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It was a custom among the ancient Romans, to preserve in wax, the figures of those among their ancestors, who were of noble birth ; or had been more nobly advanced to the chair of honour by their personal inerits. Sallust relates " that Scipio and other great nen, by beholding these likenesses, found enkindled in their breasts, so ardent a thirst after virtue, as could not be extinguished, till, by the glory of their own uctions, they had equalled the illus. . trious objects of their emulation. But it is the happiness of Christians to possess truer notions of virtue, and to be governed by infinitely higher views. We may, however, hence observe the force of example, wbich is peculiarly operative in those who sincerely love God. They no sooner reflect on the accounts given of such as have been eminent for their piety, and zeal, than they become desirous of imbibing the same spirit*.
The advantages to be derived from theological biography, are too various to be enumerated ; and of such obvious importance, as to supersede all studied encomiums. The sacred scriptures abound with relations of extraordinary occurrences in the lives of men, who were distinguished in their day by their virtues or their crimes: And, as if the Holy Spirit designed to provide for our entertainment, and to gratify our curiosity; there is not a beauty in this species of historical writing, of which we have not some interesting example, in the inspired volume.
Each character is drawn by the hand of impartiality and faithfulness ; so that we are in no danger of being deceived by the influence of any of those passions, which so often degrade other relations of the same kind. While compassion tempers the hatred of sin, the love of truth corrects the ardor of private gratitude, the usual partiality of friendship, and the zeal of opinion, Here no excellence, which evidences them to be the Sons of God, is exalted above its intrinsic value; nor is any failing, common to them as the children of Adam, concealed or extenuated. Next to these divine records, our esteem is claimed by the many
valuable literary monuments which have been raised in all succeeding ages, by the labours of piety and veneration, to the remembrance of those eminent names, whom the unerring Judge of true excellence has delighted to honour.
The lives of men who have made themselves famous in the cabinet, or in the field, may instruct and animate survivors of the same profession: the innigues of courts, the elevation and the fall of a statesman, the manœuvres of generalship, the decision of a battle, are attended to with a lively avidity by
the sanguine politician: But if characters and events in themselves little (if at all) adapted to the great purposes of intellectual and moral improvement, can create such an interest in the worldly mind, with what superior delight and advantage may the subjects of the wisdom that is from above review the lives of those who (whatever inauspicious circumstances may have attached to their origin, or to their condition in life) have exemplified the beauties of unaffected devotion, and shewn the way to true, to substantial bappiness, and inmortal honour ! “ Such a man, although the meanest mechanic, who employs bis best affections upon the Author of his life and salvation, who loves the good, compassionates the distressed, and breathes peace and good-will to all ; who abhors vice, and pities the vicious, who subdues and triumphs over the unruly passions of bis fallen nature; such a man (however low his outward condition) is the best patriot, and has more just pretensions to beroism, than he who makes the most glaring figure in the eye of an injudicious world. He is like one of the fixed stars, which through the remoteness of its situation, may be thought very inconsiderable and obscure by unskilful beholders, yet is as truly great and glorious in itself, as those luminaries which, by being placed more commodiously for our view, shine with more distinguished lustre*.”
The christian will here see the excellence of genuine religion, in its influence upon
the mind and conduct through every department of life. In the most aMicted state of the Saviour's empire, he will find some bright examples of decision, unshaken confidence, and undaunted zeal. His faith in the doctrines of the gospel will be confirmed by observing the god-like tempers, and the varions lineaments of the divine character produced by the sovereign virtues of those doctrines. In such memoirs, he will learn more perfectly to distinguish between the realities and the shadows of devotion; and to decide more satisfactorily on the state of religion in his own mind; and while tracing the mysterious operations of providence, in advancing the servants of God to prosperity and happiness, by trivial and improbable means, new sources of admiration and pleasure will continually open to his view. Here in the time of difficulty, he may obtain well adapted directions for his conduct; he may meet with salutary caution amidst the allurements of worldly enjoyment; and in the prospect of suffering or dying, he may so far enter into the spirit of the characters he contemplates, as more effectually to secure the dignity of his own.
