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find one of his biographers lamenting that “the visits of idle and some worthless persons were neyer unwelcome to him,”. on the express ground that “these things drove on time.” His ideas of morality being of the highest order, many things, which are considered by men at large as but venial offences, appeared to him as positive crimes. Even his constitutional indolence and irritability of mind were sufficient of themselves to keep him constantly humbled and self-abased, and though among his gay or literary companions he usually appears upon the comparatively high ground of a Christian moralist, and the strenuous defender of revealed religion, yet, compared with the divine standard and test of truth, he felt himself both defective and disobedient.
Together with this conscientious feeling, he had adopted certain incorrect, not to say superstitious ideas, respecting the method of placating the Deity. He seems, for example, to have believed that penance, in its confined and popish sense, as distinguished from simple penitence, is of great avail in procuring the divine favor and forgiveness. Thus, when his conscience distressed him on account of an act of disobedience to his parent, we find him many@years afterwards remaining a considerable tinte bare-headed in the rain, exposed in the public streets to the ridicule and the conjectures of every spectator. As far as filial affection and true amiableness of mind are concerned, the actor in such a scene deserves and ensures universal veneration and esteem. Even while we smile at the somewhat ludicrous nature of the action, we instinctively feel a sympathy and respect, which perhaps a wiser but less remarkable mode of exhibiting his feelings might not have procured. But Johnson seems to have performed this humiliation from higher considerations than mere sorrow for the past; for he emphatically adds, “In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was crpiatory."
If these words really mean anything—and when did Dr: Johnson utter words without meaning ?-he must have intended by them to express his hope that the previous fault was really atoned for, in a religious sense, by the subsequent act of self-denial; or, in other words, that God accepts human penance as an expiation for human sins-a doctrine to which revealed religion gives no sanction whatever. Johnson's system appears at this time to have been, as it were, a sort of barter between himself and heaven; and, consequently, his chief fear was lest the equivalent which he presented, should not be sufficient to entitle him, in the divine mercy, to the pardon of his transgressions. His trust on the Redeemer, though perfectly sincere, does not appear to have been either exclusive or implicit; for though all his prayers for mercy, and acknowledgments of blessings, were offered up solely through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, he seems, in point of fact, for many years, to have viewed the Atonement rather as a medium through which God is pleased to accept our imperfect services, and to make them adequate, by the conditions of a remedial law, to the purchase of heaven, than as a sacrifice by which alone heaven is fully secured and freely given to the believing penitent. Dr. Johnson's line of reading in divinity was perhaps unfavorable to a full perception of Christian truth, The writings of Mr. Law, in particular, which he had studied with some attention, were by no means well adapted to his peculiar case. For a thoughtless, a frivolous, or an impenitent sinner, the “Serious Call” might have been eminently useful, in exciting a deep consciousness of guilt, a salutary remorse for the past, and holy resolutions for the future; and as far as these elements of religion extend, the perusal of this celebrated book might doubtless have had some good effect upon the mind of Dr. Johnson. But in the consolatory parts of the Gospel-in the free and undisguised exhibition of a Redeemer, whose sacrifice is perfect and all-sufficient; in the inculcation of the gracious promises of a reconciled Father to the returning prodigal, Law, and other writers of a similar school, are undoubtedly defective; and the samie defect seems to have characterised for many years the views of our illustrious moralist. He lived in a perpetual dilemma, by trusting to works which his well informed conscience told him were not good, and yet on the goodness of which, in conjunction at least with the merits of Christ, he placed his dependance .. for eternity.
To give, therefore, comfort to the mind of such a man as Dr. Johnson, there were but two modes,meither by blinding his conscience, or by increasing his faith ; either by extenuating his sins, or by pointing out in all its glories the sufficiency of the Christian ransom. The friends who surrounded this eminent man, during the greater part of his life, were little qualified to perform the latter, and therefore, very naturally resorted to the former. They found their patient, so to speak, in agony; but, instead of examining the wound and applying the remedy, they contented themselves with administering anodynes and opiates, and persuading their afflicted friend, that there existed no cause of danger or alarm.
But Johnson 'was not thus deceived. The nostrum which has lulled millions to a fatal repose, on him, by the mercy of God, had no effect. His convictions of sin were as lasting as they were deep. It was not, therefore, until he had discarded his natural and longcherished views of commutation and human desert, and had learned to trust humbly and exclusively to his Saviour, that his mind became at peace.
