« ZurückWeiter »
LIFE OF JOHN HOWE, A.M.
BY THE REV. W. URWICK, D.D., DUBLIN.
DURING the sixteenth century, the struggles connected with the Reformation stirred European Christendom from the slumber of the "dark ages," and in those great movements England had her share. But the awakening of her mental and moral strength became not general, till her own agitations, during the reigns of her first James and his son Charles, followed by the Commonwealth, rendered inaction of head or heart next to impossible throughout the land.
Lovers of tyranny have been wont to decry that period as one of the most humiliating and disastrous in British history; for the Dagon of their homage was then well-nigh prostrated and broken before the ark of God's providence. And that evils deeply to be deplored existed, is admitted. Unworthy persons and measures are often associated with what is, substantially, the cause of truth and righteousness; it has been so from the beginning with the glorious Gospel itself. But no enlightened and fair man will deny, that at the time we are speaking of, England had never been in higher respect among the nations, or had used her influence for better purposes. She had never been to the same extent enriched with knowledge and adorned with piety,—she had never so appeared-to use the words of Milton-" as a noble and puissant nation rousing herself as a strong man after sleep, or as an eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam." At that period the tree of civil and religious freedom, which, now flourishing and bear
ing fruit, is the blessing and boast of the empire, became firmly
rooted in her soil.
If the time was one of fearful political convulsion, it was also one of gracious visitation from the Spirit of God. While "the potsherds of the earth" filled the country with their strivings, the King of Zion was raising up a host of "very able men " for his service, men whose writings yet survive, and will while the world lasts, monuments of his favour to themselves and to his Church,-men far more worthy of study and veneration than the majority of the so-called "Fathers" among the Greek and Latin ecclesiastics of earlier days.
Important controversies were then afloat; the Gospel had to grapple with antagonists of no common nerve, furniture, and skill. These champions entered the lists, and the truth triumphed. The right of every one to search the scriptures, and his responsibility to God alone for his use of that right, had lately risen as into new existence. These expositors were honourably successful in clearing away obscurities and perversions from the sacred text, and in otherwise assisting the common reader to see profitably for himself, "what is the mind of the Spirit." As theologians they were independent, enlarged, and profound thinkers. Theirs was not the restless habit of some would-be wise ones, busying itself on this punctilio to-day, on another to-morrow, and happy only when carping at or extolling detached and insignificant items. Theirs was the genius of sound philosophy, which, as the lion ranges through his forest and the condor soars above her Andes, sweeps through the earth and the firmament, aiming as far as may be to grasp the knowledge of creation. Nor were these men less distinguished as preachers and pastors. In the study, in the pulpit, and from house to house, with singleeyed purpose they watched for souls.
To their superiority in the respects named, their scholarship doubtless contributed. In learning they were not behind other Rabbis of their day. They had graduated at universities; had become fellows, and some of them heads of colleges, in Cambridge and Oxford; and had, by untiring industry, acquired a habit of energetic action, which accompanied them through life as a second nature. But their crowning excellence—the spring and plastic soul of their greatness-was their piety. They brought the fruits of their studies as divines, to bear upon their own hearts as christians. They daily maintained converse with God in private; and kept their seasons of special devotion. Thus
they acquired a calmness and power, a freedom and unction, which no talent, or literary acquirement, or strength of natural character, could impart. Most of them, indeed, had a parentage and a training which prepared for this. They were the offspring of sufferers for the truth. They had been cradled in persecution. The loud and fierce cry of the oppressor had often drowned the soft and soothing tones of their mother's lullaby. The homage of all things to conscience, and of conscience in all things to God, was one of the first lessons given when their minds opened to receive thought. Effeminacy and sentimentalism belonged to another sphere, if not to another age. All their youthful associations combined to cherish masculine honesty and magnanimity, with intrepid though humble resolve. And when arrived at maturity, they were "men full of faith and of the Holy Ghost."
There were, however, varieties among them. "Star differeth from star in glory," in the firmament of the church, as in that of nature, even when it is most brilliantly lighted up. As an orb of the first magnitude, and with a radiance peculiarly his own, shone JOHN HowE. By the consent of all to whom superior mind, sanctified by the truth and charity of the gospel, is dear, he ranks among his contemporaries as a prince among chiefs. Even Wood, who can hardly pen a kind or candid expression for a non-conformist, in his Athenæ Oxonienses, says that Howe, when in London during the Commonwealth, was "known to the leading men of those times for his frequent and edifying preaching,” and adds, "He is a person of neat and polite parts," who "hath applied himself wholly to beneficial and practical subjects, in which undertaking he hath acquitted himself so well, (his books being penned in a fine, smooth, and natural style) that they are much commended and read by very many conformists, who generally have him in great esteem."
For some unassigned cause-perhaps modesty, perhaps prudence, perhaps a combination of the two-Mr Howe, by what appears to have been his last act, deprived his friends of the principal materials for his biography. He had passed through a checquered and eventful course; and he had not neglected to observe, or to put his observations upon record. In reply to enquiries made about his manuscripts after his death, his son, Dr George Howe, stated that his "honoured father" had collected "large memorials of the material passages of his own life, and of the times wherein he lived, which he most industriously concealed till his last illness." The "honoured father,"