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MR. NEWTON'S CHARACTER.
THERE seems to be little need of giving a general character of Mr. N. after the particulars which appear in the foregoing Memoirs. He unquestionably was the child of a peculiar providence, in every step of his progress; and his deep sense of the extraordinary dispensation through which he had passed, was the prominent topic in his conversation. Those who personally knew the man, could have no doubt of the probity with which his Narrative (singular as it may appear) was written. They, however, who could not view the subject of these Me. moirs so nearly as his particular friends did, may wish to learn something farther of his character with respect to his LITERARY ATTAINMENTS—his MINISTRI— his FAMILY HABITS-his writings—and his FAMILIAR CONVERSATION.
Of his LITERATURE, we learn from his Narrative what he attained in the learned languages, and that by almost incredible efforts. Few men have undertaken such difficulties, under such disadvantages. It, therefore, seems more extraordinary that he should have attained so much, than that he should not have acquired more. Nor did he quit his pursuits of this kind, but in order to gain that knowledge which he deemed much more important. Whatever he conceived had a tendency to qualify him as a scribe well instructed in the kingdom of God, bringing out of his treasury things new and old”-I say, in pursuit of this point, he might have adopted the apostle's expression, "One thing I do.” By a principle so simply and firmly directed, he furnished his mind with much information: he had consulted the best old divines; had read the moderns of reputation with avidity; and was continually watching whatever might serve for analogies or illustrations, in the service of religion. "A minister,” he used to say, “wherever he is, should be always in his study. He should look at every man, and at every thing, as capable of affording him some instruction.” His mind, therefore, was ever intent on his calling-ever extracting something, even from the basest materials, which he could turn into gold.
In consequence of this incessant attention to his object, while many, whose early advantages greatly exceeded his, were found excelling Mr. N. in the knowledge and investigation of some curious abstract, but very unimportant points ; he was found vastly excelling them in points of infinitely higher importance to
In the knowledge of God, of his word, and of the human heart, in its wants and resources, Newton would have stood among mere scholars as his name-sake the philosopher stood in science among ordinary men.
I might say the same of some others who have set out late in the profession, but who, with a portion of Mr. N.'s piety and ardour, have greatly outstripped those who have had every early advantage and encouragement. Men with specious titles and high connexions have received the rewards; while men, like Newton, without them, have done the work.
With respect to his ministry, he appeared, perhaps, to least advantage in the pulpit ; as he did not generally aim at accuracy in the composition of his sermons, nor at any address in the delivery of them. His utterance was far from clear, and his attitudes ungraceful. He possessed, however, so much affection for
his people, and zeal for their best interests, that the defect of his manner Wus of little consideration with his constant hearers: at the same time, his capacity, and habit of entering into their trials and experience, gave the highest interest to his ministry among them.' Besides which, he frequently interspersed the most brilliant allusions, and brought forward such happy illustration of his subject, and those with so much unction on his own heart, as melted and enlarged theirs. The parent-like tenderness and affection which accompanied his instruction, made them prefer him to preachers, who, on other accounts, were much more generally popular. It ought also to be noted, that amidst the extravagant notions and unscriptural positions, which have sometimes disgraced the religious world, Mr. N. 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 one day to me, smiling, "I hope I am upon the whole a scriptural preacher : for I find I am considered as an Arminian among the high Calvinists, and as a Calvinist among the strenuous Arminians.”
I never observed any thing like bigotry in his ministerial character, though he seemed at all times to appreciate the beauty of order, and its good effects in the ministry. He had formerly been intimately connected with some highly respectable ministers among the dissenters, and retained a cordial regard for many to the last. He considered the strong prejudices which attach to both Churchmen and Dissenters, as arising more from education than from principle. But being himself both a clergy man and an incumbent in the Church of England, he wished to be consistent. In public, therefore, he felt he could not act with some ministers, whom he thought truly good men, and to whom he cordially wished success in their endeavours; and he patiently met the consequence. They called him a bigot, and he in return prayed for them that they might not be really such.
He had formerly taken much pains in composing his sermons, as I could perceive in one MS. which I looked through; and even latterly, I have known him, whenever he felt it necessary, produce admirable plans for the pulpit. I own I thought his judgment deficient in not deeming such preparation necessary at all times. I have sat in pain when he has spoken unguardedly in this way before young ministers: men, who, with but comparatively slight degrees of his information and experience, would draw encouragement to ascend the pulpit with but little previous study of their subject. A minister is not to be blamed, who cannot rise to qualifications which some of his brethren have attained; but he is certainly bound to improve his own talent to the utmost of his power: he is not to cover his sloth, his love of company, or his disposition to attend a wealthy patron, with the pretence of depending entirely on divine influence. Timothy had at least as good ground for expecting such influence as any of his successors in the ministry; and yet the apostle admonishes him to "give attendance to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine —not to neglect the gift that was in him—to meditate upon these things——to give himself wholly to them, that his profiting might appear to all.”
Mr. N. regularly preached on the Sunday morning and evening at St. Mary Woolnoth, and also on the Wednesday morning. After he was turned of seventy, he often undertook to assist other clergymen; sometimes even to the preaching six sermons in the space of a week. What was more extraordinary, tinued his usual course of preaching at his own church after he was fourscore years old, and that when he could no longer see to read his text! His memory and voice sometimes failed him; but it was remarked, that, at this great age, he was powhere more collected or lively than in the pulpit. He was punctual as to time with his congregation; and preached every first Sunday evening in the month on relative duties. Mr. Alderman Lea regularly sent his carriage to convey him to the church, and Mr. Bates sent his servant to attend him in the pulpit'; which friendly assistance was continued till Mr. N. could appear no longer in public.
His ministerial visits were exemplary. I do not recollect one, though favoured with many, in which his general information and lively genius did not commu. nicate instruction, and his affectionate and condescending sympathy did not leave comfort.
Truth demands it should be said, that he did not always administer consolation nor give an account of characters, with sufficient discrimination. His talent did not lie in “discerning of spirits.” I never saw him so much moved as when any friend endeavoured to correct his errors in this respect. His credulity seemed to arise from the consciousness he had of his own integrity, and from that sort of parental fondness which he bore to all his friends, real or pretended. I knew one, since dead, whom he thus described, while living—"He is certainly an odd man, and has his failings; but he has great integrity, and I hope is going to heaven." Whereas almost all who knew
him thought the man should go first into the pillory!
In his FAMILY Mr. N. might be admired more safely than imitated. His excessive attachment to Mrs. N. is so fully displayed in his Narrative, and confirmed in the two volumes he thought proper to publish, entitled, " Letters to a Wife,” that the reader will need no information on this subject. Some of his friends wished this violent attachment had been cast more into the shade, as tending to furnish a spur, where human nature generally needs a curb. He used, indeed, to speak of such attachments, in the abstract, as idolatry; though his own was providentially ordered to be the main hinge on which his preservation and deliverance turned, while in his worst state. Good men, however, cannot be too cautious how they give sanction, by their expressions or example, to a passion, which, when not under sober regulation, has overwhelmed not only families, but states, with disgrace and ruin.
With his unusual degree of benevolence and affection, it was not extraordinary that the spiritual interests of his servants were brought forward, and examined severally every Sunday afternoon; and that, being treated like children, they should
grow old in his service. In short, Mr. N. could live no longer than he could love; it is no wonder, therefore, if his nieces had more of his heart than is generally afforded to their own children by the fondest parents. It has already been mentioned, that his house was an asylum for the perplexed and afflicted. Young ministers were peculiarly the objects of his attention : he instructed them, he encouraged them, he warned them; and might truly be said to be a father in Christ, “spending and being spent” for the interest of his church. In order thus to execute the various avocations of the day, he used to rise early; he seldom was found abroad in the evening, and was exact in his appointments.
Of his writings, I think little need be said here; they are in wide circulation, and best speak for themselves. What I shall observe upon them, therefore, will be general and cursory:
The Sermons Mr. N. published at Liverpool, after being refused on his first application for Orders, were intended to show what he would have preached, had he been admitted ; they are highly creditable to his understanding and to his heart. The facility with which he attained so much of the learned languages seems partly accounted for, from his being able to acquire, so early, a neat and natural style in his own language, and that under such evident disadvantages. His Review of Ecclesiastical History, so far as it proceeded, has been much esteemed ; and, if it had done no more than cite the Rev. J. Milner (as that most valuable and instructive author informs us it did) to pursue Mr. N.'s idea more largely, it was sufficient success. Before this, the world seems to have lost sight of a history of real Christianity, and to have been content with what, for the most part, was but an account of the ambition and politics of secular men, assuming the Christian name.
It must be evident to any one, who observes the spirit of all his sermons, hymns, tracts, &c. that nothing is aimed at which should be met by critical investigation. In the preface to his hymns, he remarks, " Though I would not
offend readers of taste by a wilful coarseness and negligence, I do not write professedly for them. I have simply declared my own views and feelings, as I might have done if I had composed hymns in some of the newly discovered islands in the South sea, where no person had any knowledge of the name of Jesus but myself."
To dwell, therefore, with a critical eye on this part of his public character, would be absurd and impertinent, and to erect a tribunal to which he seems not amenable. He appears to have paid no regard to a nice ear, or an accurate reviewer ; but, preferring a style at once neat and perspicuous, to have laid out himself entirely for the service of the church of God, and more especially for the tried and experienced part of its members.
His chief excellence seemed to lie in the easy and natural style of his epistolary correspondence. His letters will be read while real religion exists; and they are the best draught of his own mind. He had so largely communicated to his friends in this way, that I have heard
"he thought, if his letters were collected, they would make several folios."
