Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

sitions 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 he ought the importance of his desigpation, 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 himn : 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 Hy to and fro, and how each nerve, tendon, fibre, and muscle, performs its several operations. Here it may be seen, bow an heart 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 several 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 anecdotes, 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 affictions, 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 afHuence, they were such as might have secured him against the prejudice

* Howe.

a

vi

MEMOIRS OF DR. WATTS.

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, bis name would be pronounced with reverence; bis 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 alınost 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 affiction of mind, the horrors of that tyranny by which they were deprived of their chief eartbly 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 Iris 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 carly 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 student 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, formed 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 manlood, 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 his friends, and to reward the labours of his preceptor, by bis 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 chą. racters 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 had probably given him some useful lessons; and being satisfied that these principles were most congenial with a kingdom not this world, he respectfully declined the flattering proposal, and declared his resolution 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 his 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 condescended to lay aside the scholar and the philosopher, to direct the bosannas of our children, and to provide systems of instruction adapted to their wants and capacities, was himself discriminated in his early childhood, by hatred of evil and love to the ways of God.

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 his humility, in the elevation 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 hymns; 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; and faithfully applied to the disparity of our resemblance, will excite every sentiment of humility. As he advanced from his childhood in his intimacy with heaven, and in his rapid attainments of that know ledge, 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, his 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

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

discipline of the church, and in the choice of his religious connexions, hệ repaired to an academy in London, in the year 1690, where he prosecuted his studies under Mr. Thomas Rowe, at that time pastor of the independent church-meeting, at Haberdasher's-Hall. Three years afterward this church had the honour of receiving him as a member. At the academy Mr. Hughes, the poet, Dr. Hort, afterwards archbishop of Tuam, and Mr. Say (the successor of Mr. Ed. Calamy) were his fellow-students; and, as appears by their subsequent correspondence, they entertained a warm friendship for him. Here he appears to have laboured with incessant perseverance; not merely to pass with credit through the routine of academical obligations, but to attain to eminent distinction in the soundest qualifications for future usefulness. Very few, by a much longer course of study, make any near approach to the extent of his acquirements. In diligence he had no equal ; in his attainments, he had no competitor ; and as his progress in the paths of learning was not dishonoured by an ostentatious vanity, he won the esteem and admiration of all who were connected with him in preparatory studies.

From the first general incorporation of the dissenting interest, by the rigid persecutions of the hierarchy after the restoration of Charles IŤ. the body of non-conformists have always deemed it an important object, to provide a succession of ministers competently qualified with divine and buman knowledge. Deprived of the splendid advantages of Oxford and Cambridge, they have endeavoured, and with no inconsiderable success, to supply the necessities of their churches, by seminaries of a more private and bumbie kind. In every dissenting academy, founded on evangelical principles, satisfactory evidence is always required, that the candidates for admission have experienced the power of religion upon their hearts, that they have suitable dispositions for the reception of knowledge, and that they are possessed of qualifications adapted to the service of the church. During their academical residence, vigilant attention is paid to maintaining inviolate the honours of practical godliness; and that residence would, in any instance, be terminat, ed by an act of immoral or scandalous conduct. In the whole course of study, supreme homage is paid to the Word of God; and languages and sciences are pursued with a constant reference to the increase of divine wisdom, and general usefulness. When these advantages are duly considered, dissenters have good reason to be thankfully reconciled to their exclusion from the noble endowments, the magnificent libraries, and the splendid honours of those universities. One of the best scholars and ablest writers Oxford has produced, has made the following candid remarks on thiş subject :

“ I believe it to have been a very happy circumstance for Mr. Secker*, that he was educated in a dissenting accademy, and under so good a tutor. i attribute much of his future eminence to this circumstance, as well as to the connection he fortunately formed there, that purity, that dignity, that decency of character, which enabled him to fill the great offices of the church with singular weight and efficacy. Educated in a dissenting persuasion, and under dissenting tutors, he had paid less attention to polite letters, and more to divinity, than is usually bestowed by students in the universities. Young men in Oxford and Cambridge, frequently arrive at an age for orders, and be

* Afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury.

[ocr errors]

come successful candidates for them, who have studied scarcely any other divinity, than such as is to be found in Ovid's Metamorphosis, and Tooke's Pantheon. Few regularly-bred divines, as they are termed, apply themselves to divinity at so early an age; and, indeed, through the defect of a knowledge, and of a taste for it, in youth, many, after obtaining orders, still continue to study, if they study at all, the theology of Athens and Rome. But the dissenters study divinity at an early age, and if they had united the study of the belles lettres with it in due proportion, I believe their divines would have made a still more honourable appearance than they have done, though they are, and ever have been, highly respectabler."

What Mr. Watts was as a student, the testimony of his tutor sufficiently erinces : He never, Mr. Rowe declared, gave him any occasion for reproof; but was so exemplary, that he often proposed him as a pattern for the imitation of other pupils. The great ends of his studies were fixed, and the subjects of them were substantial, he well knew the value of his opportunities, nor was he at any loss as to the best means of improving them. No time was given to vain amusements, or to unnecessary indulgencies. The seasons of rest and exercise (so essential to health) were curtailed, and so passionately was he devoted to the increase of his knowledge, that he either laid the fourdation of disorders, which imbittered his future life, or, if latent, armed them with the power which resisted all medical skill. The operations of his own mind, his reading, his observation, and his social intercourse were all made subservient to the great designs of his station. With the hands of a Midas, he had the art of turning whatever he touched into gold: the treasures of knowledge, both philosophical and theological, opened to the world, so early after he left the academy, shew the intenseness of his application, and the capaciousness of his mind during his residence there. The most important works in every science engaged his attention; and as he had no tedious hours to amuse, nor any fugitive curiosity to gratify, his reading uniformly promoted the increase of his mental riches. He did not rove about in the fields of science to gather withering flowers, but the precious fruits wherewith the moner filleth his hand, and he that bindeth sheavcs his bosom. To impress

his memory the most important and interesting parts of the books he read, it was his custom, to make judicious abridgements; and that he might compose and digest the sentiments and argunents of his authors, in order to render each in succession instrumental to the confirmation and enlargement of his views, his principal books were interleaved.

The long silence of this excellent and accomplished youth, after he left the academy, as to the primary object of all his studies, the preach ing of the gospel, affords considerable scope for conjecture: He was twenty years old when he returned from London to Southampton ; there he remained two years ; after which he went to reside in the family of Sir John Hortopp, as tutor to his son, where he continued two years longer.

It is true he was but still a youth diffident of himself and deeply affected with the importance of the ministry, under a sense of his insufficiency and trembling lest he should go to the altar of God uncalled. But after sixteen years spent in classical studies, after uncommon proficiency in other parts of learning connected with the work of the ministry, with every qualification

upon

« ForrigeFortsæt »