide, that “one-half of the Committee shall be members of the Established Church:" thus following in this, as in other respects, the judicious regulations of the Parent Society. But much was still wanting to perfect the system: no adequate provision was yet made for ascertaining the wants of the poor ; individual exertion, in this respect, seems to have been contemplated as the only, or at least the principal means of discovery and supply; and, in some instances, the local necessities were not contemplated as an object of attention. It is true, "the introduction of Auxiliary Societies gave a new tone to those operations which regarded the provision for the inhabitants of the British Islands;" and the comparative statements, already referred to, afford the best evidence of an increasing desire to meet the demand : but, as has been well observed,
“ It would not have been sufficient to produce this effect, and the other advantages with which it has been accompanied, that the public concern should have been awakened simply to the wants of the poor, and the supply of those wants have been left to the unregulated operation of casual and indiscriminating liberality. Some expedient was wanted, which might unite economy and efficiency ; some plan, which, by a graduated and symmetrical
• It is but justice to observe, that the sister island was not deficient in this "labour of love ;" the Hibernian Bible Society having added several Branch Societies to the general cause during the same period.
Revision of the Rules by Mr. Phillips.
arrangement, should associate all orders of the community, and effectuate the universal distribution of the Scriptures, with the least burden to the general fund, and the greatest advantage to the individual receiver. The origin of Auxiliary Societies having been altogether accidental and unforeseen, the regulations of the British and Foreign Bible Society contained no provision, for either modelling their constitution, or defining their operations. It followed as a consequence, that there was no uniformity in their construction ; no mutual identity in their internal organization; no principle, in short, of agreement among them, (the fundamental principle of the Parent Institution excepted,) by which their conduct might be governed, and their separate efforts consentaneously directed to the accomplishment of the general end." *
11. In no respect have the wisdom and foresight by which the Rules of the Parent Society were framed, been more conspicuous, than in the constitution of the Committee :' and never was their practical tendency more beneficially manifested, than in the year 1810, when Richard Phillips, Esq. became an elected member of that body. Scarcely had he taken his seat at the board, when he perceived the paramount importance of the Auxiliary System, and the full extent to which it might be carried the tree was indeed planted; but he saw the necessity of watching its growth, of training its branches, and of giving a right direction to that vigor which might otherwise run into wild and unprofitable luxuriance. Impressed with a full sense of the magnitude of the undertaking, he digested a plan for the government of Auxiliary and Branch Societies ; and having, in the month of October 1811, accomplished his design, he made trial of its efficacy, by circulating copies of the proposed rules and regulations.
“ It was not long, however, before the Committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society became so fully convinced of its excellence, that they resolved to adopt it as their own. In consequence of this resolution, the plan was submitted to a careful revision : and in the spring of 1812, it was issued from the Depository of the Parent Institution, under the title of “ Hints on the Constitution and Objects of Auxiliary Societies ;” and copies of it were liberally dispersed throughout the country. The good effect of this measure soon began to appear. Auxiliary and Branch Societies assumed a more regular form, and their operations were conducted upon principles which assimilated them to each other, and connected them harmoniously with the Parent Institution. Under the influence of this system, the respective Committees now pursued more orderly and effective ways of raising subscriptions; took upon themselves the appropriation of those Bibles and Testaments which before had been placed at the disposal of the individual subscribers ; and, as well by instituting minute and personal inquiries among the habitations of the poor, as by encouraging sale at cost or reduced prices, in preference to absolute gift, they ascertained the degree in which the Scriptures were wanted, raised the estimate of their value in the minds
• See Owen's History, Vol. II. p. 532 et seq.