Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

OF DR. ISAAC WATTS.

DR. ISAAC WATTS

625

1

ing short of his original design, still longer from the press and increased infr. pe he obserres,

[ocr errors]

proposed the same restorative scheme, int ages a different form of presentaHe earliest times the shadow" of was revealed

that the great in the atonement was the lesson the sacrificial knife and patriarchal ussity of regenerating grace, self-denial, a ved life, was preached unto them by Abraucision and Jewish washings - and that as was, and Christ met in friendly converse upon the

of transfiguration, debating the high mysteries of the .ch; so do the great principles of their several economies associate and harmonise, inculcating in emblem, figure, or plain announcement, the same fundamental doctrine, that “no man cometh unto the Father” but by Him who has made “one sacrifice for sins.” He notices at some length the cardinal truth of the gospel, the doctrine of justification by faith, what Luther styled the great evidence of a standing or falling church, "articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiæ.” The antinomian perversion of this article, one of the leading errors of the time, is carefully discriminated and guarded against: “Let it be always remembered," says he, “as under all former dispensations, so under the Christian, that this faith can never justify us if it be a dead faith, that is, such a faith as produceth no good works, that is, where there is time and opportunity for them." It is granted, that our obedience at the best is too defective to become a righteousness sufficient to justify; “yet reason itself constantly assures us, that God is too wise and holy a being, to pardon and accept or justify any creature who continues in constant and wilful disobedience. This would be a mere prostitution of his grace to the service of sin and the encouragement of farther disobedience. This would be to make God the patron of iniquity and Christ the minister of sin.” By the publication of these sentiments Dr. Watts gave offence to the hyper-calvinists, who replied by

author to recommend, as the papers of Addison or the poetry of Milton. It has already received the most distinguished applause from Johnson in the most popular of all his works. This applause is fresh in the memory of every man of reading. What consummate vanity would it betray in me, to add my recommendation to a work which has received the imprimatur of that great dictator in the republic of letters !"

The second part of the “Improvement of the Mind” is obviously inferior to the first, which may be owing to its being a posthumous publication, only partially corrected and revised by its author. The manuscripts which he designed for the press, but did not live to publish, he committed in his will to the care of Dr. Jennings and Dr. Doddridge, who found among them this supplemental treatise, accompanied with the following notice :-“ Though this book, or the second rolume of the ‘Improvement of the Mind,' is not so far finished as I could wish, yet I leave it among the number of books corrected for the press; for it is very easy for any person of genius and science to finish it, and publish it in a form sufficiently useful to the world. The editors nominated made but few additions or alterations in the work, which appeared in 1751, the last literary engagement of the lamented Doddridge, executed but three months before he departed to a more southern climate, to return no more to his native shores. In his correspondence there is an interesting letter from Nathaniel Neal, Esq., with reference to it.

In the following year he produced the “Harmony of all Religions which God ever prescribed to men, and all his Dispensations towards them.” This is a judicious and useful treatise, the production plainly of “a man of one book,” one who has attentively studied not only the letter of scripture but its spirit, the connexion of its several parts, and the harmony of the whole. It is designed to show, that God's dealings with the human family have been substantially the same under every dispensation ; that he has ever regarded them as

fallen creatures ; and proposed the same restorative scheme, though having in different ages a different form of presentation. He shows, that in the earliest times “the shadow" of

