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ference, which bas too long dwelt upon them, and send them forth as evangelists, to do the Lord's bidding; but let them beware of assuming any other character than that of evangelists; let them fear the mingling of any merely political designation with their high calling; let them prove themselves superior to the transient political excitements of the day, and decline to mingle things of earth and heaven, satisfied with seeking to do their Master's business, and to call in his people. Thus will they best prove their devotion to their Church-thus best confirm her interests, and evince that her safeguards are to be found in the purity of her doctrines, and the apostolic zeal of her children,
LAST MOMENTS OF DOCTOR JOHNSON.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CHRISTIAN EXAMINER.
MR. EDITOR,—In a conversation some time since with some religious friends on the manner in which the influence of the Spirit smooths the bed of death, my attention was directed to the account of the last moments of the celebrated moralist, Dr. Johnson, as described by a modern author, in a volume of á Christian Essays.” I procured the book; and as I was much struck by the passage, and have reason to believe that many of your readers may be as unacquainted with it as I was, I beg to send it to you for insertion. I hope it may make the valuable work from which it is taken better known to your subscribers.
“The case of our great English moralist is a most decisive illustration of the impossibility of discovering any mode of solacing a' scripturally enlightened conscience than that which the Gospel has revealed. Had Dr. Johnson been ignorant of his sinfulness in the sight of God, he might have expired, as thousands every day expire, in a blind and fatal repose ; or had he been inclined to infidelity, he might have jested, like Hume, and others of a similar school, on the subject of his approaching dissolution. Neither, however, of these effects would have constituted that true peace which his spiritually directed mind so eagerly sought, and whicli, before his death, he most certainly obtained.
“ A few practical remarks upon the subject of the last hours of this illustrious man will not only be a forcible comment upon the foregoing propositions, but will tend to show that wbat Dr. Johnson's best biographers have been almost ashamed to confess, and have industriously exerted themselves to palliate, constituted, in truth, the most auspicious circumstance of his life, and was the best proof of his increase in religious knowledge and holiness of mind.
“ Whoever considers with a Christian eye the death of Dr. Johnson will readily perceive that, according to the usual order of Providence, it could not have been free from agitation and anxiety. Johnson was a man of tender conscience,
and one who from his very infancy had been instructed in Christian principles. But he was also, in the strict judgment of revealed religion, an inconsistent
Neither his habits nor his companions had been such as his own conscience approved ; and even a short time before his end we find one of his biographers lamenting that the visits of idle and some worthless persons were never unwelcome to him,' on the express ground that these things drove on time.' His ideas of morality being of the highest order, many things which are considered by men at large but as venial offences appeared to him as positive crimes. Even his constitutional indolence and irritability of mind were sufficient of themselves to keep him constantly humbled and self-abased ; and though among his gay or literary companions he usually appears upon the comparatively high ground of a Christian moralist, and the strenuous defender of revealed religion, yet compared with the Divine standard and test of truth, he felt himself both defective and disobedient.
“ Together with this conscientious feeling he had adopted certain incorrect, not to say superstitious, ideas, respecting the nethod of placating the Deity. He seems, for example, to have believed that penance, in its confined and popish sense, as distinguished from simple penitence, is of great avail in procuring the Di. vine favour and forgiveness. Thus when his conscience distressed him on account of an act of disobedience to his parent, we find him many years afterwards remaining a considerable time bare-headed in the rain, exposed in the public streets to the ridicule and the conjectures of every spectator. As far as filial affection and true amiableness of mind are concerned, the actor in such a scene deserves and ensures universal veneration and esteem. Even while we smile at the somewhat ludicrous nature of the action, we instinctively feel a sympathy and respect which perbaps a wiser but less remarkable mode of exhibiting his feelings might not have procured. But Johnson seems to have performed this humiliation from higher considerations than mere sorrow for the past ; for he emphatically adds, “ In contrition I stood, and I hope the penance was erpiatory."