He selected many of these for publication, and expressed a bope, that no other person would take that liberty with the rest, which were so widely spread abroad. In this, however, he was disappointed and grieved, as he once remarked to me; and for which reason I do not annex any letters that I received from him. He esteemed that collection published under the title of Cardiphonia” as the most useful of his writings, and mentioned various instances of the benefits which he heard they had conveyed to many.
His Apologia, or defence of conformity, was written on occasion of some reflections (perhaps only jocular) cast on him at that time. His Letters to a Wife, written during his three voyages to Africa, and published 1793, have been received with less satisfaction than most of bis other writings. While, however, his advanced age and inordinate fondness may be pleaded for this publication, care should be taken lest men fall into a contrary extreme; and suppose that temper to be their wisdom, which leads them to avoid another, which they consider as his weakness. But his Messiah, before mentioned, his Letters of the Rev, Mr. Vanlier, chaplain at the Cape, his Memoirs of the Rev. John Cowper (brother to the poet,) and those of the Rev. Mr. Grimshaw of Yorkshire, together with his single sermons and tracts, have been well received, and will remain a public benefit.
I recollect reading a MS. which Mr. N. lent me, containing a correspondence that had passed between himself and the Rev. Dr. Dixon, principal of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford ; and another MS. of a correspondence between him and the late Rev. Martin Madan. They would have been very interesting to the public, particularly the latter, and were striking evidences of Mr. N.'s humility, piety, and faithfulness; but reasons of delicacy led him to commit the whole to the flames.
To speak of his writings in the mass, they certainly possess what many have aimed at, but very few attained, namely originality. They are the language of the heart; they show a deep experience of its religious feelings, a continual anxiety to sympathize with man in his wants, and to direct him to his only resources.
His CONVERSATION, and familiar habits with his friends, were more peculiar, amusing, and instructive, than any I ever witnessed. It is difficult to convey a clear idea of them by description. I venture, therefore, to add a few pages of what I may call his table-talk, which I took down at different times, both in company and in private, from his lips. Such a collection of printed remarks will not have so much point as when spoken in connexion with the occasion that produced them : they must appear to considerable disadvantage thus detached, and candid allowance should be made by the reader on this account. They, however, who had the privilege of Mr. N.'s conversation when living, cannot but recognize the speaker in most of them, and derive both profit and pleasure from these remains of their late valuable friend; and such as had not, will (if I do not mistake) think them the most valuable part of this book.
MADE BY MR. NEWTON
IN FAMILIAR CONVERSATION.
While the mariner uses the loadstone, the philosopher may attempt to investigate the cause; but after all, in steering through the ocean, he can make no other use of it than the mariner.
If an angel were sent to find the most perfect man, he would probably not find him composing a body of divinity, but perhaps a cripple in a poor-house, whom the parish wish dead, and humbled before God with far lower thoughts of himself than others think of him.
When a Christian goes into the world, because he sees it is his call, yet, while he feels it also his cross, it will not hurt him.
Satan will seldom come to a Christian with a gross temptation : a green log and a candle may be safely left together; but bring a few shavings, then some small sticks, and then larger, and you may soon bring the green log to ashes.
If two angels came down from heaven to execute a divine command, and one was appointed to conduct an empire, and the other to sweep a street in it, they would feel no inclination to change employments.
The post of honour in an army is not with the baggage, nor with the women.
What some call providential openings are often powerful temptations ; the heart, in wandering, cries, Here is a way opened before me; but, perhaps, not to be trodden, but rejected.
Young people marry as others study navigation, by the fire-side. If they marry unsuitably, they can scarcely bring things to rule; but, like sailors, they must sail as near the wind as they can. I feel myself like a traveller with his wife in his chaise and one; if the ground is smooth, and she keep the right pace, and is willing to deliver the reins when I ask for them, I am always willing to let her drive.
I should have thought mowers very idle people; but they work while they whet their scythes. Now devotedness to God, whether it mows or whets the scythe, still goes on with the work.
A Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven; if he be but a shoe-cleaner, he should be the best in the parish.
In chosing my text, I feel myself like a servant to whom a key has been given, which opens a particular drawer, but who has not the bunch of keys, which open all the drawers. I therefore expect to be helped to only one text at a time.
My course of study, like that of a surgeon, has principally consisted in walking the hospital.
In divinity, as well as in other professions, there are the little artists. A man may be able to execute the buttons of a statue very neatly, but I could not cal. him an able artist. There is an air, there is a taste, to which his narrow capa city cannot reach. Now in the church, there are your dexterous button-makers.
My principal method for defeating heresy, is by establishing truth. One proposes to fill a bushel with tares ; now if I can fill it first with wheat, I shall defy his attempts. When some people talk of religion, they mean they have heard so many ser