From the memorials of distinguishsd men, the student, who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, will renew his strength, to surmounț the hinderances incident to his labours, while he follows them, whose admired natural abilities have been cultivated to the highest attainable state of perfection, or whose persevering application to the means of improvement bas brought to light hidden powers of genius; who were insensible to the baits of pleasure, the contagious example of indolence and vice, and the most discouraging difficulties; who were superior to the obstinate prejudices which often persecute a low origin, the disadvantages of indigence, a sickly constitution, natural impediments, and whatever a supine and grovelling mind would pronounce insuperable. While he keeps such a character in sight, he will assume fresh courage in struggling to useful eminence; and every day his success will be less dubious. The plans they adopted, the various helps of which they availed themselves in their progress, their uniform perseverance, their acquisitions and the application they made of them to the service of the church and of civil society, cannot fail to administer instruction. Every candidate for the work of the sanctuary, who feels as be ought the importance of his designation, and who, having finished his preparatory obligations, will owe much of his best assistance to the light reflected upon him from these luminaries.
Some, if not all, of these advantages, will be obtained from the life of Dr. Watts ; if perused with such dispositions, as gave that life all its lustre, What is said of another eminent man, will with equal truth apply to him : As anatomy discovers all the curious contexture of our bodily fabric, so here are vivid representations of faith, love, and an heavenly mind; of humility, meekness, self-denial, entire resignation to the will of God, in their first and continued motions; with whatever parts and principles besides, compose the whole frame of the new creature. Here it is as if we could perceive with our eyes, bow the blood circulates in an human body through all the veins and arteries; how the heart beats, the animal spirits fly to and fro, and how each nerve, tendon, fibre, and muscle, performs its several operations. Here it may be seen, bow an hea t touched from above, works and tends thitherward: how' it depresses itself in humiliation, dilates itself in love, exalts itself in praise, submits itself under chastisement, and how it draws in its refreshments and succours as there is need. To many who have seen so amiable a course of life, how grateful will it be to behold the secret motions of those inward latent, principles, from whence all proceed! Though others would look no further than the advantages (in external respects) that accrue from it. So some content themselves, to know by a clock the hour of the day, or partake the beneficial use of some rarer engine; the more curious, especially any that design imitation, and to compose something of the same kind, would be much more gratified, if through some pellucid enclosure, they could behold all the inward work, and observe how every wheel, spring, or movement, perform their seve. ral parts and offices, towards that common use*.
But to him whose only object is entertainment, the subsequent Memoirs will afford but little gratification. Extraordinary incidents, and curious anec- : dotes, are not to be expected in the life of a man, whose excursions were bounded by a few miles in the neighbourhood of the metropolis ; who had formed no domestic relations; whose bodily afflictions, often and for long seasons, incapacitated him for every duty, and for every pleasure, but such as were purely intellectual and spiritual ; and who, when in health, perhaps rather shunned social intercourse, as incompatible with his literary pursuits, and his ministerial obligations. But whoever is capable of appreciating the importance of learning and philosophy, when sanctified by an ardent zeal for the glory of God, by gentleness, humility, and unremitted exertions for the best interests of the world; or whoever possesses the noble ambition of attaining such eminence in wisdom, piety, and usefulness, and of imbibing any degree of that elevation of mind, so conspicuous in this great man, may anticipate more substantial rarities, the zest of which he will never lose, while he needs the aid of instruction, or the animating influence of an example so full of grace and beauty
Isaac WATTS, the eldest of nine children, was born July 17, 1674, at Southampton. If his family connections did not possess the advantages of áfifuence, they were such as might have secured him against the prejudice
usually attached to a low origin, by the pride of fashionable life. But had he descended (as was reported) from a poor mechanic, had his parents lived in the utmost meanness, his name would be pronounced with reverence; his character and writings would be held in the same esteem and admiration by all who are capable of making a just estimate of what is truly valuable in the existence of man. As princely grandeur can never dignify ignorance and vice, so talents, learning, and piety, are not to be degraded by any reverse. His father presided over a boarding -school, at Southampton; of good reputation. He was a man of lively devotion, and a decided non-conformist. But living under a reign, the profligacy of which, gave the stamp of fashion to almost every vice; a reign, the bigotry of which, fixed the odium of fanaticism, hypocrisy, and sedition, upon every avowal of attachment to the pure religion of the cross, he became a considerable sufferer, driven by the persecuting emissaries of the prince of darkness, from the comforts of domestic life, and the enjoyment of his religious privileges, he was doomed to the degradation and hardships of a jail. During his confinement, his wife would often sit on a stone at the door of the prison, with this child of promise at her breast, revolving in deep affliction of mind, the horrors of that tyranny by which they were deprived of their chief earthly protection, and left alone to contend with the buffetings of adversity...
