« AnteriorContinuar »
for attempting it without due qualifications, than to withhold an excellent pattern from mankind, when the influence of every good example is so needful for their reformation and happiness.
My purpose is to lay before the world, in the following sheets, what appears to me most instructive in his life and character, according to the best judgment I could form from a long and intimate acquaintance, and the best information I could procure. A striking likeness of a person may be drawn by a hand not skilful in colouring; and unable to give the picture that grace, which would render it more generally admired, especially by the best judges. I shall dwell chiefly on those exemplary effects, which the sincere and lively piety of the Doctor's heart produced, in a beautiful correspondence to those circumstances in life in which he was placed. Herein perhaps modern writers of lives have been defective; either from a mistaken apprehension, that it was of little moment, or, as I would rather hope, through want of materials. Had I satisfied myself with giving an account of his public and literary character, especially if I could have embellished it with the beauties of description and language, it might have been more agreeable to the modern taste, and the politer part of my readers. But I am fully convinced, it is the more private part of a man's character, from which we may expect the greatest benefit . What is it to me, that another had a bright genius, was learned, elegant and polite? But to see a display of his piety, humility, zeal, benevolence, and the principles by which they were supported, this, if it be not my own fault, may be very beneficial to me. I thought I should do the most real service to the world by bringing to light those graces of the christian, which, though they do not make the most shining part of a character in the eyes of men, are his fairest ornaments in the sight of God, and the surest proofs of the sincerity of his outward profession. In order to execute this design, I have made such extracts from his diary and other papers, written solely for his own use, and his letters to his intimate friends in which he laid open his whole heart, as I judged most proper to give my readers a just idea of his inward sentiments, and the grand motives on which he acted through life. And if these appear to be, in every respect, agreeable to his profession and public character, I think it must be acknowledged the strongest proof that can be given of his integrity, and consequently greatly tend to heighten our idea and excite our imitation of him.
I am sensible, it hath been objected, that' what was principally written for a person's own use, ought not be made public' And no doubt a prudent caution should be used in making extracts from such papers. But (as Mr. Howe hath observed on a like occasion,) what are many of the psalms of David, and other holy men; what the meditations of that renowned philosopher and emperor Marcus Antoninus, but records of the most secret dispositions and motions of the hidden man of the heart, made public for the instruction of their own and succeeding ages? As there is so much resemblance in the frame of our minds, nothing certainly can be of more advantage, than to see the secret workings of the hearts of great and good men upon different occasions; and especially to be informed, what methods they took to conquer their particular temptations, to improve their religious character and to keep alive that sacred ardour of love and zeal, which carried them through so many labours and difficulties. The great advantage, which many humble christians have received from such extracts in other lives, is, I think, a sufficient vindication of the use here made of them. The acceptance and usefulness of Mr. P. Henry's life in particular, encouraged me to pursue this method. Some few of these extracts may not be thought necessary to illustrate Dr. Doddridge's character; but as they appeared likely to impress the reader's heart with pious sentiments, and so subserve my leading design, I was not willing to suppress them. Some quotations from his writings are intended to shew the consistency between the rules he gave to others and his own conduct; and they may lead some to read his works, who might before know nothing or little of them. Accuracy ofstyle is not to be expected in what a person writes merely for his own use, or to his intimate friends; yet it may be as serviceable to others, as any of his publications. I am sensible these extracts and quotations spoil the uniformity of this work and make some sentences abrupt and imperfect ; yet, as they are, in my judgment, the best part of it, I could not satisfy myself to omit them, merely upon those accounts.
When I inform my readers, what were his sentiments upon particular subjects and occasions, where it is not supported by his writings and papers, I can with great truth assure them, that my representation is just, from the opportunities I had of learningthem from his lectures, conversation, or correspondence; and lam persuaded, that they, who were intimately acquainted with him, will acknowledge the same.
It may bethought an objection tosome part of this work, "that the model here proposed,especially of devotional exercises, is too high for the generality of mankind, amidst the necessary cares of their respective families and stations." And it must be acknowledged, that it is no man's duty to be in his closet, when his business in his shop, fields or family demands his attention: Nor would I bind it upon anyone's conscience to follow the particular method here described too strictly. No one's practice can serve as a model for every one. That may be a very good rule for one, which is not so for another: And, therefore, every one must use his own discretion in copying after the examples'Set before him. He must consider his abilities of body and mind, his circumstances and connections in life, that every part of duty may have proper time allotted to it according to its importance. Nevertheless, there are few persons but might employ more time than they do, in cultivating their understandings and improving their graces, by reading, meditation and devotion, without breaking in upon any of the necessary duties of life, if their hearts were in these exercises, and they were more careful to redeem their time, from unnecessary sleep, visits and recreations.* Dr. Doddridge's extraordinary diligence in the services of his station, and that constant attention which he paid to relative duties, plainly evince, that his devotional exercises had a good ctVect upon him. He found (as Dr. Bocrhaave acknowledged he found) 'that an hour spent every morning in private prayer and meditation gave him spirit and vigour for the business of the day, and kept his temper active, patient and calm.'—Yet I must, on the other hand, caution persons of a serious spirit, especially those of a cool temper and a sickly frame, that they be not uneasy, if they find themselves surpassed by him in the fervour of devotion. Allowance must be made for the great difference of natural tempers; and persons must carefully distinguish between that ardour of pious allection, which is indeed desirable, and that
* Sec Rise and Progress, &c. chap. xx. § 1. sincerity of heart, which Is essential to true and acceptable devotion. Hii temper was remarkably alfectionate and impressible; and therefore I give this caution for the sake of young and less experienced christians, who make a conscience of secret duty; and I should be sorry if any real christians should suspect their integrity, because they do not experience an equal warmth of holy affections. Nevertheless, let them press on after more lively and animated devotion, as it will afford them the sublimest pleasure.