Let us view some of the recorded circumstances of the transaction; and in so doing we shall, as Christians, have much more
occasion to applaud the scriptural correctness of Johnson's feelings . respecting the value of his soul, the guilt of his nature, and the
inadequacy of man's best merits and repentance, than to congratulate him upon the accession of such “miserable comforters' as those who appear to have surrounded his dying pillow. .
Finding him in great mental distress, “I told him,” remarks one of his biographers, (Sir John Hawkins,) “of the many enjoyments of which I thought him in possession-namely, a permanent income, tolerable health, a high degree of reputation for his moral qualities and literary exertions,” &c. Had Johnson's depression of mind been nothing more than common melancholy or discontent, these topics of consolation would have been highly appropriate; they might also , hase been fitly urged as arguments for gratitude and thạnksgiving
to the Almighty, on account of such exalted mercies. In either of these points of view, the piety of Dr. Johnson would doubtless have prompted him to acknowledge the value of the blessing, and the duty of contentment and praise. But, as arguments for quieting an alarmed conscience, they were quite inadequate; for what would it have profited this distinguished man, to have gained all his well merited honors, or even, were it possible, the world itself, if, after all, le should become, as he himself afterwards expressed it, “a cast away ?"
The feelings of Dr. Johnson on this subject were more fully evi·denced on a subsequent occasion. “One day in particular," remarks Sir John Hawkins, “when I was suggesting to him these and the like reflections, he gave thanks to Almighty God; but added, that notwithstanding all the above benefits, the prospect of death, which was now at no great distance from him, was become terrible, and that he could not think of it, but with great pain and trouble of mind." Nothing assuredly could be more correct than Dr. Johnson's distinction. We acknowledges the value of the mercies whiche he enjoyed, and he gratefully “gave thanks to Almighty God” for them ; but he felt that they could not soften the terrors of a deathbed, or make the prospect of meeting his Judge less painful and appalling. Hawkins, who could not enter into his illustrious friend's more just and enlarged views of human guilt and frailty, confesses himself to have been “ very much surprised and shocked at such a declaration from such a man,” and proceeded therefore to urge for his comfort the usual arguments of extenuation. He reports that he “ told him that he conceived his life to have been a uniform course of virtue; that he had ever shewn a deep sense of, and zeal for, religion; and that, both by his example and his writings, he had recommended the practice of it; that he had not rested, as many do; in the exercise of common honesty, avoiding the grosser enormities, yet rejecting those advantages that result from the belief of divine revelation ; but that he had, .by prayer and other exercises of devotion, cultivated in his mind the seeds of goodness, and was become habitually pious.”
This was the rock on which numberless professed Christians have been fatally wrecked; and to the mercy of the Almighty must it be ascribed, that the great and good Dr. Johnson did not add one more to the melancholy catalogue. For what was the doctrine which the narrator attempted to inculcate but this ? that his friend, like the Pharisee in the Gospel, ought to place his confidence upon his possessing more 'merit than other men, and instead of attributing the praise to Him who had “ made him to differ," was to “ sacrifice to his own net, and burn incense to his own drag.” Can we wonder that with such flattering doctrines constantly sounding in his ears, Dr. Johnson was suffered to undergo much severe mental discipline, in order to reduce him in his own esteem to that lowly place, which, as a human, and consequently a fallen being, it was his duty, however high his attainments or his talents, to occupy.
The snare of spiritual pride, which Sir John Hawkins thus un.consciously spread för his dying friend, was the more seductive from
the circumstance of Dr. Johnson's life having been upon the whole correct and laudable, and from his writings having been eminently useful for the promotion of morality and virtue. The convictions of a profligate man might have been supposed too keen and alarming to be quieted by such commonplace soporifics; but where there was really so much apparent cause for self-complacency and gratulation, as in the case of Dr. Johnson, it must appear almost wonderful that the self-righteous delusion did not succeed.
