FOSTER, JOHN: English Baptist; b. at Wadsworth Lane, parish of Halifax (14 m. w.s.w. of Leeds), Yorkshire, Sept. 17, 1770; d. at Stapleton (a suburb of Bristol), Gloucestershire, Oct. 15, 1843. He was the eldest son of a farmer and manufacturer. Up to his eighteenth year he was occupied chiefly with factory work, but had enjoyed some educational advantages and had read largely in Puritan theology. Serious and meditative, he cared little for society or sport and was entranced with the beauties of nature. When seventeen years of age he experienced conversion and was baptized into the fellowship of the Calvinistic Baptist church at Hobden Bridge. Under the influence of Dr. Fawcett, his pastor, he entered the school of the latter (Brearly Hall) to study for the ministry. Here he not only pursued with enthusiasm and success the classical and literary courses offered, but read extensively in theology and became master of an elegant literary style. After three years of preparatory study he proceeded to the Baptist college at Bristol, where in scholarship, depth of thought, and literary skill he surpassed all his fellow students, but proved remarkably lacking in preaching power. With a most intense desire to use his gifts and attainments for the edification of saints and the conversion of sinners, his abstract and overelaborate way of sermonizing, his deficiency in popular touch, and a chronic throat trouble that made his voice ineffective, resulted at Newcastle, Dublin, Chichester, Battersea, and Downend, where he successively ministered, in the dwindling of the congregations and the closing of the chapels. While ultra-Calvinistic in his predestinarianism, he early became almost Arian in his Christology. The latter made him unacceptable to the Particular Baptists, and the former to the General Baptists. For a time he gave instruction to certain African youths who had been brought to England to be educated for missionaries.
While still engaged in pastoral effort Foster published (1805) a volume of Essays, including his famous essay On Decision of Character, which attracted much attention. From 1808 he was a regular contributor to the Eclectic Review. His articles published in this periodical are said to have numbered 185. His essay on the Evils of Popular Ignorance (1819), originally an address before a benevolent society, added greatly to his fame. He had an invincible aversion to the Established Church and to the special privileges of the British aristocracy; and the evils of the time in Britain and her colonies he was never weary of attributing to the unchristian and antisocial elements in Church and State. In arraigning the religious and social evils of the time he assumed a somewhat pessimistic tone, but exerted a wide-spread influence in favor of reform. Among his other writings are An Introduction to Doddridge's 'Rise and Progress' (Glasgow, 1825), and Lectures Delivered at Broadmead Chapel (1844-47). Among the points on which he differed from his Baptist brethren was his denial of eternal punishment, which he was unable to reconcile with his conceptions of the benevolence and the righteousness of God.
ALBERT H. NEWMAN.