Some, when they have gone through this life, or perhaps only dipped Into it, may prouounce, or think, the Doctor an enthusiast, because there was so much of a devotional spirit in him, and he lays some stress on his particular feelings and impressions. This is the random charge of the day; and brought by some, against every affection of the mind, which hath God for its object, and against every person who hath more piety and zeal than the generality. But here also, allowance must be made for different tempers. His whole conduct was steady and uniform, and formed upon those principles, which in'private he endeavoured to cultivate. His piety was not a warm sally of passion, nor the effect of a heated imagination, leading him to do things, not warranted by the dictatesof sound sense and the word of God; but a strong, active principle, influencing his whole life, and leading him to such vigorous efforts for the good of mankind. 'If there be, saith the judicious Dr. Duchal, what we may call raptures in the love of God, they do not destroy nor interrupt the serenity of the soul; but establish it rather, and raise it into a temper, which the most cool reflecting thoughts approve, and which yieldeth a pure and solid delight.'*
* Some of his friends may think me too particular in the vindication of his character from some aspersions, which were thrown upon it. But as I know that prejudices against it are still propagated, to the hindrance of the credit and usefulnessof his writings, I thought it an act of justice to plead his cause and the cause of moderation and charity at the same time. If any come to their first knowledge of the censures cast upon him, from tbisaccouut, they must be unacquainted with scripture or human nature, if they are surprised, that he met with them.
The form of this work may perhaps be objected to, and particularly throwing the several parts of his private character into distinct sections. It may appear like a designed panegyric, and many things may be thought to have been inserted under each head, to make the article and character as complete as possible. Yet I hope persons of candour will find little reason for this reflection; because what is said upon the several parts of his character, is supported either by facts or extracts from his own papers, which are, I think, in many instances, equivalent to facts. A general harangue would, in my opinion, have appeared more like a panegyric. My design was not to exhibit a fine character, but to shew my readers that Dr. Doddridge's was such; and by what method that character was formed and his excellent spirit maintained. The divisions may be more serviceable in this view, than if the whole had been thrown under one general head. It would probably be a vain attempt in anyone, I am sure it would be so in me, to unite the several advantages, attending the different ways in which a life may be drawn up. A writer must fix, not so much on that method, which may be best in itself, as that which is most suited to his own temper, abilities and manner of writing; and this the candid reader will suppose I have done.
* Duchal's Sermons, vol. i. p. 246, and Col. Gardiner's Life, 8v. p. 18—32.
I am apprehensive many particulars in the narrative, will appear, to some readers, minute, trifling and not worthy a place in it. Others, I know, will be of a different judgment. My own is, that by these a man's character and views may be best known; and that they contribute to render the narrative more extensively useful, than if the author had rested in generals. The good effects which I have seen, heard of, and, I bless God, experienced, from such particulars in the lives of other good men, especially Mr. P. Henry, have led me to mention them here. I have inserted nothing, but what I thought was, by itself or its connection, adapted to answer some important end. It is in these little instances, that religious men frequently fail, and need the caution both of precept and example. It is not to be expected, that any work, especially one of this kind, which is well known to have its peculiar difficulties, can be equally adapted to persons of different tastes and views. My principal intention was to consult the advantage of young ministers and students in divinity, who may be directed and animated by so fair a model, in which the scholar and christian minister are so happily united: And this view of the work will shew the reason, why I have sometimes entered into a more particular detail, than might otherwise have been needful. But I hope that others too, whatever their station and profession may be, will receive improvement from an attentive perusal of this life. Tbey will here find an example, in many respects worthy of their imitation; and will see what care, self denial and resolution are necessary to form the christian character.
So many years have elapsed since Dr. Doddridge died, and since I gave the world, in my funeral sermon for him, some reason to expect a larger account of him, than is contained there, that it may be expected I should give the reasons of its delay. A deep conviction of my own incapacity for executing it in the most desirable manner, kept me long from the attempt. After I had entered upon it, it was interrupted for months and years by my ill state of health and the necessary duties of my station, which took up all the time I could devote to study. It hath been often quite laid aside, without hope of pursuing it; and, through repeated solicitations from some persons of eminence abroad, who knew the Doctor only by his writings, hath, at some lucid intervals, been resumed. As it hath been executed with great care and honesty, and those of my brethren, who have revised it, have thought it adapted to serve the cause of religion and charity, I now, notwithstanding all its defects, venture it abroad into the world; following it with my earnest prayers, and desiring the concurrent intercessions of my friends, that God would be pleased to prosper this feeble attempt to quicken the ministers of Christ in their Lord's work, and to promote the holiness and happiness of all his disciples, into whose hands it may come. Amen.
Shrewsbury, Nov. 6, 1765.