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SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF REV. JOHN ERSKINE, D.D..
Extracted from a Sermon delivered on his death, by Rev. Dr. Kemp. DR. ERSKINE was born June tion, and accuracy of reasoning, 2d, 1721. He descended from for which he was distinguished. one of the most respectable fam- But, notwithstanding his fair ilies in Scotland. His father,
prospects of eminence in a pro. eminent for talents as a Lawyer fession, which was deemed by his and Professor of Law, became friends best suited to his rank in still more eminent by his valua. society, as well as to the ad. ble publications, which are uni. vancement of his fortune, his versally regarded in our Courts mind was still fondly turned to of Justice, as of the highest au- Divinity, and he at length obthority
tained the reluctant consent of By birthright Dr. Erskine his family, to attend exclusively was entitled to a very considera. to that profession. After spend. ble patrimonial estate. His bod- ing the usual number of years ily constitution was, from the in diligent preparatory studies beginning, delicate, and his stat. he obtained a license to preach ure small and slender ; but his the gospel, from the Presbytery mind was strong and vigorous, of Edinburgh. acute and active : his thirst for Among his first appearances knowledge insatiable, and his in the pulpit, he preached from memory singularly retentive. a text, which was thought pe
His mind, impressed with a culiarly applicable to his own deep sense of piety, was early character and circumstances—I turned to Theology, as his fa. had rather be a door keeper in vorite study ; but law was the the house of my God, than dwell profession for which he was in- in the tents of wickedness.' tended by his family. Accord. In May, 1744, at the age of ingly at the close of his collegi. twenty-three, he was ordain. ate course, he entered upon the ed Minister of Kirkintillock, a study of law, in which he made country parish in the Presbytery very considerable
progress. of Glasgow; thence he was reTo his proficiency in this science moved, in 1753, to the collegiate has been justly ascribed much Church of Culross; thence, in of that subtilty of discrimina. 1758, he was called to be one of VOL. II. New Series.
the ministers of Edinburgh, first Thoroughly acquainted with of the 'New-Gray, Friars,' af- the whole system of evangelical terwards, in 1767,of the collegi. doctrine, in all its harmony of ate Church of the Old-Gray, parts, his sermons on the grand Friars,' where, with much fidel. subjects of faith were explicit ity and acceptance, he continued and perspicuous.
His object regularly to officiate, till the in. never was to exhibit himself, to creasing infirmities of old age excite admiration, or extort ap. obliged him, reluctantly, to re- plause ; but, in all the simpli. tire from the duties of the pul. city of plain, though ardent and pit.
energetic, language, to convey As a preacher, no man ev. instruction to the understand. er spoke with more earnestness ings, and deeply to impress the and fervor, nor conveyed to his hearts, of his hearers. In the hearers a stronger impression application of the doctrines, of the deep-felt power upon his facts and precepts of Scripture own mind, of the sacred truths to the widely diversified characwhich he delivered to others. ters of mankind, and the regula. His manner was not graceful, tion of human conduct, he was was his pronunciation gov. exceeded by none.
He was erned by modern rules; he spoke deeply versed in that science with unaffected simplicity, in the which has the heart of man for accent and manner to which its object. He could pursue it he had been accustomed from his into its intricate mazes and wind. youth. But the good sense ings, and address himself with with which he never failed to the happiest effect to all the di. speak upon all subjects; the so- versities of character and conlidity and acuteness of his expo. duct. sitions of Scripture ; the poig. In conducting the devotion. nancy of his remarks upon life al parts of worship, whether in and manners ; and the general public, or private social meetimportance and interesting na. ings for religious purposes, the ture of the doctrines which he de. earnestness of his manner and livered commanded the atten. tone of voice, the felicity of his tion and reached the hearts of expressions, and particularly his numerous hearers. For ma. his happy adaptation of those ny years no preacher was ever of Scripture to the occasion, ren. more admired, or attended with dered him in this, as in many more crowded audiences. The other respects, a model to all his hearers of Dr. Erskine forgot brethren in office. Of what he his trifling defects, forgot even was both as a divine and a preathe preacher himself, and attende cher, the world is able to form ed only to the sacred truths some judgment from the few of which flowed from his lips. his compositions which he was
In an intimate and extensive persuaded to publish. Unforacquaintance with Scripture, few tunate it was that his extreme if any, of his brethren of the modesty, and his disposition ev. present age could compare with er to prefer others to himself, him; and as a lecturer he emi. prevented his giving more of them nently excelled,
to the press.