It would undoubtedly have given this biographer much satisfaction to have heard from his friend the usual language of an unsubdued heart; “I thank God, that upon the whole I have acted my part well upon the stage of life. We are all frail and fallible, but I have no great sins to account for. I have been honest and charitable; my conduct, I trust, has been, with some few exceptions, 'one' uniform course of virtue ,' I therefore die in peace, looking forward to that happiness which, I trust, my actions have ensured, from a God of infinite mercy and compassion.” But to the humble and well e informed Christian, the penitential sorrows of Johnson, (springing, as they did, from a heart ill ate ease with itself, not so much on account of any, one flagrant sin, as from a general sense of the exalted nature of the divine law, and the imperfections of the best human obedience,) will appear a happier and surer pledge of his scriptural renovation of mind than the most rapturous expressions which pharisaic confidence could have produced.
The self-righteous arguments of Hawkins could not, however, touch the case of Johnson. “These suggestions," he continues, “made little impression on him; he lamented the indolence in which he had spent his life; talked of secret transgressions; and seemed desirous of telling me more to that purpose, than I was willing to hear.” Happy was it for Dr. Johnson, that his confessor's arguments produced so little effect, and that he was at length instructed by a better guide than his well meaning, but inexperienced friend, Throughout the whole of Ilawkins's remarks, the only topics of genuine Christian consolation appear to have had no place. That “ blood which cleanseth from all sin,” is scarcely, or only incidentally mentioned; and we find the narrator continuing, in the following strain, his inefficient consolations:
“In a visit which I made him in a few days, in consequence of a very pressing request to see me, I found him laboring under very great dejection of mind. He bade me draw near to him, and said he wanted to enter into a serious conversation with me; and upon my expressing my willingness to join in it, he, with a look that cut me to the heart, told me, that he had the prospect of death before him, and that he dreaded to meet his Saviour. I could not but be astonished at such a declaration, and advised him, as I had done before, to reflect on the course of his life, and the services which he had rendered to the cause of religion and virtue, as well by his example as his writings; to which he answered, that he had written as a philosopher, but had not lived like one. In the estimation of his offences, he reasoned thus; Every man knows his own sins, and what grace he has resisted. But to those of others, and the cir
cumstances under which they were committed, he is a stranger. He is, therefore, to look on himself as the greatest sinner that he knows of.' At the conclusion of this argument, which he strongly enforced, he uttered this passionate (impassioned] exclamation; 'Shall I, who have been a teacher of others, be myself a cast-away ?”
In this interesting passage-interesting as detailing the religious progress of such a mind as Dr. Johnson's—how many important facts and reflections crowd upon the imagination! We see the highest human intellect unable at the approach of death to find a single argument for hope or comfort, though stimulated by the mention of all the good deeds and auspicious forebodings which an anxious and attentive friend could suggest. Who that beholds this eminent man thus desirous to open his mind, and to “enter into a serious conversation” upon the most momentous of all subjects which can interest an immortal being, but must regret that he had not found a spiritual adviser who was capable of fully entering into his feelings, and administering scriptural consolation to his afflicted mind.
The narrator informs us in this passage, that "he could not but be, astonished at such a declaration” as that which Dr. Johnson made. But in reality, where was the real ground for astonishment ? Is it astonishing, that an inheritor of a corrupt and fallen nature, who is about to quit the world, and to be “judged according to the deeds done in the body," should be alarmed at the anticipation of the event, and be anxious to understand fully the only mode of pardon and acceptance?. Rather is it not astonishing that every other intelligent man does not feel at his last hour the same anxieties which Dr. Johnson experienced ?-unless, indeed, they have been previously removed by the hopes revealed in that glorious dispensation which alone undertakes to point out in what way the Almighty sees fit to pardon a rebellious world. No man would or could have been astonished who knew his own heart; for, as Dr. Johnson truly remarked, every Christian, how fair soever his character in the estimation of others, ought to look upon himself as “the greatest sinner that he knows of;" a remark, be it observed, which shows how deeply Dr. Johnson had begun to drink into the spirit of that great apostle, who, amidst all his excellencies, confessed and and felt himself the chief of sinners.”
What a contrast does the advice of Hawkins as stated by himself in the preceding passage form to the scriptural exhortations of our own church! Instead of advising his friend seriously to examine himself “whether he repented him truly of his former sins, stedfastly purposing (should he survive) to lead a new life, having a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death, and being in charity with all men," he bids him look back to his past goodness, and is astonished that the survey is not attended with the hope and satisfaction which he had anticipated. But the truth was, that on the subject of religion, as on every other, Dr. Johnson entertained far more correct ideas than the friends around him; and though he had not hitherto found peace with his Creator, VOL, I.