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both critical and practical, preparatory to his undertaking the pastoral office, to which he was determined to devote his life, and of the importance of which he had a deep sense upon his mind.”
Two years before Mr. Watts entered upon the ministry, he was invited by Sir John Hartopp, to reside in his family, at Stoke Newington, as tutor to his son. “I cannot," he says, “but reckon it among the blessings of Heaven, when 1 review those five years of pleasure and improvement, which I spent in his family in my younger part of life. And I found much instruction myself, where I was called to be an instructor.” If he had not, as may all but literally be said, sucked in the principle of dissent at his mother's breast, this was a household in which of all others he would have been most likely to imbibe it.
Lady Hartopp was the daughter of Fleetwood, not by Ireton's widow, but by his first wife, sole heiress of Thomas Smith, Esq. of Winston in Norfolk. The two families were doubly connected, Fleetwood's eldest son, Smith Fleetwood, having married the daughter of Sir Edward Hartopp; brother and sister thus marrying aunt and nephew. In history, Fleetwood is known as one who was more remarkable for his ambition than his abilities; but with the dissenters, in Dr. Watts's words, “his name is in honour among the churches,"--and not undeservedly; for that he was an amiable man in the relations of private life, seems certain ; and he gave proof of being a conscientious one, both in prosperity, and in what to him were evil days. When fiscal persecution was carried to its worst height, the fine levied at Stoke Newington, upon him, Sir John Hartopp, and others, (upon whom it is probable that but a small part of the burden fell,) amounted to six or seven thousand pounds.
Lady Hartopp “ affected retirement to such a degree,' that Watts, when he preached her funeral sermon, said, “it would have placed her in a wrong light to have drawn
out her virtues at length, and set them to public view." He therefore only interspersed a few hints of her eminent piety, as the text and argument led him into them. Sir John, who survived his lady ten years, and lived to the great age of eighty-five, was a person of sterling worth. He was three times, in Charles the Second's reign, returned to Parliament for the county of Leicestershire. By him it was that many of Owen's sermons were preserved, and from him many of the materials for a life of Owen (with whom he had lived in habits of intimate friendship) were cbtained : the sermons he had written down in shorthand, according to his constant practice; “by which means," says Dr. Watts, “he often entertained his family in the evening worship, on the Lord's-day, with excellent discourses copied from the lips of some of the greatest preachers of the last age.” On his death, Watts preached the only funeral sermon which he ever concluded with a distinct and particular character of the deceased. We are there told that “ though he knew what was due to his quality in this world, yet he affected none of the grandeur of life, but daily practised condescension and love, and secured the respect of all without assuming a superior air:" that “he shone with eminence among, persons of birth and title, while his obliging deportment and affable temper made him easy of access to his inferiors: that his conversation was pious and learned, ingenious and instructive:” that "he was inquisitive into the affairs of the learned world, the progress of arts and sciences, the concerns of the nation, and the interest of the church of Christ :" that “ he had a taste for universal learning ; that ingenious arts were his delight from his youth, mathematical speculation and practice a favourite study in his younger years, and that even to his old age he maintained his acquaintance with the motions of the heavenly bodies.” " But the book of God was his chief study and his divinest delight. His Bible lay before him night and
day ; and he was well acquainted with the writers that explained it best. He was desirous of seeing what the Spirit of God said to men in the original languages. For this end he commenced some acquaintance with Hebrew when he was more than fifty years old; and that he might be capable of judging of the true sense of any text in the New Testament, he kept his youthful knowledge of the Greek language in some measure even to the period of his life.” “His doors were ever open, and his carriage always friendly and courteous, to the ministers of the gospel, though they were distinguished among themselves by names of different parties, for he loved all that loved our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."
In this family Mr. Watts was happily situated and diligently employed ; and it was for the use of his pupil that he first drew up those rudiments, which at the repeated importunites of Mr. John Eames, the most learned of his friends, he afterwards enlarged and published, under the title of Logic, or the right Use of Reason. The book has been received into the English Universities; and Dr. Johnson says, “ if he owes part of it to Le Clerc, it must be considered that no man who undertakes merely to methodize or illustrate a system pretends to be the author."
In 1798, the year of his first appearance in the pulpit, he was chosen assistant to Dr. Isaac Chauncy, pastor of the Independent church, then meeting in Mark Lane; and in January, 1701-2, he accepted the invitation to succeed Dr. Chauncy in the pastoral office. That this acceptance was reluctantly given, and forced from him only by a sense of duty, appears by the terms in which it was expressed :
“Brethren, “ You know the constant aversion I have had to any proposals of a pastoral office for these three years. You know also that since you have given me an unanimous call thereto, I have proposed several methods for your settlement without me ; but your choice and your affections seemed to be still unmoved. I have objected my own indisposition of body; and I have pointed to three divines, members of this church, whose gifts might render them more proper for instructors, and their age for government These things I have urged till I have provoked you to sorrow and to tears, and till I myself have been almost ashamed. But your perseverance in your choice, your constant profession of edification by my ministry, the great probability you show me of building up this famous and decayed church of Christ, and your prevailing fears of its dissolution if I refuse, have given me ground to believe that the voice of this church is the voice of Christ. And to answer this call I have not consulted with flesh and blood; I have laid aside the thoughts of myself to serve the interest of our Lord. I give up my own ease for your spiritual profit and your increase. I submit my inclination to my duty; and in hopes of being made an instrument to build up this ancient church, I return this solemn answer to your call,—that, with a great sense of my own inability in mind and body to discharge the duties of so sacred an office, I do, in the strength of Christ, venture upon it; and in His name I accept your call, promising in the presence of God and his saints, my utmost diligence in all the duties of a pastor, so far as God shall enlighten and strengthen me. And I leave that promise in the hands of Christ our Mediator, to see it performed by me unto you, through the assistance of his grace and Spirit.”
Soon after his entrance upon this charge, he was seized with a dangerous illness; which after long confinement and a slow recovery, left him with a constitution so evidently impaired, that the congregation thought an assistant necessary, and accordingly, in July, 1703, appointed Mr. Samuel Price to assist him. Gradually, however, he recovered strength, and continued to officiate during some years with no material interruption : another illness then brought him to the brink of the grave; and when the fever was subdued, a nervous debility remained which for some years entirely incapacitated him for the functions of his office. Days were set apart by his congregation for prayers for his recovery, and many of his brethren in the ministry united in these supplications, “as men deeply impressed with the importance of his life.” It was necessary, however, that his place should be supplied, even when their prayers were so far answered as to remove any apprehension of a fatal termination; and by his own desire Mr. Price was elected to be joint pastor with him. This illness proved in its consequences the most important and most fortunate event of his life. Sir Thomas Abney invited him to try the effect of change of air, at his house at Theobalds : thither Watts went, intending to stay there but a single week, and there he remained six and thirty years, which was as long as he lived.
“Here,” says his first biographer, Dr. Gibbons, “he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, without any cares of his own, he had every thing which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuits of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess, the fragrant hower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages to soothe his mind, and aid his restoration to health ; to yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight. Had it not been for this happy event, he might, as to outward view, have feebly, it may be painfully, dragged on through many more years of languor and inability for public service, and even for profitable study; or perhaps might have sunk into his grave, under the overwhelming load of infirmities, in the midst of his days : and thus the church and the world would have been deprived of those many excellent ser