Page images
PDF
EPUB

OTHER THEOLOGICAL WRITERS : TILLOTSON.

19

great city, the Empress of the world, whose domination and superstition, ancient and modern, make a great part of the history of this earth, what is become of her now? She laid her foundations deep, and her palaces were strong and sumptuous; she glorified herself and lived deliciously, and said in her heart, I sit a queen, and shall see no sorrow. But her hour is come, she is wiped away from the face of the earth, and buried in perpetual oblivion. But it is not cities only, and works of men's hands, but the everlasting hills and mountains and rocks of the earth are melted as wax before the sun; and their place is nowhere found. Here stood the Alps, a prodigious range of stone, the load of the earth, that covered many countries, and reached their arms from the ocean to the Black Sea : this huge mass of stone is softened and dissolved, as a tender cloud into rain. Here stood the African mountains, and Atlas with his top above the clouds. There was frozen Caucasus, and Taurus, and Imaus, and the mountains of Asia. And yonder, towards the north, stood the Riphæan Hills, clothed in ice and

All these are vanished, dropt away as the snow upon their heads, and swallowed up in a red sea of fire. Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints! Hallelujah.

OTHER THEOLOGICAL WRITERS :-TILLOTSON ; SOUTH.

Another name that may be here mentioned is that of Archbishop Tillotson, who was a very popular preacher among the Presbyterians before the Restoration, and began publishing sermons so early as in the year 1661, while he still belonged to that sect. He died in 1694, in his sixty-fourth year. Tillotson's Sermons, still familiarly known by reputation, long continued to be the most generally esteemed collection of such compositions in the language ; but are probably now very little read. They are substantial performances, such as make the reader feel, when he has got through one of them, that

snow.

he has accomplished something of a feat; and, being withal as free from pedantry and every other kind of eccentricity or extravagance as from flimsiness, and exceedingly sober in their strain of doctrine, with a certain blunt cordiality in the expression and manner, they were in all respects very happily addressed to the ordinary peculiarities of the national mind and character. But, having once fallen into neglect, Tillotson's writings have no qualities that will ever revive attention to them. There is much more of a true vitality in the sermons of Dr. Robert South, whose career of authorship commenced in the time of the Protectorate, though his life was extended till after the accession of George I. He died in 1716, at the age of eighty-three. South's sermons, the first of which date even before the earliest of Tillotson's, and the last after Tillotson's latest, are very well characterised by Mr. Hallam :-“They were,” he observes, much celebrated at the time, and retain a portion of their renown. This is by no means surprising. South had great qualifications for that popularity which attends the pulpit, and his manner was at that time original. Not diffuse, not learned, not formal in argument like Barrow, with a more natural structure of sentences, a more pointed though by no means a more fair and satisfactory turn of reasoning, with a style clear and English, free from all pedantry, but abounding with those colloquial novelties of idiom, which, though now become vulgar and offensive, the age of Charles II. affected, sparing no personal or temporary sarcasm, but, if he seems for a moment to tread on the verge of buffoonery, recovering himself by some stroke of vigorous sense and language ; such was the worthy Dr. South, whom the courtiers delighted to hear.

His . sermons want all that is called unction, and sometimes even earnestness; but there is a masculine spirit about them, which, combined with their peculiar characteristics, would naturally fill the churches where he might be heard."* Both South and Tillotson are considered to belong as divines to the Arminian, or, as it was then commonly called, the Latitudinarian school—as well as Cudworth, More, and Stillingfleet.

