Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

• baptizo signiñes to wash' any thing properly by water coming over it." After mentioning what “learned men have argued” in proof of this assertion, he pleads for the manifestation of Christian charity among those who agree in so many important particulars and differ only in trifles. “Our brethren who reject infant baptism, as well as we who practise it, all agree in a belief of the sacred institution of this ordinance, and in a reverence for it; we all agree that children should be devoted to God, and should be partakers of all the utmost privileges iuto which the Scripture admits them, and that they should grow up under all possible obligations to duty; and since each of us desires to find out the will of Christ, and to practise accordingly, it is a most unreasonable thing we should be angry with each other.” In reply to the question, “ Who are the subjects of this ordinance of baptism, or to whom is it to be administered?” he states, “The first, the most proper, or, at least, the most evident subjects of it, are, persons who confess their sins, and profess to repent of them, and who accept of the grace and salvation offered in the gospel; but in the Christian church from its early ages, and we think from the apostles' time, it hath been the custom also to baptise the infant children of professed Christians; and though there be no such express and plain commands or examples of it written in the scriptures as we might have expected, yet there are several inferences to be drawn from what is written, which afford a just and reasonable encouragement to this practice, and guard it from the censure of superstition and will-worship.” The views of Dr. Watts were plainly those of the Piedobaptists in general; he regarded believing adults, who had not been baptised before, as proper subjects for the ordinance as well as the children of believers; and he was zealous for sprinkling, not as an exclusive mode of baptism, but as the mode most suitable for its ministration, which propriety and decency seem alike to suggest. In the year 1782 several pamphlets were published upon the baptist con

troversy by the Rev. John Carter, of Mattishall in Norfolk, and the Rev. William Richards, of Lynn. In one of his pamphlets Mr. Richards asserted, in reference to sprinkling not being the proper mode of baptism, that “ Dr. Watts told his friend Mr. G. (meaning Dr. Gibbons), that he wished infant baptism was laid aside.” This assertion occasioned a letter from Dr. Gibbons to Mr. Carter, of which the following is an extract :*

“ London, June 22, 1782.

“ Reverend Sir,

“I find it has been asserted in a publication, that Dr. Watts declared to me (for I am said to be the person referred to, though only the initial letter of my name, and not my name at length, is printed), that he wished infant baptism was laid aside. It is not a little disagreeable to me, that what I mentioned casually in conversation, without the least apprehension I should hear of it again in the public manner I have done, should have come into the press, and thence communicated to the world. But as this has been the case, it may not be improper, nay it may have become necessary, for me to give a plain account of the matter, which I shall do with the strictest regard to truth, and without the least tincture of partiality.

“ The doctor and myself were one day, perhaps two or three years before his decease, in a free converse together, when (I cannot recollect how the subject was introduced) he expressed himself to this purpose: that he had sometimes thought of a compromise with our Baptist brethren, by their giving up their mode of baptism, immersion, on the one side, and our giving up the baptism of infants on the other, as he had not observed any benefit arising from the administration of the ordinance to them. This was the whole, from what I

* Ivimey. iii. 222.

remember, the doctor said upon the point; which, in my opinion, falls much short of a declaration from him, that he wished infant baptism to be laid aside.” It would be highly desirable, for the sake of peace and the manifestation of Christian charity, if the Baptists and Independents were to merge into one body, as there is no difference between them as to doctrine or discipline, but upon the one point of baptism : Dr. Watts would, it appears, have conceded the baptism of infants, if the other party would have given up the immersion of adults; but no reason exists, why the object should not be effected without any such compromise, and these two powerful sections of the church be blended, each attending to its own peculiarities of observance, and tolerating one another in love. It may be hoped, from the recent infusion of liberal feeling into many of the Baptist churches, from the rapid abandonment of the odious practice of close communion, that the time is not far distant when a comprehension will be accomplished, and “Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.”

