ROBERT WILLIAM DALE (1829-1895), English Nonconformist divine, was born in London on the 1st of December 1829, and was educated at Spring Hill College, Birmingham, for the Congregational ministry. In 1853 he was invited to Carr's Lane Chapel, Birmingham, as co-pastor with John Angell James, on whose death in 1859 he became sole pastor for the rest of his life. In the London University M.A. examination (1853) Dale stood first in philosophy and won the gold medal. The degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the university of Glasgow during the lord rectorship of John Bright. Yale University gave him its D.D. degree, but he never used it, "not because it came from America, but because I have a sentimental objection - perhaps it is something more - to divinity degrees." Dale displayed a keen interest in Liberal politics and in the municipal affairs of Birmingham; and his high moral ideal made him a great force on the progressive side. In 1886 he adhered to Mr Chamberlain in opposition to Irish Home Rule, but this difference did not diminish his influence even among those Liberals and Nonconformists who adopted the Gladstonian standpoint. In the education controversy of 1870 he took an important part, ably championing the Nonconformist position. When Mr Foster's bill appeared, Dale attacked it on the grounds that the schools would in many cases be purely denominational institutions, that the conscience clause gave inadequate protection, and that school boards were empowered by it to make grants out of the rates to maintain sectarian schools. He was himself in favour of secular education, claiming that it was the only logical solution and the only legitimate outcome of Nonconformist principles. In Birmingham the controversy was terminated in 1879 by a compromise, from which, however, Dale stood aloof. His interest in educational affairs had led him to accept a seat on the Birmingham school board. He was appointed a governor of the grammar school, served on the royal commission of education, and was also chairman of the council of Mansfield College, Oxford, with the foundation of which he had much to do. He was a strong advocate of disestablishment, holding that the church was essentially a spiritual brotherhood, and that any vestige of political authority impaired its spiritual work. In church polity he held that congregationalism constituted the most fitting environment in which religion could achieve her work. Perhaps the most effective contributions he made to ecclesiastical literature were those dealing with the history and principles of the congregational system. At his death on the 13th of March 1895 he left an unfinished MS. of the history of congregationalism, since edited and completed (1907) by his son, A. W. W. Dale, principal of Liverpool University.
Dale's powers were fully appreciated by his colleagues in the congregational ministry, and at the early age of thirty-nine he was elected chairman of the Congregational union of England and Wales. His addresses from the chair on "Christ and the Controversies of Christendom," and the "Holy Spirit and the Christian Ministry" were remarkable for a keen insight into the conditions and demands of the age. For some years he edited the Congregationalist, a monthly magazine connected with the denomination. In 1877 he was appointed Lyman Beecher lecturer at Yale University, and visited America to deliver his "Lectures on Preaching." At the International Council of Congregationalists, meeting in London in 1891, the first gathering of the kind, Dale was nominated for the presidency. He accepted the honour and delivered an address on "The Divine Life in Man." As a theologian Dale occupied an influential position amongst the religious thinkers of the 19th century. He ably interpreted the Evangelical thought of his age, but his Evangelicalism was of a broad and progressive type. His chief contribution to constructive theological thought is his work On The Atonement, in which he contends that the death of Christ is the objective ground on which the sins of man were remitted. Among his other theological books are: The Epistle to the Ephesians (a series of expositions), Christian Doctrine, The Living Christ and the Four Gospels, Fellowship with Christ, The Epistle to James, and The Ten Commandments.
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