Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

easily have pursued these researches to a much greater length.He was well acquainted with ancient history, both civil and ecclesiastical; but he did not content himself with storing-up a number of facts in his memory, but made such observations and reflections upon them, as tended either to increase his acquaintance with human nature, to exemplify the interpositions of providence, or to explain and illustrate the sacred history.

But his favourite study, and that in which his chief excellency lay, was divinity, as taken in its largest sense. Whatever could tend to strengthen the evidences of natural or revealed religion, to assist our conceptions of the divine nature, or enable us more perfectly to understand the discoveries, which revelation has made, he thought deserved the most serious and attentive regard. Though he made himself familiarly acquainted with what others had written upon these subjects, he was not guided implicitly by their authority; but thought for himself, with that freedom, which became a philosopher and a christian. There were perhaps few men, who had more carefully studied the different systems of divinity, and could point out, with more judgment and accuracy, the defects of each. This appears from his lectures, published since his death; a work, which is, of itself, a sufficient proof of the extent of his learning and the soundness of his judgment, and of which some account has been already given. He was not one of those, who affect to treat the labours of wise and learned men, who have gone before them, with contempt, but was always ready to receive whatever light they could afford him; yet in forming his opinion on all matters of mere revelation, he took the scriptures for his guide, and, without any regard to human systems, endeavoured to find out the several truths they contained. As he was no slave to the authority of others, so he did not affect to distinguish himself by any of those peculiarities of opinion, which learned men are often fond of, and which in most instances are rather ingenious than solid. He chose to represent the doctrines of the New Testament in the same simplicity, in which he found them expressed by the sacred writers themselves: And of this the reader may judge for himself by his writings, already referred to.-There was no subject, which he had laboured with more care, and in which he was a greater master, than in the evidences of revelation. The view he has given of them in his lectures, is perhaps, the most complete and methodical of any extant. He had read with attention the most celebrated pieces on the side of infidelity, and has comprised in this work, a concise view of their principal arguments, with the proper answers to them.

-

As he had himself the fullest conviction, upon the most mature and impartial examination, of the truth of the gospel, and the weakness of all the attempts, which its adversaries have made to subvert it; so, he could represent his own views in so forcible a light, as was calculated to produce the same conviction in the minds of others.

Upon the whole; it may, I think, with great justice be said of Dr. Doddridge, that, though others might exceed him in their acquaintance with antiquity or their skill in the languages, yet in the extent of his learning, and the variety of useful and important knowledge he had acquired, he was surpassed by few.

As he had taken so much pains to furnish and adorn his own mind with the most valuable -knowledge, he was no less happy in his talent of communicating it to others. He was remarkable for his command of language, and could express himself with ease and propriety on every occasion. In his younger years he studied the English language with great care, and had formed his style upon the best models. It was remarkably polite and copious, though perhaps, in his later writings, rather too diffuse.. He excelled in the warm and pathetic; and there are in his practical works, many instances of true oratory, and the most animated moving address. He was well acquainted with all the graces of elegant composition: but he willingly sacrificed a part of that reputation he might have gained as a fine writer, to the more valuable consideration of promoting the interests of piety and virtue; and often studiously avoided those ornaments of style, which, though easy and natural to him, would have rendered his works less useful to plainer christians. As his own ideas on every subject he had studied, were clear and distinct, so his method of ranging his thoughts, when he had occasion to express them in writing, was remarkably just and natural. Perhaps we have few discourses in our language, where the divisions are made with greater accuracy, and the thoughts more strictly proper to the subject, than those which he delivered in his usual course of preaching.

Such then were the intellectual endowments with which he was honoured, and the valuable acquisitions he had made. They justly entitled him to a considerable rank in the learned

* He used to descant, in his lectures on the subjects treated of, with surprising perspicuity and freedom; and the same perspicuity and freedom attended him when hé took the pen in hand. This was owing to the orderly disposition in which things lay in his mind.-K.

[ocr errors]

world; but, great as they were, it may with the strictest truth be said, that he valued them chiefly, as they made him more capable of serving the interest of religion, and contributing to the happiness of mankind; to which great ends he had consecrated all his time and all his talents. He considered himself as a minister of Christ, and therefore thought it to be his principal business to save souls. But he had scope for exerting all his abilities in his office as a tutor, and opening to his pupils his ample stores of literature. By enriching them, he was enriching thousands in different parts of the kingdom, and making his learning more extensively useful, than it probably would have been, had he published ingenious and learned treatises, on speculative or not very interesting subjects.

We are now to consider him as an author; in which character he is in much reputation among many of the friends of virtue and religion of various persuasions, in these nations, in our colonies and upon the continent. He was not fond of controversy; and was determined, if he could possibly avoid it, never to engage in any of those disputes, which have been, and still are, agitated among protestants. He had often seen and lamented this, as the event of many a voluminous controversy, that "Men of contrary parties sat down more attached to their own opinions, than they were at the beginning, and much more estranged in their affections." He therefore left this work to others.

