Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

for the sacred office, living at a time when his public services were peculiarly needed and when he was known and spoken of as promising celebrity in whatever profession he might chuse, that with all these advantages he should continue in retirement, is a fact disficult to accoumt for, and for which only his extreme diffidence can afford any apology.

But whatever were bis reasons for so long a silence, his time was wisely improved; he gave himself up to reading, meditation, and prayer; and in the family of his patron, besides discharging the duties of a tutor, he was employed in several of his most useful and popular works, particularly his Logic, Astronomy and Geography.

In the family of Sir John, he appears to have enjoyed, whatever was most congenial with his views in friendship and devotion: his testimony in his sermon on the death of Sir John is highly honourable to his virtue and to the mingled respect, sorrow and gratitude of the preacher.

While he was increasing his mental treasures by study, and familiarising the importance of these treasures to his pupil, he enjoyed opportunities of conversing with the wise, the learned, and the devout, here his thirst after knowledge increased daily and his ambition for usefulness. The advantages of bis situation, like the beams of light, fell upon an object capable of reflecting them; and to this part of his life, may be ascribed much of that superiority, by which he was afterwards distinguished in the church; which still animates us in his writings, and which amidst all the caprice of taste, or the revolutions of opinions, will endear and perpetuate bis remembrance.

On his birth-day 1698, he preached his first sermon ; “ Probably considering that as the day of a second nativity, by which he entered into a new period of existence.” Sometime in the course of this year he was chosen assistant to Dr. Isaac Chauncy, pastor of the Independant church then meeting in Mark-lane, and such was his acceptance and success, that in January 1701—2, he succeeded Dr. Chauncy in the pastoral office. The day on which lie accepted his invitation to this charge was distinguished by an event peculiarly interesting to the friends of religious liberty. The death of King William III. brought a cloud over the prospects of the dissenters; which in the close of the succeeding reign, was ready to burst in showers of calamity, and which was only dispelled, by the critical interposition of divine providence in the death of queen Anne.

Mr. Watts, who had not entered upon the service of God without duly counting the cost, was not to be discouraged by difficulties, nor deterred by opposition. He had “ engaged in a sacred work, where the harvest is great, and the labourers are but few; while he had left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the harvest not worth carrying away."* His views were directed to right objects, his principles invigorated his exertions, and the power with which he was endowed from on high, enabled him to speak with irresistible wisdom. The same month in which he assented to the unanimous call of the church, he was solemnly set apart to the important relationship; and never did any young man assume the pastoral office with higher qualifications, with deeper humility, or with more ardent desires for the eternal welfare of men. His public declaration of acquiescence in the choice of

* Goldsinith.

a

the church (of which some abstracts are here subjoined) while it illustrates the truth of these observations, will gratify every reader of spiritual discernment.

“ Brethren,

“ You know the constant aversion I have had to any proposals of a pastoral office for these three years. You know also, that since you have given me an unanimous call thereto, I have proposed several methods for your settlement without me, but your choice and your affections seemed to be still unmoved. I have objected my own indisposition of body, and I have pointed to three divines, members of this church, whose gifts might render them more proper for instruction, and their age for government. These things I have urged till I have provoked you to sorrow and tears, and till I myself have been almost ashamed. But your perseverance in your choice, your constant profession of edification by my ministry, the great probability you shew me of building up this famous and decayed church of Christ, and your prevailing fears of its dissolution, if I refuse, have given me ground to believe, that the 'voice of this church is the voice of Christ; and to answer this call, I have not consulted with flesh and blood: I have laid aside the thoughts of myself to serve the interest of our Lord. I give up my own ease for your spiritual profit and your increase. I submit my inclinations to my duty, and in hopes of being made an instrument to build up this ancient church, I return this solemn answer to your call, that, with a great sense of my own inability in mind and body to discharge the duties of so sacred an office, I do, in the strength of Christ, venture upon it, and in his name I accept your call, promising in the presence of God and his saints, my utmost diligence in all the duties of a pastor, so far as God shall enlighten and strengthen me ; and I leave this promise in the hands of Christ our Mediator, to see it performed by me unto you, through the assistance of his grace and Spirit.”

These professions and promises were followed by corresponding diligence and holy zeal. The number and variety of his writings, the frequency and excellence of his preaching, his exact attention to the spiritual affairs of his flock by domestic visits, when not confined by illness, shew the intenseness of his industry, and a laborious piety, as uncommon to others as they were honourable to himself. The younger members of his church were peculiarly interested in his affection and zeal. For them he was always forming plans of religious improvement, and when he could no longer be useful to them in the pulpit

, he was solicitous for them in his afflicting confinement. To promote their prosperity and happiness in the momentous concerns of a future world, he formed a society from this class of his charge, for prayer and spiritual conference. In this society the substance of his Guide to Prayer was originally delivered.