Mr. Coward's friendship for Dr. Watts, and attachment to the dissenting interest, have already been mentioned; and during the year 1734, among his other labours of love, the scheme of a college for the education of young men for the ministry was proposed by him. The seat of this institution he designed to have been at Walthamstow, where he resided; and the professorship of divinity he offered to Dr. Doddridge, whom he warmly solicited to remove from Northampton to take the charge. Dr. Watts was deeply interested in this design; his influence over Mr. Coward was employed to induce him to change various parts of his scheme; and it was owing partly to his advice, that the property he designed for the academy was vested in the hands of trustees. In several instances in which large benefactions had been left by will to the dissenting interest, tedious and expensive litigations had been instituted by interested parties, and the designs of the

testator had been often by this means defeated. Mr. Coward devoted upwards of twenty thousand pounds to the benevolent object he contemplated; and these large funds have since been faithfully appropriated to fulfil the wishes of the donor. He designed to furnish the dissenters with a learned ministry, to supply to them in some degree the advantages of the two national universities, which were closed against them by intolerant subscriptions; he evidently wished also to provide them with an orthodox ministry, and, hence, enjoined it upon all his lecturers, to make Christ the prominent theme of their discourses, and to educate the students in the principles of the Assembly's Catechism. To give full and entire effect to his wishes in this respect, to expend the property of the founder in instilling those religious views and principles which he sanctioned, has been carefully observed in the appointment of tutors and trustees : Dr. Doddridge was the first tutor, Dr. Watts was one of the first trustees. The academy was first placed at Northampton, and after subsequent removals to Daventry, and again to Northampton, where it was dissolved on account of the Arianism of its tutor, it was re-established at Wymondley, where for several years it has flourished.* Mr. Coward died in 1739, leaving behind him this monument of his benevolence, which has supplied the dissenting churches with a number of useful ministers, and which, under the direction of its present president, the Rev. T. Morell, is likely to prove a still more extensive blessing.

In March 1734 a collection of early compositions was published, under the title of “Reliquiæ Juveniles; or, Miscellaneous Thoughts, in prose and verse, on natural, moral, and divine subjects, written chiefly in younger years." This small volume is dedicated to the Countess of Hertford, whose permission the author appears to have requested. Of this work, familiar to most religious readers, it is enough to say with one of his biographers, “many of the pieces are highly beautiful; some few are on literary subjects, but the far greater part contain the effusions of piety from the lips of a man of genius. They ought to form part of the library of every young person of taste and seriousness."'* Soon afterwards the treatise on the “Sacrifice of Christ, and the Operations of the Spirit” appeared, probably in 1735, as a presentation copy is acknowledged by Bishop Gibson in that year. This is a conversation piece, and was published anonymously, with a view to recover those who had fallen into error, and to establish those who were wavering upon these important points of the Christian faith. Dr. Watts was grieved to see, as he remarks, “a new sort of Christianity” published and propagated, referring to the defection of his presbyterian brethren; some had already discarded the necessity of a Redeemer to atone, and a Sanctifier to renew; and had abandoned the peculiar truths of the gospel for the cold and cheerless dogmas of natural religion. His treatise is, therefore, an attempt to contend for the “faith delivered to the saints,” and proclaimed with such success from the pulpits of the first nonconformists; he states the inefficiency of human means to counteract the evils and to meet the exigencies of the fall; and the necessity of that provision which the gospel exhibits, for the judicial destitution of man in the atonement of Christ, and for his moral destitution in the influence of the Holy Spirit.

* The academy is about to be removed to London.

At the close of this year, a correspondence commenced between Dr. Watts and Edward Cave Esq. the proprietor, printer, and probably the original editor of the Gentleman's Magazine. This periodical which was then in its infancy, was fast rising in public estimation; and its respectable publisher, to encourage the correspondents to his miscellany, proposed rewards for the best poetical contributions upon certain given subjects. The first subject proposed was in the year 1733, on her Majesty's Grotto, and the poems written by the contend

• Memoirs prefixed to practical works, 27.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »