Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Henry Stebbing, D.D. 1738 :" 4. “ An Answer to Dr. Stebbing's Second Letter on the Subject of Heresy, in which the whole Controversy is fairly stated and re-examined ; by James Foster, 1736 ;" *5.6 A True State of the Controversy with Mr. Foster on the Subject of Heresy; in answer to his Second Letter, by Henry Stebbing, D.D. 1736 ;" 6. “ An Answer to Dr. Stebbing's True State of the Controversy with Mr. Foster on the Subject of Heresy ;' by James Foster, 1737." The sentiment advanced by Mr. Foster (from Tit. iii. 10, 11.) was, that a heretic was one who, contrary to his own conviction, maintained any doctrine; and he inferred that as none can ordinarily tell who is self-condemned, without the gift of discerning spirits, the use of the rule laid down in that passago was peculiar to the apostles' time. Dr. Stebbing contended, that the meaning was, that such a person not studying, like many other offenders, to conceal ‘his crime, and thereby obliging others to prove it, but openly declaring and maintaining his sentiments, was accused and condemned out of his own mouth *

Dr. Stebbing, in the tone of an assuming dogmatist, began the debate in a strain that tended to draw an odium on the opinion and doctrine of the person with whom he entered the lists; and his arguments led to support and justify spiritual domination and tyrannyt. The controversy produced the fola lowing epigrammatic lines, that appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine

66 The Doctor states the case so odd,

That both are in the lurch-
Stebbing a heretic to God,

And Foster to the Church.
16 The Doctor is in a hopeful case,

Poor Foster is undone :
For Heav'n, we know, abounds with grace,

Alas! the Church has none." Three volumes of sermons, within a few years, followed the appearance of the first : but his most splendid, publication, with respect to the patronage with which it was favoured, and the manner in which it was printed, was “ Discourses on all the Principal Branches of Natural Religion and Social Virtue," 2 vols. 4to. It was honoured with the names of no less than two thousand subscribers. In these discourses, as the author observes, some things, perhaps, will be found that are not so

• Doddridge's Course of Lectures, Vol. II, p. 2, 3. 8vo.

Bib. Raison, Vol. XVII, p. 38, 45.

common in writings of this kind, or are illustrated in a new and peculiar manner; and one chief view throughout the whole was to render both the principles and proofs of natural religion, which equally concern all without distinction, fully intelligible to all, by omitting, as much as possible, all philosophical and scholastic terms, and so reducing more involved and abstruse demonstrations to a plainer form.” It is thought that he destroyed his health by too close an application to this work. To the second volume are annexed, * Offices of Devotion suited to the Principal Subjects treated upon in the foregoing Discourses." These prayers have been deservedly pronounced

rational and sublime*." His works were translated into foreign languages, and spread his name through distant kingdoms.

Dr. Foster, besides the works already mentioned, published several funeral sermons; as, for Mr. Wilkes, the father, it is conceived, of the celebrated John Wilkes; for the Rev, Mr. Ashworth; and for the Rev. and venerable Confessor, Thomas Emlyn; and also an account of Lord Kilmarnock. His style is described as manly, polished, flowing, and perspicuous. « He paid,” says Mr. Bulkley, “an habitual attention to the strength and purity of our language, and by his works bas contributed not a little towards preserving its force and dignity, amidst that crowd of loose and venal writers, who are every day enfeebling and debasing it. His address was lively and penetrating; forcible, but yet soft and tender; raised and elevated, but neither boisterous nor assuming t.”

Without employing any delusive arts to bribe the passions.. to play with the imagination, and to impose on the undera standing, he rose to great celebrity as a preacher. The scope and tendency of his discourses was practical and moral: the sentiments which he delivered, with freedom and without rea serve, were rational and judicious : his voice was sweet, strong, and harmonious: his action was graceful, forcible, and grave, free from violence and distortion: his appropriate, well-placed, and solemn pauses awakened attention, and gave energy to the important truths he delivered. Pope has borne testimony to his talents and his fame :

46 Let modest Foster, if he will, excel

Ten Metropolitans in preaching well." Some lines that were circulated in that day, descriptive of the different manner and characters of the eminent Dissenting Ministers, his contemporaries, thus delineate his excellencies ;

* Duncombe's " Letters by several Eminent Persoov," Vol. III. p. IS. 1 Sermon on the Death of Dr. Foster, p. 92,

< But see the accomplished Orator appear,
Refined his language, and his reason clear!
Thou, Foster, only, hast the pleasing art,

