Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

gined; in duration it was unalterable. I soon lost all sense of religion, and became deaf to the remonstrances of conscience and prudence; but my regard for her was always the same: and I may perhaps venture to add, that none of the scenes of misery and wickedness I afterwards experienced ever banished her a single hour together from my waking thoughts for the seven following years," He thus gave up all idea of proceeding to Jamaica; and having thereby highly displeased his father, he went a voyage before the mast to Venice.

During this year, 1743, his habits became more and more depraved, until he received another remarkable check by a dream, which made a strong, but not very abiding, impression on his mind. The anxiety he endured in his waking hours seemed to give a colouring to his night-visions. He felt himself in great perplexity and horror. While musing on the wretchedness of his condition, there appeared suddenly a figure, who presented him with a ring, which, if preserved with care, would prove his safeguard, and extricate him from all trouble. He was overjoyed at the reception of it. Shortly after another personage made his appearance; and, making many artful insinuations, prevailed on him to part with the ring. Upon this terrific flames burst forth from a range of mountains which appeared behind the city of Venice; and he was taunted, and threatened with instant destruction. At this moment of horror, his former friend again appeared, and with a frown of mingled love and reproof, upbraided him for listening to the voice of the tempter. He descended into the water, and returned, bearing the ring, and thus addressed him,-"As thou art unable to retain this treasure, I will preserve it continually for you." Even an outline of this beautiful vision will exhibit to us the spiritual instruction with which it is replete. If left for one moment to our own strength, how soon do we all abandon "the ring," even at the first suggestion of the tempter! Then the soul is affrighted; but Jesus, our guardian, is able and willing to restore" the ring:" and lest we should lose it, he, in condescension to our infirmities, deigns to keep it. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee," is ever his language.

Soon after his return to England, Mr. N. was impressed, and sent on board the Harwich man-of-war: here he met with companions, who completed the ruin of his principles, by imbuing him with infidel notions; and he renounced the hopes and comforts of Christianity at the very time when every other comfort seemed about to fail him. He deserted the service; but, being captured, was sent back, and reduced to great misery; so much so, that his attachment at home alone kept him on several occasions from attempting his own life. Having at last received permission to exchange, he landed in Guinea, and there remained several years, in close connexion with the slave-trade; his habits of dissipation and vice being confirmed by the brutalising employment.

In 1747, he again came to England; and it was during the voyage home, by way of America, that the thoughts which led to the lasting change in his character were first whispered to his soul by the Spirit of God. Amid a series of great hardships from severe weather, he was led to Jesus as a mighty deliverer, whom he felt he needed; and he received strength to effect a thorough reformation of his conduct: from an infidel he became a sincere believer; and from a most inveterate swearer, a man whose words were modest and subdued. He made another voyage to the African coast; and was then married, in February 1750.

After this union with the object of his early choice, he still continued in the slave-trade, at that time carried on with no idea of its heinous criminality, making no less than three voyages to the African coast as commander of a fine ship. During the first of these voyages, he thus describes his manner of passing his time:

"I had now the command and care of many persons; I endeavoured to treat them with humanity, and to set them a good example. I likewise established public worship, according to the Liturgy, twice every Lord's day, officiating myself. Having now much leisure, I prosecuted the study of Latin with good success. I had heard Livy highly commended, and was resolved to understand him. I began with the first page; and laid down a rule, which I seldom departed from, not to proceed to a second period till I understood the first, and so on. I was often at a stand, but seldom discouraged; here and there I found a few lines quite obstinate, and was forced to break in upon my rule, and give them up, especially as my edition had only the text, without any notes to assist me But there were not many such; for, before the close of that voyage, I could (with a few exceptions) read Livy from end to end almost as readily as an English author."

During these voyages his growth in spiritual things was steady and decided, in despite of the disgusting nature of his occupation. He was very regular in the management of his time, allotting about eight hours to sleep and meals, eight to exercise and devotions, and the remaining eight to his books. He describes himself never to have known sweeter or more frequent hours of divine communion than in his two last voyages to Guinea, when he was either almost secluded from society on shipboard, or when on shore with none but natives; reflecting continually on the singular goodness of the Lord to him in a place where, perhaps, there was not a person who knew him for thousands of miles around.

66

In the year 1755, Mr. N., compunctious visitings of conscience having increased upon him, relinquished the slave-trade, and settled at Liverpool, having obtained the situation of tide-waiter. Here, being pos sessed of considerable leisure, he prosecuted his studies, commencing Greek and Hebrew, for the sake of the Holy Scriptures, with a distant hope of being able to enter the ministry. Upon this point, he remarks:My first desires arose years ago, from reflecting on Gal. i. 23, 24. I could not but wish for such an opportunity to testify the riches of Divine I grace. thought I was, above most living, a fit person to proclaim that faithful saying, 'Jesus Christ came into the world to save even the chief of sinners;' and as my life had been full of remarkable turns, and I seemed selected to shew what the Lord could do, I was in hopes that perhaps, sooner or later, he might call me into his service. My first thought was to join the Dissenters, from a presumption that I could not honestly make the required subscriptions to the canons, &c.; but my scruples being moderated, and preferring the Established Church in other respects, I accepted a title for orders in 1758, but met with a refusal from the Archbishop of York."

From that period to the year 1764, he employed his time in expounding wherever a door was opened to him. He preached occasionally among the Dissenters, and published a volume of sermons; but on the 29th of April, in the last-named year, he became a clergyman, being ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln to the curacy of Olney, Bucks. He entered immediately upon those duties, which, for fifteen years, he unremittingly discharged: he was a blessing not only to the parish, but to the whole neighbourhood for miles round. While here, he became acquainted with, and was made largely useful to, the pious, amiable, but afflicted poet, Cowper; and, jointly with him, composed the delightful collection of poetry, called the "Olney Hymns." He also published his " Narrative," some volumes of letters, and some other works. It was also during his residence at Olney, in 1774, that his friendship was formed with the excellent Scott the commentator, at that time in a state of mind somewhat resembling that of St. Paul before his journey to Damascus, but

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

who, being brought to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, in a great measure by Mr. Newton's instrumentality, was afterwards so "mighty in the Scriptures" to the conviction of others.

[ocr errors]

In the year 1779, the rectory of St. Mary, Woolnoth, in London, was presented to him, which, after considerable hesitation, he accepted, and came to the resolution of leaving Olney; and now (observes Mr. Cecil) 'a new and very distinct sphere of action and usefulness was set before him. Placed in the centre of London, in an opulent neighbourhood, with connexions daily increasing, he had now a course of service to pursue in several respects different from his former at Olney, Being, however, well acquainted with the word of God, and the heart of man, he proposed to himself no new weapons of warfare for putting down the strongholds of sin and Satan around him. He perceived, indeed, most of his parishioners too intent upon their wealth and merchandise to pay much regard to their new minister; but since they would not come to him, he was determined to go, as far as he could, to them; and therefore soon after his institution, he sent a printed address to his parishioners on the usual prejudices that are taken up against the Gospel." Mr. N. often spoke with great feeling on the circumstances of the important station in which we now view him. That one of the most ignorant, the most miserable, and the most abandoned of slaves, should be plucked from his forlorn state of exile on the coast of Africa, and at length be appointed minister of the parish of the first magistrate of the first city in the world; that he should there not only testify of such grace, but stand up as a singular instance and monument of it; that he should be enabled to record it in his history, preaching, and writings, to the world at large, was a fact (he said) he could contemplate with admiration, but never sufficiently estimate.

Among various friendships formed about this period, and the opportunities of forming which constituted one of the chief advantages of a residence in the metropolis, that with Mrs. Hannah More was not the least important to her his counsel and his correspondence were made highly useful in clearing and deciding her views on Christian subjects. This distinguished lady, who had been for several years a leading star in the first literary circles, was at that time beginning to break the spell of this powerful enchantment, and to forsake a life of celebrity for a life of usefulness. Her own memoirs have shewn with sufficient clearness, that in making this choice, the counsels, both public and private, of Mr. Newton, and a few other friends, were of the greatest service. A close correspondence with him she maintained till his death.