volume of his sermons, on prac. reflect upon the original quick. tical subjects, which he intended, ness of his powers of perception, can now be prepared for public and the strength of his memory, cation, cannot yet be ascertain. and are informed that during But from those sermons
the whole course of a which have already appeared, he was an indefatigable student, men of taste and discernment
you may well believe that his will perceive, amidst great neg. erudition was various, extensive, lect of ornament, much sound and profound. Such was his sense, and much interesting and constant thirst for knowledge, important truth, conveyed in a that even in old age it suffered plain, perspicuous, manly style. no abatement; and till within
In the private duties of the a very few hours of his death, his pastoral office, no man was ever studies were continued. more faithful and laborious,
Besides what are usually than the good man of whom we called the learned languages, in are speaking. In visiting the each of which he excelled, he sick, especially, he was most read most of the modern ones, assiduous; and in this branch which contained books of charof duty he eminently excelled.acter in science, particularly in The uncommon tenderness and Theology. The German he acsensibility of his heart; his ex- quired with astonishing celerity, tensive experience of personal at an advanced period of life, and domestic distress; his inti. for the sake of the various and mate knowledge of the human important literary information, heart, and of the topics best which a multitude of books in adapted to sooth and direct its that language contain. One feelings in affliction; and the thing remarkable in Dr. Erskine singular delicacy of his manner was, the uncommon rapidity and address; all concurred to with which he read. As his ac. render his visits a much valued quaintance with many subjects cordial in every house of mourn. of literature was extensive and ing.
intimate, he seemed to catch the As a member of the eccle. sense of an author almost in. siastical courts, though he had tuitively while he turned over not very often the good fortune the pages a book; yet such to side with the majority, yet was the comprehensiveness of his upon all occasions he failed not mind, and the tenaciousness of to deliver his
own sentiments his memory, that all that was with manly freedom, and gener, new and important in it, he could ally spoke with so much good compendize and rehearse with sense, and acuteness of argument, astonishing readiness and fluency, as failed not to command the at. for the information of others. tention and respect of all who
In the exercise of this uncom
mon and invaluable talent he was Shall we speak of Dr. Ers. most useful and entertaining, kine as a scholar? When you particularly to his younger
brethren. Often they applied to * Another volume has since been puh. him for information concerning lished.
new books (for his reading was
exceedingly various) and they tleman. But what in a peculiar seldom failed of receiving in.
endeared this amiable struction and delight.
man to those who intimately Time would fail were knew him, was, the generous to attempt, a rehearsal of what warmth and sensibility of his we knew and are happy to recole heart. With the tenderest con. lect of Dr. Erskine, as a Chris. cern he took part in whatever in. tian, a friend, and a companion. terested his friends, and sympaDeep, heartfelt, uniform pie- thized in all their feelings. He ty was the reigning characteris. literally wept when they were in tical feature of his mind. It ap- affliction, and with heartfelt sat, peared, not in loud, ostentatious isfaction rejoiced in all their displays, por in the solemn ser. prosperity. vices of religion merely ; it was So feelingly alive was he to manifested in the whole tenor of acts of kindness shewed to him. his uniformly sensible, nay, self, that he was at loss for terms en in his most cheerful, conversa. by which to express his grati. tions. So great was the univer. tude, when he discovered even a sal persuasion of this, and such disposition in any one to oblige was the veneration in which he hin). His attachment to his friends was held in all companies, that was unalterable, and nothing the man would have been deem. but proof of unworthiness could ed brutish, and would have been detach his regard from those on tolerated in no society, however whoin he had once bestowed it. licentious in principle or prac
After this it is unnecessary to tice, who would have dared to add, that he was the tenderest of utter an unbecoming expression husbands, of parents, and masin his presence.