At once to charm the ear, and mend the heart." Dr. Foster, amidst all this popularity and eclat, was modest and humble. His zeal for the promotion of every personal and social virtue kept pace with his increasing faine. What he aimed at was, as he himself assures us, “ the advancement of the glory of Christ, and the exaltation of his divine religion : and I take this opportunity,” says he*, “ to declare, in an age in which scepticism prevails to a high degree, that I esteem it an honour to be a firm believer, and, froin devotedness of mind, a preacher and public advocate for the Christian institution; and think all those justly chargeable with great baseness, pusillanimity, and hypocrisy, who either preach or profess it for the sake of popularity, or any worldly consideration whatsoever, without being themselves real and hearty Christians.” • His civil principles were full of loyalty to the Hanover Fa. mily, and he laboured to disseminate sentiments of public virtue and true patriotism ; but he discarded the authority of the magistrate in religion. “ The magistrate's authority in matters of conscience,” says he, in his chapter on government, os must be nothing, unless it be unlimited and absolute in all instances; to assert which would be to abolish reason, conscience, and integrity altogether, and to exclude the govern. ment of God himself. To allow the magistrate a right to impose the minutest article in religion is directly calculated, and the experience of the world shews, that it has no other usual effect than, to produce ignorance, slavery, and misery. A public leading in religion has usually been the bane of knowledge and rational piety, and continues at this day, in almost all nations, to be no better than the establishment of falschood and iniquity by law.” · The writer of this memoir recollects, that Dr. Foster was spoken of as distinguished by his humanity and compassionate sympathies. In the goodness of his spirit, Dr. Fleming traces the real grounds of his popularity. “ Although his fine genius, his lively imagination, had,” says he, “the aid of an uncommon sprightliness and vivacity in his address, as well as the decorations of chosen diction, masterly expression, and sublime idea ; yet the generosity of his spirit gave the most captivating touches in all his compositions. His manly syınpathies had in them the fire, the energy, that so irresistibly charms. His be

• Conclusion, in Discourses, Vol. I. p. 269.

neficence was so extraordinary, that he never reserved any of his appointments for his own future use; but his poor brethren in the ministry, the widow, the fatherless, the distressed, were his treasure." An incident occurs to the recollection of him who now holds the pen, which he heard in the days of his youth. The Doctor was passing by a door, around which a crowd was gathered : on inquiring into the cause, he learr.ed that the man of the house was under the hands of the bailiffs, who were about to carry him to jail for a debt of 101. His pity was moved, and he kindly and generously stopt the process, by engaging to discharge the debt for the afficted stranger. The only method he adopted to provide for a day of inability was, by storing his library with curious and valuable editions of the classics, the sale of which might be productive of some relief in a future emergency*. Had it not been for the two thousand subscribers to his « Discourses on Natural Religion, &c.” he must have died possessed of scarcely any property; “ for, among all his objects of compassion,” as Dr. Heming expresses it, “ that most remote from consideration was hinselfi"

His chapters on the divine perfections exbibit the elevated sentiments of piety which he entertained'; and the “ Offices of Devotion,” which accompanied his Discourses, and were afterwards printed by themselves, display the spirit of his piety. He had the happy art of kinding and raising devout affections, when he led the public homage, that even the enemy to free prayer could not avoid being fervently engaged. In early life, the principle of divine faith animated and supported him. fr When a young student called upon him during the discomposing times in the West, who seemed a little dispirited, Mr. Foster, looking stedfastly in his face, said to him : " What? dost thou think there is no truth in the promises? First, seek the kingdoin of God and his righteousness, and all other things soall be added. All things shall work together for good to thein that love God, &c.” In a lucid interval, about six weeks before his death, he spoke with great clearness and connection upon those words of the Apostle; “If in this lite only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable :" choosing to apply them to his own condition, and shewing that in the inoments of reflection his thoughts and faith were, to the last, fixed on the promises and hopes of the gospel, . To the end of life, however, obloquy and odium accompanied the name of this amiable and excellent man; and bigotry in

* On the information of Dr. William Harris, author of the Life of James I. Charles I. and II. and 'Oliver Cromwell, after the manner of Bayle.

sulted, as it were, his ashes; for it is said, that after his interment some persons collected themselves over his grave, and danced with airs of triumph. This triumph was as transient as it was mean and barbarous. On his tomb his name was recorded with honourime

• EPITAPH OF DR. JAMES FOSTER.

66 Here lie the Remains of

James Foster, D.D.
Born at Exeter, in Devonshire, 16th Sept. 1697.

Early trained op to academical studies,
And prepared for the Sacred Work to which he devoted himself, :

By diligent researches into the Holy Scriptures,
And the assistance they afford as a guide to natural reason,

As also by serious piety, clevated thought,
Happy facility in composing, and fluency of expression,
Jis judgment in Divine Things not guided by the opinions of others,
Produced many discoveries and writings out of the common way,

Some in defence of the Christian religion,
Bat most in recommending love towards God and men.

Notwithstanding the censures which fell upon him,
He was candid towards all whom he believed sincere,

Beneficent, to the neglect of himself,

Agreeable and useful in conversation,
And careful to avoid even the appearance of evil.
He began his ministry in the West country,

Under great discouragements,
Was ordained Pastor, in July, 1724, at Barbican, in Londong-

And, after twenty years' service there,

Removed to Pinner's hall, in the same city.
In December, 1748, the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland,
Conferred on him, unsought, the degree of Doctor in Divinity. .
His eloquence procured him many hcarers, of different persuasion,
Till at length, by lis great assiduity, in preaching, and writing, .

He sunk into a nervous disorder,
Which, increasing upon him for two or three years,

: Put an end to his life, 5th Nov. 1753, ::. . . In the 57th year of his age.”

The above inscription, on a handsome tomb in Bunhillfieldsis not the only memorial of the high estimation in which his talents and virtues were held. John Billingsley Esq. of Oakhill, in the parish of Ashwick, Somersetshire, some years since re-built, in a modern and handsome style of architecture, the house in which Dr. Foster, in his younger

« AnteriorContinuar »