In visiting the families of his congregation, he was always careful to leave a savour of divine truth upon their minds; and as his own piety was chearful, he endeavoured to diffuse its benign influences wherever he weat: Walking or riding, in company or in retirement, he was either improving himself or others. He was never so much at home as in his study, nor ever more in his element than when engaged in performing the works of mercy and the labours of love.

His tempers were such as became his character, and secured to him the veneration and esteem of those who most materially differed from him in points

b

VOL. 1.

[ocr errors]

of faith. To say he had his imperfections is only to assert, that he was a man and not an angel. If his natural tempers were hasty, and he occasion ally expressed himself with a keenness bordering on resentment, he was habitually meek and lowly.

With a mind eminently susceptible of the emotions of friendship and gratitude, he was superior to the contracted views, and the untempered zeal of the bigot. “ It was not only in his book but in his mind that orthodoxy was united with charity.” He knew how to sustain injurious treatment without retaliating. His meekness of opposition was remarkable, and the good he performed was unclouded by pharisaical ostentation. His popularity was duly tempered by his low opinion of himself, and his afflictions were sanctified by patient submission to the unerring will of heaven. The love of money in a minister of Christ, he looked on with contempt and detestation. A third part of his income he devoted to the purposes of charity, and when he was incapable of his public labours he refused to receive his salary. “ Happy will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his writings, to copy his benevolence to man and his reverence to God.

In company he assumed no superiority, nor could any wise and good man feel his superiority with other sentiments than such as were mutually honourable. His conversation betrayed none of the weakness of egotism, nor the malevolence of detraction. He could be entertaining without levity, and serious without austerity. With a natural easy flow of thought he combined aptness, purity, and elegance of expression ; so affable and engaging was his deportment wherever he went, that the enquiring virtuous mind was always gratified, while the gay and thoughtless were fixed in attentive veneration, and so conspicuously were the beauties of sincerity delineated in his social character that he was not more admired as a man of talents and learning, than he was sought, loved and trusted as a faithful friend.

As a preacher, Dr. Watts ranks with the most eminent : His published sermons atford a happy specimen of the spirit which pervaded his pulpit exercises. Here is no trimming, no disguise of sentiment, all is transparent and clear as crystal. He thought with the humility that becomes a fallible man, but he spoke with all the perspicuity, decision, and boldness, of an honest man. What is said of Mr. Philip Henry is not less applicable to him. He was admired and loved, because, though so excellent a scholar and so polite an orator, he became so profitable and powerful a preacher, and so readily laid aside the enticing words of man's wisdom, which were so easy to him. While he avoided whatsoever could disgust the learned and polite he was equally cau. tious not to soar above the illiterate. In his sermons dignity and simplicity are so conspicuous that every one sees he only wished to gain access to the passions through the medium of the understanding. Sometimes he thought he descended too low in accommodating his style to ignorance and dulness of apprehension. In his discourse on Humility, represented in the character of St. Paul, he makes this apology for descending to familiar and low scenes of life. “ I almost reprove myself here, and suspect my friends will reprove me too for introducing such low scenes of life, and such trivial occurrences into a grave discourse. I have put the matter into the balances as well as I can, and weighed the case, and the result is this: General and distant declamations seldom strike the conscience with such conviction as particular representations do; and since this iniquity often betrays itself in these trivial instances, it is

.

1

better perhaps to set them forth in their full and proper light, than that the guilty should never feel a reproof, who, by the very nature of their distemper, are unwilling to see or learn their own folly, unless it is set in a glar: ing view*.

But as his great aim was to be understood, and to supply his hearers with suitable matter for holy meditation in private; as he watched for souls like one that was to give an account, a divine solemnity accompanied all he said. The frivolous, jocular disposition of some modern pulpit orators, never degraded his character, never insulted the decency of public worship, or mocked the expectations of the devout mind. Where is the expression that could raise the faintest blush upon the cheek of modesty, or irritate the risibility of the most puerile ?

