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ROBERT SOUTH, D.D.
PREBENDARI OP WESTMINSTER AND CANON OF CHRIST CHURCI, OXON.
CHIEF HEADS OF THE SERMONS,
A BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR,
DR ROBERT SOUTH.
Robert South was born at Hackney, in 1633. His father was an eminent London merchant, and his mother, whose maiden name was Berry, belonged to a good Kentish family. In 1647, after distinguishing himself by his progress in the preliminary studies, he was admitted a king's scholar at Westminster, where he remained for four years under the tuition of the celebrated Dr Busby. Even so early as 1649 he gave a decided indication of that attachment to an established form of government in Church and State, for which he was conspicuous through life, by praying for Charles I. by name, while reading the Latin prayers in the school on the day of that monarch's execution.
In 1651, he was elected, at the same time with John Locke, a student of Christ Church, Oxford, where he soon attracted attention by his attainments. He took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1655, and in the same year published a panegyric in Latin verse, on Oliver Cromwell, on the occasion of his conclusion of the peace with the Dutch, a circumstance which, of course, did not escape the enemies of Dr South in after years, who readily ascribed to unsteadiness of principle, what doubtless was the mere exercise of scholarship upon a theme imposed by his superiors in the University, and as to which he had himself no choice. It was certainly the last compliment he ever paid to Cromwell. The subject was one in which an unwilling eulogist could escape into convenient generalities. Such as it was, however, we may infer, from the fact of its publication, that it carried the palm from its competitors. By his adherence to the liturgy and ritual of the Church of England, South appears to have given offence to the members of the dominant political party, who then held the control of the University, and one of them, Dr John Owen, who was Vice-Chancellor at the time, opposed his obtaining the degree of Master of Arts. Owen, who had himself been regularly ordained to holy orders, had been one of the first to join the protector's party, and displayed the usual activity of renegades against the adherents of the creed which they have themselves deserted. Having learned that South continued to worship according to the liturgy, he reprimanded him severely, and after threatening him with expulsion on a repetition of the offence, said, that “he could do no less in gratitude to his highness the protector, and his other friends, who had thought him worthy of the dignities he then stood possessed of.” South, with characteristic terseness and wit, replied, that “gratitude among friends is like credit among tradesmen. It keeps business up, and maintains the correspondence ; and we pay not so much out of a principle that we ought to discharge our debts, as to secure ourselves a place to be trusted another time;"
;"* and in reply to Dr Owen’s reference to the protector and his other great friends,
* For a similar train of sentiment see a fine passage, beginning; “ But if a poor old decayed friend, &c.” in the sermon upon “ The Wisdom of this World,” vol. I. p. 71, post.
“ Commonwealths,” he said, “put a value upon men as well as money, and we are forced to take them both, not by weight, but according as they are pleased to stamp them, and at the current rate of the coin.” Sarcasms so poignant riveted the doctor's enmity, but fortunately for South, a majority of those with whom the power of conferring the degree lay, was in his favour, and he received it in 1657. In 1659 he was admitted to holy orders by a deprived bishop, and commenced his ministry by an attack upon the Independents, which aptly heralded the long series of assaults against these and other sectarians, which he afterwards made, with a force of style, and a power of graphic humour, that must have crippled their influence more effectually than any other species of opposition. In the assize sermon, which he was selected to preach before the judges at Oxford, in 1659, speaking of the fanatical teachers of the time, who, while they preached purity, self-denial, and liberty of conscience, gave in their lives a commentary of sensuality, self-seeking, and intolerance, he says, “When such men preach of self-denial and humility, I cannot but think of Seneca, who praised poverty, and that very safely, in the midst of his riches and gardens, and even exhorted the world to throw away their gold, perhaps (as one well conjectures) that he might gather it up: so these desire men to be humble, that they may domineer without opposition.
But it is an easy matter to commend patience, when there is no danger of any trial, to extol humility in the midst of honours, to begin a fast after dinner.” The piece of painful maceration here alluded to is said to have been actually practised by an Independant congregation at Oxford.