ters. But while he thus command. Few men ever endured more cd respect by the known piety frequent or more severe domes. and purity of his mind, no man tic afilictions. Of
chil. was more remote from a for- dren whom he buried, some were bidding formality or austerity of cut off at an early age, but some manners ; he was ever cheerful, were grown to full maturity, social, and often facetious. His and were the comfort of his life various and extensive reading, and the staff of his old
It his ample knowledge of facts and
was impossible that any man characters, and his accurate could feel more acutely under recollection of them, furnished these severe trials; yet no man him with anecdotes and observa. ever exhibited a more striking tions suited to every occasion, display of patience and christian and which with equal precision fortitude in bearing them. and vivacity he communicated. If we were to begin to speak “ His speech was always sea. of Dr. Erskine's enlarged be. soned with salt, ministering nevolence and his unwearicd zeal grace to the hearers. No manev. to promote the best interests of er more completely united the pi. his fellow creatures, we should ety of the divine, and the erudi. not know when to have done. tion of the scholar, to the po. His ample fortune he seemed ng liteness and arbanity of the gen- otherwise to enjoy, than as 'he
employed it in doing good. His respect from the public, yet no liberality to the indigent flowed man was ever more humble in in an unceasing stream. But mind, or unassuming in manners, the most prominent feature of than Dr. Erskine.
His great his benevolence was, his concern aim was to be a follower of Him, for the interest of religion who was meek and lowly in heart. among his fellow men, and his We have given but a few traits active zeal, to promote its ad. of the character of the amiable vancement both at home and and excellent man whose death abroad. This was a flame which
we now deplore; but from these burned in his bosom, with unceas. few may be formed some idea of ing vigor, to the end of his days. his superior worth, and of the
For many years he acted loss which his family, his friends, with uncommon diligence and ex. and the church have sustained ertion as one of the Directors of by his removal. But let us not "the Society in Scotland for pro. forget the thanks we owe to the pagating christian knowledge;' Supreme Disposer of all events and when no longer able to at. for having spared him so long, tend their meetings, he still took to exhibit a bright pattern of a peculiar concern in their af. virtue to a degenerate age. Let fairs. To the end of his life he us bless God on his own ac. was consulted in that branch of count, that, notwithstanding their business which related to much bodily weakness, his mind America. His correspondence retained to the last the full, un. with learned and eminent di. clouded use of all its powers, vines in the United States of and that the peace of his last days America, Holland, and Germany, was interrupted by no long con.
extensive and frequent. tinued sickness or acute bodily Few, of course, among his pain. Never did a good man, contemporaries were possessed prepared for heaven, take his of so accurate a knowledge of departure from earth in circum. the state of religion in different stances more devoutly to be parts of the world. Many books wished. At nine o'clock in the from his ever well furnished lic evening he read and studied in brary he sent to his correspon. a book of Theology in the Ger. dents abroad; many he pur.
man language; at the usual hour chased for that end ; and not a he retired to rest. Before four few he sent, from time to tiine, o'clock next morning, without to clergymen in remote parts of one convulsive pang or groan, his own country, whose libraries he fell asleep, to awake only in were but scantily supplied, and those blessed realms where they who had little access to books that be wise, shine as the bright. elsewhere. To hear of the la. ness of the firmament, and they bors and success of faithful min. that turn many to righteousness, isters of Christ, was his peculiar as the stars for ever and ever.' delight.
Mark the perfect man, and beBut though thus eminent for hold the upright, for the end of talents, literature, and usefulness, that man is peace.' and though no man ever enjoyed N.B. Dr. Erskine died Jan. 19, more universal and unqualified 1803, in the 820 year of bis age.