In his personal appearance there was little that could interest the ad. mirers of external comeliness. He was low of stature, and his bodily presence was weak; yet there was a certain dignity in his countenance, and such piercing expression in his eyes, as commanded attention and awe. His man, ner was animated; but not boisterous; the self-possession he enjoyed was inspired by confidence in God; and therefore, discovered nothing but respect and affection for his hearers. When Dr. Gibbons asked him, if he did not find himself sometimes too much awed by his auditory, he replied, That when such a gentleman, of eminent abilities and learning, has come into the assembly, and taken his eye, he felt something like a momentary tremor, but that he recovered himself by remembering what God said to the Prophet Jeremiah, “ Be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.” In preparation for his ministry, he wrote and committed to memory, the leading features of his cursory sermons; the rest he trusted to his extemporary powers, and the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit; and he never failed to acquit himself with credit. “ His reading had made him a full man, conference a ready man, writing an exact mant," and his free access to the fulness of Christ made him an essentially profitable man. At the conclusion of weighty sentences it was his custom to pause, that he might quicken the attention and more solemnly impress the realities of the gospel upon the mind. He had cultivated with care and singular success the graces of language. The correctness of his pronunciation, the elegance of his diction, and the grandeur of bis sentiments, obtained him an uncommon share of popularity. I once mentioned, says Dr. Johnson, the reputation which Mr. Foster had gained by his proper delivery to my friend Mr. Hawkesworth, who told me, that in the art of pronunciation he was far inferior to Dr. Watts.

His ambition of usefulness was confined to no time or place ; such was his love to the Head of the church, and his compassion for the fallen children of men, that he was eager to seize every opportunity of glorifying him, and administering the word of salvation to them, as the subsequent anecdote, communicated by Mr. Kingsbury, of Southampton, to Dr. Gibbons, will testify: * Mr. Richard Ellcock was a servant in old Mr. Watts's family. Dr. Watts going to London after the last time of his visiting his father at Southampton, Richard Ellcock was ordered to go with him a day's journey. The Doctor entered into serious discourse with him, which made a deep and lasting impression on his heart and was the means of his sound and saving conversions' * Discourses on Humility.

# Bacon.

After the Doctor came to London, he wrote to his father, recommending the servant to his particular regard, for that he doubted not he would make an eminent christian, and so he lived and died, leaving an honourable character for piety and uprightness behind him.”

Soon after he had entered upon his pastoral labours, he was visited with illness, which threatened all the sanguine hopes of his people with an early period to his usefulness. His confinement was long, his recovery slow, and his constitution considerably impaired. Under these circumstances, the Rev. Samuel Price was chosen to assist him in the duties of his office. However, his exertions were renewed with his strength, and his sufferings enabled him to preach more than ever to the instruction and delight of his hearers. In the prosecution of his various plans of usefulness, he met with no material interruption till September, 1712, when he was seized with a fever of such vio. lence, that it brought a debility upon his nerves, for which time afforded no remedy, and which entirely laid him aside from the exercise of his ministry more than four years. How inscrutable are the dispensations of providence, when men who, for disseminating the doctrines of the cross, possess the first qualifications, are laid aside or cut off in the flower of their age, while others, far below mediocrity, live till they become useless and burdensome!

Of the affectionate solicitude of his people for the restoration of his health he was honoured with the best evidence by their unceasing prayers to God for him in this season of trouble. Particular days were set apart for this purpose, in which many of his brethren in the ministry united as men deeply impressed with the importance of his life ; and their prayers were answered. Mr. Price, his assistant, was now, at Mr. Watts's own desire, elected to be joint pastor with him ; and he was accordingly ordained to this office, March 3, 1713. Between these two fellow-labourers there subsisted, till death, an inviolable friendship. The amiable subject of our memoirs speaks of Mr. Price as his faithful friend and companion in the ministry; and mentions a legacy that he Jeaves bim, “as only a small testimony of his great affection for him, on account of his services of love during the many harmonious years of their fellowship in the work of the gospel.” When the preachers of religion, whether they sustain soch immediate relationship or not, thus live superior to the meanness and guilt of depreciating and envying each others reputation, talents, and services in the church ; when the despicable spirit of competition, and variance, of cold civility, and jealousy is absorbed in brotherly love, and in generous exertions for the just honour of each other, then they will furnish an effectual consutation to the ignorant clamours of infidelity against priest-craft, and as was the case with these two excellent men, the friendship they exercise will return seven-fold into their own bosoms.

The afflicting state to which Mr. Watts was reduced by this sickness, inspired his friends with a tender and becoming sympathy, and particularly engaged the benevolent attention of Sir Thos. Abney, at that time an alderman of London, and afterwards one of its representatives' in parliament: A man of eminent piety and zeal, a blessing to bis country and the church of God. He died in the year 1722, deeply regretted by all the friends who were contemporary with him and acquainted with his worth, and no less respectfully remembered wherever the works of Dr. Watts are read, by the monuments of his friendship for the author ; a friendship pure and uniform, without the usual pride of patronage, or the obsequiousness of timid submis

« ForrigeFortsæt »