“If these words really mean any thing--and when did Dr. Johnson utler words without meaning ?-he must have intended by them to express bis hope that the previous fault was really atoned for, in a religious sense, by the subsequent act of self-denial; or, in other words, that God accepts human penance as an expiation for human sins ; a doctrine to which revealed religion gives no sanction whatever. Johnson's system appears at this time to have been, as it were, a sort of barter between himself and heaven, and consequently his chief fear was lest the equivalent which he presented should not be sufficient to entitle him in the divine mercy to the pardon of his transgressions. His trust in the Redeemer, though perfectly sincere, does not appear to have been either exclusive or implicit; for though all his prayers
mercy and acknowledgments of blessings were offered up solely through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, he seems, in point of fact, for many years to have viewed the atonement rather as a medium through which God is pleased to accept our imperfect ser: vices and to make them adequate, by the conditions of a remedial law, to the purchase of heaven, than as a sacrifice by which alone heaven is fully secured and freely given to the believing penitent. Dr. Johnson's line of reading in Divinity was perhaps unfavourable to a full perception of Christian truth. The writings of Mr. Law, in particular, which he had studied with some attention, were by no means well adapted to his peculiar case. For a thoughtless, a frivolous, or an impenitent sinuer, the 6 Serious Call” might have been eminently useful in exciting a deep consciousness of guilt, a salutary remorse for the past, and holy resolutions for the future ; and as far as these elements of religion extend, the perusal of this celebrated book might have had some good effect upon the mind of Dr. Johnson. But in the consolatory parts of the Gospel, in the free and undisguised exhibition of a Redeemer whose sacrifice is perfect and all-sufficient, in the inculcation of the gracious promises of a reconciled Father to the returning prodigal, Law, and other writers of a similar school, are undoubtedly defective, and the same defect seems to have characterized for many years the views of our illustrious moralist. He lived in a perpetual dilemma by trusting to works which his well-informed conscience told him were not good, and yet on the goodness of which, in conjunction at least with the merits of Christ, he placed his dependance for eternity.
" To give therefore comfort to the mind of such a man as Dr. Johnson, there were but two modes ; either by blinding his conscience, or by increasing his faith; either by extenuating his sins, or by pointing out in all its glories the sufficiency of the Christian ransom. The friends who surrounded this eminent man during the greater part of his life, were little qualified to perform the latter, and therefore yery naturally resorted to the former. They found their patient, so to speak, in agony ; but instead of examining the wound and applyplying the remedy, they contented theniselves with administering anodynes and opiates, and persuading their aflicted friend, that there existed no cause of danger or alarm.
“ But Johnson was not thus deceived. The nostrum which had lulled its millions to a fatal repose, on him, by the mercy of God, had no effect. His convictions of sin were as lasting as they were deep; it was not therefore until he had discarded his natural and long.cherished views of commutation and human desert, and had learned to trust humbly and exclusively to his Saviour, that his mind became at peace.
“Let us view some of the recorded circunstances of the transaction, and in so doing we shall, as Christians, have much more occasion to applaud the scriptural correctness of Johnson's feelings respecting the value of his soul, and the guilt. of his nature, and the inadequacy of man's best merits and repentance, than to congratulate him upon the accesssion of such “miserable comforters' as those who appear to have surrounded his dying pillow.
“ Finding him in great mental distress, • I told him,' remarks one of his biographers,*
* • of the many enjoyments of which I thought him in possession, namely, a permanent income, tolerable health, a high degree of reputation for his moral qualities, and literary exertions,' &c. Had Johnson's depression of mind been nothing more than common melancholy or discontent, these topics of consolation would have been highly appropriate ; they might also have been fitly urged as arguments for gratitude and thanksgiving to the Almighty on account of such exalted niercies. In either of these points of view the piety of Dr. Johnson would doubtless have prompted him to acknowledge the value of the blessing, and the duty of contentment and praise. But, as arguments for quieting an alarmed conscience, they were quite inadequate, for what would it have profited this distinguished man, to have gained all his well-merited honours, or even were it possible, the world itself, if, after all, he should become, as he himself afterwards expressed it, ' a cast-away.”
• Sir John Hawkins.
“ The feelings of Dr. Johnson on this subject were more fully evinced on a subsequent occasion. One day in particular,' remarks Sir John Hawkins, ' when I was suggesting to him these and the like reflections, he gave thanks to Almighty God, but added, that notwithstanding all the above benefits, the prospect of death, which was now at no great distance from him, was now become terrible, and that he could not think of it but with great pain and trouble of mind.' Nothing assuredly could be more correct than Dr. Johnson's distinction. He acknowledges the value of the mercies which he enjoyed, and he gratefully 'gave thanks to Almighty God' for them ; but he felt thatfthey could not soften the terrors of a death bed, or make the prospect of meeting his Judge less painful and appalling. Hawkins, who could not enter into his illustrious friend's more just and enlarged views of human guilt and frailty, confesses himself to have been very much surprised and shocked at such a declaration from such a man,' and proceeded therefore to urge for his comfort the usual arguments of extenuation. He reports that he told him that he conceived his life to have been a uniform course of virtue ; that he had ever shown a deep sense of, and zeal for religion ; and that, both by his example and his writings, he had recommended the practice of it ; that he had not rested, as many do, in the exercise of common honesty, avoiding the grosser enormities, yet rejecting those advantages that result from the belief of Divine Revelation ; but that he had, by prayer and other exercises of devotion, cultivated in his mind the seeds of goodness, and was become habitually pious.'