The first piece he published (except some papers on the present state of the republic of letters) can scarcely be called controversial, though it was an answer to another. This was entitled, "Free Thoughts on the most probable Means of Reviving the Dissenting Interest, occasioned by the late Enquiry into the Causes of its Decay; addressed to the author of that Enquiry," 1730.* He treats the author with great civility, and, instead of criticising upon his performance, offers some remarks which may be of general use: And they deserve the regard of all ministers. He points out the principal reasons, why many learned and good men are so unpopular and unsuccessful; and hath shewn great knowledge of human nature, and what careful observations he had made on the dispositions of mankind. This tract is little known, especially by our

*The writer of the enquiry was for a time supposed to be some lay gentleman; but, in fact, it came from the pen of a young dissenting minister, of the name of Gough, who afterwards conformed to the church; and who, in 1750, published a volume of sermons, which have considerable merit, as judicious and elegant compositions.

brethren of the established church; but at its first publication, it met with a favourable reception among persons of different parties and sentiments; and it deserves to be read, as a model of a candid, polite manner of remarking upon another author's writings and opinions.

The only proper controversy that he was ever engaged in, was with the author of a treatise, entitled, "Christianity not founded on Argument, &c." published in the year 1742, to whom he wrote Three Letters, which were published soon after one another in 1743. The author of this treatise, under the form of a most orthodox and zealous christian, pretends to cry up the immediate testimony of the spirit, and asserts its absolute necessity in order to the belief of the gospel; while at the same time he endeavours to expose all kind of rational evidence by which it could be supported, and advances several very cunning insinuations against the truth of it in the most pernicious view. Dr. Doddridge therefore chose to publish some remarks upon it; not only to defend christianity in general, but to explain and support some important truths of it, particularly the agency of the divine spirit, which some had denied, because others had misrepresented. He thought this treatise affected the foundations of natural as well as revealed religion; and that the ludicrous turns given to scripture in it, and the air of burlesque and irony, which runs through it, were very unbecoming a wise and benevolent man, or the infinite moment of the question in debate. But, while he thought himself called by providence to "plead the cause of the gospel, in the name of the God of truth, he was careful to do it in a manner worthy of him, and which might not offend him, as the God of love." He therefore addresses the author with the greatest calmness, seriousness and compassion; endeavouring to awaken his conscience, while he confuted his arguments. These answers met with much acceptance in the world, and he had letters of thanks for them from some persons of distinguished rank and abilities. The third part was esteemed by many judicious persons, the best illustration, and the most rational, full defence of the spirit's influences upon the human heart, which had been published.

In 1747, he published, "some remarkable passages in the life of Colonel James Gardiner, who was slain by the rebels at the battle of Preston-Pans, Sept. 21, 1745." He designed by this work, "not merely to perform a tribute of gratitude to the memory of an invaluable friend, but of duty to God and his fellow creatures; as he had a chearful hope that the narrative would, under a divine blessing, be the means of spread

[ocr errors]

ing a warm and lively sense of religion. He thought the Colonel's character would command some peculiar regard, as it shone amidst the many temptations of a military life." This piece has gone through several editions; and the author had the pleasure to hear of some instances, in which it had answered his desires and hopes; though many thought, and perhaps justly, that he too much indulged the emotions of private friendship and affection in the composition*.

*Two pamphlets were published, one at London, the other at Edinburgh, containing remarks on this performance. The first, which bears the name of John Kennedy, is too trifling to deserve further notice. The second is a very short one. The writer's principal design to charge our author with great want of candour and integrity; and the passage to which he thinks that charge applicable is this, § 111. "The most plausible objection, that I ever heard to Col. Gardiner's character, is, that he was too much attached to some religious principles, established indeed in the churches both of England and Scotland; but which have, of late years, been much disputed, and from which, it is at least generally supposed, that not a few in both have thought proper to depart; whatever expedient they may have found to quiet their consciences in subscribing those formularies, in which they are plainly taught. His zeal was especially apparent in opposition to those doctrines, which seemed to derogate from the divine honours of the Son and Spirit of God, and from the freedom of divine grace, or the reality and necessity of its operations in the conversion and salvation of sinners." By "being too much attached to some religious principles, &c." it appears, from what he adds afterwards, and by what I have heard him intimate, that he only meant, that the Colonel expressed himself with too much displeasure against some ministers, who denied these principles; especially such as had most solemnly professed to believe, and engaged to teach them; and he might, in the warmth of his zeal, drop some words, which might be injurious to them on this account. But the passage which this writer most highly resents is what follows, concerning some ministers departing from these principles. He calls this "a murdering stroke; a murdering stroke indeed, if the traducing of them as arrant knaves may be reckoned so; representing them as a set of men, who subscribe that they believe doctrines, from which they have thought proper to depart, to be agreeable to the word of God and founded thereupon, (for in those terms does the subscription of the ministers of the church of Scotland run) and then are employed in finding out expedients (which you cannot so much as guess at) to quiet their consciences in so doing.” He represents this, as an insinuation, as grossly false as it is maliciously and artfully thrown out. He denies this to be the case in the church of Scotland, with the clergy of which, he saith, he hath a pretty general acquaintance; and asserts, that "there is a regular and strict discipline in that church, which would soon pass a sentence of deprivation on any one, who should by overt acts, or declarations in words, shew, that he was departed from any of their established principles." It is sufficient to say, in answer to this charge, that our author grounded his supposition on what the Colonel himself had informed him from his own observation, of the artful manner in which tenets, contradicting the established formularies, had been maintained and insinuated by some ministers of that church, § 112; on what he had heard from other persons of judgment and integrity, who were either ministers in Scotland, or had spent some time at the Universities there; and on what he had personally known of and heard from, some divines of that communion. And indeed this writer allows it to be a supposition made by some among themselves. That it has been and is

« EdellinenJatka »