In the year 1790, his beloved wife was taken to her rest. For her he had long indulged in a continued habit of excessive attachment: indeed there may be said to be an air of romance thrown over the whole of his connexion with her; she was, as he confessed, the object of his idolatry. He made this remark on her death: "Just before Mrs. N.'s disease became so formidable, I was preaching on the waters of Egypt being turned into blood. The Egyptians had idolised their river, and God made them loathe it. I was apprehensive it would soon be a similar case with me." During the very affecting season of her dissolution, Mr. N., like David, wept and prayed; but the desire of his eyes being taken away by the stroke, he too, like David," arose from the earth, and came into the temple of the Lord, and worshipped," and that in a manner which surprised some of his friends.

It was shortly after this afflictive event that Claudius Buchanan, afterwards so celebrated in India, was introduced to his notice. He at a glance discerned the talents and character of the man, and assisted his prospects, until he procured ordination for him as his own curate, and promoted his success.

We now approach the last years of this faithful

minister's life; still it was a green old age-so much so, that it was with a mixture of delight and surprise that his friends and hearers beheld him bringing forth such a measure of fruit. Though almost eighty years old, his sight nearly gone, and incapable, through deafness, of joining in conversation, yet his public ministry was regularly continued, and maintained with a considerable degree of his former animation. His memory, indeed, was observed to fail; but his judgment in divine things still remained: and though some depression of spirits was observed, which he used to account for from his advanced age, yet his perception, taste, and zeal for the truths which he had long received and taught, were evident. Like aged Simeon, having "seen the salvation" of the Lord, he only now waited and prayed "to depart in peace."

After Mr. N. was turned of eighty, some of his friends feared he might continue his public ministrations too long, and pressed him to discontinue them. "I cannot stop!" he replied, with energy; "what! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?" He thus went on doing the work the Lord had committed to him till a few months before his death, which took place on the 21st December, 1807, in possession of his senses, though with faculties greatly subdued. "It is a great thing to die," he said; " and when flesh and heart fail, to have God for the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever. I know whom I have believed, and he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day."

As a preacher, Mr. N., though in many respects not seen to advantage in the pulpit, was deservedly popu lar. His capacity, and his habit of entering into the trials and experience of his people, gave the highest interest to his ministry among them: the parent-like tenderness and affection, which accompanied his instructions, made them prefer him to all other preach

crs.

Amid the extravagant notions and unscriptural positions, which have too frequently distracted the religious world, he never departed, in any instance, from soundly and seriously promulgating "the faith once delivered to the saints," of which his writings will remain the best evidence. His doctrine was strictly that of the Church of England, urged on the consciences of men in the most practical and experimental manner. I hope," said he, "I am, upon the whole, a scriptural preacher; for I am considered an Arminian among Calvinists, and as a Calvinist among Arminians."

[ocr errors]

As a pastor, his ministerial visits were exemplary. "I do not recollect one," says Mr. Cecil," though favoured with many, in which his general information and lively genius did not communicate instruction, and his affectionate and condescending sympathy impart comfort."

As a writer, little need be said of him here; his works are in wide circulation, and best speak for themselves. His sermons are valuable, creditable alike to his understanding and his heart. From his "Review of Ecclesiastical History," Milner was excited to pursue his idea more largely. Before this, the world seems to have lost sight of a history of vital Christianity, and 'to have been content with what, for the most part, was but an account of the ambition and politics of secular men, Christians in name, but " uncircumcised in heart and ears." Of his writings, his letters have been the most approved: they will be read while real religion exists. He esteemed that collection, published under the title of "Cardiphonia," as the most useful of the whole. All his works possess, in a very high degree, the merit of originality. They speak the language of the heart; they shew a deep experience of its religious feelings; a continual anxiety to sympathise with man in his wants, and to direct him to his only, never-failing resource, the grace of his Lord and Saviour, and the love of his God. Q.

CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY:
A Sermon,

BY THE REV. THOMAS VOWLER SHORT, M.A.
Rector of St. George, Bloomsbury.
1 JOHN, iii. 17.

the situation in which God has placed us.
We imitate, as far as our means will allow,
yea, and sometimes beyond our means, the
manners and customs which fashion has
authorised; we live in what the heathen poet
calls" ambitious poverty;" we ape a gran-
deur which is often a burden to us, and which
sometimes prevents us from using our wealth
as the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Money wisely spent does, by the wisdom and
mercy of God, produce more good in the
world than if it had been distributed in any
other manner; but still the so spending it
may prove injurious to him who employs it
in this manner. It is not necessary that every
one should follow the same plan in apportion-
ing his expenditure to the several channels in
which it is to flow; but no one can be acting
as the steward of God, unless he have formed
some scheme by which he may regulate the
distribution of his income. The despised

"Whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" It is important for us all frequently to recur to first principles, and to regard our conduct by the pure light of the Gospel. He who looks at his own proceedings by the reflected light of the good deeds of other men, may often be brought to shame, and confess that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for himself; but the usual, the natural conclusion to which we shall ordinarily arrive in such an investigation, the feeling of our own minds, when we compare ourselves with others,―will ordinarily be that we shall experience a secret self-satisfac-publican gave the half of his goods to feed tion, and thank God that we are not quite so the poor. The Mahometan law devotes onebad as other men are. Had we estimated the sixth of the income to this purpose. The same line of conduct of our own by the laws, Mosaic law dedicated one-tenth to sacred the plain and simple laws, which God has purposes, and bade the owner be liberal in the given us, we should have come to a con- use of the remainder. It is not necessary that clusion diametrically opposite. The great we should follow any one of these proporobject for which God has sent us into the tions; but he who has dedicated no portion world is, that we may so pass through things of his wealth to the service of God, may well temporal, that we finally lose not the things question whether Christ can in any sense call eternal. With this standard before us, with him his good and faithful steward. If he has this estimate of human life placed within view, not been faithful in that which is least, can we shall avoid many of those mistakes into he hope that he shall be found faithful in that which we might otherwise have fallen. It is which is a more important trust? no easy task to settle how any individual may best employ that portion of wealth with which the Almighty has intrusted him; but if he keep the eye fixed on this one object, if his treasure be laid up in heaven, he will find but little difficulty in arranging his trea

sure on earth.

The mass of those to whom I address myself have, to use the expression of the text, "this world's goods;" and, generally speaking, in England, most of us are not disposed to see our brother have need, and to shut up our bowels of compassion against him. There is among us, if we be regarded as a people, abundance of wealth, and no disinclination to supply the wants of the sick and needy. Thus far, then, it will not be necessary to enter on any distinct examination of our disregard of this text. Generally speaking, the people of England are not deficient in the due management of their property, or of a sincere regard for the wants of the poor. If there be a fault with which we are collectively chargeable, it is that of introducing too much display of wealth into the ordinary habits of life; the maintaining a style of every-day living which is inconsistent with

The sincere Christian will have some plan for the distribution of his alms. Now, without entering into minute details, we shall easily see that there are two schemes on which we may regulate our eleemosynary expenditure, and by which we may in some degree estimate this branch of our conduct; that is, by the proportion which our alms bear to our income, or by the inconvenience created to us and the self-denial exercised in the gift. He that hath two coats, and imparts to him that hath none, may be exposed to considerable inconvenience and difficulty by his bounty; or, it may cost him nothing to subtract a little from the store which Heaven has largely bestowed on him. In one sense, therefore, the greater the inconvenience produced by the act of kindness, the more highly may the deed be esteemed. God accepted the two mites of the widow, as her all. He who fasts because he has given his dinner to one who needed it more than himself, has not merely fed the hungry, but has denied himself, and followed Christ in so doing. The more liberal grant made from a large store wants this enhancing value. When Christ fed the five thousand, he supplied their want, but he

