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Baxter was a man of enlarged and liberal views, and refrained from joining any of those sects into which the dissenters were, at that time, divided: he was, consequently, generally regarded with suspicion and dislike by the more narrow-minded among them. His character was, therefore, ex posed to much obloquy during his lifetime; but is now impartially judged, posterity having agreed to look upon him as one ardently devoted to the cause of piety and morality, esteeming worth in whatever denomination it was found ; and one who, to simplicity of manners, added much sagacity, as an observer of human affairs. By many even of his contemporaries his merits were amply acknowledged; and among his friends and admirers he had the honor to number Bishop Wilkins, Sir Matthew Hale, and many others of equal eminence. A few of the last years of his life were passed at Charter-house-yard, where, though far advanced in years, and oppressed with bodily infirmities, he preached every Sabbath morning, and lectured on each successive Thursday. His death occurred on the eighth of December, 1691, and he was buried in Christ's Church; a vast concourse of persons of different ranks, and many of the clergy of the established church, following his remains to the grave.
Baxter was one of the most voluminous writers in the English language. The remark of one of his biographers, that his works are sufficient to form a library of themselves, is scarcely an exaggeration; for no fewer than one hundred and sixty-eight publications are named in the catalogue of his works. Their contents, including controversies, and practical and theoretical divinity, are necessarily very various; and none of them are now much read, except the practical pieces, especially those entitled The Saints Everlasting Rest, and A Call to the Unconverted. The latter was so very popular when published, that twenty thousand copies are said to have been sold in a single year. His work entitled The Certainty of the World of Spirits fully evinced by unquestionable Histories of Apparitions and Witchcrafts, Operations, Voices, &c., is interesting to the curious, even at the present time. Baxter wrote a candid, liberal, and rational Narrative of the most Memorable Passages of his Life and Times, which was published in 1696, five years after his death. It is highly instructive, and, as well as Baxter's other writings, was greatly admired by Dr. Johnson. From this important production we select the following extracts
HIS JUDGMENT OF HIS WRITINGS. Concerning almost all my writings, I must confess that my own judgment is, that fewer, well studied and polished, had been better; but the reader who can safely censure the books, is not fit to censure the author, unless he had been upon the place, and acquainted with all the occasions and circumstances. Indeed, for the Saint's Rest,' I had four months' vacancy to write it, but in the midst of continual languishing and medicine; but, for the rest, I wrote them in the crowd of all my other employments, which would allow me no great leisure for polishing and exactness, or any ornament; so that I scarce ever wrote one sheet twice over, nor stayed to make any blots or interlinings, but was fain to let it go as it was first conceived;
and when my own desire was rather to stay upon one thing long than run over many, some sudden occasions or other extorted almost all my writings from me; and the apprehensions of present usefulness or necessity prevailed against all other motives; so that the divines which were at hand with me still put me on, and approved of what I did, because they were moved by present necessities as well as I ; but those that were far off, and felt not those nearer motives, did rather wish that I had taken the other way, and published a few elaborate writings; and I am ready myself to be of their mind, when I forgot the case that I then stood in, and have lost the sense of former motives.
And this token of my weakness so accompanied those my younger studies, that I was very apt to start up controversies in the way of my practical writings, and also more desirous to acquaint the world with all that I took to be the truth, and to assault those books by name which I thought did tend to deceive them, and did contain unsound and dangerous doctrine; and the reason of all this was, that I was then in the vigour of my youthful apprehensions, and the new appearance of sacred truth it was more apt to affect me, and be more highly valued, than afterward, when commonness had dulled my delight; and I did not sufficiently discern then how much, in most of our controversies, is verbal, and upon mutual mistakes. And withal, I knew not how impatient divines were of being contradicted, nor how it would stir up all their powers to defend what they have once said, and to rise up against the truth which is thus thrust upon them, as the mortal enemy of their honour; and I knew not how hardly men's minds are changed from their former apprehensions, be the evidence never so plain. And I have perceived that nothing so much hinders the reception of the truth as urging it on men with too harsh importunity, and falling too heavily on their errors ; for hereby you engage their honour in the business, and they defend their errors as themselves, and stir up all their wit and ability to oppose you. In controversies, it is fierce opposition which is the bellows to kindle a resisting zeal; when, if they be neglected, and their opinions lie awhile despised, they usually cool, and come again to themselves. Men are so loath to be drenched with the truth, that I am no more for going that way to work; and, to confess the truth, I am lately much prone to the contrary extreme, to be too indifferent what men hold, and to keep my judgment to myself and never to mention any thing wherein I differ from another on any thing which I think I know more than he; or, at least, if he receive it not presently, to silence it, and leave him to his own opinion; and I find this effect is mixed according to its causes, which are some good and some bad. The bad causes are, 1. An impatience of men's weakness, and mistaken forwardness and self-conceitedness. 