The Restoration left him free to launch his satire and ridicule unsparingly against the sectarians, and in his adınirable sermon, “ The Scribe Instructed,” which he preached before the king's commissioners, on 29th July, 1660, after a beautiful detail of the requisites of a Christian teacher, we find a description, touched with his usual wit, of a class who, unfortunately, have survived his sarcasm. “ First of all,” he says, “ they seize upon some text, from whence they draw something which they call doctrine; and well may it be said to be drawn from the words, forasmuch as it seldom naturally flows or results from them. In the next place, they branch it into several beads, perhaps twenty, or thirty, or upwards. Whereupon, for the prosecution of these, they repair to some trusty concordance, which never fails them, and, by the help of that, they range six or seven scriptures under each head; wbich scriptures they prosecute one by one - - first amplifying and enlarging upon one for some considerable time till they have spoiled it; and then, that being done, they pass to another, which in its turn suffers accordingly. And these impertinent and unpremeditated enlargements they look upon as the motions, effects, and breathings of the Spirit, and therefore much beyond those carnal ordinances of sense and reason, supported by industry and study; and this they call a saving way of preaching, as it must be confessed to be a way to save much labour, and nothing else that I know of.”It was to this sermon that he in some measure owed his appointment as the public orator of the University, which took place in August, 1660.
Some time after this he was appointed chaplain to the Chancellor Clarendon, whose attention had been directed to him by an oration delivered by South in his capacity of public orator, upon the occasion of Clarendon's installation as Chancellor of the University. This opened the door for his advancement, and he was installed Prebendary of Saint Peter's, Westminster, on 30th March, 1663. He obtained his degree of Doctor of Divinity, in the October of that year, after some opposition on the ground of his being a Master of Arts of only six years' standing. This difficulty was overruled, doubtless, from
“ that he could say more in behalf of his religion than they could ; and that he never heard a good cause managed so ill, nor a bad one so well.” Dr South had originally been proposed as the party to conduct this controversy on the part of the church of England along with Dr Jane, but he was objected to by the king, to whom his invectives from the pulpit against the Papists had made him unacceptable.
Notwithstanding his opposition to the king in matters of religion, his loyalty, which was based upon extreme notions of the right divine of kings, remained unshaken. During Monmouth's rebellion, he professed himself ready, if occasion required, to change his black gown for a buff-coat; and when the archbishop of Canterbury, and the bishops who subscribed the invitation to the prince of Orange to come over, applied to him for his signature, his answer was, that “his religion had taught him to bear all things ; and howsoever it should please God that he should suffer, he would, by the divine assistance, continue to abide by his allegiance, and use no other weapons but his prayers and tears for the recovery of his sovereign from the wicked and unadvised counsels wherewith he was entangled.”
It was some time before South gave in his adherence to the new government; but after the abdication of James, and the settlement of the crown on the Prince and Princess of Orange, he considered that James's desertion of his kingdom put an end to his claims upon the allegiance of his subjects. He therefore withdrew his opposition, and acknowledged the legality of the Revolution settlement. Offers were made to promote him to one of the episcopal sees vacated by the non-juring bishops, but these he declined, declaring with a noble spirit, “ that notwithstanding he himself saw nothing contrary to the laws of God, and the common practice of all nations, to submit to princes in possession of the throne, yet others might have their reasons for a contrary opinion ; and he blessed God, that he was neither so ambitious, nor in want of preferment, as, for the sake of it, to build his rise upon the ruins of any one father of the church, who for piety, good morals, and strictness of life, which every one of the deprived bishops was famed for, might be said not to have left their equals.”
South, who was extremely jealous of all encroachments upon the power and dignities, as well as upon the ritual, of the Established Church, was by no means friendly to the Act of Toleration. He had used his most vigorous efforts on behalf of the Liturgy and forms of prayer, with the Commissioners appointed by the king in 1689, with the view to an union with dissenting Protestants, anxiously maintaining that they should not part with any of its ceremonies, lest the whole might be endangered. He also preached with the atmost ardour against the admission of dissenters into the revenues of the church, dwelling on their insufficiency and want of all fit knowledge and preparation for the great work of the ministry. In pursuing this theme he levelled against them all the learning and pointed ridicule which he had so readily at command. For example, he thus speaks of them in a sermon preached in the Abbey Church of Westminster, in 1692, upon 1 Cor. xii. 4. “ Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” — “ Amongst those of the late reforming age, all learning was utterly cried down; so that with them the best preachers were such as could not read, and the ablest divines such as could hardly spell the letter. To be blind was with them the proper qualification of a spiritual guide ; and to be book-learned, as they called it, and to be irreligious, were almost terms convertible. None were thought fit for the ministry but tradesmen and mechanics, because none else were allowed to have the Spirit. Those only were accounted like Saint Paul, who could work with their hands, and, in a literal sense, drive the nail home, and be able to make a pulpit before they preached in it."
• Vol. I. page 299.