A few paragraphs from one of his discourses against long and extempore prayers, on Ecclesiastes v. 2, “ Be not rash with thy mouth,” &c., will exemplify his lively and pregnant style of preaching :

And, thus having shown how the Almighty utters himself when he speaks, and that upon the greatest occasions, let us now descend from heaven to earth, from God to man, and show that it is no presumption for us to conform our words, as well as our actions, to the supreme pattern ; and, according to our poor measures, to imitate the wisdom that we adore. And for this, has it not been noted by the best observers and the ablest judges, both of things and persons, that the wisdom of any people or nation has been most seen in the proverbs and short sayings commonly received amongst them ? And what is a proverb, but the experience and observation of several ages, gathered and summed up into one expression ? The Scripture vouches Solomon for the wisest of men; and they are his Proverbs that prove him so. The seven wise men of Greece, so famous for their wisdom all the world over, acquired all that fame, each of them by a single sentence consisting of two or three words; and yvūOl GEAUTÒv (Know thyself) still lives and flourishes in the mouths of all, while many vast volurnes are extinct, and sunk into dust and utter oblivion. And then, for books: we shall generally find that the most excellent, in any art or science, have been still the smallest and most compendious: and this not without ground; for it is an argument that the author was a master of what he wrote, and had a clear notion and a full comprehension of the subject before him. For the reason of things lies in a little compass, if the mind could at any time be so happy as to light upon it. Most of the writings and discourses in the world are but illustration and rhetoric, which signifies as much as nothing to a mind eager in pursuit after the causes and philosophical truth of things. It is the work of fancy to enlarge, but of judgment to shorten and contract ; and therefore this must needs be as far above the other as judgment is a greater and a nobler faculty than fancy or imagination. All philosophy is reduced to a few principles, and those principles comprised in a few propositions. And, as the whole structure of speculation rests upon three or four axioms or maxims, so that of practice also bears upon a very small number of rules. And surely there was never yet any rule or maxim that filled a volume, or took up a week's time to be got by heart. No, these are the apices rerum, the tops and sums, the very spirit and life of things extracted and abridged; just as all the lines drawn from the vastest circumference do at length meet and unite in the smallest of things, a point : and it is but a very little piece of wood with which a true artist will measure all the timber in the world. The truth is, there could be no such thing as art or science, could not the mind of man gather the general natures of things out of the numberless heap of particulars, and then bind them up into such short aphorisms or propositions, that so they may be made portable to the memory, and thereby become ready or at hand for the judgment to apply and make use of, as there shall be occasion.

* Lit. of Europe, iv. 177.

In fine, brevity and succinctness of speech is that which, in philosophy or speculation, we call maxim, and first principle ; in the counsels and resolves of practical wisdom, and the deep mysteries of religion, oracle; and lastly, in matters of wit, and the finenesses of imagination, epigram. All of them, severally and in their kinds, the greatest and the noblest things that the mind of man can show the force and dexterity of its faculties in.

And now, if this be the highest excellency and perfection of speech in all other things, can we assign any true, solid reason why it should not be so likewise in prayer? Nay, is there not rather the clearest reason imaginable why it should be much more so; since most of the forementioned things are but addresses to an human understanding, which may need as many words as may fill a volume to make it understand the truth of one line? Whereas prayer is an address to that Eternal Mind, which, as we have shown before, such as rationally invocate pretend not to inform. Nevertheless, since the nature of man is such that, while we are yet in the body, our reverence and worship of God must of necessity proceed in some analogy to the reverence that we show to the grandees of this world, we will here see what the judgment of all wise men is concerning fewness of words when we appear as suppliants before our earthy superiors; and we shall find that they generally allow it to import these three things: 1, Modesty ; 2, Discretion ; and 3, Height of respect to the person addressed to. And first, for modesty. Modesty is a kind of shame or bashfulness, proceeding from the sense a man has of his own defects, compared with the perfections of him whom he comes before. And that which is modesty towards man is worship and devotion towards God. It is a virtue that makes a man unwilling to be seen, and fearful to be heard ; and yet, for that very cause, never fails to make him both seen with favour and heard with attention. It Joves not many words, nor indeed needs them. For modesty, addressing to any one of a generous worth and honour, is sure to have that man's honour for its advocate and his generosity for its intercessor. And how, then, is it possible for such a virtue to run out into words? Loquacity storms the ear, but modesty takes the heart; that is troublesome, this gentle but irresistible. Much speaking is always the effect of confidence; and confidence still presupposes, and springs from, the persuasion

« PreviousContinue »