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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 Memoirs so nearly as his particular friends did, may wish to learn something farther of his character with respect to his LITERARY ATTAINMENTS-his MINISTRY— his FAMILY HABITS- -his WRITINGS-and his FAMILIAR
Of his LITERATURE, we learn from his Narrative what he attained in the learned langages, 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 man. 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 connections 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 was 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 clergyman 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-to neglect not 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, he continued 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 nowhere more recollected 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 communicate 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 in
tegrity, 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 or 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.