gave them that which cost him nothing; but when he died for us, he clothed himself with humanity, and gave up heaven-he took a low estate, and gave up what the world calls comforts he wished to convince us of the evil of our sins, and he gave up his life by a most painful death, that he might redeem us from our transgressions. There may be individuals of the middle or upper ranks of life who have expended large sums of money during their lives in charitable purposes, but who, from the sober, prudent manner in which their expenses are regulated, have never put themselves to the slightest personal inconvenience by any liberality which they have exercised. There may be others, who, with larger original means, have so wasted their resources on the first object which attracted their sympathy, that they have deprived themselves of the power of aiding one who is labouring under real distress. They give up all which is left to them; but this all is inadequate to effect what they desire. How shall we estimate the value of the ineffectual wishes of the one, or the prudent gift of the other, which is devoid of all selfdenial?

There is another very decided reason why we should devote a certain proportion of our fortune to charitable purposes, rather than wait till our alms are called forth by seeing some brother have need. Living as we do in this great metropolis, where the different orders of society are practically separated from much intercourse with each other, thousands might perish within a few streets of us, and no object of suffering be brought before our eyes. We might never see a brother have need. It must, however, be confessed that, generally speaking, there is a great readiness on the part of the rich to supply the urgent demands of the suffering poor. Where cases of obvious necessity occur, Christian charity will generally step in and relieve them. But the strongest demands for our assistance, those cases which are the most really pressing, never propose themselves to our notice. For how many years of the last century were the poor uneducated! How inadequately is the task of education performed even at the present day! How inadequately, even now, are the religious wants of the people among whom we reside provided for! They who think of these things cannot fail to grieve at them; but mere sorrow is useless: we must endeavour to prevent and to remedy the evil; and no momentary surrender can avail any thing in such a case. There must be prudent forethought and systematic arrangement. If we cast our eyes beyond the limits of England, and regard the condition of the heathen world, lying in darkness and the shadow of death, shall we suffer millions to perish in heathen blindness and hopeless unbelief, without any attempt at relieving them? Alas, how dwelleth the love of God in us? Look, again, at the thousands of our countrymen who are annually seeking a new earthly residence ; who, in the increasing tide of colonisation, are filling every quarter of the globe with the population which cannot find subsistence on their native shores: they carry with them, on many occasions, zeal and activity, intrepidity and skill; but they are often fearfully ignorant of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, sometimes decidedly vicious, and generally too much engaged in worldly objects to give a thought to the acquisition of those truths with which at present they are unacquainted. He who can regard these tremendous verities without anxiety, how dwelleth the love of God in him? It is not enough to pray that God may supply all these deficiencies. God alone can do so; but God's mercy would make us the instru ments by which this blessed work may be accomplished.

It is obvious that the mass of us cannot be

Thank God, we have not to decide on such questions. He that shall judge us knoweth whereof we are made, and remembereth that we are but dust; he knoweth our weaknesses, and will pardon them. But if we be the stewards of that wealth which God has committed to our care, we must strive to learn from the word of God how our great Lord and Master would wish us to regulate such matters: we must endeavour to ascertain and to comply with his blessed will. If we so proportion our expenditure to the calls which are made on our liberality, that we leave that which, in our sober judgment, we consider a due part of our income to be used for the benefit of others, we may then safely estimate our alms by the inconvenience which the bestowing them creates to us; and we shall find that it is really nothing; that we have gained more than we have lost by our earthly pruWe have relinquished some outward show, and obtained substantial comfort; we have lived as if our worldly station were a little lower than it really is, and we have obtained all the actual advantages of wealth; we have possessed rather more than we immediately required, and this is all that wealth can give but we must regulate our alms by prudence, or we shall find that a very small portion of our money so applied is devoted to a proper purpose; the benefit conferred on the destitute will be found to be small, and the inconvenience to which we are exposed will arise from our own want of prudence, rather than a sound principle of self-denial.