“ This was the rock on which numberless professed Christians have fatally split; and to the mercy of the Almighty must it be ascribed, that the great and good Dr. Johnson did not add one more to the melancholy catalogue. For what was the doctrine which the narrator attempted to inculcate but this ? that his friend, like the Pharisee in the Gospel, ought to place his confidence upon his being more meritorious than other men, and instead of attributing the praise to him who had made him to differ,' was to sacrifice to his own net, and burn incense to his own drag.' Can we wonder that with such flattering doctrines constantly sounding in his ears, Dr. Johnson was suffered to undergo much severe mental discipline, in order to reduce bim in his own esteem to that lowly place, which as a human, and consequently a fallen being, it was his duty, however high his attainments or his talents, to occupy.
“ The snare of spiritual pride, which Sir John Hawkins thus unconsciously spread for his dying friend, was the more seductive from the circumstances of Dr. Johnston's life having been upon the whole correct and laudable, and from his writings having been eminently useful for the promotion of morality and virtue. The convictions of a profligate man might have been supposed too keen and alarming to be quieted by such common-place soporifics ; but where there was really so much apparent cause for self-complacency and gratulation, as in the case of Dr. Johnson, it must appear almost wonderful that the self-righteous delusion did not succeed.
" It would undoubtedly bave given this biographer much satisfaction to have heard from his friend the usual language of an unsubdued heart. • I thank God
the whole I have acted my part well upon the stage of life. We are all frail and fallible, but I have no great sins to account for. I have been honest and charitable ; my conduct, I trust, has been, with some few exceptions,
one uniform course of virtue; I therefore die in peace, looking forward to that happiness which, I trust, my actions have ensured, from a God of infinite mercy and compassion,' But to the humble and well-informed Christian, the
penitential sorrows of Johnson, (springing, as they did, from a heart ill at ease. with itself; not so much on account of any one flagrant sin as from a general sense of the exalted nature of the divine law and the imperfections of the best human ohedience,) will appear a surer pledge of his Scriptural renovation of mind than the most rapturous expressions which Pharisaic confidence could have produced.
“The self-righteous arguments of Hawkins could not, however, touch the case of Johnson. • These suggestions,' he continues, made little impression on him; he lamented the indolence in which he had spent his life ; talked of secret transgressions, and seemed desirous of telling me more to that purpose than I was willing to hear.' Happy was it for Dr. Johnson that his confessor's arguments produced so little effect, and that he was at length instructed by a better guide than his well-meaning, but inexperienced friend. Had the arguments of Hawkins effected their intended operation, we should have seen one of the greatest and most powerful minds that ever animated a human frame, quitting its frail receptacle in a flimsy robe of self-righteousness, which must have fallen from its grasp immediately after death, leaving the soul naked, and guilty, and defenceless before its Almighty Judge.
“ It is easy to conceive the language of a plain practical Christian while he stood beside the death-bed of such a man as Dr. Johnson, and poured in the balm of religious consolation. • I fully admit,' he might have said, “ your sins, yet I would point you to an all-powerful Saviour, and turn those very apprehensions and that godly sorrow into motives for repose. True, you are in yourself all that you have confessed yourself to be ; and if you were not, a Redeemer would be of no value, for Christ came not to heal the whole but them that are sick.' I rejoice that you thus feel and acknowledge your transgressions ; for though beyond most men you have cause for gratitude, though you have enjoyed God's highest gifts, though by his preventing grace, operating through the medium of a religious education and a tender conscience, you have been enabled to preserve a moral deportment, yet your righteousness extendeth not to God.' What you have you have received, and great therefore as may have been your talents, and useful as may have been your life, you have nothing so good and perfect as to be fit to offer to the Almighty as a claim to heaven. Yet, on the other hand, is not your very consciousness of guilt the best hope of safety, the brightest omen of pardon ? Has it not bowed you down in contrition ? Has it not taught you the inestimable value of the Redeemer's sacrifice and death ? You acknowledge yourself a sinner, and what is the characteristic of the Gospel, but that the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin ? On this rock only can you find a firm foundation for the hopes of a human soul; but here it may build securely amidst all the agitating storms of an alarmed conscience and a tempestuous world. Repose then upon your Saviour in simple and firm reliance, knowing that he possesses the same ability and will to be merciful to you as to him, who like you, confessed himself the chief of sinners, but who nevertheless found peace in his Redeemer, and was eventually filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Look then to Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith,' and to Him from whom • all good desires do proceed ;' contemplate the end, the nature, the extent, the value of the sacrifice of Christ, and see whether there be any scriptural reason why you should be excluded from its benefits. Look also to that Divine Spirit, who is the guide, the enlightener, the consoler, and the sanctifier of the Christian Church to subdue unbeliefto increase faith, and to implant a never-ending hope which