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BIOGRAPHY. MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF DR. JAMES
(Concluded from Page 6. Vol. II.) IN 1748, Mr. Foster received from the University of Aberdeen I a diploma, conferring on him the degree of Doctor in Divinity, accompanied with letters from Dr. Thomas Blackwell, the Principal, and from Professor David Fordyce. The former wrote to him thus :- I rejoice in an opportunity of shewing my regard for your person and character. For this end, I chose that a diploma, creating Mr. Foster Doctor of Divinity, should be the first deed and instrument I should do and sign as Principal of this University. It is the amiable character to which I have there attempted to do some justice.” The latter addresses him in this honourable strain omaro We beg you will be so good as to accept of the diploma, as a small mark of the sincere veneration we have for you, and of the sense we entertain of the eminent services you have done the cause of liberty, religion, and virtue, by your writings as well as public instructions.” In another letter, the date torn off, in answer to a letter from Mr. Foster, of the 26th of November, 1748, in which he appears to have refused the diploma, the Professor says : “ I am glad that by our dispatch of what ought to have been dispatched long ago, we prevented Mr. Foster's declining what so well becomes him to receive and us to confer. I assure you sincerely we rather seek to reflect honour on ourselves than to do you honour, by rightly placing the academical dignity, the principal value of which is the being at once highly merited and entirely unsolicited. Our Society means, by the just compliment inserted in the body of the diploma *, rather to express their esteem of the modest preacher, than to do full justice to
Eaque mente virum vere egregium Jacobum Foster, dignum Evangelio mi. nistrum, ingenio, doctrina, cloquentia insignem, virtutis et veritatis amicum, libertatis tam civilis quam Christiana vindicem, vitaque quam scriptis probatissimis licet clariorem, insigni honoris titulo promeritis decorare volentes, S.S. Thcologix Doctorem crcavimus,
his character. For my párt, Sir, it gives me a sincere plea, sure to have contributed my small mite to do justice to the merit of one, who has so often contributed to exalt my devo. tion, and confirm my attachment to virtue.”
Dr. Foster obtained a merited fame by various publications. In 1720, he published " An Essay on Fundamentals,” to which was affixed, " A Sermon on the Resurrection of Christ proved and vindicated.” These were re-printed under the dia rection of the Rev. Charles Bulkley, in 1750. The principles which he attempts to establish in the tract are, that no doctrine is a fundamental article of Christian faith but what is so plainly and distinctly revealed, as that no ordinary Christian, sincere in his inquiries, can miss the knowledge of it; and which is not also made an express term of happiness in the Sacred Writings. He then examines whether this proposition, “ The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are the one God,” be so clearly and plainly revealed, and made an express term of happiness in the New Testament. The conclusion of this essay deserves to be quoted, to shew the spirit and views of the author,
“ I hope I can appeal to the All-wise Searcher of Hearts, for the sincerity of my intentions in publishing the foregoing essay. I call him to witness, that it is my sincere aim to restrain that licentious and malignant spirit of censure and excommunication which has prevailed so mightily of late, and to revive decaying charity (that excellent, though neglected grace) which is the distinguishing mark of a disciple of our Lord, the bond and cement of the Christian society, if I offend any, I can only say it was far from my design, which was not to exasperate, but to edify. Let no one say, that the Teason why I condemn reviling, hereticating, and anathematising is, þecause all the thunder and yengeance is levelled at men of my prin. çiples ; for if I know any thing of my own heart, I am disposed to censure equally every degree of intemperate heat in each of the con. tending parties. I always had, I bless, God, ever since I began to.. understand of think to any purpose, large and gencrons principles, and there never was any thing either in my temper or education which might inclige me to narrowness and bigotry; and I am heartily glad, of the opportunity which now offers itself, of making this public serious profession, that I value those who are of a different persuasion from me, more than those who agree with me in sentiment, if. they are more serious, sober, and charitable.”
The excellent spirit and just sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph could not screen the author from obłoquý, This piece raised him a large number of enemies: the poisoned arrows of detraction and calumny flew, thick at him, He himself waç stigmatized as 4 deceiver and antichrist,
- Curse was denounced against Mr. Houlton; his patrón, for taking · him into his house, and bidding him God-speed, in a virulent pamphlet, supposed to have been written by a clergyman. :
In 1731, Dr. Foster published a valuable defence of Christianity, “ generally and justly acknowledged,” says Dr. Leland,“ to be an ingenious performance and written with great clearness of thought and expression.” It was entitled, “ The Usefulness, Truth, and Excellency of the Christian Religion, defended against the Objections contained in a late . Book, entitled, Christianity as old as the Creation.'" A second edition, with the addition of a postscript, followed the first impression, within the year. This performance, which excelled in solidity and precision, and in a freedom from every thing of which the opponent could take advantage, did the author great honour, as worthy of the subject. Even Tindall himself is said to have spoken of it in terms of particular respect. ... In 1733, there came from the press a volume of Dr. Foster's Sermons on divers subjects. A foreign literary journal spoke of them in high terms, as amongst the best sermons which England had produced, displaying piety, candour, and moderation ; strong reasoning, and a care to advance nothing but on the incontestable principles of reason and natural interpretations of Scripture. " The reputation,” says the writer, " which the Preacher has acquired, and which attracts a crowded auditory from all parties, has lost nothing by the publication of these sermons : solid excellence and real beauties are independent of the graces of delivery*.” A late celebrated writer, not partial to divines, or even to Christianity, speaks of Foster's sermons as “ always moderate and judicious ;” and, on the perusal of the article we have quoted, he says: “I have finished the 16th volume of the Bibliothèque Raisonnée: it contains Foster's Sermons. Wonderful ! a divine preferring reason' to faith; and more afraid of vice than heresy + !"
One of these sermons, on the subject of heresy, drew on the author the animadversions of Dr. Henry Stebbing; a Chaplain in Ordinary to his Majesty, and Preacher to the Hon. Society of Gray's Inn, and gave occasion to a controversy which extended through several publications that excited much atten. tion ; the titles of which were, 1.“ A Letter to Mr. Foster on the Subject of Heresy, 1735:” 2. “ An Answer to Dr. Stebbing's Letter on the Subject of Heresy; in a Letter to the Doctor; by James Foster, 1735;" 3. " A Second Letter to Mr. Foster on the Subject of Heresy, in Answer to his First; by
Bib. Raison. Amsterdam. Vol. XVI. 1736, pp. 42. ,