good things to come” was revealed that the great doctrine of pardon by faith in the atonement was the lesson taught the fathers by the sacrificial knife and patriarchal altar — that the necessity of regenerating grace, self-denial, a sober and mortified life, was preached unto them by Abrahamic circumcision and Jewish washings -- and that as Moses, Elias, and Christ met in friendly converse upon the mount of transfiguration, debating the high mysteries of the faith; so do the great principles of their several economies associate and harmonise, inculcating in emblem, figure, or plain announcement, the same fundamental doctrine, that “no man cometh unto the Father” but by Him who has made “one sacrifice for sins.” He notices at some length the cardinal truth of the gospel, the doctrine of justification by faith, what Luther styled the great evidence of a standing or falling church, "articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiæ.” The antinomian perversion of this article, one of the leading errors of the time, is carefully discriminated and guarded against: “Let it be always remembered,” says he, “as under all former dispensations, so under the Christian, that this faith can never justify us if it be a dead faith, that is, such a faith as produceth no good works, that is, where there is time and opportunity for them.” It is granted, that our obedience at the best is too defective to become a righteousness sufficient to justify; “yet reason itself constantly assures us, that God is too wise and holy a being, to pardon and accept or justify any creature who continues in constant and wilful disobedience. This would be a mere prostitution of his grace to the service of sin and the encouragement of farther disobedience. This would be to make God the patron of iniquity and Christ the minister of sin.” By the publication of these sentiments Dr. Watts gave offence to the hyper-calvinists, who replied by

representing his "genius as sunk,” and his judgment grown dim by infirmity; but uninfluenced in his purpose by evil report, he unsparingly condemned both from the pulpit and the press a notion dishonourable to the divine character, and subversive of the purity of the gospel.* The ordinary Christian will find much to edify in this theological tract; it exhibits the succession and coherence of the divine dealings; the first faint intiination, the gradual opening, and the full disclosure of the redeeming plan; and the lofty transactions of the final day, when every man shall be judged according to the economy

under which he lived. Early in the year 1742 Dr. Watts was corresponding with the Rev. Robert Blair, D.D. of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, the author of the highly popular poem entitled the “Grave.” An acquaintance had subsisted for some time between them, marked by mutual instances of literary civilities. When Blair was pressed by his friends in Scotland to publish his poem, he wrote to Stoke Newington for an opinion respecting its merits, forwarding the manuscript for perusal. “ Yesterday,” says he, “Feb. 24, I had a letter from the Doctor, signifying his approbation of the piece in a manner most obliging. A great deal less from him would have done me no small honour. But at the same time he mentions it to me, that he had offered it to two booksellers of his acquaintance,

* Mr. Ivimey relates the following alteration of a verse in one of Watts's psalms which he heard in one of the temples of high Calvivism:

“He raised me from the deeps of sin,

The gates of gaping hell,
And fix'd my standing more secure

Than 'twas before I fell.”

This representation not suiting the notions of the learned clerk, he palmed the following savoury morsel upon either David or his versifier :

“ And fix'd my standing most secure

In Christ before I fell.”

The important personage who perpetrated this amendment of the text, most likely did not explain the consistency between his most secure foundation and the subsequent catastrophe!

who, he tells me, care not to run the risk of publishing it. They scarcely thinking, considering how critical an age we live in, that a person living three hundred miles from London, could write so as to be acceptable to the fashionable and polite.” The poem, notwithstanding, was placed in the hands of Doddridge, and was soon afterwards published; and public opinion has since amply justified the favourable sentiments expressed by both. It is much to be regretted that Blair's letters to Dr. Watts have not been preserved, as they would have thrown light upon the character of that amiable and interesting man, of whom but little is known.

One of the greatest services rendered to the religious public by Dr. Watts, was suggesting the idea and forming the scheme of that highly popular and useful practical treatise, “The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul.” The design of this work was one of his benevolent projects; its plan was drawn out by him; and but for his growing infirmities he would have executed it. But compelled to abandon his purpose, he relinquished the task to Doddridge, who, after some hesitation, yielded to his importunity, and completed the performance in a manner so acceptable and beneficial to the world. The latter observes in a letter to Dr. Clark of St. Alban's, Dec. 15, 1743, “I am hard at work on my book of the Rise and Progress of Religion,' which Dr. Watts is impatient to see, and I am eager to finish, lest he should slip away to heaven before it is done.” A few days previous he had heard from Mr. Neal the following statement relative to his venerable friend: "Dr. Watts has been brought very low with a cholicky disorder, which seized him last week, but I hear he is now something better again.” The deep anxiety which Watts felt for the success of this production, appears from his letters: it had long been one of his favourite theological speculations: the composition of a work detailing the production and growth of spiritual feeling in the heart and its outward manifestations, he looked upon as likely to be of the

« FöregåendeFortsätt »