2. An abatement of my sensible esteem of truths, through the long abode of them on my mind. Though my judgment value them, yet it is hard to be equally affected with old and common things, as with new and rare ones. The better causes are, 1. That I am much more sensible than ever of the necessity of living upon the principles of religion which we are all agreed in, and uniting in these ; and how much mischief men that overvalue their own opinions have done by their controversies in the church; how some have destroyed charity, and some have caused schisms by them, and most have hindered godliness in themselves and others, and used them to divert men from the serious prosecuting of a holy life; and, as Sir Francis Bacon saith, in his Essay of Peace, ' That it is one great benefit of church peace and concord, that writing controversies is turned into books of practical devotion for increase of piety and virtue.' 2. And I find that it is much more for most men’s good and edification, to converse with them only in that way of godliness which all are agreed in, and not by touching upon differences to stir up their corruptions, and to tell them of little more of your knowledge than what you find them willing to receive from you as mere learners; and therefore to stay till they crave information of you. We mistake men's diseases when we think there
needeth nothing to cure their errors, but only to bring them the evidence of truth. Alas! there are many distempers of mind to be removed before men are apt to receive that evidenee. And, therefore, that church is happy where order is kept up, and the abilities of the ministers command a reverend submission from the hearers, and where all are in Christ's school, in the distinct ranks of teachers and learners; for in a learning way men are ready to receive the truth, but in a disputing way, they come armed against it with prejudices and animosity.
CHARACTER OF SIR MATTHEW HALE. He was a man of no quick utterance, but spake great reason. He was most precisely just; insomuch that, I believe, he would have lost all he had in the world rather than do an unjust act. Patient in hearing the most tedious speech which any man had to make for himself. The pillar of justice, the refuge of the subject, who feared oppression, and one of the greatest honours of his majesty's government; for, with some other upright judges, he upheld the honour of the English nation, that it fell not into the reproach of arbitrariness, cruelty, and utter confusion. Every man that had a just cause, was almost past fear if he could but bring it to the court or assize where he was judge; for the other judges seldom contradicted him.
He was the great instrument for rebuilding London; for when an act was made for deciding all controversies that hindered it, he was the constant judge, who for nothing followed the work, and, by his prudence and justice, removed a multitude of great impediments.
His great advantage for innocency was, that he was no lover of riches or of grandeur. His garb was too plain; he studiously avoided all unnecessary familiarity with great persons, and all manner of living which signifieth wealth and greatness. He kept no greater family than myself. I lived in a small house, which, for a pleasant back opening he had a mind to; but caused a stranger, that he might not be suspected to be the man, to know of me whether I were willing to part with it before he would meddle with it. In that house he lived contentedly, without any pomp, and without costly or troublesome retinue or visitors; but not without charity to the poor. He continued the study of physics and mathematics still, as his great delight. He hath himself written four volumes in folio, three of which I have read, against Atheism, Sadduceism, and infidelity, to prove first the Deity, and then the immortality of man's soul, and then the truth of Christianity and the Holy Seripture, answering the infidel's objections against Scripture. It is strong and masculine, only too tedious for impatient readers. He said he wrote it only at vacant hours in his circuits, to regulate his meditations, finding that while he wrote down what he thought on, his thoughts were the easier kept close to work, and kept in a method. But I could not persuade him to publish them.
The conference which I had frequently with him, mostly about the immortality of the soul, and other philosophical and foundation points, was so edifying, that his very questions and objections did help me to more light than other men's solutions. Those who take none for religious who frequent not private meetings, &c., took him for an excellently righteous, moral man; but I, who heard and read his serious expressions of the concernments of eternity, and saw his love to all good men, and the blamelessness of his life, thought better of his piety than my own. When the pea ple crowded in and out of my house to hear, he openly showed me so great respect before them at the door, and never spake a word against it, as was no small encouragement to the common people to go on; though the other sort muttered, that a judge should seem so far to countenance that which they took to be against the law. He was a great lamenter of the extremities of the times, and of the violence and foolishness of the predominant clergy, and a great desirer of such abatements as might restore us all to serviceableness and unity. He had got but a very small
estate, though he had long the greatest practice, because he would take but little money, and undertake no more business than he could well dispatch. He often offered to the lord chancellor to resign his place, when he was blamed for doing that which he supposed was justice. He had been the learned Seldon’s intimate friend, and one of his executors; and because the Hobbians and other infidels would have persuaded the world that Seldon was of their mind, I desired him to tell me the truth therein. He assured me that Seldon was an earnest professor of the Christian faith, and so angry an adversary of Hobbes, that he hath rated him out of the room.
OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH IN BAXTER'S YOUTH. I can not forget, that in my youth, in those late times, when we lost the labours of some of our conformable godly teachers, for not reading publicly the book of sports and dancing on the Lord's Day, one of my father's own tenants was the town piper, hired by the year (for many years together), and the place of the dancing assembly was not an hundred yards from our door. We could not, on the Lord's Day, either read a chapter, or sing a psalm, or catechize, or instruct a servant, but with the noise of the pipe and tabor, and the shoutings in the street, continually in our ears. Even among a tractable people, we were the common scorn of all the rabble in the streets, and called puritans, precisians, and hypocrites, because we rather chose to read the Scriptures than to do as they did ; though there was no savour of nonconformity in our family. And when the people by the book were allowed to play and dance out of public service time, they could so hardly break off their sports, that many a time the reader was fain to stay till the piper and players would give over. Sometimes the morris-dancers would come into the church in all their linen, and scarfs, and antic-dresses, with morris-bells jingling at their legs; and as soon as common prayer was read, did haste out presently, to their play again.
THEOLOGICAL CONTROVERSIES. My mind being these many years immersed in studies of this nature, and having also long wearied myself in searching what fathers and schoolmen have said of such things before us, and my genius abhorring confusion and equivocals, I came, by many years' longer study, to perceive that most of the doctrinal controversies among Protestants are far more about equivocal words than matter; and it wounded my soul to perceive what work both tyrannical and unskillful disputing clergymen had made these thirteen hundred years in the world!, Experience, since the year 1643, till this year, 1675, hath loudly called me to repent of my own prejudices, sidings, and censurings of causes and persons not understood, and of all the miscarriages of my ministry and life which have been thereby caused; and to make it my chief work to call men that are within my hearing to more peaceable thoughts, affections, and practices. And my endeavours have not been in vain, in that the ministers of the country where I lived were very many of such a peaceable temper, and a great number more through the land, by God's grace (rather than any endeavours of mine), are so minded. But the sons of the cowl were exasperated the more against me, and accounted him to be against every man that called all men to love and peace, and was for no man as in a contrary way.
John Owen was the son of the vicar of Hadham, in Oxfordshire, and was born in that town, in 1616. His early proficiency in learning was such as to enable him to enter Queen's College, Oxford, before he was twelve years of age, and to take his master's degree before he was nineteen. The expenses of his education had been hitherto defrayed by an uncle, who de
signed him for the Established Church; but as he united with the Presbyterians soon after he left the university, he was abandoned by his uncle, and thrown upon his own resources. Having taken orders, he became chaplain to Lord Lovelace, with whom he resided when the civil war commenced. Owen at once sided with the parliamentary party; and though Lord Love lace favored the king, still such was his attachment to his chaplain, that he treated him with great kindness. When Lovelace was summoned to join the king's army, Owen went up to London, and from that time identified himself with the nonconformists, both in church and state. He was highly esteemed by the parliament that executed the king, and was frequently called upon to preach before them. Cromwell, in particular, was so much pleased with him, that when he went to Ireland, he insisted that Owen should accompany him thither, for the purpose of regulating and superintending the college of Dublin. After spending six months in that city, he returned to his ecclesiastical duties in England, from which, however, he was again soon called away by Cromwell, who took him, in 1650, to Edinburgh, where he also passed six months. Soon after his return to England, he was promoted to the deanery of Christ's Church College, Oxford, made doctor of divinity, and subsequently raised to the vice-chancellorship of the university, which office he held till Cromwell's death.
After the Restoration, Dr. Owen was particularly favored by Chancellor Clarendon, who solicited him to conform to the Established Church, and accept a bishopric. Owen was, however, in principle opposed to Episcopacy, and to conform, therefore, was out of the question. The persecution of the nonconformists repeatedly disposed him to emigrate to New England, but attachment to his native land prevailed, and kept him at home. Notwithstanding his decided hostility to the church, his amiable disposition and agreeable manners, procured him much esteem from many able churchmen, among whom was the king himself, who on one occasion sent for him, and after a conversation of two hours, gave him a thousand guineas to distribute among those who had suffered most from the recent persecutions. Owen continued to reside in London from the Restoration till a short time before his death, which occurred at his residence in Ealing, on the twenty-fourth of August, 1683.
Dr. Owen was a man of extensive learning and most estimable character. As a preacher, he was eloquent and graceful, and displayed a degree of moderation and liberality not very common among the sectaries with whom he was associated. His extreme industry is evinced by the voluminousness of his publications, which amount to no fewer than seven volumes, in folio, twenty in quarto, and about thirty in octavo. Of these the principal are, A Collection of Sermons, An Exposition on the Epistle of the Hebrews, A Discourse of the Holy Spirit, and The Divine Original and Authority of the Scriptures. In all his works, however, the style is very defective. He wrote too rapidly and carelessly to produce compositions either vigorous or beautiful. The graces of writing, were, indeed, confessedly held by him in con