|

called to execute any part of such a task by
personal ministrations. To the majority of
us there are already assigned proper duties,
which we cannot relinquish with a safe con-
science but we cannot help observing the
evil; and if a Christian spirit pervade our
minds, we shall desire to obviate it. It is
not a momentary impulse, however strong;
it is not a sudden act of self-denial, however
sincere, which can overcome the difficulties
of which we are speaking. There must be
prudent forethought, judicious management,
persevering exertion, all guided by the Spirit
of God, and rendered effectual by his bless-duced in us.
ing. When we contemplate the extent of the
undertaking, it is not enough that we exclaim,
"Who is sufficient for these things?" Our
feeling will be, how can any one hope to
accomplish these plans of usefulness? How
can even the wisest, the most wealthy, the
most active, hope to produce any change for
the better? Alas! most of us shall find our
minds bewildered by the extent of the diffi-
culty, and most might relinquish it in despair;
might hardly venture to think upon so vast a
work; might say, May God accomplish it!
but what is it to me?

The reason why such works are important to ourselves is this, that our Almighty Father has ordained that the performance of such works shall contribute to the spiritual improvement of those who engage in them; that the minds of those persons who are occupied in the labour of the Lord are drawn nearer and closer to God by the very exertions which they make. When Christianity was first preached, God might have sent his angels to convert and to convince the fallen sons of Adam of their sin, and to place before them the remedy; to convey to them the knowledge of redemption through a crucified Saviour, of sanctification through a cleansing and purifying Spirit;-but he selected a race of humble, self-denying, holy men, to convey these glad tidings to a benighted world and no doubt these same apostles were rendered more humble, more holy, more self-denying, by the task in which they were thus employed. They were sent to do the work which angels might have done; but no doubt the doing of it rendered them more like the blessed angels, and more fit for that happy abode, among saints and angels, to which they were destined when their earthly career was closed. God might do every thing without the instrumentality of man, but he makes us the instruments: for while man becomes the agent of God, he is brought into a closer resemblance to God. The grace of God changes the natural man into the spiritual man by such means as Almighty Wisdom directs it may be by using the natural

powers of the man in doing the work of God. And so, too, the perfection of the servant of God may be accomplished by the employment of that servant in the work of God. If God calls on us to perform any thing for his glory, the call is dictated by divine mercy, and destined to benefit the agent employed in the sacred task. There is a work to be done. God chooses his own instruments; and if he destine us to fulfil that blessed office, we have every reason for thanking him. There are two objects, the good to be effected by us, and the good to be proGod can do it without us: he kindly allows us to share in the glorious task; and the share which we are permitted to take in the blessed work is the greatest blessing to ourselves. Therefore that heavenly goodness which enables us to share in any great and important labour of love, places before us the means whereby our own hearts may be reformed, be purified, be lifted up to God.

Looking, then, at the spiritual wants of our own country; looking at the wants of our countrymen, who are scattered in different regions of the earth without the means of grace; looking at the state of the heathen world,—we have much reason to be thankful to God that societies have been established which are calculated to lessen these evils, and to provide, in some degree at least, for the remedy of them; that is, we have reason for doing so with reference to the evil itself, and the means of preventing or of lessening it but we have much better reason to thank God for this with reference to ourselves; for that which will enable us to become fellowworkers, even in any degree, with those who are engaged in the work of the Lord. There may be persons who may subscribe largely to societies framed for these blessed purposes, who shall never derive any spiritual advantage from this which they perform without any spiritual motive. There may be persons whose subscribing largely is converted into a snare unto them, who fall into ostentation by it, or become inflamed by party spirit: but surely no one can regulate his pecuniary concerns wisely with reference to charitable objects, who does not devote a portion of his income to one or more, at least, of such societies as are framed for these large and extensive purposes, which cannot be carried on except by a large and numerous combination of the servants of God. I am not now pleading for the sake of any societies,-though I would heartily bid them good speed in the name of the Lord,--I am urging my hearers to join in such undertakings for their own sakes, because I believe that a portion of our alms bestowed in this way will promote the glory of God,

« PoprzedniaDalej »