In the morning of life, he gave the most promising indications of a bright and useful day: Before he had well learned to speak, a book was his greatest pleasure, and every little present of money, received additional value in his esteem, as it applied to the gratification of this early propensity. When a child he began to act the part of maturer years, in attention to mental improvement, and in preparation for the service and enjoyment of God. The true principles of wisdom and spiritual understanding, which thus early began to bud, yielded, through every succeeding period of his earthly pilgrimage, a rich variety of fruit, pleasant to the sight, and good for food. Although naturally of a temper remarkable for vivacity, he was a singular exception to the vanity of childhood and youth. The hours devoted by other children to play, he employed in reading, or in composing little poems to gratify the fond expectations of his mother.
* In his fourteenth year, he entered upon the studies of the learned languages, under the tuition of Mr. Pinhorn, a minister of the established church, and master of the free grammer-school at Southampton; a man of considerable reputation for learning and respectability of character. Here our young stu-' dent discovered such avidity of application, and extent of capacity, and so distinguished himself by the ease and celerity of his progress, that all who knew him, anticipated with delight, the perfection he afterwards attained. His whole deportment in this critical period of' age, forined a happy contrast with the prevailing spirit of some modern fashionable seminaries, where the seeds of vice find a congenial soil, and often before the age of manhood, produce a copious harvest of personal and relative evils. To prepare himself for usefulness in the world, to secure the approbation of heaven, realize the hopes of bis friends, and to reward the labours of his preceptor, by his continual diligence in improving the advantages he enjoyed ; in these points was all his ambition concentrated. In the twentieth year of his age, he inscribed a latin ode to Mr. Pinhorn, which is not more honourable, as a tribute of gratitude to the merit of the master, than as a proof of uncommon proficiency in the scholar.
His unremitted diligence, and rapid progress at the grammar school, were so conspicuous as to draw upon him the attention of some considerable characters in the town and neighbourhood, engaged by the promising appearances which he made of future celebrity in learning and religion : And with a view to his adoption into the established church, they proposed to support him at one of our English universities. But having studied the principles of nonconformity, on which the sufferings of his father bad probably given bim some useful lessons; and being satisfied that these principles were most con-> genial with a kingdom not of this world, he respectfully declined the fattering proposal, and declared his reşolution to take his lot with the dissenters.
Thus when youthful vanity and ambition are generally most alive to the allurements of emolument and elevation, he sacrificed the fairest pros? pects of earthly possessions in order to unite himself with a people, branded with every opprobrious epithet ; a people with whom, in place of the ease; riches, and honours of clerical preferment, he must substitute labour for the salvation of souls, and estimate his gains only by his success.
The date of his spiritual life cannot be ascertained, but the fact was indubitable from a very early period: Surely the consideration, that such a! christian as DR. WATTs, could make no reference to the particular circumstances of time, place, or means, connected with bis first spiritual affections, ought to check the presumption of those, who would limit the operations of grace, to the contracted sphere of their own pre-conceptions. He who con descended to lay aside the scholar and the philosopher, to direct the hosannas! of our children, and to provide systems of instruction adapted to their wants and capacities, was bimself disérimipated in his early childhood, by hatred! of evil and love to the ways of Godro in
When only seven or eight years old, he composed some verses to gratify the wishes of his mother; which, for clear views of scriptural truth, and fervour of devotion, would have done honour to far more advanced age. The natural vivacity of his youth was corrected and improved by a deep sense of religion'; convinced that no life can be pleasing to God, that is not useful to man, he sanctified his best days, by'a lively and well-tempered zeal' to do good. He sought and enjoyed Communion with God, in retirement from the world; and displayed, in his uniform 'deportment, 'the inseparable connexion subsisting between strict religion and substantial pleasure. In the depth of bis humility, in the eleration of his affection, he was superior to most of his cotemporaries. Before he attained his twenty-second year, he had composed the greater part of his bymns; in comparison with which, most compositions of the same kind are frigid, and lifeless. They may indeed in some instances, be thought too appropriating and extatic for our mixed assemblies, and for the general state of our religious joys: but such objections only confess the sublimity of his devotion is and faithfully applied to the disparity of our resemblance, will excite every sentiment of humility. As be advanced from his childhood in his intimacy with heaven, and in his rapid attainments of that knowledge, which too commonly inflates the mind with pride, he was still further removed from the consciousness of his superiority; and in proportion as he grew in favour with God, bis meek and lowly temper rendered him daily a greater favourite with man.
Decided in his views and experience of the doctrines of the gospel, the